Friday, September 21, 2012

Review - The Replacement

The Replacement
by Brenna Yovanoff
Date: 2010
Publisher: Razorbill
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 323
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

Mackie Doyle is not one of us. Though he lives in the small town of Gentry, he comes from a world of tunnels and black murky water, a world of living dead girls ruled by a little tattooed princess. He is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now, because of fatal allergies to iron, blood, and consecrated ground, Mackie is fighting to survive in the human world.

Mackie would give anything to live among us, to practice on his bass or spend time with his crush, Tate. But when Tate's baby sister goes missing, Mackie is drawn irrevocably into the underworld of Gentry, known as Mayhem. He must face the dark creatures of the Slag Heaps and find his rightful place, in our world, or theirs.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I first started reading this book (which has been in my TBR pile for nearly a year), I thought the premise was really interesting.  In YA paranormal fiction, we don't always see the story told from the point of view of one of the "creatures"... and it seems even less common to see the story told from the point of view of a male character.  But that's what we've got here, and I thought it was a great choice for a main character.  Unfortunately, I wasn't that blown away by the end of the story, so I'm not sure I can really recommend this one.

I did like some of the characters.  I really liked the Morrigan (though I couldn't find any reference to her tattoos, as the synopsis suggests... that's probably another continuity problem, which I've explained more about below).  Mackie's parents were a little underdeveloped (which is a shame, considering how they fit into the story), and I wasn't crazy about the unoriginality among the teenagers: we've got the "mean girls", the tough kids, the practically perfect best friend, and the twins who might've been ripped right out of Harry Potter (was I the only one who thought Danny and Drew were an awful lot like Fred and George?).  A lot of the setting reminded me of that in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, especially the places the teens liked to hang out.  I don't know what it is with the Fair Folk and billiards...

The story built up to a climax and I thought it was going to be good, after the way things were set up.  I'm really not sure what I was expecting, but the resolution felt really uninspired to me.  And afterwards, there was something really unusual that happened, something that should've made the townspeople sit up and take notice... but they didn't.  I thought that was rather odd.

My biggest gripe with this book, though, was the continuity.  It was absolutely appalling.  When I read a book, I tend to see the action in my head, like I'm watching a movie.  So if I read that someone performs an action and ends up in a certain place on one page, I expect them to be in that same place on the next page... not halfway across the room about to perform the same action they just performed four paragraphs earlier.  The book has numerous instances of this kind of thing, which I found jarring and confusing.  It reads like the author changed her mind about little things and halfway implemented the changes... and then nobody bothered to check and see if they made sense.  Shoddy editing.

My copy had an excerpt from Yovanoff's other book, The Space Between.  That looks like it might be a bit more interesting than The Replacement... but I'm hesitant to try it if I'm going to be confused about where the characters are and what they're doing from one minute to the next!

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

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Bye, Bye, Butterflies!

Bye, Bye, Butterflies!
by Andrew Larsen
illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli
Date: 2012
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: hardcover
Source: borrowed

One day on a walk with his dad Charlie sees some boys and girls on the rooftop of the school saying goodbye as they release butterflies up into the sky. Charlie is amazed by all the butterflies flying around and wishes he could do something like that too. And when Charlie starts school next year he becomes a “butterfly scientist” as well and helps his teacher and classmates care for some teeny tiny caterpillars as they grow into butterflies and are released by Charlie and his class. “Bye Bye Butterflies!”

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I have a memory of my kindergarten classroom and the glass tank that held a number of monarch butterfly cocoons.  I don't remember if we ever actually released the hatched butterflies, but I do remember watching those inconspicuous-looking cocoons with anticipation.  Perhaps this isn't such an uncommon classroom activity, because it's featured in this cute little picture book.

The story is simple and straightforward.  The illustrations are really what make the book work, though.  The mixed-media look and the distinctive style of the human characters make the story even more memorable.  (See the artist's website HERE.)

This would be a great book for preschoolers or kindergartners.  There is a small section at the back with some scientific information about butterflies that almost seems a bit beyond the target audience.  Nevertheless, kids can always grow into the information... especially if Bye, Bye, Butterflies! turns out to be one of their favourite books.

