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Profile for S. Shamma > Reviews

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Content by S. Shamma
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Reviews Written by
S. Shamma "Suad" (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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Blitz (My Story)
Blitz (My Story)
by Vince Cross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars How the war tore many families apart, 14 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Blitz (My Story) (Paperback)
This story was probably one my favorites from the "My Story" historical series. It is a very personal, firsthand account told from Edith's point of view of World War II in England, from July 1940 to January 1941. This time is known for when bombs were being dropped on London and millions of civilians paid the price for it.

The reason this story stuck with me is because it draws on a lot of historical facts, but molds it into a personalized story of a family living at that time, making it all very real. Edith and her family witness the demolition of their city, of neighboring houses, her friends having to evacuate and the stress this all causes her own family as they huddle in terror in their air-raid shelters. We go into different aspects of the family's lives, her sister's heartbreak, her older brother's demise, and her own evacuation to Wales with her younger brother. When Edith realizes that their lives haven't gotten any better with the evacuation, and that they are in fact being mistreated, she gathers all her courage to make the journey back to her family. A risk that could have gone wrong in many ways. I think that part of the story got to me the most, her bravery, her loyalty to her family, her protectiveness of her brother, the reunion, all of it was incredibly heartfelt.

A great story of how an average person was affected by war, and how it tore many families apart. A historical lesson learnt for sure, however this was also a human story with many humane lessons to be taken from it.

Viking Blood; A Viking Warrior AD 1008 (My Story)
Viking Blood; A Viking Warrior AD 1008 (My Story)
by Andrew Donkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Starts out better than it ends, 13 Jan. 2016
I can't say I'm a huge fan of Viking history and their era, and that in itself might have influenced my rating and experience of this book.

I found the story tedious and slow. The beginning, and first entry you read, definitely grips you as it is filled with intensity and suspense, however going back to the beginning and getting to that point was a lot less exciting than I thought it would be.

The story follows the path of Tor into manhood as he finds himself always being compared and competing with his adopted brother Ragnar. Tor can't help but be jealous of the attention Ragnar gets from the men surrounding him, and he is quite known for his bravery and strength. Unlike Tor who seems to be the exact opposite (in terms of physical strength) and always finds himself stuck in awkward situations and unable to assist himself.

This firsthand account is in parallel with Thor and Loki's stories, which seem to be a reflection of what Tor is feeling or experiencing in general. I found it did not all go together cohesively, and the overall account of events was lacking. I did not find it as informative as other reviewers seemed to think, and again, I want to reiterate that the age of the Vikings is definitely not my favourite in general, so I wasn't as engrossed.

Overall, it's OK. But it starts out way better than it ends.

Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I (Wildwood Trilogy)
Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I (Wildwood Trilogy)
by Colin Meloy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

4.0 out of 5 stars Looking forward to the next one, 13 Jan. 2016
So let me start off by saying, this book is beautiful. The illustrations are gorgeous!
I love me a book with graphics and illustrations.

The story itself was also quite excellent. I truly enjoyed Prue and Curtis's journey through the Impassable Wilderness, and with an abundance of characters, I found it remarkable to have been able to create so many excitingly different personas within the wilderness. The book follows the story of Prue whose infant brother was abducted by crows and taken into the Impassable Wilderness (as it is known to the outsiders). Prue, determined to get her brother back before her parents notice, braves her way through the wilderness accompanied by a random nerdy classmate - Curtis.

Prue and Curtis soon find themselves separated due to an attack by talking coyote soldiers, and this begins an adventure unlike any other. Filled with all sorts of talking creatures, (from birds, to coyotes, to dogs, to rats), this book opens up a new world to us, albeit quite unbelievable.

I enjoyed seeing Curtis's character development and where it all led him, I was a little confused by the ending where he's concerned. I won't say why though, because that requires spoiling the whole thing for you. I'm curious about the mystery involving Curtis and his ability to enter the wilderness and what that means about his background. We were given a complete background of Prue and her brother, which answered all of these questions, but Curtis remains an enigma. He is definitely one of my favourite characters though. His naivete, humor and innocent bravery were quite charming in my opinion. The bandits were a hoot as well! Absolutely loved their role in all of this.

