on 11 January 2015
Very much an unfettered middle grades fantasy framed in a soft SF context, in <i>Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door</i> young teen imagination runs wild. Bruce Arrington does an impressive job of writing from and for the perspective of a fourteen year-old Josh Anvil.
The story is set in Louisiana and revolves around the central character, his family, friends and enemies. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that through strange circumstances Josh acquires a set of unusual powers. The book explores those powers, and the mysterious fires which are being set in the Baton Rouge area. While the main story follows the discovery and development of Josh's powers, there is a parallel story in unravelling the mystery of the fires, as well as a little romance and some consideration of values. The challenges which Josh faces increase in difficulty and complexity in the course of the book.
I loved Arrington's presentation of the impact of dyslexia: tne coupifion wakes life bifficnlt for Josn! The writing style is entirely appropriate and very easy to read. The story does require substantial suspension of disbelief, particularly from an adult reader, because of the somewhat unrealistically accepting responses of the adults in the story - but this is because it is a book for younger teens, and I believe that the same factor will make it even more enjoyable for this target readership. There are some - very rare - editing flaws, but the book is presented to a professional standard. Readers should note that this story is clearly the first in a series and ends on a cliffhanger. The book can still be enjoyed on its own, as Arrington ties up enough of the ends of this first story to satisfy most readers.
This is beautifully executed teen escapism which will engage young people, and I would strongly recommend it for readers aged 12-16 or thereabouts.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy for an honest and objective review.
on 2 September 2013
Josh Anvil is a typical teenager until a not-so-typical encounter with aliens gifts him with superpowers. Cue a roller-coaster ride of a story as Josh is yanked out of his typical school life into unwanted limelight.
What worked in this story is that for me, the author succeeds in getting inside the mind of a 14-year old protagonist and making him totally believable. His actions are authentic, and sometimes frustrating and illogical to the adult reader - but hey, that's not quite the target audience for this book. I appreciated the courageous introduction of Josh's dyslexia. At one point I thought, 'the author is really having fun here' as his imagination stretches and fizzes and pops off in unexpected directions, and that for me is a strong recommendation for this story. The opening scene is especially memorable and the book picks up pace throughout. The superpowers are explored and played with; I also enjoyed the treatment of family/friends, they certainly don't always get on, but they add to the story.
I felt the plot suffered in two respects - firstly, I found some of the high school material too lengthy. I found myself wanting to skip those sections to get to the good bits, of which there are plenty, but they made the high school material seem bland in comparison. Secondly, it is hard I think to generate and sustain tension when the main protagonist has apparently unbridled power. Crisis situations are too easily raised and resolved and I fear some readers might feel the lack of a driving tension in the story. The analogy might be of swimming in many small waves, but no huge ones.
However, all told, a fun story and one I am glad I got to read. I received this book in exchange for for a non-reciprocal, honest review.
on 9 August 2013
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
This is a fantastic science fiction/fantasy story! I loved it!
Josh Anvil is a fantastic character. Unfortunately, he doesn't see himself the same way. He has low self-esteem, which is caused by his dyslexia and being bullied at school. He is also an excellent story teller! I liked him very much.
This is wonderful and exciting read for young teens. I was completely swept away by the tale! It has two of my favourite things, aliens and dragons. This is a slightly unusual mix, but the author has created an amazing story that allows the imagination to run wild! Set in Baton Rouge, the story catapults the reader into an adventure like no other I have read before! Josh's powers are amazing; they made me jealous! The dragons are cute (for lack of a better word!), and this story made me wish that they were alive! There is also Josh's best friend, Troy, who is also a fantastic character! I loved his attitude and his wit! Some of his comments made me laugh! However, there is also danger being faced by the residents of Baton Rouge. Fires are being set, and Josh finds himself in a fight against a deadly foe. I struggled to put this book down! The descriptions of places and people made the book come alive! There are some amazing scenes that I loved, but I think the best ones are on the island. I loved the rollercoaster, but would be terrified to try it out for myself! The ending has an amazing cliffhanger, and I am now looking forward to reading the next book to find out what happens next!
