Monday, February 20, 2017

Review - The New Hunger

The New Hunger (Warm Bodies #1.5)
by Isaac Marion
Date: 2013
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Reading level: NA
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

The end of the world didn’t happen overnight.

After years of societal breakdowns, wars and quakes and rising tides, humanity was already near the edge. Then came a final blow no one could have expected: all the world’s corpses rising up to make more.

Born into this bleak and bloody landscape, twelve-year-old Julie struggles to hold on to hope as she and her parents drive across the wastelands of America, a nightmarish road trip in search of a new home.

Hungry, lost, and scared, sixteen-year-old Nora finds herself her brother’s sole guardian after her parents abandon them in the not-quite-empty ruins of Seattle.

And in the darkness of a forest, a dead man opens his eyes. Who is he? What is he? With no clues beyond a red tie and the letter “R,” he must unravel the grim mystery of his existence—right after he learns how to think, how to walk, and how to satisfy the monster howling in his belly. The New Hunger is a glimpse of the past and a path to an astonishing future...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've been wanting to read this prequel novella for years, ever since I read (and absolutely loved) Warm Bodies. At that time, though, I couldn't get access, being Canadian and all... and I eventually forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and our library has it in its collection. I'm all about short books these days, so a novella sounded like a good idea.

At first, I wondered why this prequel was listed on Goodreads as #1.5. But after reading it, I get it. While most of the events (save for the first and last chapters) take place before the events in Warm Bodies, readers who aren't familiar with that book probably wouldn't get much out of this one.

Those first and last chapters were actually my favourite parts of the whole book, where Marion goes all poetic and we get a glimpse of the voice that made Warm Bodies so special. This book, unlike Warm Bodies, is told in multiple third-person points of view. We get to see the backstories of three of the characters in the novel (R, Julie, and Nora). I expected this book to be mostly about R, or even Julie... but I felt like it was more Nora's story. It's heartbreaking, and I hope she gets some more page time and resolution in the sequel, The Burning World.

There's no too much plot here; it's more of a fleshing-out of the characters that we met in Warm Bodies. R, Julie, Nora, Julie's dad, and M all make an appearance, along with Julie's mom and Nora's little brother, Addis. The problem with unfamiliar characters in a prequel who don't appear in the main book is that you know going in that things don't end well for them. Still, it was nice to see a little more development of the main characters with these secondary characters as foils.

So why didn't I give this book a higher rating? A couple of reasons. First, like I mentioned, there's not much plot. It could sort of be considered an origin story, I guess, although we don't really get enough answers for that, either (some of the characters are still a bit of a mystery). Second, it's a bit rough, editing-wise. A few spots could've used a bit more polish to get rid of contradictions and continuity issues. (Also, why doesn't Julie have asthma? Didn't she carry around an inhaler for most of Warm Bodies?) Mainly, though, this book just didn't suck me in, and I attribute that to the fact that it's not told by R, like Warm Bodies is. His voice is what I loved the most about that book. The Burning World appears to go back to his first-person point of view, so it will be interesting to see whether or not Marion can recapture the lovely, poetic voice of his unusual zombie character.

All in all, this novella is worth reading if you're a fan of Warm Bodies and want to know a bit more about the characters and the world they inhabit. If you haven't read Warm Bodies, definitely read that one first; you'll get way more out of The New Hunger if you read the books in the order Goodreads has indicated.

Quotable moment:

Nothing is permanent. Not even the end of the world.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.38 out of 5

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review - A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots

A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots
by Matthew Fitt & James Robertson
illustrated by Deborah Campbell
Date: 2016
Publisher: Itchy Coo
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 96
Format: e-book

"Wee pig, wee pig," said the wolf. "Can I come ben?"
"Whit? And let in a wolf that I dinna ken?
I'm in my hoose and I'm no feared.
By the hair on my broostlie beard
Away ye go, ye big hairy cloon."
"Then I will hech and I'll pech and I will blaw your hoose doon."

Her are six of the world's best-loved folk and fairy tales, retold in lively modern Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. Familiar stories like Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a fresh look and sound in these new versions, which are ideal for bedtime, nursery and classroom reading. Great entertainment for children and grown-ups alike.

