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The Austere Academy Review

ASOUE_5The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket; Illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0064408639

Synopsis: Unable to find another guardian, Mr. Poe sends Violet, Klaus, and Sunny to the dreary Prufrock Preparatory School. At the school, they encounter such unpleasantries as a vice principal who cannot play the violin (but insists upon doing so anyway), Carmelita Spats (who is a nasty, dirty, and unpleasant little girl), and a gym teacher with a turban who makes them run laps (who is really Count Olaf in disguise. But for all their misery, the Baudelaires finally have a stroke of luck when they meet the Quagmire Triplets and begin to unravel the mystery behind Count Olaf’s dastardly schemes.

Why I picked it up: I’ve become invested in learning about the fates of the Baudeleaires.

Why I finished it: I am noticing as the series goes on, Snicket is incorporating a rather lot of interesting vocabulary into the stories. It is not to say that I didn’t notice it before – knowing the meanings of long, complicated words is one of Klaus’s interests – but the vocabulary lesson seems to be building upon itself. I also had to have a bit of a laugh at some of the historical references: the Quagmire triplets are named for a famous Spanish actress (Isadora Duncan), the vice principal is named for a former Roman emperor (Nero), and Olaf’s chosen character is Ghengis (as in, Ghengis Khan, conqueror of Asia). Interesting for me as an older reader, and perhaps an astute reader who cares to look up some of the words and names. I am also perhaps disillusioned by the hope of new friends for the Baudelaires, whose friends’ parents and brother met a similar fate as the Baudelaire parents. And maybe I am a little too hopeful that the orphans will be able to uncover the origins of the secret organization of which Count Olaf is a member. And maybe I am a little too hopeful that they will be able to get away from him once and for all, but alas, there would not be more books in the series if that was indeed the case. For all I know, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny will continue to gather more questions than answers, but I also know that the siblings will manage to make it out of things alive and together.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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The Miserable Mill Review

ASOUE_4The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0064407694

Synopsis: When the Baudelaires are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumbermill, things begin to spiral downward quickly. Not only are they only allowed a stick of gum for lunch and paid in coupons they are unable to use, their guardian (whose name is apparently unpronounceable) seems to have little to no problem ignoring child labor laws. Plus, there is that mysterious structure on the main street that looks like an eerily familiar tattoo of a particularly monstrous villain….

Why I picked it up: The macabre humor seems to be growing on me.

Why I finished it: I don’t think I would still be four books into a series if I weren’t getting some sort of enjoyment out of it, but the notion of enjoying a series that highlights child abuse (among other things) still seems to be a bit uncomfortable to me. The macabre humor is definitely not for everyone, and I do feel somewhat better about my own life whenever I finish one of these books, which is probably part of the point. I don’t know of a reader that could claim their life is worse than that of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, but I digress. I appreciated the bit of irony of paying the lumbermill employees with coupons they are unable to use due to a lack of money and I was glad to see that there were at least a couple of characters that the children interact with that seem to be competent (gasp!). Mr. Poe is unfortunately still somewhat dull and aloof despite getting a promotion at the bank; probably part of the story, but I had hoped that perhaps we would see a little bit more character development – then again, there’s a few more books left to go in the series, so we’ll have to see. The books definitely give the intended audience a sense of empowerment, encouraging them to rely on their wits and come up with their own solutions to tricky problems much as the Baudelaires do, and for that, I have to give Snicket a lot of credit. Yes, children’s literature is supposed to convey some sort of subtle message to the reader and yes, the reader wants to be able to read about kids their own age having fabulous (or in this case, not so fabulous) adventures because it helps us relate to the rest of the world. The reader perhaps relates to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny because they feel ignored or stifled in some way and want to be able to show they are more than just whatever label they have been given. I’m starting to have more and more doubts about this having some sort of kind ending for our orphans, but perhaps I’ll be surprised.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

 

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The Wide Window Review

ASOUE_3The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0064407687

Synopsis: The Baudelaires are sent to live with their Aunt Josephine, who despite living in a house perched on the edge of a cliff over a lake filled with man-eating leeches, is afraid of almost everything. When the children once again spot Count Olaf in disguise, will they be able to convince their guardian and Mr. Poe that they are in danger?

