Cowboys and Dinosaurs clash in Rex Riders

August 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment

Rex Riders by J.P. Carlson, illustrated by Jim Calafiore; published by Monstrosities Books, an imprint of Monstrosities, Inc., N. Bellmore, New York, 2010; 431 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on a copy provided for free by the author through the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing.com.

A Texas ranch in the days of square dances, shoot-outs, saloons, and stagecoaches is home to 14 year old Zeke Calhoun.  He was sent to live with his Uncle Jesse after the death of his parents.  It’s not easy being 14, and it’s definitely not easy living with Uncle Jesse and what’s left of his ranch hands (Stumpy and Bull), especially with the feud between his family and the richest man in town, Dante D’Allesandro.  Typical Wild West fare, right?  Well, partner, you’re only partly right.  On a visit to town, a triceratops stampedes through the combination saloon and dry goods store.  Yup, a triceratops.  That strange encounter only sets the stage for the real adventure in this Western.  Zeke discovers a stranger, shot and lying face down in the dry riverbed.  A stranger to these parts, indeed!  He is a Cragnon, an alien Rex Rider.  His young “stallion,” a juvenile T. Rex, has traveled to Zeke’s neck of the woods to try and stop whoever has discovered a doorway between worlds, allowing dinosaurs to transport to a ranch in Wild West Texas.  Can a 14 year old boy and fellow 14 year old Angelina, along with Uncle Jesse, Bull, and Stumpy, figure out which side to take in this battle?  Will they be able to shut the gateway and save their way of life?

This book was sent to me by the author.  His cover letter was intriguing.  A childhood love of dinosaur movies  and books was his inspiration.  As he says, “It’s [REX RIDERS] pulpy, it’s full of action, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it can be enjoyed by young people and adults.”  I had high hopes.  For a first time author, those are high aspirations and even higher claims.  What I read was a book with a whole lot of possibility with its success only reaching fruition in the last quarter of the book.

In addition, the publisher has assigned this book to readers ages 12 and up.  I found the book condescending and simple and do not think tween or teen readers would appreciate that.  I imagine upper elementary students reading it, with a promise that the first sections of the book are worth trudging through for the action of the ending.  But I just don’t see teens or adults being interested in finishing this one.

Here’s what I had to say in my LibraryThing review:

I’ve sat on this review for awhile because I really don’t know what to say. It seems like 2 or 3 separate books. The author’s intentions are good and I had high hopes. However, the resulting story needs a great deal of editing. The first 100 pages provides a lot of detail about the Old West, peppered with numerous interruptions by the author to let readers know that this or that point was a reality in the era. Very distracting. I applaud the intent to provide some backstory and even history; but perhaps a glossary, historically accurate appendix, or even a companion non-fiction book (as Mary Pope Osborne often does with the Magic Treehouse Series) would have been a better use of this material. Then the middle of the book caught my attention, but the action and descriptions were very uneven; an adept editor would have helped make this more concise and even. The last 100 pages or so of the book were a pleasure to read. The action, plot and character development finally gelled. My immediate thought was to put the book down but I persevered and was ultimately rewarded. But it took a very long time to get to the pay-off. Will young readers stick it out? Even with the tie-in with the COWBOYS AND ALIENS movie, I don’t really believe young readers will stick with this one, especially reluctant readers for whom this could have been a natural recommendation.

I gave it 2 stars (out of 5).  However, with the success of the recently released movie Cowboys and Aliens, the tie-in for librarians is striking.  Perhaps the interest in the subject will be enough to tide readers over the uneven, boring, hard-to-follow sections for the pay-off.  As a librarian, I would definitely display this in a tie-in with the movie (if it were in my library’s collection).  Frankly, I wouldn’t go out of my way to add this one.  Perhaps the sequel, which the author promises in his letter, will be better edited and easier to read.

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Disclaimers: Per the FTC regulations, please note that sometimes books are received for review for free by publishers or authors. All books (ARCs, galleys, library or purchased) will be reviewed fairly; no special consideration is given to anything reviewed on this blog. In addition, I make every attempt to avoid spoilers. Sometimes they happen inadvertently or because they are important to defend a review; not all spoilers have been removed or fixed. This disclaimer is a general statement included as a warning to readers.

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