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

Overall: 4.6 out of 5

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Review - Heat Rises

Heat Rises (Nikki Heat #3)
by Richard Castle
Date: 2011
Publisher: Hyperion
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 305
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

Fast-paced and full of intrigue, Heat Rises pairs the tough and sexy NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat with hotshot reporter Jameson Rook in New York Times bestselling author Richard Castle's most thrilling mystery yet.

The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club opens Nikki Heat's most thrilling and dangerous case so far, pitting her against New York's most vicious drug lord, an arrogant CIA contractor, and a shadowy death squad out to gun her down. And that is just the tip of an iceberg that leads to a dark conspiracy reaching all the way to the highest level of the NYPD.

But when she gets too close to the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and out on her own as a target for killers, with nobody she can trust. Except maybe the one man in her life who's not a cop: reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York's coldest winter in a hundred years, there's one thing Nikki is determined to prove: Heat Rises.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was a bit of a weird one for me... and for a weird reason.  I guess there's bound to be some weirdness when you read a book by a fictional author.

On the one hand, I think I enjoyed the plot of Heat Rises more than I did the plots of Heat Wave or Naked Heat.  This one was pretty exciting, and it tied in well with the TV series.  Though, maybe it tied in a little too well.  That led to some issues for me...

Which brings me to my main complaint (or point of confusion) with this book.  Without giving too much away about either the show or the book, all I can say is that the timing was off.  If Richard Castle wrote this book when he supposedly wrote this book (according to the TV series), he's either psychic or he writes about things that later come true!  While none of this would matter if you read these books on their own without watching the show, if you do happen to be a fan of the TV program, you're liable to be scratching your head over the timing of certain events.

My other gripe about Heat Rises was the writing itself.  While it started off well, by the end of it there were numerous grammatical errors, typos, and just plain lazy writing.  I don't recall seeing that (at least not to the same extent) in the other two books... so I had to take a few points off there.

All in all, though, it was a fun read, and probably my favourite of the Nikki Heat novels so far.  Now I'm even more excited to read Frozen Heat!

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

Overall: 3.14 out of 5

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review - The Unwritten Girl

The Unwritten Girl (The Unwritten Books #1)
by James Bow
Date: 2006
Publisher: Dundurn
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 180
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

“It won’t be easy, Rosemary,” said Puck. “You will face dangers only your imagination could dream of.”


“I don’t have an imagination,” said Rosemary.


“Of course you do. What else would be attacking you?”

Rosemary Watson is seeing ghosts — not spectres that rattle their chains, but strange characters that fold out of existence as though they were made of paper. Stranger still, these characters seem somehow familiar, and they want something from her.

When her older brother Theo comes home, Rosemary realizes she is not the one who has lost her mind. But who has stolen her brother’s sanity, and what must she do to get it back?

With the help of her new friend Peter McAllister and her otherworldly guide, the faerie shapeshifter Puck, Rosemary must face the storybook perils of the Land of Fiction, and learn to open her heart, before it is too late.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It says something about a book when you read to the second-to-last chapter and then just can't bear to read another page.  I read the last few pages of this book today, after starting -- and nearly finishing -- it more than a month ago.  I wasn't expecting any sort of redemption; I didn't get any, either.  In fact, things got even worse.  I didn't think that was possible.

For the most part, I didn't have any problems with the technical aspects of the writing.  However, the plot, dialogue, characters, and message left a lot to be desired.  I think my overall impression was one of cheesiness.  The plot made no sense (and got even more confusing at the end; if it was all about Rosemary's mind and hang-ups, why was her brother the one who had a nervous breakdown?).  The characters were melodramatic in their speech, and yet they lacked any real emotion.  I felt like I was reading about robots who had been programmed to act like humans.  It all seemed a bit juvenile (even though it's supposedly a young adult title).  And the whole tone of the book seemed condescending and pedantic; it reminded me somewhat of The Explosionist, with an author who seemed to have no desire to tell a really good story, but only wanted to demonstrate how clever they are.

This book really bothered me, so I thought a lot about it and came to the following conclusion: this should never have been a novel.  It should have been a graphic novel.  The cheesiness, the lack of emotional character development, the weird settings and events (all those zeppelins!), the hackneyed dialogue: all of these would have worked better with panels of illustrations rather than pages of text.  But since the wrong choice of format was made, the book failed.  I can't recommend this one at all.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 1/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.43 out of 5

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

30% off new releases from Harlequin at Kobo!

