Baker - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

The Frog Princess
(The Tales of the Frog Princess series, Book 1)
E. D. Baker
Bloomsbury
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+

DESCRIPTION: Princess Esmerelda's life is nothing but a disappointment. She comes from a line of witches, but can't cast a spell without horrific consequences. She's of royal blood, yet laughs like a donkey and trips over her own feet. Her own mother can scarcely look at her without a sneer of disdain... but that doesn't stop her from using Emma to buy a politically advantageous engagement to a neighboring kingdom. The princess flees to the swamp, the only place where she feels free to be herself - but this time, she meets a talking frog. Eadric claims he used to be a prince, and only needs her kiss to restore his humanity, but Emma knows enough to be skeptical; after all, with magic leaking out of the castle, any animal might start talking, and just because a person's been hit with a frog spell doesn't mean they wore a crown. But he's persistent, and she finally gives in... only something goes terribly wrong. Instead of turning Eadric into a prince, the kiss turned Emma into a frog! The two set off on a dangerous quest to find the witch who cursed Eadric, while Emma gets a crash-course in amphibious survival.
And she still doesn't know if he's really a prince or not...

REVIEW: To be perfectly honest, if the premise of a later book in the series hadn't intrigued me, I probably wouldn't have tried this one. But I hate coming in partway through a series, so I gave it a try. The story sounds superficial and trite, but I've read many Young Adult books that rise above seemingly-simple stories. Sadly, this isn't one of them. Characters bend and twist their personalities to fit the scene, having to tell the reader what they're feeling instead of being able to show it through consistent actions. Everyone tends to be pleasant when approached in the right manner, except for a few not-nice people who are suitably punished for being unkind to the heroes. The world and the magic system are paper-thin and about as deep. Conflicts and resolutions, much like personality traits and half the conversations, pop up out of thin air, and tend to the obvious. If I were a young girl just starting to read longer books without pictures, I might have liked it, but this book holds absolutely nothing to interest anyone else. I actually thought about dropping this to a solid Bad, but it's just too simple of a story to care that much about it.

You might also enjoy:
A Bad Spell in Yurt (C. Dale Brittain, Fiction - A barely-competent wizard takes a job with a small kingdom, only to discover an elusive evil force inhabiting his new home)
The Sisters Grimm series (Michael Buckley, YA Fiction - Two sisters learn that fairy-tale beings still survive)
The Throwaway Princess (Elinor Busby, YA Fiction - A princess's crooked foot makes her ineligible for the crown)
Jennifer Murdley's Toad (Bruce Coville, YA Fiction - A homely girl visits a magic shop, where she is sold a talking toad)
The Dragon and the George (George R. Dickson, Fiction - Seeking his missing wife, a man finds himself in a magical medieval world, trapped in a dragon's body)
Tuesdays at the Castle (Jessica Day George, YA Fiction - In a magical castle, young princess Celie and her siblings resist efforts to steal the crown and kingdom)
The Princess Bride (William Goldman, Fiction - A father and son bond over the story of a beautiful princess, an evil prince, adventure, danger, and True Love)
The Tales of Jig Dragonslayer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A cowardly, nearsighted goblin inadvertently becomes a hero)
Cinder Edna (Ellen Jackson, YA Picture Book - Cinderella's neighbor, plain Cinder Edna, relies on brains and pluck rather than fairy magic)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine, YA Fiction - When her brave older sister falls deathly ill, a fearful princess must set forth on a dangerous quest to find a cure)
My Sparkling Misfortune (Laura Lond and Alla Alekseyeva, YA Fiction - Seeking vengeance against a prince, a villainous lord finds himself stuck with a do-gooder spirit helper)
The Unhandsome Prince (John Moore, Fiction - A girl frees a homely prince from a frog spell, but demands a better-looking husband)
The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch, YA Picture Book - A princess must rescue her boyfriend from a dragon)
The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson, YA Fiction - Cursed by being too clever, a banished princess must save her kingdom from an angry dragon)
Princeless (Jeremy Whitley, YA Comic - In a fairy tale world, Princess Adrienne refuses to sit around waiting to be rescued and married off)
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede, YA Fiction - A princess runs away from home to live with dragons)

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Sky Coyote
(The Company series, Book 2)
Kage Baker
Avon Books
Fiction, Sci-Fi
****