However, all of that being said, Wildwood is quite big (at 500+ pages) for a pretty straightforward storyline. It took me a while to finish it, not because it was a difficult read, but because it was quite long at parts and got slightly tedious to get through certain events. The second and third installments are just as big, however, and with that many characters thrown into the mix, there's no wonder the books are huge.

So many characters, so many different storylines, all merge to achieve one goal. Feels a bit chaotic, but I actually enjoyed the chaos! I like that this is a middle grade story that is really quite grown up in many ways. I am definitely looking forward to continuing the journey with Prue and Curtis and see what happens next and where it's all headed.

Arab of the Future, The
Arab of the Future, The
by Riad Sattouf
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can't decide..., 4 Jan. 2016
I really can't decide how I feel about this book.

I can't put my feelings into words. I gave it 4 stars because the graphics are great, and the sarcasm/humor is on point. No one can say otherwise. However, being an Arab and a Muslim myself, I feel torn about where I stand. Yes, this is a satiric account of a boy's life moving around between Libya, Syria and France. A boy who was born to a Syrian father and a French mother. It bothered me how acquiescent the mother seemed to be, it was actually quite annoying. For someone who is not Arab and was not raised in the Middle East, to give up her life so readily for an extremely politically opinionated Syrian man and live the life she has (according to Riad's account that is), it was frustrating. He portrayed her as a woman without a voice.

Of course, this is only his account, and I can't be sure how credible or accurate it all is. I mean, we are talking about the life of a boy from the age of 2 to the age of about 6 years old. How can he remember his life at that age in such detail? And if he didn't and this is all based on experiences described by his family (mom, dad, grandparents etc.), then how accurate are those memories? Everyone remembers the same incident differently, so you can never actually be sure. In that sense, this memoir immediately lacks some of its credibility.

On the other hand, there's the whole idea of simply taking things at face value and learning to laugh at oneself. And that's something Arabs are not very good at doing. We don't know how to laugh at ourselves and not take things too seriously. Myself included. We don't know how to be satirical or ironic, and those who do - such as Riad here - are always judged and looked at with mild disdain. We also tend to quickly take offense and attack.

This book is full of satire, that's for sure. It highlights some key traditions and customs of Arabs - specifically Muslims. Such as the prayers and eating together and so on. I found myself having to constantly remind myself that this is a memoir dating back to early 1980s when things were very different back then.

The fact is, nothing portrayed in the book is completely out of line (except we don't go around beating animals or killing them, even Arabs are horrified by those children's actions), and yet I still caught myself occasionally being offended.

I've finished reading this book and I've made a conscious decision not to go looking for the other installments.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2016 8:46 AM BST

Nooks & Crannies
Nooks & Crannies
by Jessica Lawson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.04

3.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 4 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Nooks & Crannies (Hardcover)
Despite my star rating, let me start by saying how much I liked this book. It was very well-written, with a solid plot and storyline and a diversely great bunch of characters. The premise of the book was this great combination of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vs. Matilda. Basically, very Roald Dahl-ian.

However, I have been reading so many incredible middle grade novels this year, and in comparison this felt like it fell a little short. In Nooks & Crannies we meet Tabitha Crum, who lives in the attic and cleans and cooks and does all the chores for her horrible parents, who seemingly have zero affection for their daughter. Tabitha is one of six lucky children, who is sent an invite to meet the Countess of Windermere at her home, which is rumored to be haunted by ghosts. No one knows the purpose of these invitations, but they are all excited to have been invited as the Countess is known for her charitable generosity and wealth. Tabitha's parents jump on the chance to climb the social ladder, even though they had planned to permanently leave London and go to Spain abandoning their daughter in a shelter.

Once the children arrive at the Countess's home, whom no one has ever met before, they are all aware of a certain strangeness in her, but nobody could quite put their finger on it. They are quickly informed by the Countess that they were all adopted by their parents from the same orphanage in the same year, and one of them is her estranged son's child, who is set to inherit quite a large sum of money.

Tabitha is immediately suspicious, and with the help of her pet mouse, Pemberley, she sets off trying to discover the secrets behind all the mysterious disappearances of the children, the ghostly sounds in the house and the strange Countess and her servants.