From now until June 15th, you can get 30% off new Harlequin releases at Kobo.  Why not stock up on some e-books for your summer reading?

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Click the link to see the books. Then, when you're ready to check out, enter the code koboharlequin30 into the coupon code box to apply your discount!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review - Voices

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore #2)
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Date: 2006
Publisher: Harcourt
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 341
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is the only place where she feels truly safe.

Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer's life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's funny that I chose to read this book right after Pearl North's Libyrinth, as both books deal with an oppressive invading force that views the written word as evil.  But while Libyrinth was a mish-mash of ideas, loose plotting, and weak character development, Voices was an engaging study in character development and world building.

Beginning with the maps at the beginning of the book (something which Libyrinth, annoyingly, lacked), Le Guin colourfully paints the world of the Western Shore.  This is actually the second book in the series, but you'd never know it just from reading the story; in fact, it wasn't until I read the synopsis for the first book, Gifts, that I realized that I was reading about some recurring characters.  The main strength of this book, though, is the world building.  The whole thing seemed so clear.  We know why the characters are in the situation they're in, why the Alds invaded, and how the citizens tried to cope with living under an oppressive invading force for seventeen years.  We get to see the prejudices and social mores that differ between the two cultures, and why that's important, and how it drives the story forward.

My main complaint about this story was that the plot was quite... well, political.  It wasn't something I, personally, found all that interesting, but other readers might love it.  I'm not really sure what else I would have liked to see instead; it's one of those stories that seems fine the way it is, even it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

The first and third books in the series, Gifts and Powers, have good reviews, and I'm eager to read them both (especially Gifts, if I can find a copy).  If you like good, old-fashioned fantasy novels that are well crafted and immerse you in another world, you might find something you like in Voices.

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

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Friday, May 11, 2012

Deals at Kobo!

This weekend, you can get 30% off titles from Algonquin.  Plus, US customers can also get 30% off Water for Elephants and A Reliable Wife.  Pretty nice deals, eh?  Head on over to Kobo to check out the deals.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review - Libyrinth

Libyrinth (Libyrinth #1)
by Pearl North
Date: 2009
Publisher: Tor
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 336
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

In her debut novel, Pearl North takes readers centuries into the future, to a forgotten colony of Earth where technology masquerades as magic and wars are fought over books.

Haly is a Libyrarian, one of a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the knowledge passed down from the Ancients and stored in the endless maze of books known as the Libyrinth. But Haly has a secret: The books speak to her.

When the threat of the rival Eradicants drives her from her home, Haly learns that things are not all she thinks they are. Taken prisoner by the Eradicants, who believe the written word to be evil, she sees the world through their eyes and comes to understand that they are not the book-burning monsters that she has known her entire life.

The words of a young girl hiding in an attic—written hundreds of years before Haly’s birth—will spark the interest of her captors and begin the change necessary to end the conflict between the Eradicants and Libyrarians. With the help of her loyal companion Nod, a creature of the Libyrinth, Haly must mend the rift between the two groups before their war for knowledge destroys them all. Haly’s life—and the lives of everyone she knows—will never be the same.

A powerful adventure that unites the present and future, Libyrinth is a fresh, magical novel that will draw in young readers of all genres.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a lousy synopsis! It leaves out half of the plot and one half of the character action (there are two main characters in this book, not just one).  But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  Everything about this book is shoddy.  If I wanted to read a grammar-abusing first draft with tons of plot holes, I'd go find some online fan fiction.

First, let me say that the basic premise of the plot (see synopsis) is really not that bad; it's what kept me reading through more than 300 pages of ridiculous prose.  It did fall short for me in a few areas, though.  I wanted to know more.  How did these people (presumably descendants of... well, us) get onto this far-away planet?  Why did they take so many books with them?  Wouldn't it have been easier to use e-books rather than use the fuel to transport paper copies halfway across the galaxy?  When did this exodus take place?  (I think there was some reference to the story taking place a few thousand years in the future, but that brings up even more questions than it answers.  Based on the books available in the Libyrinth, this planetary colonization must've happened around now, in the early 21st century; there weren't any newer books quoted.  For that matter, Harry Potter and Twilight weren't even quoted.  Guess they didn't make the cut.)  And once they got this new planet, what made these people devolve into brutal, slave-holding, superstitious morons who created new deities and religions as quickly as they could imagine them?