Bruce Arrington has written an exciting fantasy adventure, but he also highlights the issue of dyslexia. I think that this is a more common problem than has been reported. Not having dyslexia myself, I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to live with it. However, I can understand how frustrating it must be for sufferers. People like Josh (and my nephew, who has been diagnosed with dyslexia) need more understanding and patience, not ridicule and bullying. I am glad that the author has made his characters have faults and flaws, because that is how we, as humans, are; The characters come alive because of these faults. Kudos to the author!
I highly recommend this book to young readers aged 12-16, but I also recommend this book to adults who love to read YA fantasy books filled with dragons and/or aliens. - Lynn Worton
on 1 June 2013
Josh Anvil is a great kid. He loves his family, loves animals, loves fishing. He struggles with dyslexia and hates school. Then he becomes a superhero.
There are numerous delightful moments in this book; I especially enjoyed the folk stories and tall tales woven into the text, and they're part of the book's theme, too--you'll see why! I loved the Louisiana setting, especially the cypress marshlands. Overall, the characters are quirky and charming.
Although aimed at an older age bracket, Josh Anvil reminded me of the Edward Eager books, where children discover magic, and then get in complicated trouble with it. Josh handles his new powers with as much skill and discretion as any 14 year old would do, but that's not saying a lot.
I want to go back and see if all the teachers and other bit-part adults in the book have funny and punny names. I know I missed a few, before I realized that I had to say them out loud.
Since Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door is meant for middle-grade readers, I'm not part of the target audience. There were moments when the wish-fulfillment felt a little strong for my tastes. I'd roll my eyes and say to myself: "His parents are okay with his doing what?" But, back when I was a kid, that wouldn't have bothered me a bit. I'd have been daydreaming about having the same powers that Josh did. And the roller-coaster was spectacular! (I don't want to give away too much, but let's say that the whole place where the roller-coaster was, was spectacular.)
Overall, this book was a pleasure to read, filled with imagination. For me, it did not reach the top tier of 'children's books that are just as good for adults', but very few children's books do.
I was given a free copy of this e-book in exchange for an honest review.
on 16 May 2013
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest, nonreciprocal review.
To be fair, I'm not a YA reader so my impatience to find some sort of hook to connect me with a 14-year-old character is probably my own deficiency rather than any reflection on the writing. However, by the end of the first chapter I was beginning to appreciate the detail that went into Josh's sister's cooking experiments and the situation with his parents, as well as the originality of the turn of events in the swamp. While I think that the writer could benefit from feedback in a good critique group, particularly in the art of releasing information at an effective pace, the originality of the unfolding story was interesting and I was able to get a feel for the main character relatively quickly.
As the story progressed, I was alternately pleased with the subtle changes in dialogue and references that gave me a feeling of Louisiana and put off by list-like descriptions of characters or dialogue that seemed to jump around and was overly riddled with American colloquialisms and references that would make a non-US reader struggle to follow, yet intrigued by the wealth of imagination that was pouring out of the story. I would alternately think that an event might have been foreshadowed in an earlier chapter and wonder at an unexpected twist in events that resulted in an overall fascination to see what would happen next.
I have to admit that I found much of the high school experience to be long-winded and overly detailed. I was given the impression that the story was written without a comprehensive plan in advance. Despite this, a lot of very interesting ideas continually presented themselves through the tale and I think that as the author gains more experience of crafting prose, his fertile imagination will take readers through many fascinating adventures. I particularly like the way that a couple of special attributes regarding Josh are introduced.
I have to say that I was mystified by some of the references to the film Avatar, which I have not seen. I do try to caution authors that references to brand names, films and songs can be lost on readers who have not shared that experience. There is, however a great deal of imaginative adventure through the twists and turns of the story for the young reader. I would guess the target audience to be around the 10-14 age group.