A very good read. However, it seemed to take me much longer than needed to get through it, and once I did get through it, the whole thing seemed incredibly predictable and a little too middle grade for me. In fact, I really hated the ending and how it all wrapped up nicely with the twin siblings thing, which I felt was an unnecessary addition to the storyline. Obviously, this IS a middle grade story, so I can't complain (much) and it does feel unfair, but I guess I've been spoiled by such wonderful middle grade novels that were easily suitable for any age that I couldn't rate it as highly.

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
by Heather Vogel Frederick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.54

1.0 out of 5 stars Do not underestimate middle-grade readers, 4 Jan. 2016
I must confess I am a little shocked at the high ratings this book has received. I will start off by saying that I understand this book is meant for middle grade readers, but I will also say that I have read many of these stories and they were a thousand times better than this will ever be.

I did not look into Heather Vogel Frederick's background, so I don't know whether this is her first book or not, and honestly, I couldn't care less. When I read a book, whether it's the author's first or last, I am looking to delve into the story and be engrossed by the characters. And the mystery! This IS a mystery novel after all, at least it sells itself as such. And yet, I found the mystery to be extremely mediocre and almost...silly. She tried to add depth by adding a character who has suffered, i.e. the dad, but it just didn't work. In fact, although she could have utilized the dad's character so much more in the story, especially in terms of the family environment, instead we were given boring paragraphs about birds and Truly's obsession with them.

Actually, we were put through some of the most mundanely tedious prose on Truly's name (I was sick of her stupid play on words such as "Truly-in-the-middle-of-a-mess" pg.133), Truly's obsession with birds (not only was she obsessed, but she was super insecure about her love for birds too, pg. 140, an entire page is dedicated to deciding whether her friend is making fun of her or not), Truly's love for swimming, and Truly's descriptions of her family. Yes, Truly is allowed to love birds and express that in the book, in fact, not long after this book I read Wildwood, another middle grade book whose protagonist also has a love of birds in all their forms. However, the author did not choose to spend a huge portion of the book discussing those birds. Give me a break. I want to delve into the mystery, not birds and their types and their entire history.

Let's not get into the dialogue...the conversations between characters were so unrealistic and almost seemed contrived. Exhibit A: " 'How come you have to wear glovth? Pippa had asked this morning, when she saw me putting them in my backpack. 'Because of cootieth?' I had to smile at that logic. I'd forgotten what a big deal cooties are when you're in kindergarten. On the other hand, now that I was actually here in the gym, I was grateful for the gloves. I definitely didn't want Scooter cooties. Scooties? That word popped into my mind and I stifled a giggle." (pg. 157)

Face palm. I just can't. Scooties? REALLY? That whole paragraph dedicated to gloves and...COOTIES? Are middle graders that foolish and simple-minded?

Here's another brilliant sample, "If everything went as planned, Lucas would duck inside the bookstore, Calhoun would come after him just like he and Scooter did before, and bingo, we'd have him cornered. Easy peasy lemon squeezie, right?" (pg. 165)

I'm sorry, what? Easy peasy...what...? I can't can you take this book seriously?

Here's another one, last one I promise. So the context of this excerpt is that Truly's aunt is at the bookstore with Truly and her friends, and she is telling them about her plans to improve sales, so she says: " 'What I'm talking about' - she pauses dramatically - 'is a makeover!' We looked at her blankly. Aunt True didn't wear makeup. Was she planning to start? I didn't see how that was going to boost sales. But it turns out she had something much bigger in mind....She was talking about a bookshop makeover." (pg.196)

NO kidding. How could you have thought she was talking about any other kind of makeover? And since when are makeovers associated only with makeup? Again, did she really have to spell out every single thing to her readers? I may not be her target age group, but even those younger kids don't need this much spoon-feeding. The book is littered with this style of writing, and it gets very frustrating. It took me forever to finish reading this book, and that frustrated me even more.

Definitely not worth the 5 stars that it has been receiving, and readers in the targeted age group should never be underestimated.

by Derf Backderf
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A cool history of trash bonus, 23 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Trashed (Paperback)
Although I found this book enjoyable, and liked the series of facts spread throughout this book on trash and the history of trash, I couldn't really engross myself in it 100%. I don't know if it's because the topic is that of "trash" and there are a few gory scenes in there, or if it's because of the storyline itself, but I simply could not immerse myself in this book.