Aside from those questions, the writing and editing of this book made for an almost excruciating read (well, it probably would've been excruciating if I wasn't almost laughing).  In the first chapter or so, the author abuses the semicolon until it's nearly dead.  Then that nonsense stops... and we're treated to the complete absence of an editor.  I don't think I've ever seen so many missing words and extra words in a traditionally published book in my life!  "She regarded at her" makes no sense; "she looked at her" and "she regarded her" are probably the choices the author was debating.  Unfortunately, you can't combine the two.  Even worse, in one instance, the spelling of a character's name actually changed!  Also, suddenly, in the last 50 or so pages, we're treated to two instances of "s***" and one of "f***", which was pretty jarring.  The characters also spoke just like we do (aside from the religious references) in 21st-century English... which makes no sense, since this is so far in the future and surely language would've evolved somewhat.  The characters also all sounded the same, so you often couldn't figure out who was speaking, and the author didn't always tell you.  There was even one place where the person listening to the speaker changed... so I guess even the author couldn't keep track of who was taking part in the conversations!

Add in the forced romance (extremely forced... I don't think I've ever seen anything so unnatural) and the token homosexuality that had nothing to do with the story and the total let-down of an ending... and you have yourself one very lousy book.  There are two more books in the trilogy?  Ha!  If the author and editors can't even be bothered to make a good impression with the first book, why would they expect me to keep reading?

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review - Storm Glass (DNF)

Storm Glass (Glass #1)
by Maria V. Snyder
Date: 2009
Publisher: Mira
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 448
Format: paperback
Source: Chapters

Untrained. Untested. Unleashed.

With her unique magical abilities, Opal has always felt unsure of her place at Sitia’s magic academy. But when the Stormdancer clan needs help, Opal’s knowledge makes her the perfect choice—until the mission goes awry. Pulling her powers in unfamiliar directions, Opal finds herself tapping into a new kind of magic as stunningly potent as it is frightening. Now Opal must deal with plotters out to destroy the Stormdancer clan, as well as a traitor in their midst. With danger and deception rising around her, will Opal’s untested abilities destroy her—or save them all?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've been hearing about Maria V. Snyder's books for a while now.  I hadn't read either the Study or the Glass series, so I figured I'd pick the one that appealed to me the most and start.  Unfortunately, as it turns out, that wasn't the best plan.  Storm Glass may be the first book in its trilogy, but it is not the first book in the series... as is made quite clear with the constant references to the events of the Study series.  The author tries to explain the events that came before, but it didn't work for me; the more things were explained, the more I felt like I'd missed something.

I read 100 pages, and I still don't feel like I know the characters.  I certainly don't know them enough to care what happens to them.  What's the big deal if the Stormdancers don't catch all the storms?  Does weather have to be controlled by humans?  What happened before the Stormdancers were around to harness that energy?  I feel like I should know these things, but I don't.  We're just told that it's important that they have their glass orbs for catching storms.  If I'm supposed to care, shouldn't I have a better understanding of why?

I think the thing that turned me off the most about this book, though, was the writing.  It reminded me of that of Alyson Noël, whose prose I can't stand due to the omnipresent sentence fragments and all-around grammar abuse.  While Snyder's writing wasn't quite that bad, there were a few things that bothered me.  There were sentence fragments all over the place.  Long ones.  While I don't mind them in certain circumstances, they don't always work when they get to be lengthy.  When I end up searching for the verb and I can't find it, I get frustrated.  The author also abused the poor semicolon; I don't think she quite knows how to use it.  Most of the instances I can recall seemed to require a comma rather than a semicolon (since the part after the semicolon wasn't a complete sentence).  It's little things like this that drive me to distraction, make me give up on the book, and (once again) curse the seeming dearth of editors in the publishing industry.  This was not a self-published book.  Why didn't anyone catch these mistakes?