Includes: Cinderella, Wee Reid Ridin Hood, The Three Wee Pigs, Snaw White, The Billy Goats Gruff and Rumpelstiltskin.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I heard about this book from my mom, who came across it online. I thought it looked like fun, and since Amazon had the Kindle edition for a good price, I thought I'd give it a try.

The book is written in modern Scots. I'd heard a few words over the years, being of Scottish background myself, but I'd never read a book in the language. Much of it is like English, but with many unique words. Familiar fairy tales are a great choice for a book like this, since most readers will be able to follow along and figure out what many of the unfamiliar words mean from the context.

The stories themselves are charming and funny, and a few offer some different little twists. In "The Three Wee Pigs", the pig who built his house out of stone goes off to the amusement park and rides the bumper cars before heading home to deal with the wolf. I don't remember that! The pictures were pretty cute, though I wish there had been a few more of them; even though this is a picture book, it's a little more text-heavy than I would've liked.

My only real complaint with this book is that it could really use a glossary. I read the e-book with the Kindle Cloud Reader so I could have another tab open in which to look words up. (Simply rearranging the stories also could've helped, since "Wee Reid Ridin Hood" offered clear meanings for a lot of words if you know the story... but it was at the end of the book, so that opportunity was lost.)

All in all, this was a fun introduction to the Scots language. If you've got a good grasp on English, you'll probably have little trouble reading this one.

Quotable moment:

"Never say never and dinnae sae cannae.
I'm here tae help ye. I'm your Fairy Grannie.
There's nothin can stap us, nothin at aa.
Cinderella, my dear, you will gang tae the Ba!"

Recommended to: parents who want to read stories aloud to their kids; anyone who enjoys fresh takes on fairy tales

Premise: 4/5
Meter: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review - The Beach at Night

The Beach at Night
by Elena Ferrante
illustrated by Mara Cerri
Date: 2007
Publisher: Europa Editions
Reading level: A
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Elena Ferrante returns to a story that animated the novel she considers to be a turning point in her development as a a writer: "The Lost Daughter." But this time the tale takes the form of a children's fable told from the point of view of the lost (stolen!) doll, Celina. Celina is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minu, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.

Accompanied by the oneiric illustrations of Mara Cerri, "The Beach at Night" is a story for all of Ferrante's many ardent fans."

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Good lord. WTF was that?!

I was browsing through the e-book selection at the local library and came across this book. The premise looked a little bit interesting, and it was short, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Unfortunately, this is a book that tries so hard to be something that it ends up being a big mess. The illustrations are creepy and basic, the language is definitely not for little kids (unless you're willing to read books with the words "shit" in them at storytime), and the whole thing is just so creepy that I wouldn't be surprised if I have nightmares. Seriously... the villain tries to steal the doll's words by basically spitting in her mouth. Gross.

My library put this in the children's section. I live in a conservative area where a local school board once spent over a million dollars trying to ban innocent little picture books that featured homosexual parents. I don't think they'd be too amused that this has been placed in children's paths (but I kind of am... *evil laugh*).

Pick this one up at your own risk.

Quotable moment:

While I rise toward the surface, hanging from my own words, I hear the spiteful voice of the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset singing at the top of his lungs:

The tongue I slice
Right off, in a trice
The names I seize
With the greatest of ease
Together we sing
Treasure for a king
For affection I pine
On delight I dine
Your heart I'll shred
Until it's dead.

Recommend it to: someone you really don't like

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.4 out of 5

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review - A Day of Signs and Wonders

A Day of Signs and Wonders
by Kit Pearson
Date: 2016
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Can your whole life change in a single day?

Emily dreams of birds. She feels constrained by nearly everything—her overbearing sisters, the expectation to be a proper young lady, and even her stiff white pinafore.

Kitty feels undone. Her heart is still grieving a tragic loss, and she doesn’t want to be sent away to a boarding school so far away from home.

When the two girls meet by chance, on a beach on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, in 1881, neither knows that their one day together will change their lives forever.

Inspired by the childhood of acclaimed Canadian artist Emily Carr, A Day of Signs and Wonders is a sensitive and insightful look at friendship, family, and the foundations of an artist, drawn over the course of a single day—a day in which a comet appears, an artist is born and an aching hole in one girl’s heart begins to heal.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Having read some of Kit Pearson's novels for young people before, I thought I'd give this new one a try. It's historical fiction, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as some of her other books (especially the ones with paranormal elements), it was an entertaining story.

