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Millions

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 3.5 of 5

We all have our own ideas about what we’d do with a huge cash windfall, but it’s not often that someone actually gets to see how they’d really react. Of course, Damian’s probably not your typical individual in any case. Ever since his mother’s death, he’s been trying especially hard to be good–no, to be excellent–learning about the saints of old and doing his best to imitate their ways. So when a huge bag of pounds falls from the sky near a train track only a few days before the switch over to euros, Damian’s sure it’s a gift directly from God. His big brother Anthony (the more worldly and financially interested sibling) isn’t so sure, but he’s more than willing to help Damian spend the cash. Only, how much can a kid actually do with a bag full of cash, really? Soon inflation floods their school as they pay large amounts for trinkets and small favors. And they can’t make truly large purchases without a grownup, it seems. Even charitable donations online (Damian’s idea) require a credit card. So all in all, an interesting experience, but not nearly as satisfying as they’d hoped. And when other people begin to get suspicious of the brother’s good fortune, it seems their windfall may be far more trouble than it’s worth.

I’ve said many times over, and I’m sticking with it, that I love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s writing. Having said that, Millions–while certainly enjoyable–was not nearly as enjoyable as his other books. I think part of this is just that it’s his first book and things are still kind of coming together. Part of it was just the characters; I didn’t personally connect to them as much as to some of his other characters. And yeah, a big part of it is the weird, metaphysical aspect of Damian’s obsession with saints, to the point of having visions and people thinking he’s nuts at times. The way it’s presented, I would almost consider the genre to be magical realism . . . only, it’s not magic, it’s more supernatural . . . ? So I’m not quite sure what to even consider that, but it’s kind of weird, and the weirdness of it flavors the whole story. I enjoy the author’s books much more when they tend to the extreme tall tale and exude huge amounts of geekiness, on the whole. Still, the basic writing style was definitely Boyce’s, and thus, was quite enjoyable to read–in that regard, if you like his other books, you’ll probably like this one. Also cool was the historical perspective on the changeover from the pound to the euro in England and all the hubbub and excitement that entailed . . . or so I would say if England had actually made that change, but since it still uses that pound to my knowledge, that’s just kind of weird, too. Still, a good perspective on what this sort of change might entail and probably did involve in other countries. I do also appreciated the differing perspectives on finances and the value of wealth, including the realization that money is honestly kind of empty in the end, even if it can buy lots of cool stuff. So yeah, Millions was definitely an interesting and enjoyable read, even if not quite on par with the author’s other works. Still recommended as a solid middle-grade story, for sure.

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A Different Path (Supernatural Fanfic)

Author: angel-castiel-rules-the-world

FanFiction ID: 11478940

Status: Ongoing (currently 127 chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Rated T/Mild Slash & Spoilers through end of Season 10 (AU from end of this season)

In the wake of Dean’s plan with Death to save the world (again), Castiel finds himself suddenly bereft of both his best friend Dean and of Sam–both of whom are basically his family at this point. But he’s not alone. A certain King of Hell makes a point to come around the bunker and pester him in his research regularly. And research Castiel certainly does. Not content to let things end this way, the angel desperately searches for a way to bring back his friends–searches for years without result, until one day he finds a book on the bunker’s bookshelves that wasn’t there. And this book promises a way to turn back time, to see influential turning points, and to make different choices. So taking along Crowley (to maintain the balance, as directed in the book), Castiel travels back to the first time Dean (nearly) died, determined to change the Winchesters’ lives for the better. He’s not going to lose them again, no matter what.

A Different Path is a really interesting Supernatural fanfic that starts with an AU ending for Season 10 but quickly jumps back to be an AU from the beginning of Season 2 and on. We get a picture of events occurring with Cas and Crowley in the picture, Cas with his own experiential knowledge of certain events as well as the Winchesters’ stories to go from, Crowley with a much greater knowledge of events (having read the books)–not that he’s volunteering information readily. For added interest/complication, Cas refuses to tell the boys that he’s from their future, and he tries his best to keep Crowley a secret. You can imagine how well that works, with the king of snark hanging around! I really have enjoyed what the author has done with this story and the way the AU element unfolded. The characters are captured well, and I love the way the altered events and relationships play into the way their characters develop. Likewise, the adaptations to the episodes’ plots are both fitting and interesting, showing a good understanding of the characters and the storyline while still being original. This fanfic is  very much a slow-burn Destiel fic, and I enjoyed the way the author developed that; it seems to fit their characters and situation so much better than a lot of the Destiel stuff I’ve seen. But for those who aren’t big into slash, it’s all pretty mild and there’s a lot of other aspects of this story besides that (although it’s still a pretty significant focus in this fic). I will note that there are some typographical/grammatical issues (mostly wrong words, lacking capitalization, and occasionally lacking punctuation) which can make this story more complicated to read, but they’re mostly the sort of thing a good editor could quickly correct, and the underlying writing style and flow is still quite readable and enjoyable. Enough so that I intend to stick with this story for as long as the author continues to write it–which could be a while, considering that we’re still in Season 2 at 127 chapters with no specified ending point so far. I’m looking forward to where this story goes!

Note: You can find A Different Path at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11478940/1/A-Different-Path.