One more point about the writing: if you're writing high fantasy, don't make your characters speak like contemporary tweens.  "Yippee for me" is not something I expect to hear in a pre-industrial world of magic.  That wasn't the only colloquialism that I encountered, but it was the most jarring.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Storm Glass are as follows:
  • boring story that relies too much on its predecessors
  • sentence fragments
  • punctuation abuse
  • "Yippee for me."  Enough said.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review - Baby Flo

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage
by Alan Schroeder
illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu
Date: 2012
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Straight up:
Florence was a remarkable child,
and that's a fact.

Pint-sized dynamo "Baby Florence" Mills was singing and dancing just about as soon as she could talk and walk. She warbled a tune while her mama did laundry. Everywhere Flo went, she strutted through the streets of Washington, D.C. with a high-steppin' cakewalk. Flo's mama and daddy knew they had a budding entertainer in the family, so they entered Florence in a talent contest.

Baby Flo went on to become an international superstar during the Harlem Renaissance -- but first she had to overcome a case of stage fright and discover that winning wasn't everything. Here is the spirited story of that spunky young girl learning to chase her dreams with confidence. A sensation in her time, Baby Flo is back, dancing and singing her way into hearts and history.

(synopsis from NetGalley)

I had never even heard of Florence Mills before I read this book.  After reading this book, I wish I knew more about her and could see some of her performances.  Unfortunately, there is no footage of her acting and dancing, and whatever recordings that were made of her voice have been lost.  It's a shame... because at one time, she was quite the sensation!

I had no idea what to expect from this book, either.  The cover didn't jump out at me or make me think that it would be anything special... but that was totally misleading.  The watercolour paintings are absolutely beautiful!  I wish the cover had been done as a full painting, and not with the tacky spotlights and lights around the edges; it doesn't do the book justice at all.

While this is a short picture book, the story might not be that interesting for really young children (though I'm sure they'd like looking at the pictures).  The note at the end is especially sad, and talks about Florence's untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 31.

I'm glad I read this one.  Now I know something about Florence Mills, one of the biggest stars most of us have probably never even heard of!

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

Overall: 4.6 out of 5

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review - The Reckoning

The Reckoning (Darkest Powers #3)
by Kelley Armstrong
Date: 2010
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 391
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

Chloe Saunders is fifteen and would love to be normal. Unfortunately, Chloe happens to be a genetically engineered necromancer who can raise the dead without even trying. She and her equally gifted (or should that be 'cursed'?) friends are now running for their lives from the evil corporation that created them.

As if that's not enough, Chloe is struggling with her feelings for Simon, a sweet-tempered sorcerer, and his brother Derek, a not so sweet-tempered werewolf. And she has a horrible feeling she's leaning towards the werewolf...

Definitely not normal.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm at a loss as to how to review this book without revealing a major spoiler.  I don't think it's possible to review it at all otherwise, so here goes:

SPOILERS AHEAD!  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

I did not really like this third instalment of the Darkest Powers trilogy.  Why?  Because, after nearly 400 pages, the situation the kids found themselves in was not much different than the situation they were in at the end of The Awakening.  They're still on the run and in hiding, only now it's from a different group of villains.  Character development didn't go anywhere (except for some tantalizing hints about Derek that weren't taken further; I would have much rather read a story about him than about the one-dimensional Chloe Saunders).  It appears that the author intends to tie this trilogy with another one (the Darkness Rising trilogy, which starts with The Gathering), which is one of the reasons given for the ambiguous ending of The Reckoning.  I'm sorry, but I don't like that at all.  It's a cop-out.  I don't want to have to read another whole trilogy just to get some resolution for this one!  A trilogy should be self-contained.

If you're interested in reading the second trilogy, you might like this book, but I've had enough of the boring plot line ("evil scientist dudes want to kill supernatural kids").  I'm done with this trilogy, and I think I'm done with this author, too.

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

Overall: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review - Ladybug Girl, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad

I found these books the other day on We Give Books. I thought they'd be something I might enjoy. I like good picture books, and I like ladybugs (obviously). While the illustrations were absolutely adorable, I wasn't that crazy about the stories or the characters. See below for my thoughts on each of the books:

Ladybug Girl
by Jacky Davis
illustrated by David Soman
Date: 2008
Publisher: Dial
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

Lulu's older brother says she is too little to play with him. Her mama and papa are busy too, so Lulu has to make her own fun. This is a situation for Ladybug Girl!

