Tag Archives: book reviews

Holly Hollywood Presents: Up A Creek

Because Linda Rockstroh, the author of this charming and clever little book taught me English in high school, I take particular pleasure in offering a review of it. As you will doubtlessly infer from the synopsis and, injunctions against the practice aside, the cover of the book, this is a mystery story conceived and written for younger readers.

That said, and because I am a teacher who focuses on issues of basic literacy, if I taught younger children—8-to -12-year old kids are probably this book’s intended audience—I would buy 40 copies of this book posthaste for use in my classroom.

Conventionally, this is a mystery. The ten-year-old protagonist, Holly Stone, aka the Holly Hollywood of the title, moves from Hollywood, California to the small town of Lebanon, Indiana. There she immediately and more or less simultaneously becomes involved in two new friendships—which earn her the “Hollywood” moniker—and a mystery. You’ll need to buy the book to resolve the mystery because I find synopsizing an annoying exercise that too easily gives up spoilers.

What I can tell you about this book is that although it is a genre (again: mystery) story, it nicely incorporates some vocabulary-building devices that I think any teacher or parent will welcome. One such technique is as simple as it is elegant. Because Holly is a budding cinematographer, each chapter is titled with a term of art from the world of film production. Ms. Rockstroh—a filmmaker herself, incidentally—underwrites each chapter heading with a brief and edifying definition of the named term, which is a difficult balance to achieve. She also uses Holly’s internal dialogue to define appositively the words she uses in the dialogue. For example, on page 14, Holly, who speaks to the reader in the first person, relates that obsession is her “new favorite word” and defines that abstract noun as “…something you’re hung up on and can’t get out of your head.” That’s a tried and true strategy for vocabulary building, but also tricky. As you can see, it’s done well in this book. However, it doesn’t take too many uses of this device for it to become tedious. In the hands of this author, happily, no such overuse occurs here.

Another fictional device that is stock in mysteries is the cliffhanger at the end of a chapter. This is another technique used with just about perfect restraint in this book; again, my own tendency would be to yield to this strategy because of its ease, and write a book characterized by the tedium of its chapter conclusions. Again, you’ll no such excess in this novel.

One of the great sins, in my estimation, that writers commit when producing material for children is writing overly precocious characters. One sees in this in family-oriented situation comedies: a child makes an ambiguous, often ribald remark which canned laughter then backstops. That’s a precious affectation, usually inauthentic and insincere, and mostly annoying and off-putting. Ms. Rockstroh commits no such errors of literary judgement in her book. That makes Holly Hollywood a relatable and genuine character for young people reading this book or for educators designing lessons around it.

At the price for which this book was on offer at Amazon when I bought it ($5.99 in early April of 2019), this book is a great value and therefore well worth a chance. Even at full retail (I assume a corporate publishing house would charge between eight and fifteen bucks for a book this size) this book provides great value for parents and their children–who will all but certainly enjoy it.

Rotten Reviews: The Human Comedy

“Alas! Interested though one is in the attempt, it remains to say that the result is not very happy…there is scarcely a trace of Saroyan’s characteristic charm of manner, and indeed his art of inspired artlessness now falls extremely flat. This, in short, is an excessively simple and very, very sentimental little concoction.”

Times Literary Supplement

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Rejections: John Barth

Rotten Rejections, John Barth I: The Dorchester Tales

“Barth is really smutty, delighting in filth for its own sake, and completely incapable of being funny. What the agent calls his ‘great good humor’ is an offensive archness and facetiousness, couched in the most stilted language and in sentences most of which are seven or so lines long.”

“John Barth’s stories sound like a penny-whistle out of a wind-bag full of bad odors. He may have read Boccaccio and Chaucer, but he never learned their art of storytelling.”

Rotten Rejections, John Barth II: Giles Goat Boy

“The beginning of this novel intrigued me; I though, Shades of LOLITA! Paraphernalia like this means Nabokov has been more of an influence than we’d dared hope. Alas, the beginning is entirely misleading, and what emerges is a slightly ribald science fiction novel, bawdy rather than witty…while I can see this being published, and even reviewed with puzzled respect, I don’t think it will help a bit to clear up the mystery of what Barth is up to as a writer. Or possibly sell enough to pay its productions costs.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Review: Death on the Installment Plan

“Its effect is to make sympathy, then to put sympathy to sleep, then to exacerbate the nerves of the reader, until, having decided he has as much as he wants to stomach, he throws the book away.”

Times Literary Supplement

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Chaucer

“Chaucer, not withstanding [sic] the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible: he owes his celebrity merely to his antiquity, which he does not deserve so well as Piers Plowman or Thomas Erceldoune.”

Lord Byron, The Works of Lord Byron 1835

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Anton Chekhov

“If you were to ask me what Uncle Vanya is about, I would say about as much as I can take.”

Robert Garland, Journal American

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Rotten Reviews: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“We cannot name one considerable poem that is likely to remain upon the thresh-floor of fame…We fear we shall seem to our children to have been pigmies [sic], indeed, in intellect, since a man as Coleridge would appear great to us.”

London Weekly Review 1828

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.