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Goodnight, Moon (Supernatural Fanfic)

Author: Dragonflysoul

FanFiction ID: 4179061

Status: Complete (13 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

What should have been a normal hunting trip goes horribly wrong, leaving Dean with a congested, squeaky bundle of . . . four-year-old Sam. Or at least, twenty-four-year old Sam in a four-year-old body. Obviously, the first place to go with this adorable and unexpected turn of events is Bobby’s. Bobby always knows what to do. Suddenly, Dean’s world of monsters and rock-salt-loaded shotguns becomes filled with Fruit Loops, 4T shirts with cute sayings on the front, and screams of childish laughter as Sam’s consciousness begins vacillating between his adult self and his childhood self. Unnerving for all concerned, to say the least. Even moreso when it becomes clear that Sammy is sick, possibly dying even, and they have no way to fix it–especially considering that Dean only has a few months of life left himself, what with that demon deal and all. But whatever these two have to face, they’ll handle it together, no matter what stands in their way.

I think I just have a weakness for cute de-aged character stories; they’re adorable! But seriously, Goodnight, Moon is a great story, and not just for the cuteness factor (although that’s definitely present). There’s a solid plot, with plenty of tension, suspense, and angst–enough so that it fits the Supernatural build quite solidly. But there’s enough humor, familial affection, and cuteness to balance the darkness out well. The writing is a pleasure to read, with a nice flow and a good balance of dialogue and description. I really liked that the author chose a third-person POV; it worked well for this story, especially since we sometimes switched from one person’s perspective to another’s. I think the characterizations were one of the best parts of this story–they were true to character and completely credible, but at the same time, they show a softer side of the characters than we see sometimes. It’s a side that most of the fandom loves, and it’s beautiful to see it fully displayed like this. Dean’s all in big-brother mode, falling back into the role with practiced ease. Sam/Sammy is equally himself, and the interplay between the older and younger sides of his personality is both interesting and well written. And I loved the involvement of both Bobby and Missouri in this story; they’re both great characters! John’s involvement was unexpected, and I kind of have mixed feeling about it. Because it was perfect and cathartic, and it kind of made me hate him less, and he’s one of those characters that I maybe love to hate. . . . But still, like I said, it works with the story and provides a nice cathartic resolution. I would definitely recommend Goodnight, Moon to anyone who loves a good Supernatural fic with lots of brotherly love and humor.

Note: You can find Goodnight, Moon at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4179061/1/Goodnight-Moon.

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Framed

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a small Welsh town where it rains nearly daily and nothing every really happens, Dylan finds himself the last boy anywhere near his age. So even a soccer game is out. Left keeping the petrol log for his family’s gas station/mechanic shop and avoiding the unwelcome attentions of “Terrible” Evans, it seems like nothing will ever change . . . until one day when a whole cavalcade of vans rumbles past their station, up the mountain, to the abandoned slate quarry. Suddenly, the town is abuzz with gossip. Perhaps even moreso when it becomes known that the contents of the National Gallery have been temporarily relocated to the quarry due to flooding. And somehow, the presence and exposure to the art there begins to change Dylan and his town . . . but will the changes all be for the good, or will Dylan and his siblings be inspired to more sinister designs?

As always, Frank Cottrell Boyce delivers a home run of a story in Framed. The writing, the characters, the themes–it’s all brilliantly executed and very readable. I love the way he chooses a few motifs and uses them repeatedly to tie the story together and draw out deeper ideas in a way that’s relatable. Surprisingly, this is perhaps the most credible and realistic of his stories that I’ve read to date; most of them tend to be rather tall-tale like (or even just be absurd science fiction), but this story is something that–while improbably–could possibly actually happen. Which is actually pretty great, because this is a story of inspiration and positive change in the midst of darkness and stagnation. I love the art aspect of this story as well; in a lot of ways that aspect reminds me of E. L. Konigsburg’s books (she’s another favorite of mine!). All in all, Framed is a great middle-grade story which reaches way beyond its intended grade range–recommended for basically anyone!

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Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Illustrator: Steven Lenton

My rating: 5 of 5

Prez used to live with his grandfather, a crusty old sailor who took care of Prez and told stories about traveling the world. Then, as his grandfather’s memory got worse and worse, Prez took care of his grandfather. That is, until they came and took Prez’s grandfather away and put Prez in the Temporary. Now Prez is staying with the Blythe family on their farm for the summer–trying to help where he can, but not saying a thing. Enter Sputnik: a weird little alien wearing goggles and a kilt who always carries a doorbell with him. He tells Prez that 1) he’s here to look after Prez and 2) they only have until the end of summer to save the Earth. Yikes. On top of that, Prez can’t figure out why everyone just accepts Sputnik’s appearance out of nowhere and is so thrilled when he shakes their hand . . . oh, wait, to everyone else, Sputnik looks like a dog. This is going to be an interesting summer.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is just so utterly zany that I can’t possibly do it justice. It has all the fabulous writing of Boyce’s other books, which I just love. The characters are heartwarming and funny. I really liked the Blythes; they manage to be good people with kind intentions without being an overkill unbelievable foster family. I absolutely adore the way Boyce writes family conversations; it’s like this cloud of sentences competing on the page! And there’s Prez, sitting quietly in the midst of it all. Sputnik’s character is fabulously absurd–he adds quite the wild-card effect to basically everything. Gravity tides, real working light sabers, reverse grenades that put things back together . . . physics does not work normally around this strange being. But I love the way he sees the world, the way things we typically think of as amazing are unimpressive to him, but random ordinary things are important enough to be worth putting on his list to save the planet. He has a way of making you re-think priorities. Basically, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is a fabulous, funny middle-grade story, and I would highly recommend it.

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