Ladybug Girl saves ants in distress, jumps through shark-infested puddles, and even skips along the great dark twisty tree trunk -- all by herself. It doesn't matter what her brother says, Ladybug Girl is definitely not too little!

In this sweet and cheerful story by husband and wife team Jacky Davis and David Soman, one not-so-little girl discovers how to make some fun that is just her size, right in her own backyard.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is (as far as I can tell) the first book in the series. Lulu is a fairly generic kid, so young she can't read, but apparently old enough to go play in the wilderness (or a really large backyard) without adult supervision.  Most of the "plot" is just a bunch of activities she undertakes after her older brother won't let her play with him.

The thing that struck me about this book (and the rest of the books in the series) right away was the weird tense.  I don't think I've read many picture books that were written in the present tense.  It seems clumsy to me, and almost as if the books are training tools for when the kid grows up and has to get used to it if they want to read young adult fiction (where a large percentage of stories use present-tense narration).  In a picture book, it just doesn't work.

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

Overall: 3 out of 5


Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy
by Jacky Davis
illustrated by David Soman
Date: 2009
Publisher: Dial
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

At the playground, Lulu asks her friend Sam if he wants to play with her. Sam likes Diggers, while Lulu thinks Monkeys is the best game. Sam suggests playing under the castle, but Lulu knows that the top is the most fun. They just can't agree! And then Lulu asks, "Have you ever played Ladybug Girl?"

As Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, Lulu and Sam save the playground from hairy monsters and big mean robots, and have their very own parade on the bouncy dinosaurs. They figure out that when they work together, they can create fun games that they both like to play.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In this story, we start to see the little control freak that Lulu actually is.  The kid always wants things done her way.  I did enjoy the inclusion of some other children (it seemed a little less weird than a preschooler dressed like a ladybug wandering around alone with her dog), but the characters are so one-dimensional that you can't really tell them apart (without illustrations, it would be impossible).  I also question the wisdom of encouraging kids to use pointy sticks as "stingers" to poke their enemies.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 5/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.4 out of 5


Ladybug Girl at the Beach
by Jacky Davis
illustrated by David Soman
Date: 2010
Publisher: Dial
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

Lulu loves the beach. Well, she's never been there before, but she knows she will love it. And then she sees the ocean and it is big and loud and rough. That's okay -- Lulu wanted to build sand castles and fly her kite with Bingo anyway. But while they are building their sand castle, the sneaky ocean comes in and tries to steal Lulu's favorite pail. This is a job for Ladybug Girl!

Lulu conquers her fear of the ocean when she remembers that Ladybug Girl can do anything, in this gorgeously illustrated companion to the popular series.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was actually the last of the books that I read, but I think it was my favourite. There weren't any other children to speak of, so we didn't have to see Lulu bossing anyone around. I liked the message about overcoming fears, and I was glad to see that Lulu's mother was (for once) supervising her child. I also thought the father was hilarious; he goes with the family to the beach, but you never see his face. At the end, he doesn't even drive home... the mother does! I guess lying around on a towel with his face hidden all day tuckered him out.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5


Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad
by Jacky Davis
illustrated by David Soman
Date: 2011
Publisher: Dial
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

Lulu is so excited for the Bug Squad to come over for a playdate, and she has all kinds of things planned for them to do -- right down to eating cupcakes. The cupcakes are special because each one has a candle that Lulu thinks everyone should blow out at exactly the same time.

But when things don't go just the way Lulu planned, feelings are hurt and apologies are necessary. Sounds like a job for Ladybug Girl, who knows how to be brave and say she's sorry, even when it isn't easy.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was probably the most annoying of the bunch. While I did like the Bug Squad (comprised of a ladybug, a bumblebee, a dragonfly, and a butterfly), the way Lulu dominated the other children was irritating. While she did eventually learn a lesson after hurting Kiki's feelings, it almost seemed too little, too late.

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

Overall: 2.8 out of 5


Overall, the stories are not that great. If you can stand the main character, you'll probably be okay with these. The only book I can really recommend is Ladybug Girl at the Beach.  While the illustrations are super cute, I wish there had been better stories to go along with them.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review - Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw

Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw
by Deborah Kogan Ray
Date: 2008
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

Wanda Gág (pronounced "Gog") is well known as the author and illustrator of Millions of Cats, one of the best-loved children's books ever published. But not many people know how interesting and inspiring her life was.

