Monday, May 22, 2017

Audacity Jones, by Kirby Larson. Middle Grade review


Title: Audacity Jones to the Rescue
Author: Kirby Larson
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2016. 209 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Summary:
An irrepressible orphan named Audacity Jones is headed on an adventure of historic proportions! The first book in a brand-new series from beloved Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson!

Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.

So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie--plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late?

My Review: 
I snagged this one from the new book shelf at the library in part because I've read other books by Kirby Larson and liked them. But the story sounded kind of fun, too. Boy, was that a good guess! Definitely a quick, engaging read, with humor, adventure, a touch of absurdity, and just a hint of the mystical (can that cat open locked doors?). I read through it in about 2 sittings, and it would have been one if I hadn't started so late at night. 

Writing level and the adventure both come together nicely for kids from about 8-12. The girls at the school aren't really wayward--they were just inconvenient, which is pretty sad but isn't dwelled on. Audie certainly never spends any time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she grasps every opportunity that comes her way, which is how she ends up in a little trouble in DC. But have no fear--she has a great knack for making the right friends, and a lot of ingenuity for getting out of scrapes!

My Recommendation:
A sneaky bit of historical fiction for those kids who don't think they like historical fiction. This is really all adventure, and while the author has made sure Audie's world conforms to 1910, this story isn't about the history. Larson does include a note at the end to straighten out what is in fact historical about the story, but above all it's a frolic.

This review has become a two-fer, as I promptly went back to the library for Book Two.

Also by Scholastic Press, 2017, and 192 pages.

Publisher's Summary:
Audacity Jones and her best friend, Bimmy, are setting off from Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls on an extraordinary adventure! In the glittering city of New York, the girls meet Harry Houdini, the world's most famous magician, as he prepares a new spectacle: Houdini plans to make an elephant disappear from a crowded theater.

But Audacity and Bimmy discover a nefarious plot that puts Houdini's illusion in jeopardy. Who could be trying to sabotage the master magician? Audie will need all her smarts, the help of friends new and old, and even her best juggling skills to solve this mystery. Will she manage to save the show in time?

Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson brings readers a magical romp of a mystery that will delight and thrill to the very last page.

My Review:
This book was every bit as much fun as the first, but I didn't find it as good. Does that make sense? I loved that Audie took her best friend Bimmy with her, and Bimmy has the skills and knowledge that round out Audie's own. And the adventure is fun, though there is less sense of brooding peril than in the first book (not that either is very heavy). There is also less sense of history, though the author remains careful to put nothing in Audie's world that shouldn't be there. The cat takes a central role again, and the author lets loose a bit with the cat's abilities, again keeping the story firmly in the 'fun, slightly fantasy-feeling' category that I believe will lead kids to read it in spite of the historical setting. They won't learn as much reading this one as the first, but they'll get a feel for the period.

The ending once again sets us up for another book, and I look forward to seeing what Audie, Bimmie, and the rest of the "Waywards" manage to do next! 

FTC Disclosure: I checked Audacity Jones to the Rescue and  Audacity Jones Steals the Show out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: The Crispins

After a long absence while he was busy doing author things, Chuck Wendig was back this week with a new flash fiction challenge. I used the random number generator to pick my genres, and ended up with Near-Future Sci-Fi and Biopunk. Had to look up the latter, but in the end they kind of ended up being the same thing. I stuck with it, though, because I'd just finished reading an article about CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and it seemed kind of obvious.

Chuck gave us 1500 words, and I ran longer than usual at 1380.

The Crispins

We Crispins were the result of the hubris of the 2030s, when the genetic scientists were sure they had all the glitches worked out of the use of the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing protocols. The big challenge had been solving the problem of not just removing bad DNA, but replacing it with what should be there. They finally got that worked out in 2029. That was when someone got the bright idea of creating enhanced humans.

