Tag Archives: finance

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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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Author: Edith Nesbitthe story of the treasure seekers

My rating: 3 of 5

The Bastable children (all six of them) are aware in a vague sense that their family’s fortunes have fallen: there isn’t pocket money for them anymore, expensive treats are missing from dinner now, they’ve been pulled out of their school on a long-term holiday, and their father seems to spend nearly all his time at work now. And being bright, clever children with lots of spare time on their hands and no mother living to keep them in check, the six siblings determine to seek out a treasure in order to restore their family’s fortunes. Only, they can’t decide quite how to go about the business. Noel thinks he should either sell poetry or marry a princess (maybe both). Oswald thinks they ought to be highwaymen, which Dora (the eldest) disapproves of very strongly. Alice wants to try using a divining rod. In short, everyone has an opinion, and no one agrees . . . and so it is decided that they will try out each of their ideas in turn to see if any of them will work.

I’ve always enjoyed Edith Nesbit’s writing, ever since I first discovered The Railway Children when I was in middle school. Her writing is, naturally enough, a bit old fashioned (being that she wrote in the late 1800’s), but her writing is just the sort of children’s adventure that always feels timely and homey. She understands children very, very well. (Not to mention that her writing was hugely influential on any number of more recent authors, including C. S. Lewis, and has thus, in a sense, passed into contemporary literature more than we’re aware.) In any case, although I generally love her writing without reserve, I am of two minds regarding The Story of the Treasure Seekers, which I just read for the first time. The premise is absolutely smashing, and her execution of it is brilliant–at once both touching and highly amusing. The Bastable children are highly developed as characters, perhaps more so than in most of her other books. And I think this is where the story got off on the wrong foot for me. Because, you see, Oswald is the one telling the story. And he’s remarkably well written. As a twelve-year-old boy who thinks rather too well of himself, who is falsely modest, and who is at times shockingly sexist. Not to mention, he’s trying to hide his identity for most of the book, only he keeps forgetting himself and referring to himself in the first person–exactly the blundering, cute attempts a kid would make, and it really is brilliant, but it’s also annoying to read. I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if, say Noel or Alice had been telling the story, especially Alice with her fierce determination and loyalty. I guess I would leave reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers up in the air regarding recommending it or not; it’s a classic, but don’t judge all of Nesbit’s writing by this one book. I’d really recommend reading Five Children and It before trying this one.

Note: Although I have a Puffin edition pictured here, this book is old enough it’s public domain. You can get an electronic copy for free at Project Gutenberg if you just want to try it before committing to anything.

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The Eye of Zoltar

eye of zoltarAuthor: Jasper Fforde

The Chronicles of Kazam, vol. 3

My rating: 5 of 5

As usual, Jennifer Strange has her work cut out for her. As though being the under-age leader of a successful guild of magic-workers (all older than herself) weren’t enough, now she’s got a flesh-eating monster that they accidentally set loose on the town to catch. And one of her best workers managed to get herself held for ransom in the neighboring kingdom–a kingdom known for being intentionally dangerous. Oh, and she’s got a bratty princess to babysit, AND the most powerful wizard of the past few centuries (he’s lived that long) is threatening war against Kazam unless she finds a mystic jewel that may or may not exist! Time to declare a quest, for sure. Why is life never simple?

Ever since I first discovered Fforde’s Chronicles of Kazam, I have consistently been delighted beyond all possible expectations, and I must say that in The Eye of Zoltar he outdid himself. The combination of humor, quirk, and thrilling adventure is balanced perfectly, making this a quest tale with something for everyone. Added to that, you have all the fun and amusing details and satire that so characterize Fforde’s writing, and the Chronicles in particular. The characters as well  make this a tale to remember, and even the ones who start out being annoying rather grow on you. (And then you’ve got the characters who start out annoying, grow ever more annoying, and eventually get their just desserts to universal cheers.) Because (spoilers) a large portion of this volume takes place out of country, a number of the characters from the previous volumes don’t show up much–I really missed Tiger’s constant presence, for instance. And I will warn that this volume is kind of dark–not that the previous volumes were all sunshine and rainbows, but you know. . . . In spite of that, I think The Eye of Zoltar is an excellent fantasy, and I would highly recommend it. And hey, it comes with a promise of a follow-up volume which is bound to be more cheerful, right?

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