I really like reading books where I recognize the setting. In this case, the setting may be familiar... but the time period isn't. Victoria in 1881 is very different from Victoria today. I liked seeing how undeveloped the place was, as just a little "city" that was slowly growing and developing. Some of my ancestors actually ended up there a few years after the events in the book, so it was interesting to see what kind of a place they would've encountered.

The book is mainly a character sketch and follows two young girls throughout one unusual day. The style reminded me a little of such classics as Little Women, or of the books of L.M. Montgomery... although there were a few touches in this one that never would've been included in a book that was actually written over 100 years ago. But the story is still charming and somewhat quaint.

This book's main problem is that it's slow. The plot is basic. There's not a lot of action. The characters gain insight and develop (which is quite a feat, considering the story takes place during only one day), but there's not much that really happens to them. (While the girls themselves viewed the day as quite exciting and full, it might not seem that way to modern readers.) While I could appreciate what the author was trying to do here, I wonder if the target audience (middle graders, most likely, as the two main characters are 9 and 13) would want to continue reading, or if they would get bored.

The book is fairly well-written, though I wouldn't expect otherwise from Pearson. Aside from a slight mix-up with the direction of the comet (where it is in the sky doesn't match with where it should be, based on the map in the front), there wasn't a lot to complain about from a technical standpoint.

Overall, this is a lovely historical fiction novel. It would be a good starting place for those who want to learn more about Emily Carr.

Quotable moment:

Finally Mrs. Crane called from the hall. Emily was standing there, scowling. Kitty couldn't believe this was the same girl. Her round, rosy cheeks were soap shiny and her curls were gathered into a tight bundle at the back of her neck. She was encased in a spotless blue frock, a stiff white pinafore, low buttoned boots, and white stockings. She clutched a straw hat.

This was how little girls were supposed to look, of course; but Kitty wondered where inside this clean, tidy parcel was hidden the wild, barefoot Emily she had met earlier.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review - Brimstone and Marmalade

Brimstone and Marmalade
by Aaron Corwin
Date: 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book

Just in time for Halloween, we have a funny, sweet, and slightly skewed short story by Aaron Corwin, an up-and-coming writer from Seattle.

All Mathilde wanted for her birthday was a pony. Instead, she got a demon. Sometimes growing up means learning that what you think you want is not always what you need.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not sure whether to laugh or cry.

I've had this short story on my want-to-read list for a while. Who could say no to that synopsis? The story is actually far funnier than I thought it would be. Mathilde's demon is pretty much a hamster on paranormal steroids. He lives in a cage, eats soul pellets, and even has his own exercise ball.

It's actually a little bit of a deeper story than it seems, with Mathilde grudgingly accepting the gift of a demon because she wants to prove to her parents that she can take care of a pet. (Her ultimate goal is to get a pony.) Ix'thor was pretty cute for a demon, and I found myself kind of wanting one of my own. Of course Mathilde finds herself warming up to her "starter pet"... leading to a conclusion that's both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Aside from some clunky transitions (I'm not sure if there are just some missing paragraph breaks or what), the writing wasn't too bad. Brimstone and Marmalade is a cute, quick read... and definitely worth taking a few minutes to explore.

Quotable moment:

Mathilde peered through the glass cage. She looked at the Dark Lord's tiny clawed fingers, at his dark billowing cloud.

Mathilde thought about her pony. "Hello," she said. "What's your name?"

I AM IX'THOR, MASTER OF THE VENOMOUS PITS OF KARTHOOM! The creature raised his arms over his head. He had a voice like the truck that picked up their garbage in the morning, only smaller. BOW BEFORE YOUR MASTER, SMALL ONE!

"How about that!" The old man raised his fuzzy white eyebrows. "He told you his name first thing! He must really like you."

"Well, I don’t like him..." Mathilde crossed her arms. Ix'thor lowered his arms and hung his head a little. "... But I guess he’ll do."

Recommended to: this story would probably be enjoyed by middle grade readers and up

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Originality: 5/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.2 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - What James Said

What James Said
by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Matthew Myers
Date: 2015
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A funny, heartfelt, perfectly pitched story about misunderstandings and the importance of true friendship.

When a little girl thinks that her best friend James has been saying bad things about her behind her back, she takes action in the form of the silent treatment. As they go about their day and James tries harder and harder to get her to talk to him, they both realize that true friendship surpasses any rumor... or misunderstanding.

