Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ponder Post: The Great Escape

The Great Escape by Natalie Haynes is simultaneously snarky and cute and reads like a novel written for young adults. Twelve year old Millie is bored during her summer break but that ennui soon ends when she becomes embroiled in a life-saving quest and exposé after encountering a talking cat named Max who escaped from a test laboratory. Yes, that last sentence almost qualifies as a run on sentence but then so does the entire book. Dilemma after dilemma, problem after problem, and tense moment after tense moment, fill the pages of this tale with a spy-like and wry intrigue.


First published in Great Britain in 2007 and copyrighted 2014 in the United States, the British terminology and mannerisms portray a bemusing quaintness to me as an American reader. For example a jumper is a sweater and the first words Max the main character cat speaks to Millie are, "I'm sorry, there's really no time for pleasantries. Could you hide me please and we'll introduce ourselves properly later?" Millie is joined by two other adolescents and the trio of amateur sleuths exhibit espionage skills in covert operations, computer hacking, and network infiltration worthy of James Bond or Jason Bourne. The book is a light-hearted read and, even though it is a grown up injustice that Millie and her friends set out to correct, the book never loses its awareness that the ingenuity, intelligence, and determination is coming from "kids". Respect is due them for their intrepid, creative actions.

I chose this book because I'd read The Furies, also by Natalie Haynes, and wanted to see how the author handled two strikingly different genres. My review for The Furies can be found in my post dated 11/3/18. The author is also a stand up comedian so I expected The Great Escape to be funny and it was worthy of many chuckles. The Great Escape also reminded of Word of Mouse by James Patterson, so much so I thought it had been inspired by that young adult novel. My review for Word of Mouse ©2016 can be found in my post dated 2/27/17. But The Great Escape pre-dated Word of Mouse by nine years so the inspiration may very well have been in reverse. The premise is the same, critters escaping from a test laboratory, but the plots themselves are different. I rate The Great Escape two stars; it had the redeeming features of humor, the novelty of a British environment, likable and well developed characters, and enough suspense that I was enticed to finish it. It did however read like a somewhat simplistic young adult novel, though it was nowhere described as being intended for that audience.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Ponder Post: Just Like the Ones We Used to Know

There are two guilty pleasures of mine that are personal Christmas traditions. The first is watching corny, predictable, Hallmark holiday made-for-TV movies. Frank and/or I record a bunch and then during the Christmas season, each week, we watch one, if not every night, then at least every few nights. My second guilty pleasure is reading Christmas-themed romance novels. They are like Hallmark movies with sex, i.e., rated PG instead of G. The situations are more adult and the romance flourishes beyond merely flirting and kisses. Just Like the Ones We Used to Know © 2006 by Brenda Novak was first published in the anthology Once Upon a Christmas by Harlequin SuperRomance. That auspicious entry alone into the literary world should give a clue to its content.


Angela, a woman in her late twenties has taken over the care of 6th grade age Kayla, because Kayla's mother Stephanie, a drug addict who turned to prostitution to support the habit, is incapable of raising the daughter she conceived in her wild teenage years. Angela and Stephanie had been high school friends until their paths in life diverted. When Angela's parents had died early in her life, Stephanie's mother, Betty, had taken Angela in so she need not enter the foster child system. Whew. As I re-read what I've written, I realize how "soap opera-ish" and "non-Noelic" it appears to be; but don't be turned off. The drugs and streetwalking and early parental death do not dominate; they act only as a background early in the book to very briefly explain and validate single Angela's role in Kayla's life. Angela learns that Kayla's one and only desire and her Christmas wish is to know and meet her biological father. Kayla writes in a school essay
I want to know who I belong to. I want my father. Then I could ask him why he loved my mother enough to make me but didn’t love me enough to stay.
Angela knows who Kayla's father is, but withholds this information. Instead, in the guise of a holiday vacation, she and Kayla set off westward from their home in Denver to the father's home in Virginia City, a 15 hour car drive. Before any revelation, Angela wants to first  to assess his present life situation and the impact a revelation of Kayla's parentage would have on all involved. Angela knew Matt from her high school days in Virginia City, but that was over twelve years ago, and she has no idea what his life is like now.


If Virginia City rings a bell of familiarity, it may be because the fictional Ponderosa Ranch from the TV show Bonanza was roughly a two-hour horse ride from Virginia City. (Listen to Bonanza's opening song to jog your memory.) Virginia City is in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and averages 50 inches of snow per year. The US average is 26 inches of snow per year. Snow and Christmas are usually paired together and so the Virginia City location for this Christmas time story is quite fitting. 


A relationship evolves among Angela, Matt, Kayla, and Matt's extended family. It is difficult to disclose more information without introducing a spoiler into a predictable plot, so read the book for yourself. Call it trite or heartwarming, maudlin or memorable, but I enjoyed the quick read. I completed it in one sitting at my computer as a Kindle purchase and it made me smile. Yep. A guilty  pleasure. A $1.99 stocking stuffer from Amazon. Hallmark with sex.