The result was us. They gave us all the name “Crispin,” after the CRISPR, though someone had the wits to append a unique name for each of us. They swore that the experiment would remain sealed, that our genes would not be let loose on the world unless or until they were certain it was safe. In other words, that we would live as complete prisoners, possibly our entire lives, if they decided it wasn’t safe to use us as intended.

They never asked us how we felt about that.

The idea was that each of us would have enhanced abilities in some area. Some got intelligence, others strength or agility. Lissa has musical talent that would blow your mind, but she’s the only one. Someone must have figured that wouldn’t be much use to the NSA.

They stopped the experiments when they realized that the enhancements always came with some loss. Take me: I have brains like you wouldn’t believe, but I will never be strong or fast. Hermione has a leg that’s nearly useless, though she’s a mathematical genius. Colin can hear things beyond every usual limit of human hearing, but he’s as good as blind. Maybe they meant to limit us, maybe the process just didn’t work as well as they’d thought. In the end, they only made 20 of us, all within a single year.

Then they locked us in a compound in extremely rural Wyoming, and began raising us to be their slaves. After all, they had made us, using embryos and sperm abandoned by their parents. No one had any parental rights in us, and in fact, no one beyond our scientist guardians and a few very highly placed officials knew we existed. We would become the best agents the NSA could wish for, and no parents to notify when we were killed, either.

I think they began to get nervous when we were 6 or 7 years old, because that was when they isolated us from each other. It may have occurred to someone that if we were a bit on the superhuman side, we might be hard to control if we all got together and used each of our strengths to cancel the others’ weaknesses.

I don’t want to pretend it was worse than it was. We weren’t neglected or beaten or anything, and we ate better than most Americans in those difficult times. Many of our guardians were genuinely fond of us, and showed it. We were isolated from each other, but interacted with the guardians. We were each educated alone, in a manner tailored to our enhancements. I think they didn’t want us to have well-rounded educations, because that might set us to thinking in ways they couldn’t control.

There was just one thing that our guardians—our creators and enslavers—didn’t know about us. Their control of CRISPR/Cas9 wasn’t what they thought it was, and a few things changed besides the genes they intended to “improve” or the flaws they introduced.

We were 8 when I learned we were telepathic. Maybe that was when it developed, maybe that was just when we figured it out. But a year or two after they had separated us, we began talking again. Only no one knew but us.

Not all of us were smart enough to see the value of keeping it secret, but those of us who were made sure the others kept quiet. And we shared what we were learning. That meant even the ones who were physically enhanced at the cost of brains knew a lot, because they could lean on those of us with brains. I was sorry we couldn’t share the muscles.

Our education would still have been terribly limited if I hadn’t discovered that, while our guard(ians) couldn’t get telepathic with us, we could read their minds. After that, we began to learn history and politics, and a world of other things they didn’t think we needed to know.

By the time we were teens any one of us, except maybe Brian, whose musculature had been enhanced more than any others, with a concomitant loss of intelligence, could have qualified for a half a dozen PhDs. After all, the people whose minds we’d been reading for years were highly educated, and highly intelligent. We were lucky that some of the spouses weren’t scientists, which had broadened our education a lot.

The originators of the experiment had promised our genes wouldn’t get out, but they hadn’t counted on our needs and our resources meeting. When puberty hit, we all thought that must have been enhanced by CRISPR as well. We later learned that it was pretty normal. We needed the physical companionship of those with whom we were already mentally so close as to be one, needed it badly enough to do something about it.

It didn’t take us all that long to come up with a plan. We already knew some of the guardians were more empathetic than others, and those empaths proved easy to manipulate. They never did know what we were up to, but for some reason, they started leaving a few of our “condos” unlocked.

They were still keeping us apart with a care that made us laugh, in private. But somehow, Cara and Maria got out. They were two of the Agiles—fine motor skills like you wouldn’t believe. It took them about 30 seconds per lock. In 10 minutes, we were all gathered in the motor pool.

It was 2 a.m., and the night was cold, colder than any of us had anticipated. We were all given time outdoors, of course; they knew that was necessary to healthy development. And our Muscles had spent a lot of time outside running, climbing, and working out, because all the enhancements in the world couldn’t remove the need to train.