A classic childhood situation is brought to life with humor and poignancy with energetic illustrations by Matt Myers and a simple, telling text by Liz Rosenberg.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little picture book is worth reading for the adorable illustrations alone. The intent behind the message is good, although I wish it had been spelled out a little more; I'm not sure if little kids who'd be reading this book on their own would understand the resolution without a bit of explanation from an adult.

It's all about a misunderstanding, like a game of "telephone". The little girl--our narrator--thinks that her best friend has said something bad about her. James's attempts to get back in her good graces are sweet, although the poor kid must've been so confused by his best friend's sudden shunning of him.

I loved the illustrations. The kids are so cute, with the best facial expressions. Pictures can either make or break a picture book, but they were pretty much perfect here.

Quotable moment:

I'm not sure he knows we are in a fight.

I sat with my girlfriends at lunch and glared at him across the cafeteria.

He came over and asked, "Do you have a stomachache? Do you want me to walk you to the nurse?"

"No, thank you," I said, and went and threw my lunch into the trash. I wasn't very hungry, then.

Recommended to: anyone who enjoys sweet illustrations and simple stories about little kids being kids

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 5/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Friday, December 30, 2016

Review - Change Places With Me

Change Places With Me
by Lois Metzger
Date: 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Rose has changed. She still lives in the same neighborhood and goes to the same high school with the same group of kids, but when she woke up today, something was a little different. Her clothes and hair don’t suit her anymore. The dogs who live upstairs are no longer a terror. She wants to throw a party—this from a girl who hardly ever spoke to her classmates before. There’s no more sadness in her life; she’s bursting with happiness.

But something still feels wrong to Rose. Because until very recently, she was an entirely different person—a person who’s still there inside her, just beneath the thinnest layer of skin.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I totally failed my Goodreads challenge for this year. This is only the third book I read all the way through. At least it was better than the other two I read in 2016... though not by much.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

The premise is about the only thing I liked in this book, and I can't even talk about it because it's one of those books that's all mysterious and whatnot in the beginning, and if you start to talk about any part of the plot, you'll give too much away. All I can really say is that it's a science-fiction tale set in the near future with some inspiration (though not necessarily any plot points) taken from the story of "Snow White".

It's all a matter of taste...

This is one of those books where you're either going to like the style or you're not. I didn't really like it. While it was edited fairly well and I wouldn't say it was badly written, it did seem a bit pretentious. The characters' voices never really rang true for me, and I spent a lot of the book wondering if that was because there was something weird going on that made all the teenagers talk like kindergartners, if it was a stylistic choice, or if the characters were just badly done. After finishing, I'd say it's more of a combination of options 2 and 3. I never liked any of the characters. I couldn't relate to the main character; I thought she was just a horrible, horrible person, and her character development wasn't believable. You know how good characters often change over the course of a story? Well, our heroine does change... but there's really not a great reason as to why. (There is a reason, but I thought it was pretty weak.)

Also, there's no climax. No high point to the story. I kept waiting for a twist, because I was nearing the end and I was getting really bored, and I thought, "Surely, something interesting is going to happen." But, nope. All we get is some weird, boring resolution with little explanation and absolutely zero emotional punch. How disappointing.

Let's get technical...

This book was surprisingly well-edited. I often end up highlighting a bunch of typos and grammar errors when I read books; those things just drive me crazy. But there wasn't much here to be bothered about.

The verdict...

Maybe I just didn't get it. I often have trouble with pretentious, literary-esque books with quirky characters or situations that just try too hard to be special. That's probably why I wasn't a fan of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now or John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. But both of those books have audiences, and this one probably has one as well. It just wasn't me.

Quotable moment:

"Hey, we got lucky. This Sunday, Ball of Fire is coming to You Must Remember This."

For a second she forgot that Ball of Fire was a screwball comedy; it sounded like a plummeting meteor. "Sunday... I can't, I can't."

He looked really disappointed. "It's only playing that one day."

"I have to sleep--I don't know for how long."

"Really? Can't think of a better excuse?"

"I'm handling it the best I can," she said, "under the circumstances."

"What circumstances?"

"Here." She shoved the money toward him.

"Jeez, Louise, are we having our first fight?"

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5 ladybugs