on 17 April 2013
Josh Anvil, a 14 year old boy from Louisiana, goes canoeing one day in the swamps and comes upon aliens who accidentally bestow upon him super powers. Gradually, Josh learns that some of those powers include the ability to materialize dragons, people, islands in the sky, as well as to heal the injured and sickly. However it takes his parents to show him how best to use these powers. When the story opens, his home town of Baton Rouge is being ravaged by fires. An arsonist is causing havoc throughout the city and his father and best friend, both firefighters, have been injured. Josh uses his powers to heal the men and that is the plot line I expected the story to take off from. However that ends up being a back-story that simmers for a good portion of the novel. The main thrust of the story involves how Josh learns and develops his powers. The author shows no shortage of creative ability in developing the supernatural aspects of his tale much to the delight, I'm sure, of his teen readers. But to me the supernatural has much more impact when contrasted against the natural world. The more natural and believable the world around him, the more believable become the fantasy elements. It's here that this aspect and some inconsistencies work against the tale. For example, Josh is a member of a story-telling group and faces a competition to be named the best story teller. But when the boys gather, other members are awarded their ranks instead of having to compete. In another chapter two 18 year old policemen find Josh in a field and draw their guns on him for no apparent reason. Later on an FBI agent kidnaps and tortures him to get some information. These turns may seem dramatic to young readers but unless there is a context for them, or they are based upon realistic motivations, they lose their punch. Toward the end Josh's friends develop super powers as well but how they came upon them is never really explained. Characters are written in and dismissed, adding little impact to the overall story. The chapters also seem self-contained making the book more episodic rather than plot driven. What I mean is, problems arise and are solved in each chapter. I would have liked to have seen a dramatic thread that pushes the protagonist into his journey from the beginning and leads the reader through each chapter to make us want to know what happens next. The author certainly sets up a number of interesting avenues for the protagonist to investigate including the arson plaguing his city and/or tracking down the aliens who are planning some type of nefarious action. That much is great stuff for young readers.
on 8 April 2013
This middle school/young adult fantasy story revolves around Josh, a fourteen year old boy living in contemporary Louisiana, USA. He hates school, likes telling stories and loves the swamp surrounding his home. He also likes taking chances, often endangering his life and others' lives throughout the book. His dyslexia makes him feel like a freak, influencing some of his decisions to rebel, especially at school.
In late summer, he gains special powers from aliens he encounters while canoeing in the swamp. He's then able to create any living thing, plant or animal, which he discovers after telling some fantastical stories. Giant spiders, flying dragons, beautiful girls, a living island in the sky that one can visit, even humans to help out at the family homestead--all appear after he describes them. And they don't go away. When a dragon-flying accident lands Josh in hospital, he discovers that he also has the power to heal others through touch, and the hospital staff use him to heal terminal patients. His powers leave him continually hungry--what he eats is described often-- and tired, but he enjoys making others better. As one can imagine, the school, community and news reporters find out about the "healer". He's hounded and even kidnapped, until his dragons save him.
Josh's best friend Troy is involved in most of the story, and much of the dialogue is between them. They feel like typical young teenagers, making light of things when they ought to be serious. The two boys use many references to movies--Avatar, Spiderman to name a couple--plus lots of cliches, but maybe this is how kids think and talk. It sometimes seems too sarcastic and clever, especially when their lives are in danger--which is often. Some of the sentences could be tightened up, needing contractions, and a synonym for "suddenly" would help during action descriptions--it's used too often.
Josh's highschool teachers are nicely described and all have fun, characterful names: Ms. Sreech for music, Ms. Pye for math, Mr. Hoop for basketball, and so on. Josh is even able to cure a couple of their minor ailments. The normal tensions and awkwardness between students and teachers is mixed with compassion and feels realistic. I also liked Ms. Screech's description of the Tree of Life, one of the few references to the rest of the world and other belief systems.
Josh's parents never seem heavy or overwhelming, though they're around after every mishap. A few times I questioned their lack of caution, letting their 14 year old son take chances I would call dangerous. But this book is written for teenagers, not adults, and they will enjoy Josh's freedom to do foolhardy things and face the consequences, even at the end of the book. Though the focus of the book is on the boys, there are some minor female characters, including sports-minded schoolmates. The girls often come across as a bit lecherous, lusting after Josh or just using him for personal gain. Perhaps a more modest, realistic teenaged girl should be introduced in sequels. That said, Josh's kid sister Candace is nicely portrayed.
This is a long book with plenty of imaginative action, often involving pet-like, flying dragons chasing bad guys, aliens, and other dragons, plus plenty of ravenous eating for the weary creator/healer Josh. The fires raging around Baton Rouge only get worse as the story progresses, and everyone gets involved solving the crimes. Teenagers who like fun fantasy will enjoy this book, the first in a series.
on 31 March 2013
Josh Anvil, the 14-year-old Louisianan who is the hero of this middle-school fantasy, is a boy with a serious case of dyslexia and some very special skills. Initially, his skill is in storytelling in a group of his peers (boys only) who meet to compete. After a near fatal accident and mysterious encounter in the swamp near his home, he acquires skills that allow him to create living creatures, even humans. Meanwhile, his father and his best friend Troy's father are firemen dealing with a number of destructive arsons in town.
