Book Review: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #10
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival (and possibly others before it).

The three Baudelaire orphans are separated but must find a way to work together to save one of them from the clutches of Count Olaf and his troop. As they close in on some answers, other questions only grow more mysterious.

I don’t want to repeat myself in regards to what I don’t care for about this series, so if you’re interested, feel free to check out my reviews of the previous books. I’ll instead mention a few things that led me to give this book a higher rating than the previous one. I appreciate that the repetitiveness of the formula in the earlier books in the series is a thing of the past. No more new guardian every book, though that does lead me to wonder if Mr. Poe is doing anything to try to find these lost orphans at this point. Yes, he’s gullible enough that he probably believes the newspaper reports that they killed someone, but they were still his responsibility. I hope to see something more from him before the end of the series.

There was a twist in this book that I didn’t expect and something else unexpected happened too. Both bright spots in an otherwise un-surprising plot. I like that Sunny is growing (probably not physically, though), yet the other two siblings don’t change much. “VFD” is becoming my least-favorite acronym, considering how much Snicket forces it into the story. Three books ’til the end, and I’ll probably never re-visit this series.

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Book Review: Treasure Hunters

Treasure Hunters
Book #1
by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
read by Brian Kennedy

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s adventure

The Kidds are a family of treasure hunters. They live on a boat, traveling the world, recovering various kinds of items from shipwrecks. But after the separate but equally mysterious disappearances of both of their parents, the Kidd children are left on their own to deal with a band of pirates who want their treasure and local authorities who don’t want them to be left on their own. Then some clues surface that point at evidence to what really happened to their parents, and the adventure really begins.

I’m a bit torn on this book. The overall story was fun and adventurous and ends with a promise of more of the same. The main cast consists of 4 kids: the oldest is Tommy, then Storm, and twins Bick and Beck (short for Bickford and Rebecca). Bick is the narrator of the book, and Beck draws the illustrations along the way. I had to borrow the ebook to be able to see the illustrations, and I liked them, even one part when they were drawn by a different character.

However, I wrote more notes while listening, of things I wanted to remember for later, than I have for any book I’ve ever read. Not all of these notes were of issues I had with the story. For example, there was a gang of pirates that were basically surfer dudes, and the way they were voiced by the narrator gave that part of the story a major 3 Ninjas vibe, which I quite enjoyed. The narrator did a good job of sounding like a 12-year-old boy most of the time, but sounding like older characters when needed, too. Now and then, he seemed to put the emphasis in the wrong place, but overall, I liked the narrator.

What most of my notes boil down to are things I didn’t like about the way characters are presented or written. Tommy was probably my favorite of the Kidds. He’s uncomplicated and smarter than he seems. Storm is a fairly stereotypical, way-too-smart-to-be-believable character, even to the point of being overweight and socially awkward. It seems a little too much like the author(s) enjoys shaming fat people, not just because of this character (and it had to be pretty deliberate to make her this way, since it’s unlikely to me that someone living the way this family does would become so overweight), but because there are two other characters in the book that are described as ridiculously obese, and the narrator, who knows how much his sister hates to be teased about her weight, is not remotely kind in his descriptions of those characters.

Then we have Bick and Beck and their “twin tirades,” which are quick argument “squalls.” After a few of these, I realized that they’re really just a way for them to discuss opposing views, but they start out already angry. They mostly feel forced, and frankly, their parents should have put a stop to them a long time ago, insisting instead that they find a calmer and more healthy way to communicate. Also, all three of the kids were far too cavalier about the perceived deaths of their parents. They moved on so fast, it was as if they weren’t very attached to them.

This is the first of anything by James Patterson that I’ve read, but I have enjoyed books by Chris Grabenstein before. I’d really like to see where this story goes and hope that some of what I didn’t like about this book will be lessened in the future, as the series continues.

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Book Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

The Carnivorous Carnival
A Series of Unfortunate Events #9
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Hostile Hospital.

The three Baudelaire orphans continue to strike out on their own, arriving at the Caligari Carnival by stowing away in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Disguising themselves using Olaf’s own materials, can they keep their true identities secret? Can they uncover the truth behind the initials V.F.D. and whether or not one of their parents survived the fire?

There were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.” It was interesting that Olaf and his acting troupe were out in the open this time, while the Baudelaires were the ones spying. It was also nice to finally get at least one answer to a series-long mystery. And there were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.”