Why I picked it up: I seem to have a strange need to keep going despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an end to the misery.

Why I finished it: Well, being as the series is called A Series of Unfortunate Events, it is definitely living up to its name, so it really shouldn’t surprise me that things are getting progressively worse for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. It is also becoming apparent that their chosen guardians are becoming progressively inepter – another thing that happens in children’s literature, but still, the misery is perhaps being laid on a little thick? Violet, Klaus, and Sunny seem to still be keeping their wits and gaining new skills that are helpful in keeping them alive and out of Count Olaf’s hands, yet we continue to have the formulaic problem of the adults around them being relatively naïve and a comedy of errors ensuing before a lightbulb goes on. Despite all of this, Snicket has found a way to entice us with yet another misadventure. I thought it was clever the way Aunt Josephine and the children evade Count Olaf/Captain Sham. I also enjoyed the amusing anecdote with Captain Sham’s business card and how Aunt Josephine’s love of grammar is both a blessing and a curse. Like the other two books, it’s a definitely a nail biter that will have the reader on the edge of their seat.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Acedemy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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Explorer: The Lost Islands Review

explorer_2Explorer: The Lost Islands (Explorer #2) edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Harry N. Abrams, 2013. 978-1-4197-0883-1

Synopsis: Take a journey out onto the ocean to visit one of seven strange, fantastic, mysterious islands created by seven amazing graphic artists. Whether you are there because it is home or because of a shipwreak, this collection is sure to inspire an island adventure of one’s own.

Why I picked it up: I wanted something short and quick to read between longer novels.

Why I finished it: The second installment in the Explorer series doesn’t fail to leave the reader in awe. Fish, rabbits, and humans alike populate the seven graphic stories that take on a wide variety of topics on the same subject of islands. My favorites were “The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland and “Loah” by Michael Gagné. I loved Garland’s story because it reminded me of an island festival or a Day of the Dead celebration that takes a somewhat frightening turn. Gagné’s story was both visually stunning and compelling, telling a story that is a version of “The Rainbow Fish” but where the titular fish is less selfish. This collection still has the same elements of the fantastic as the previous book and even manages to up the bar. There truly is something for everyone in these collections and I excited to read more!

Other related materials: The Lost Islands (Explorer #2) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; The Hidden Doors (Explorer #3) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; Flight Explorer edited by Kazu Kibuishi Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Copper by Kazu Kibuishi; The Legend of Korra graphic novels  by Michael Dante DiMartino, illustrated Irene Koh; Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke; Mighty Jack series by Ben Hatke; Missle Mouse books by Jake Parker; Bad Island by Doug TenNapel; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; Bone series by Jeff Smith

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The Burning Maze Review

the_burning_mazeThe Burning Maze (The Trials of Apollo, Book 3) by Rick Riordan

Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1484746431

Synopsis: With the help of some demigod friends, Lester managed to survive his first two trials, one at Camp Half-Blood, and one in Indianapolis, where Meg received the Dark Prophecy. The words she uttered while seated on the Throne of Memory revealed that an evil triumvirate of Roman emperors plans to attack Camp Jupiter. While Leo flies ahead on Festus to warn the Roman camp, Lester and Meg must go through the Labyrinth to find the third emperor–and an Oracle who speaks in word puzzles–somewhere in the American Southwest. There is one glimmer of hope in the gloom-filled prophecy: The cloven guide alone the way does know. They will have a satyr companion, and Meg knows just who to call upon. . . . – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’ve been coming around on this series and I’m a sucker for Riordan, apparently.

Why I finished it: As annoying as Apollo has been in the first two books of the series, he seems to have developed a little bit of a change of heart by the time the beginning of the third volume of his adventures begins. This time around as a mortal, he seems to be developing a truer sense of the notion of mortality and many of the deaths from his time at the waystation in Indianapolis are still weighing on him. He is still somewhat of the opinion that he can get heroes to do some of the work for him, but he has also warmed up to the idea of working with heroes and not having them work for him. Jason Grace and Piper McLean are back to give aid to Apollo, though it appears that their help will come at the cost of one of their lives. There is a rather poignant scene in which Jason and Apollo are talking and Jason encourages him to remember the true meaning of mortality when Apollo rejoins the Olympian ranks, to consider the fragility of human lives compared to his own Godly one. It’s a point that has yet to fully hit Apollo, I think, but he’s certainly seeming to grasp the notion more and more. Everyone’s favorite satyr from the Percy Jackson books reappears as the guide through the maze, and it appears that even Grover has become older and wiser as well. Meg also gets some more backstory as the reader finds out what happened to her biological father and how she came to end up in New York. The book is full of the usual puzzles, perils, and adventures, but there again is also the continuing subtle message about how important our lives are and the need to value life. Fans of the series will likely appreciate, as I do, that Riordan is continuing to flesh out his characters and grows them in a way that helps them learn important life lessons. Well, maybe…We will likely have to wait until the next book to find out if the lessons are going to stick.

