Thursday, October 3, 2013

Novella Review: Santa Claus vs the Aliens by James Cardona

santa claus vs the aliensToday's feature short or shortish book is Santa Claus vs the Aliens.  This one was good timing because the author sent me a review request for two of his books just before I decided on my theme for October.  I picked this one because it looked funny (I like funny) and because it was a novella and fit into my plans.

As a bonus, this story is free today on Amazon (last day), so if you like what you see here, pick up a copy!

santa claus vs the aliens by James Cardona
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love it. The right mix of humor, danger and whimsy...

Santa Claus vs. the Aliens follows young Edwin Cardona on an unexpected adventure in New York City. Edwin, the son of Puerto Rican emigrants, lives in a children's home where his father left him temporarily while he got on his feet. In a moment of frustration, Edwin throws away his father's most cherished possession, a gaudy ring with a face that looks like Santa. The story begins with Edwin setting out from the children's home on a quest to retrieve the lost ring and ramps up from there into a surprisingly riveting urban adventure featuring aliens, Santa and personal growth.

Set in the Great Depression era, the historical details in this story are both fascinating and accurately portrayed. I didn't get all of the song references, favorites of the time, but the rest is interesting. That young Edwin lives in a children's home and prefers it to his father's family is an interesting setup, made all the more so because Edwin, his father and the family are all real people, relatives of the author. In fact, I've confirmed it with the author; everything besides the obviously fictional parts (aliens, Santa, etc.) actually happened as told in the story.

I enjoyed how the story is told from the perspective of Edwin and occasionally his father. Edwin's New York accent comes out strongly in the dialog but does not carry over into the narrative, making the story easy to read and enjoy while still seeming authentic to the setting. Unlike some books I've read where the accents make the dialog unintelligible, the author uses simple tweaks to the words that help the reader pronounce them the way they would have been spoken. Overall, I thought it was well done.

Besides the accent and perspective, Edwin's inner conflict is well done. He's got a lot going on for such a young man, and that doesn't all go away just because he's on the run from scary aliens. Edwin is a strong character and he reacts to the challenges he faces in a believable and admirable way. I also enjoyed the father's side story and history, especially the part where he meets the Farting Man, both funny and appropriate for a kid's story.

For a story aimed at the middle school crowd, I think this one has the right mix of humor, danger and whimsy. The story is unique and can be enjoyed by people both young and old; plus, it's an interesting take on the Santa story and the sci-fi twist is fantastic.

As an added bonus, teachers and parents can take advantage of the vocabulary words listed out by chapter at the end of the book. Throughout the story, the words are used in context and explained succinctly, and I must admit I learned a few new ones. Kids will appreciate that the story is fun and doesn't seem like it's teaching them anything at all (though it is). I think this would be a good book to stock in school libraries.

There is some Christian content and context, as might be expected in a story that features a Santa character at Christmas time, but the story is written in such a way that individuals can take what they need from the story, whether a message of faith overcoming all or one of a person's strength of will helping him through a tough situation. It really is left to the reader to decide, giving this story a broader appeal than if it had just focused on one or the other.

Overall, I loved this story for its unique plot, strong characters and fascinating history. I highly recommend it to readers both young and old, though the audience that will likely appreciate it the most would be the middle school crowd.

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