DESCRIPTION: In the twenty-third century, humans finally conquer the mysteries of time travel... and, naturally, exploit it for commerce. Dr. Zeus, as the company is called, discovered that, while written history cannot be altered, it was possible to play with times, places, and people who were not recorded. They also discovered that one cannot travel forward in time, only back, and return to their date of departure. As the process itself is very unpleasant, the Company tapped into another discovery: the ability to manipulate human children into immortal cyborgs, with greatly increased intelligence, senses and strength. Going back to the dawn of the human race, they began creating cyborgs out of our earliest ancestors, serving the Company's interests with the promise of great rewards when they "reach" the future. Using their indestructible agents, Dr. Zeus seeks to manipulate the past for profit, selling human history to future buyers.
Joseph, an immortal from the time his tribe was slaughtered in the Stone Age, has just finished a tour of duty in the Spanish invasion of the New World when he is reassigned to a remote California tribe, the Chumash. Despite being at a Neolithic technology level, they have a trade system and business know-how that puts Wall Street to shame. The Company has decided that one village among the Chumash is worthy of being "saved" from the impending Spanish invasion (a salvation which likely has a pretty price tag for future clients, of course, but the agents never learn much about that end of the deal.) They need someone to convince them to go along with the plan, though it will mean taking the Chumash villagers away from all they have known. Sounds like a job for a trickster god... or would that be an immortal in coyote clothing?

REVIEW: When I bought this book, I was unaware that it was the second in a series. To me, it worked just fine as a stand-alone story. It's nice, for something a little different. This book is not so much about the plotting of Dr. Zeus as it is about the characters and the concepts, and there were many interesting characters and concepts here. Joseph finds himself among people who remind him of his own lost kin, bringing up memories of what he'd lost in becoming an immortal cyborg, though his trickster nature keeps him from questioning the motives of his employers too deeply. (That and the unknown fate of any immortal who dares speak out against Dr. Zeus.) Smart, yet with a sense of humor. I ought to track down a few more of Baker's books.

You might also enjoy:
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (Douglas Adams, Fiction - The irreverent tale of Arthur Dent, who survives Earth's destruction by hitching a ride with an alien friend)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie, YA Fiction - A modern Spokane Indian boy leaves the reservation for a better future)
Flight (Sherman Alexie, YA Fiction - On the verge of murder, a rage-filled half-Indian boy finds himself falling through time)
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron, YA Fiction - While protecting a redwood grove from loggers, a girl plunges back in time, where an even greater threat awaits)
The Time Keeper (Barbara Bartholomew, YA Fiction - Strange stones in a hidden cavern transport two kids across time and beyond)
The Inscription (Pam Binder, Fiction - A 20th century woman finds herself in the 14th century after falling into the waters of Loch Ness)
The Clockwork Cathedral (Heather Blackwood, Fiction - A woman from 2015 falls through a time rift into an alternate 1850's New Orleans)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - In the future, people create living clay duplicates to do their work... and commit their crimes)
The Wild Robot (Peter Brown, YA Fiction - Shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, a robot learns from animals and the wilderness)
Justice for all Time (Kit Cole, Fiction - A 21st-century FBI agent finds herself in 19th-century Sacramento)
Ghost Hawk (Susan Cooper, YA Fiction - Young native Little Hawk witnesses Puritan colonization and displacement of his people, both before and after his murder)
BEAT to a PULP: A Rip Through Time (Garnett Elliot, Chad Eagleton, Chris F. Holm, Charles A. Gramlich, authors; David Cranmer, editor, Fiction - A time agent tracks a rogue scientist to the ends of existence)
King: The Graphic Novel (Joshua Hale Fialkov, Fiction - The illustrated adventure of the last man alive in a darkly humorous post-apocalyptic, monster-filled Los Angeles)
Outlander (Diana Gabaldon, Fiction - A post-World War II woman falls back in time in Scotland)
Crown of Serpents (Michael Karpovage, Fiction - A half-Native American ex-Army historian clashes with a powerful tribal casino magnate seeking a magical artifact)
OMG (Oh My God) (Bob Kat, YA Fiction - Teens use a forgotten Edison invention and a cell phone app to travel back in time)
11/22/63 (Stephen King, Fiction - A Maine schoolteacher from 2011 attempts to alter history to stop Kennedy's assassination... but time resists his efforts)
LUC (Kimball Lee, Fiction - A scientist's cloning project unexpectedly produces a sapient man)
Cinder (Marissa Meyer, YA Fiction - A teen girl cyborg, hated by her stepmother and society, stumbles into a plot that might enslave the prince and destroy her world)
The Magic 2.0 series (Scott Meyer, Fiction - After meddling with the data file controlling reality, a modern hacker flees to medieval England to play wizard)
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - A cat running a rat-plague con with co-conspirator rodents and a boy piper runs into a real problem)
Small Gods (Terry Pratchett, Fiction - An unpromising novice becomes the reluctant prophet for a god whose church has run amok in His name)
Native American History and Culture (Christopher Savio, Nonfiction - An examination of the origins, culture, and fate of America's native people)
The Android's Dream (John Scalzi, Fiction - An interstellar diplomatic disaster leaves Earth's fate resting on one man's ability to find a rare breed of sheep)
Island in the Sea of Time (S. M. Stirling, Fiction - A strange phenomenon sends 1998 Nantucket Island and a Coast Guard vessel back to the Bronze Age)
Just One Damned Thing After Another (Jodi Taylor, Fiction - A historian joins a research team secretly using time travel to observe history, only to find someone else exploiting it)
Coyote's Daughter (Corie Weaver, YA Fiction - A modern girl becomes entangled in a magical adventure in the New Mexico deserts)
The Time Machine (H. G. Wells, Fiction - A 19th-century man travels 800,000 years forward to the twilight of humanity)
Time Travel Dinosaur (Matt Youngmark, Fiction - A choose-a-path adventure hurls you through multiple timestreams, fighting interdimensional time goblins, mad scientists, and yourself)