Other related materials:The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, Book 1) by Rick Riordan; The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2) by Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan; Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco; Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco; Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books by Rick Riordan; The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan; Demigods and Magicians: Percy and Annabeth Meet the Kanes by Rick Riordan; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas; Seven Wonders books by Peter Lerangis, illustrated by Torstein Norstrand; Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull; The Blackwell Pages series by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr; The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh; The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh; Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger; Kingdom Keepers books by Ridley Pearson; The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann; Seven Realms novels by Cinda Williams Chima

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The Reptile Room Review

ASOUE_2The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist

HarperCollins, 1999. 978-0062796035

Synopsis: Now that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are no longer living with Count Olaf, they feel like things are looking up. But their happiness is short-lived when they discover that Uncle Monty’s new assistant Stephano is Count Olaf in disguise – and he is still as determined as ever to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune!

Why I picked it up: It makes me somewhat uncomfortable, but I’m somehow invested in finding out about the fates of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.

Why I finished it: It seems natural to feel badly for the Baudelaires, since all of these terrible things keep happening to them and they appear to have little or no control over any of it. It’s a very literal case of the question of why bad things happen to good people. Sure, it is a thing that happens, but the Baudelaire children are truly getting the rough end of this whole orphan deal. And yet, the trio seems to persevere through the terrible circumstances that take place over the course of the plot. Like its predecessor, it has an ending that could be interpreted as somewhat happy, but since there are eleven more books to go that are all filled with equally horrible and harried adventures, the reader knows that there is still a long way to go. It may be true that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny can never really find a happy ending, especially with their hopes constantly hanging by a thread. I think what really keeps me reading is the fact that the reader can’t help but root for the orphans. They are intelligent and likable characters that somehow find the strength to keep going just one more step forward. Helquist’s art is a delightful mix of gothic and steampunk-ish, evoking images of a somewhat Carnie nature. The sketches throughout each chapter provide a nice break from the text and help to illustrate the people and places in which the Baudelaires find themselves. It’s a great mystery-horror novel that will no doubt captivate readers of all backgrounds.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Acedemy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

 

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Review

simon_vs_the_homo_sapiens_agendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray, 2015. 978-0062348678

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for one of my book clubs that thought it prudent to read it before the movie hit theaters.

Why I finished it: The romance was definitely cute, but what really stuck with me was the underlying commentary about judging by appearances. Simon’s continual frustration (among other things) is regarding defaults, how we make assumptions based on a personal or societal norm and how the assumptions are not always true. To put this a little bit more in perspective, we do this as readers. We envision characters to be a certain way –  for example, white and straight – unless we are first given some sort of description or qualifier about the character. Simon and his classmates make default assumptions about each other as well, and the point Simon (and I) seems to be driving at is that we can’t judge people based on what feels comfortable to us. We should be able to embrace people for who they really are rather than what we want them to be. We can’t make assumptions based on appearances. Simon has chances to open up about his sexuality, but he’s constantly worried about how it will impact his relationships and whether or not the situation feels right. He has to play up the appearance his friends and classmates have of him, and yet, he knows that being out comes with its own problems with which he isn’t quite ready to deal. Albertalli is sending a message of cautious tolerance to her readers, something that is a big deal in today’s society. Think differently about people and be open to change, be open to being honest about yourself and your beliefs because things can get better.

Other related materials: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli; Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli; What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera; More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz; Every Day by David Levithan; Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan; Autoboyography by Christina Lauren; A Boy Worth Knowing by Jennifer Cosgrove; The Dangerous Art of Blending In  by Angelo Surmelis; Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg; Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

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