Autodidact: self-taught


The School for Supervillains

by V. L. Craven

School for Supervillains

Mandrake DeVille is the daughter (sort of–she was grown in a lab) of two of the most nefarious villains to ever villain. [lightning crash]

Much is expected of her. Perhaps she will even, one day, finally topple that blasted Superhero Guild once and for all! [insert maniacal laughter here]

In order to prepare her for her life of dastardly deeds, she must attend the most prestigious of all evil schools, of course. Which is St Luthor’s School of Supervillains. [dun dun DUUNN]

The best villains send their progeny there from all over the universe–one of Mandrake’s peers isn’t from this solar system–so you know this school is top-hole. I mean, you’re not going to send your child a few thousand light years and then choose the second best school, amirite?

So little Miss DeVille is being set up to rule the world…erm, the Underworld.

There’s a minor snag, however.

She doesn’t want to be evil. She wants to be a superhero.

(Sometimes, as a parent, you just never know where you’re going to go wrong. You try to instil malevolent hatred for the whole of humanity and beyond and still, they will decide to fight for good. What can you do?)

Unfortunately for Mandrake and her tender appendages, the adults (and her peers) generally take the opinion that ‘the only good superhero is a dead superhero’, so she must keep her wishes to herself. And the mind-readers around her. Did I mention there are mind-readers? There are mind-readers. And all sorts of other inventive types and creatures.

Will she find a sympathetic ear? Will she work out whom to trust before it’s too late? Or will the Master (the head of her school) and her chief rivals Caligula (yeah, I did a spit-take, too) and Livia work out what she’s up to first?

The School for Supervillains is suitable for ages 9 and up. At 71 pages, it can be read in a sitting if a grown up is helping. It’s the sort of book I would have read more than once as a child. Though I probably would have wondered why she didn’t want to remain a bad guy, but that’s beside the point.

I’m giving this 4/5 because I wanted it to be longer. More story!

Something that’s especially fun about it is that it was done through Fiction Express , where one chapter was released per week and then readers voted one what would happen next. So the story was guided by the readers. I’ll be interviewing Louie Stowell in the coming weeks and we’ll discuss what that experience was like so stay tuned!

[I received a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review.]


Steering Toward Normal

by V. L. Craven

Steering Toward Normal

Diggy Larson is thirteen and smaller than his peers, but for the past four years he’s raised a steer from a calf to an adult weighing nearly a ton and entered it into the State Fair for 4-H. Last year he won a blue ribbon (the second highest honour) this year, though, he plans to win purple–Grand Champion. However, he hasn’t had his calf two days before a truck pulls up at the end of the road and out falls Wayne Graf–a boy from his class–and his suitcase falls out with him. His mother died three weeks prior and during that time it came out that Diggy’s father was also Wayne’s father, which had been something of a shock to the man who’d been married to Wayne’s mother and had raised the child as his own.

So now, on top of trying to raise the best steer the state of Minnesota has ever seen, Diggy is stuck with someone who claims to be his half-brother. All he wants is to spend time with July, a girl he likes–the one who won Grand Champion the year before and who’s left it up to him to win this year, but Wayne has arrived and disrupted his happy life.

I haven’t read a book intended for the nine to thirteen set in a few years, but Steering Toward Normal is excellent. Rebecca Petruck doesn’t shy away from some grown up subject matter–abandonment of a child by a parent, alcoholism and how difficult it can be to quit (Wayne’s father takes being widowed badly) and what impact that has on children. There’s also laughter and love and the importance of family and compassion. Every character is fully-formed–even the steers have their own personalities.

This book is the very definition of heart. Steering Toward Normal is full of heart.

The plot takes place between Diggy getting his calf and showing at the State Fair a year or so later. It moves at a clip and can feel a bit rushed at times, but Petruck probably didn’t want to saddle a nine year old with a 500 page book about raising a steer. Though, I must admit, the process was fascinating. Those kids put an impressive amount of time, energy and love into bringing up their animals.

There was one other subplot that concerned Diggy’s other hobby that seemed slightly unbelievable in terms of time–he was spending hours a day with his steer and had to do homework and presumably chores and had to eat and sleep–I simply wasn’t sure when he was working on this other, seemingly time-intensive hobby. Still, that didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment of the book and I would definitely recommend it to middle grade students, whether they were interested in farm animals or not, as they most certainly would be by the end. 4 of 5 stars.

[I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]


Chicagoland 1: Drained Brains Caper

by V. L. Craven

A romp of a book (appropriate for ages ten and up) that explains the beginning of the Chicagoland Detective Agency, which is run by a talking dog–his story is great–and his assistants, a computer whiz kid and a haiku writing vegan. This comic is great fun and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Page Tyler’s artwork is somewhere between Manga and Western style comics and is perfect for the targeted demographic.

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