Friday, April 5, 2013

DEATH CLOUD by Andrew Lane

Lane, Andrew. Death Cloud. New York: Square Fish, 2011. ISBN-10: 031256371X.

As adventure stories go, this one bristles with intrigue and pulses with strange twists and turns. A young Sherlock Holmes, intent on returning home for summer holidays from his boarding school, instead is diverted towards his estranged uncle’s home in the country. What begins as a humdrum, monotonous stay with inaccessible and cold relatives turns rather quickly into a sharp and confusing mystery when a dead body appears on his uncle’s land. It’s a promising tale, and young readers will enjoy the antics that Sherlock and his new mate Matty Arnatt get up to moments within meeting one another, from inadvertent spying on shady criminals to surreptitious boat rides. And the climax, well it’s just one round of intensity after another, with observation and cunning being the most deadly weapons.

The confusion around the titular enigma that momentarily lingers over bodies, a “death cloud” of sorts, is unfortunately resolved too quickly. However, that in turn does lead toward a new series of questions that befuddle the reader more than any would-be otherworldly forces. Basically the truth seems more farfetched than imagination, but at least Holmes is quick to point that out to the villains themselves, who only begin to question the feasibility of their plans at this young teenager’s prodding. Visually, readers might also be somewhat unsettled or perturbed by the villain himself who, having suffered a great injury during a war, has an almost laughable appearance if it weren’t so disturbing. Still, Lane uses history to his benefit and creates characters and settings that fit perfectly into the time period and the machinations of that era.

There does remain one major issue though—the imagining of young Sherlock Holmes himself. Any avid Holmes reader will find it hard to believe that as a fourteen year old, Sherlock had not yet developed his keen sense of observation, wit, sarcastic cunning at least to some degree. I can see him not fitting in at school, but I cannot imagine him being so… timid. I welcomed the summer tutor his brother hires for him, an American with sharp senses and a sharper brain, who guides Sherlock through his first stages of development into the dark world of mystery and crime solving. But Sherlock himself did not ring true for me, instead lacking in personality and falling for a girl far too simply like any typical teenager would. That Lane’s book is fully endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate makes me wonder though, do I expect too much of the grand master detective? Or do his talents deserve to have been inculcated at an earlier age?

Nevertheless, the book does allow for a growing parade of subsequent books, which may resolve such issues as: Why his uncle was estranged from his father in the first place? When does Holmes’ disdain for common folk and ambivalence toward women develop? And what mysteries lie within his own family? It would be a fun experience to see if and how these unfold amidst the wild capers Sherlock is bound to pursue.

Reviewed by Alya Hameed

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GOING APE! by Eduardo Bustos

Bustos, Eduardo, and Lucho Rodriguez. Going Ape! New York: Tundra, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-77049-282-0, $9.95. 

Did you know that there are more than two hundred species of primates in the world and, except for humans, they are known as apes? Did you know that the Gibbon is the fastest mammal that lives in trees and cannot fly? Or that the Macaque can swim more than half a kilometer (a third of a mile for those of us in the US)? Or that the Allen’s Swamp Monkey has webbed feet? How about the fact that Orangutans, my favorite ape of all time, live with their mothers for seven years?

Well, not only is all of this true, there are many more facts to be learned about apes in Bustos and Rodrigeuz’s book. Originally written in Spanish, Going Ape!’s colorful and straightforward illustrations nicely complement its easily accessible text. This is an excellent book for the beginning reader—the text is large and, excepting the names of the apes, there aren’t too many multi-syllabic words. For those in San Diego, or anyone who lives near a zoo, this would be a very useful book to read in preparation for a zoo trip. As a final note, the large illustration of each ape’s face would serve as a neat template for a mask and there's a pretty cool poster with all the different ape faces on the backside of the cover!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley