Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: The Absolutely Amazing Adventures of Agent Auggie Spinoza by Steven Stickler

written by Steven Stickler
I.A.I.P.H. Press (self-published), 2012
Available in paperback in April 2012
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from e-book sent by author for review.
Opinions expressed are solely my own.
No compensation was received for this review.
BLURB: Auggie Spinoza is a ten-year-old boy with a secret: he is a special agent who can travel through time. Now, he finds himself locked in a desperate battle against evil forces trying to change the course of history. To defeat them, Auggie must pursue a dangerous quest to find a set of mysterious clues hidden in the past.

With the help of a clever new friend and advice from a cast of famous characters with names like Jefferson, Darwin, and Plato, Auggie fights to fulfill his destiny and save his world from ruin. Along the way, he learns the importance of thinking clearly and shows the awesome power of a code-breaking, book-loving, time-traveling ten-year-old with a talent for being in the right place at the right time (and doing the right thing).

Fans of Rick Riordan, The 39 Clues, and The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel will delight in this action-packed and thought-provoking adventure through history. However, a brief warning: if you enjoy romantic tales about princesses dressed in pink, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!
Time travel stories are difficult to write well.  In addition to needing to write an interesting story, one has to think about things such as: how will the character react to the journey and the new environment, how will the environment (and people) react to the main character(s), will the main character try to blend in, if so, how?  How might people in the chosen time and place realistically react to the character and the changes he/she/they bring with them?  What about cultural differences such as food, clothing, speech, and language spoken.

Stickler does a pretty good job of creating an interesting story while still explaining how the time/space 'holes' allow certain people, Time Watchers like Auggie and Time Vultures like Mr. Coyote, to travel to different times and places.  I liked the imagery of the time train that intermittently folds back on itself allowing people to cross into different places and times.  Auggie is a pleasant and likeable main character as is Emily, although the story moves so quickly that I didn't feel like I truly got to know either one.  His parents came through as fascinating people who'd had a lot of adventures themselves, which I would have liked to here more about.  The secondary characters though were rather typical villains with no real dimensionality. Mr. Coyote for example ends up chasing Auggie three different times.  One would have thought that he would have realized after the first time that he couldn't catch him.  Not a lot of imagination among the villains. I found that the plot moved along quite well and was interesting enough to keep me reading the book.  The book was well-written and enjoyable. 

The only issue that caused me to pause while reading the book was the interactions between Auggie and Emily and the historical figures of Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato.  I don't know a lot about Darwin, but I have a hard time imagining that he would hand over his manuscript to two unknown children only hours after meeting them.  I also have a hard time believing that Jefferson would chat with two children the way he does in the book.  Jefferson was known to be rather introverted, much of the communication he had with people was through writing.  Also, during that time children were expected to be 'seen and not heard' so would he have heeded a warning from two strange children?  As for Plato, I assume he spoke Greek and not English which would have prevented Auggie and Emily from communicating with him at all.  The language barrier was never explained, but Darwin, Jefferson, and Plato were presented as being Time Watchers themselves and so able to recognize and accept the two anachronistic children.  This helps with the believability of the story.

Still, despite the issues and the challenges of writing about time travel, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those who enjoy a good adventure story and visiting times and places different than one's own.

Author Bio: Steven Stickler is no rocket scientist. He will never be confused with a professional athlete. He is not (despite widespread rumors) the actor who played Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, nor was he a guest drummer for the Beatles during a brief period in the mid-1960s. He is something completely different: a writer. He began writing when he was five years of age and, perhaps due to an oversight by those in positions of authority, was never told to stop. Aside from the occasional story written for his son, he has spent most of his adult life writing non-fiction essays and reports for adults who enjoy spending their days in meetings, classrooms, and libraries. The Absolutely Amazing Adventures of Agent Auggie Spinoza is his first, but hopefully not his last, novel for children and young adults. He lives in the great Pacific Northwest of the United States, where he enjoys exploring the outdoors with his family and, of course, reading at least one book by Dr. Seuss every year. A “stickler” for secrecy, he has never allowed his face to be captured on film and fears that we have already revealed too much in this simple biography.

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