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Old MacDonald Had a Dragon
Ken Baker, illustrations by Christopher Santoro
Two Lions
Fiction, YA Picture Book
****

DESCRIPTION: Old MacDonald has a new beast on his famous farm, but the other animals object.

REVIEW: Another slow work day... A quick and entertaining read, with whimsical illustrations. The ending could've been punchier, but on the whole I found it amusing.

You might also enjoy:
Crankee Doodle (Tom Angleberger, YA Picture Book - Bored, a Yankee argues with his pony)
Shark vs. Train (Chris Barton, YA Picture Book - Two toys, a shark and a train, vie for victory in numerous contests)
Dragon (Jody Bergsma, YA Picture Book - A peaceful prince meets an angry dragon)
Me and My Dragon (David Biedrzycki, YA Picture Book - A boy wants a pet fire-breathing dragon)
Dragonsdale (Salamanda Drake, YA Fiction - At a riding academy for dragons, the stablemaster's daughter is forbidden to fly)
The Trouble with Dragons (Debi Gliori, YA Picture Book - Destructive dragons take their world for granted)
Step Inside Dragons (Gabby Goldsack, Nick Harris, and Richard Jewitt, YA Picture Book - A "3D" picture book, not quite a pop-up, about dragons)
Tell Me a Dragon (Jackie Morris, YA Picture Book - Everyone has their own unique dragon)
Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Kevin O'Malley, YA Picture Book - A boy and a girl write a fairy tale together, with peculiar results)
The Dragons are Singing Tonight (Jack Prelutsky, YA Fiction - Fanciful poems about dragons of all kinds)
Carnivores (Aaron Reynolds, YA Picture Book - A lion, a shark, and a wolf form a support group for meat-eaters)
The Egg (M. P. Robertson, YA Picture Book - A boy discovers a dragon's egg in the hen-house)
This Book Is Not About Dragons (Shelley Moore Thomas, YA Picture Book - A mouse narrator vehemntly denies the dragons lurking in a picture book)
How to Raise and Keep a Dragon (John Topsell, Joseph Nigg "editor", YA Fiction - Dragon ownership manual for various breeds)
The Dragon Machine (Helen Ward, YA Picture Book - A young boy starts seeing dragons everywhere)
Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct (Mo Willems, YA Picture Book - Everyone in town loves the friendly Edwina, save a know-it-all boy who insists she's extinct)
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm (Tad Willams and Deborah Beale, YA Fiction - Two kids visit their great-uncle, who hides a magical secret on his farm)
The Woodland Folk in Dragonland (Tony Wolf, YA Picture Book - An evil gnome uses a poor dragon for revenge, putting their worlds on the brink of war)

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