On the other hand, this book had whole new, over-the-top annoyances for me. The “freaks” whined constantly about their “deformities” which would have made more sense if one of them wasn’t simply ambidextrous. I’m sure it was some kind of humor that I just do not get, but the fact that both of Kevin’s legs are equally strong is something I really could have done without being reminded about all through the story. And the guests to the carnival were ridiculously blood-thirsty. But at least there’s Tim Curry. Slim consolation prize at this point.

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Book Review: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
read by Sean Astin

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Classic literature

I read this book in high school and did not like it. I remember telling my teacher that I was disappointed she would condone the lifestyle presented therein. She was offended. Now that I’ve read it again, I can see that misinterpreted the story. However, I also think that my teacher should have been a little more forgiving of a high schooler’s difficulty in fully understanding this book. Even now, I had to go read a few sections over again, and even look up ideas from other people online, to fully follow along.

Though I can see now that the book is not exactly advocating the way of life of the characters within, I can understand why I thought that way. And I didn’t like the book any more now than I did in high school. I did appreciate the vivid and beautiful writing and the immersion in the 1920s, but the story itself was simply unpleasant overall. Whatever commentary it’s trying to make on greed, power, social mores, etc., there’s nothing here but sad, depraved, depressing, unhappy people and lives. Nothing good comes about at all (which may well be exactly the point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it).

I’m not sure exactly who, if anyone, I’m meant to feel for along the way. The narrator himself is the only one who seems remotely down to earth, though he has his own issues. Tom is the very definition of a misogynist. Gatsby is controlling and unable to handle being anything other than the primary focus of the affections of the woman he desires. And Daisy made some bad choices, but that doesn’t excuse the men in her life from treating her completely terribly. Whatever merit fans of the book, those who study classics and literature, and high school/college English teachers may see in this book, I personally don’t see it as the Great American Novel, nor would I call it a must-read.

I listened to the audiobook read by Sean Astin, and while he’s a great actor and did some of the dialog really well, he wasn’t so great with the narration at times. And overall, he didn’t vary his voice with the characters, the main ones especially, nearly as much as I would have liked.

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Book Review: The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital
A Series of Unfortunate Events #8
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Vile Village.

The three Baudelaire orphans are on their own now, but that doesn’t make them safe. In fact, now they have to be wary of anyone who’s ever read the newspaper, which is just about everyone. Fortunately, they’re able to hide in a group of volunteers who don’t read the paper and whose organization initials happen to be V.F.D. This leads them to a hospital, where they encounter Count Olaf and his associates in full force.

As we continue to progress away from the tired formula that the first half of the series followed, I find the overall story a little more interesting. I still don’t get most of the humor that others seem to like, but I’ll admit I found some of Sunny’s dialog to be funny in this book (I even laughed out loud one time). The V.F.D. mystery is gaining interest for me, and the ending was such a departure that it felt like a breath of fresh air.

In some ways, though, outside of the stand-out things mentioned above, this was still the same old story. Still, I liked it more than most of the previous ones, and Tim Curry singing the V.F.D. song throughout the book was a lot more fun than it probably should have been. (This book is brought to you by the word “spurious.”)

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Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank (take 2)

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to journey to less-traveled parts of Egypt, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). My sister, who recommended the book in the first place, convinced me to try again with a different narrator, and it really did make a huge difference. Things that irritated me about the main character weren’t nearly as pronounced, and I think that’s simply due to the sound of the two different narrators’ voices. Yes, Amelia is still arrogant and aggressive, and Rosenblat certainly did put that into her inflection, but it didn’t seem as over the top this time. It might have helped, too, that Rosenblat’s Amelia actually had a British accent. Even Amelia’s companion, Evelyn, I realized while listening this time, felt less breathy and weak in this version. I hadn’t even realized how much that had bothered me with the other version. Emerson was the one character I liked the first time around, and I was more able to enjoy the humor he and his interactions with Amelia bring to the book on this second listen. Also, Rosenblat’s voice for Lucas, Evelyn’s cousin who follows her to Egypt, is perfect.