What the guardians hadn’t considered was that training could also overcome a lot of physical limits. I had no natural ability for running or strength, but a lot of training had made me a lot stronger than I was ever intended to be. You’d think they’d have noticed, but even smart people mostly see what they expect to see.

None of us knew how to drive, of course, but the Agiles had studied the process in the minds of our guardians, and had the enhanced coordination to master the skill in the time it took to get from the garage to the gate. We hit the barricade, smashed it to bits, and kept going.

That wasn’t the end of it, of course. It didn’t take long for them to organize pursuit, but we outsmarted them.

That bus was empty. We remained in the compound, and when it was emptied, every single one of them flying blindly into the night, terrified at what we might do if we got loose, we rebuilt the barricade. Then we let the government know that we were to be left alone. We had the means—don’t ask me what, because I won’t tell you—to enforce that.

We had a lot to work out. The compound was in the wilds of Wyoming, and we needed to become self-sufficient. The government was certainly not going to go on feeding us. It was the work of several years to create our colony, and we had to maintain a constant vigilance, because even after the government admitted defeat, the locals were scared enough of us to come hunting.

We made use of everyone’s strengths, and we worked it all out, security and self-sufficiency and all.

We had to. We were teens, and we had just met members of the opposite sex for the first time. We did what the scientists tried so hard to prevent.

So we made our place in the world, and made it secure.

We did it for the children.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Non-fiction review: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap


Title: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap 
Author: Wendy Welch
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2012. 291 pages
Source: Purchased

Publisher's Summary:
A book about losing your place, finding your purpose, and immersing yourself in what holds community, and humanity, together—books

Wendy Welch and her husband had always dreamed of owning a bookstore. When the opportunity to escape a toxic work environment and run to a struggling Virginia coal mining town presented itself, they took it. And took the plunge into starting their dream as well. They chose to ignore the “death of the book,” the closing of bookstores across the nation, and the difficult economic environment, and six years later they have carved a bookstore—and a life—out of an Appalachian mountain community.

A story of beating bad odds with grace, ingenuity, good books, and single malt, this memoir chronicles two bibliophiles discovering unlikely ways in which daily living and literature intertwine. Their customers—"Bob the Mad Irishman," "Wee Willie," and "The Lady Who Liked Romances," to name a few—come to the shop looking for the kind of interactive wisdom Kindles don't spark, and they find friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book in good company.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap will make you want to run to the local bookstore, and curl up in an arm chair with a treasure in bound pages.

My Review:  
I got this book because my friend Melissa of Carpe Librum Books ( kept recommending it. Maybe even raving about it. I can see why. I'm not sure I'd rave, but then I don't run a bookstore. But I enjoyed the book immensely, and learned a great deal along the way. Did I need to know about which types of books sell best, and the realities of creating a used book store out of nothing? Maybe not, but I had a good time, and turned some of that knowledge to how I thought about our "Friends of the Library" book sale.

Welch's writing style is engaging, as is her ready willingness to apply some gentle self-mockery to the naive innocence with which she and her husband approached both the bookstore project and their move to a small town. I'd say that the book is about half about running/developing a book store, and half about the realities of becoming a part of the community when the community is small, somewhat isolated, and maybe (like many small towns these days, for good reasons), a bit defensive.

I admit that as I started reading, I thought that the couple's naiveté was going to annoy me, along with a little tendency to look for "signs." But she quickly demonstrates that she is completely aware of both of those things, and maintains a sense of humor that goes a long way toward making this a swift and pleasurable read. 

My Recommendation:
For bibliophiles everywhere. Especially if you've ever thought you'd like to run a book store, this can provide both some practical advice and a reality check. But it also is a lovely story about a a couple becoming part of a community, and I enjoyed it on all those levels (well, I have no desire to run any kind of store, but if I did, it would be a bookstore).

FTC Disclosure: I bought The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."