I will take the easy way out here and use another reviewer's excellent take on this book that reflects how I felt about it:

"There's this thing I tried to express before in a review of a play, about dialog and how it works and doesn't work, and then I read this article about Mad Max: Fury Road that crystallized the whole thing for me. Here's what director George Miller says about dialog.

At a simple level, you're not trying to use dialogue as exposition, you're using it as part of behaviour, and language itself is distorted.

Dialog can be really grating as exposition and really effective as characterization. Dialog tells you a lot, not through the information contained in sentences, but the language used and the way things are said. I think this is especially true and noticeable in film, plays, and comics because they have the expository visual tools to carry some of the load as well, so when dialog is used as exposition, it's extra painful.

I won't call Trashed lazy because it's not lazy, but when I write expository dialog, it's laziness. Always. It's a failure of imagination to show and demonstrate something in a better way."

This may possibly be the core of the issue for me: the dialogue. The conversations seemed a bit contrived and not very realistic. You don't need to expand on every little thing you say, because it takes away from what it is you're saying leaving you feeling a little...well, annoyed.

A very good book nonetheless, with great illustrations and graphics. Just needs a little more work in terms of characterization and story line.

Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film
Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film
by Edward Ross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A graphic history of film, 23 Dec. 2015
This was a fantastic journey through film divided into 7 chapters exploring the following aspects of film: The Eye; The Body; Sets & Architecture; Time; Voice & Language; Power & Ideology; Technology & Technophobia.

I've always been interested in film history and the art of film making and cinema, and this was indeed enlightening and quite educational as well. The graphics are beautiful, and I loved the different illustrations of films and characters that we've known and seen our whole lives and are instantly recognizable. I loved how he took different films and studied them, not only mentioning them once, but mentioning them again whenever it applied throughout the different chapters. Films like The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jurassic Park and A Clockwork Orange and King Kong and Die Hard and The Matrix are just a fraction of the movies mentioned and used as examples to showcase different aspects of film making throughout history.

It is very interesting, and highly entertaining, and many films I hadn't yet watched have been added to my "To Watch" list with a new outlook on how they're made.

Excellent book for all lovers of film. More books like this need to be made. I would love a version of this book made about music for instance.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2016 11:24 PM GMT

Two Brothers (Milton Hatoum)
Two Brothers (Milton Hatoum)
by Gabriel Ba
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks development, 23 Dec. 2015
Although I enjoyed the illustrations, I wasn't too fond of the storytelling. I didn't like any of the characters, I hated this toxic jealousy that existed within the brothers, and the toxic relationship between the mother and her favourite child. I understand that this is all part of the storyline, but it wasn't one I enjoyed reading about.

Despite the fact that the story pretty much starts out with a good brother and an evil brother, it moves on to show the downwards spiral of the good brother and how vengeance and hatred takes over any good sense he may have had. I didn't like the stereotypical depiction of the "evil" brother being useless, a failure, a criminal and his mom's favourite spoiled child, and the "good" brother being the stable, successful, smart, emotionally detached one.

This is a very dysfunctional story about a very dysfunctional family, one that really seems to go nowhere, with ins and outs that did not keep me invested in the story or gripped by the events taking place. I didn't find myself rooting for anyone, and I didn't find myself caring what happens to any of the characters, and that to me is a sign that the writer did not succeed in creating a fully developed story with fully developed characters.

Lacks development and depth.

Step Aside, Pops
Step Aside, Pops
by Kate Beaton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

2.0 out of 5 stars Over-hyped, 21 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Step Aside, Pops (Paperback)
My review for the first book: Hark! A Vagrant! applies here as well.

Unfortunately, due to the over-hype of these books, I had bought them as a set in my excitement, never once thinking I would not enjoy them so much. I mean, it was bad enough reading one of those books, but reading this, it is exactly the same - except different characters and events were inserted. The humor gets pretty old and even stops being "mildly amusing" at this point.

As mentioned in my first review:

I certainly don't think it deserves to be published in a book, it is funnier in pieces, funnier in small installments perhaps in a magazine or newspaper, but as a collection, it eventually gets a bit redundant, I'm afraid.

I appreciate the effort, but I did not enjoy this one very much.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2016 4:01 AM GMT

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