Writing and reading a work intended for middle-school aged children can have its own challenges. As for evaluating it, well, what I like or dislike about it and what a 12 year-old may like or dislike will probably be different things. I can only pretend to think like a 12 year old, and readers of this review might want to keep that in mind.
What I find likeable: the imagery throughout is creative and extremely colorful. A lot of it would make for stunning illustrations and animation. Josh and his family and friends have tons of good, clean fun with it and they are all likeable people for the most part. Josh's dyslexia is treated sympathetically and although he has problems in school he does the best he can with some mild encouragement from his parents. Josh and his friends are engaging young people with distinctive voices.
I especially like the opening scene in which avid fisherman Josh hooks Junior, the family's cat, with a cast over land (avid and a bit thoughtless, but he's a teen). Josh pulls a bit and Junior retaliates. Josh, who proves here and later in the story that he has empathy for animals and that they respond to him, ends up quickly reconciling with Junior and we find out that Junior is okay. A relief all around. I especially liked the juxtaposition of Josh's carefree-teen carelessness and his later concern for Junior.
I found it a little disturbing when Josh's mother smirks when he confesses to irresponsibly creating 4 pretty girls in Taco Bell and Josh's father snickers (I think it was a snicker - there's entirely too much smirking, snickering, and laughing at non-funny things going on) when he hears that Josh's gorgeous math teacher seems to have an inappropriate crush on Josh. But then the whole novel is from Josh's point of view, which can mean that what he sees in his parent's reactions are by no means the whole story.
When a book in a series such as this first Josh Anvil book ends with what appears to be the beginning of another major adventure that's tolerable, but the problem here was that the arson fires, the ongoing major problem facing the city of Baton Rouge throughout the story, resolve only with an identification of the perpetrators. The reason behind the fires - their significance - remains unknown. It's possible that might be revealed in the next book, but it's an unsatisfying climax in this one.
I recommend Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door to those who can ignore some of the things that bothered me and accept it as the light, fun romp it was intended to be. That might very well be most early teens and I hope that they can identify with Josh and have a good time with his adventures.
I received a gift copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.
on 22 March 2013
Excellent fantasy for middle schoolers.
I really enjoyed this book and it kept me entertained for nearly a week. Of course, the fact that the main character gets fantastic, nearly limitless powers is a fun element and the way Josh chooses to use his powers makes me wonder what I would do differently if I had powers like that.
The StoryTellers Club, an amusingly formal organization similar to the Toastmasters where members dress up in suits to camp out in one of the kid's back yard for their story telling finale, provides a clever twist. One of Josh's powers is activated when he tells stories, causing trouble early on when he tells a story about ancient spiders that once lived in the local swamps only to have them come to life during his story.
But it isn't all fun and games. His parents support him and try to teach him to use his powers for unselfish ends by having him volunteer at the hospital, probably my favorite part of the book, though it probably wasn't a good way to keep him safe from public attention. His activities quickly catch the attention of the media and eventually the government. Besides that, it bothers me that Josh can create people who end up doting on him, cleaning house or acting as handyman caretaker for the family. After the first time, I expected his parents to tell him that was unacceptable; it's what I would have done, too close to creating indentured servants. Sure, they were happy servants, he built that into them when he made them, but I still think it was an abuse of power that his parents should have discouraged (and they definitely didn't).
Underlying the story, the city of Baton Rouge is on fire as serial arsonists targets buildings across the city and Josh's and his friend Troy's fathers are constantly called away to fight them. It's a mystery which I don't think is ever completely explained, although the culprits are identified. Perhaps in the next book. I don't think the mystery of the fires or the casual approach Josh and Troy took to figure out who was responsible is as much the focus of the book as the description implies. It supported some of the things going on, provided some element of danger, but failed to really drive the characters in any way until the very end, and even then it was kind of out of nowhere.
Overall, I liked the story, enjoyed the juvenile interplay between the characters, and loved Josh's quirky creations and good deeds. I think this book would be a good bet for someone in the range of 12-15 years old.
Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.