Overall, I was able to enjoy the story more, and frankly, I think I paid closer attention, as I remember my attention wandering more the first time around. Now that I’ve given it another chance, I’m looking forward to continuing on to the next book with this narrator. I’m also glad to be able to recommend this book to people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: The Vile Village

The Vile Village
A Series of Unfortunate Events #7
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian…town? The children choose the village of V.F.D. as their new guardian in the hopes of finding some clue to the whereabouts of their friends the Quagmires, whose cryptic clue upon being snatched away by Count Olaf was “V.F.D.” But Olaf is still after the Baudelaires too.

It’s a relief to be able to say that this book was much more interesting than most of the previous ones. Several breaks in formula happened, especially at the end of the book. There was a puzzle to solve, and while it was a simple one, I think it’s appropriately solvable for the intended age group. I finished this book with an actual interest in seeing what happens next, which I don’t really think I’ve had since the first book or two.

I wish by this point in the series there would be more to the siblings’ individual identities than inventing, reading, and biting. The kids aren’t really growing or changing as individuals (okay, that’s not really true about Sunny, at least). And though I also wish that it hadn’t taken this long in the series to start to get interesting, at least now I have more than Tim Curry’s voice to keep me going. (This book was brought to you by the word “skittish.”)

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Book Review: The Ersatz Elevator

The Ersatz Elevator
A Series of Unfortunate Events #6
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian and move to their home in a neighborhood that has the most domineering homeowners’ association ever. Rules about what is and isn’t allowed change on a regular basis, but the Baudelaires are more concerned about what happened to their friends, who were abducted in the previous book.

I feel like my reviews for this series are beginning to become redundant. But to be fair, that’s because the books are redundant. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, since a few things did happen in this book that broke away from the formula a little. But it’s just too little to make me suddenly start liking it. Especially given some of the absurd elements of this book, like Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft with her teeth and everything having to do with the red-hot tongs.

Any time I wonder why I keep listening to the series when I’ve disliked it so much so far, I only have to remember Tim Curry doing a purposely bad Swedish accent. It was the best part of the whole book for me, and half a star of my rating is based on his narration. However, even he may not be able to get me to continue this series, if it doesn’t get less ridiculous soon.

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Audiobook Review: Fireside Reading of Winnie-the-Pooh

Fireside Reading of Winnie-the-Pooh
by A.A. Milne
narrated by Gildart Jackson

My rating (for this version): 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic

My rating is specific to the audiobook version releasing from Dreamscape Media on February 22, 2022. The story itself was wonderful, and the narrator did an overall great job. Though I had to listen closely to hear the sound of the fire crackling, I liked that now and then, I could hear pages turning. It felt more like actually being there, listening to him read. I appreciated the conversational style he employed, and I’ve always loved Gildart Jackson’s voice, so that made it all the more fun.  I’ll admit that I didn’t care for the way he voiced Owl, but overall, it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Having never read the full book that started everything Winnie-the-Pooh before this year, I’ve now listened to it twice, by 2 different narrators, both audiobooks released by the same publishing company in less than 3 months. I grew up watching a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh, so it’s been fun to reminisce. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find more Gildart Jackson to listen to.

Thank you to Netgalley and Dreamscape Media for providing me a copy of this audiobook to review.
Publication date for this version: February 22, 2022

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Book Review: The Austere Academy

The Austere Academy
A Series of Unfortunate Events #5
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been sent to boarding school. Except Sunny isn’t old enough for school, so instead she works as an administrative assistant. Yeah. But Count Olaf is there, along with some of his henchmen, and even though the kids have been proven right each time they’ve made that claim in the past, Mr. Poe doesn’t believe them.

The author continues to be redundant, I suppose in an attempt at humor, but it’s done so often it’s just started to bother me along the way. But then again, this is not my kind of humor anyway—far too much injustice and even child abuse, none of which gets addressed or remotely amended, for my taste.

The formula that’s been so frustratingly followed for this series so far is broken slightly, in that the kids actually get to make some friends. But if you think that will work out well, you don’t know this series at all. It didn’t go the way I feared it would, and actually, I didn’t mind the way the story was left in the end, regarding the two friends. What I didn’t like is that the author nearly ruined the mild suspense provided by that ending, what made me feel, for a moment, at least, that I actually have an interest in the next story. Ah, well. I’ll continue on either way, because Tim Curry comes back with the next installment, and his narration is the only reason I got into any of this. I wouldn’t be continuing with this series if I wasn’t being read to by Tim Curry while I go about my day (except for the last 3 books, which I endured for the sake of…well, you get it).

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