Following in the footsteps of her beloved artist father, Wanda led an idyllic childhood, drawing and listening to old-world fairy tales. But when her father died, it was teenage Wanda who worked hard to keep her seven younger siblings fed, clothed, and laughing. She never lost sight of her love of art, however, and her tremendous willpower won her a coveted scholarship to the Art Students League in New York City and then led to a gallery show of her artwork -- where an editor of children's books got an idea for a book. The rest, as they say, is history!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I was growing up, my younger sister was obsessed with cats. She had Millions of Cats (the book... not actually millions of cats), and we both read it numerous times.  As an adult who dislikes cats, the premise of that book freaks me out a little bit... but the illustrations are unique and interesting, and completely different than anything that had been put out for children at the time it was written.  I came across this short biography of Wanda Gág on We Give Books, so I thought I'd give it a try.

While this book is intended for a young reading audience, it doesn't talk down to kids.  The story of Wanda's upbringing, subsequent hardships, and undying love for her art is an inspiring one.  Taking into account the time period in question, Wanda also seems to be something of a pioneer; at a time when most working women would have been pushed into a lifelong career of teaching or nursing, she went and became a professional artist, even studying in New York City at one point!

The illustrations were nice, but nothing amazingly special.  I think I would have preferred to see the story illustrated with Wanda's own works (apparently, she kept many journals and sketchbooks, so there should've been ample material to choose from).  But the story is really what matters, and it is accentuated (quite effectively) with snippets of Wanda's own words.

You don't have to be familiar with Wanda Gág's work to enjoy this book, but it probably doesn't hurt.  Read this one, and then check out Millions of Cats to see the book that's often considered to be the first modern picture book.

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

Overall: 4.4 out of 5

Review - Goodnight iPad

Goodnight iPad
by Ann Droyd
Date: 2011
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Reading level: A
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

Modern life is abuzz. There are huge LCD WiFi HD TVs and Facebook requests and thumbs tapping texts and new viral clips of cats doing flips. Wouldn't it be nice to say goodnight to all that? Like the rest of us who cannot resist just a few more scrolls and clicks, you may find yourself ready for bed while still clinging to your electronics long after dark. This book, which is made of paper, is a reminder for the child in all of us to power down at the end of the day. This hilarious parody not only pokes loving fun at the bygone quiet of the original classic, but also at our modern plugged-in lives. It will make you laugh, and it will also help you put yourself and your machines to sleep. Don't worry, though. Your gadgets will be waiting for you, fully charged, in the morning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I was a very small child, Goodnight Moon was one of my favourite books. I don't think I even have my copy anymore, as it wore out and fell apart and probably wasn't worth keeping (this was before they came out with the board book edition, I think).

If you remember Goodnight Moon from your own childhood (or if you've shared it with your own children), you'll probably delight in this satirical take on the classic.  With its deceptively simple (but important) message and charming illustrations, it's bound to give you a few giggles... and maybe even make you think about unplugging for a while!

It does seem a bit ironic that I read this book online at We Give Books.  But, actually, the book is only available for purchase in hard copy (there's no e-book edition)... which goes along perfectly with the message.

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

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review - Gossamer [AUDIO]

Gossamer
by Lois Lowry
Date: 2006
Publisher: Listening Library
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Length: 2 hours 43 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

Littlest One is a tiny creature slowly learning her job of giving dreams to humans. Each night she and her teacher, Thin Elderly, visit an old woman’s home where she softly touches beloved objects, gathering happy memories, and drops of old scents and sounds. Littlest One pieces these bits together and presents them to her sleeping human in the form of pleasant dreams. But the dreaded Sinisteeds, dark fearsome creatures that plague their victims with nightmares, are always at work against the dreamgivers. When the old woman takes in John, an angry foster child with a troubled past, the Sinisteeds go after him with their horrifying nightmares. Can Littlest One, and her touch light as gossamer, protect John’s heart and soul from the nightmare of his dark past?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I first started listening to this one, I thought it might end up being a good story.  Boy, was I ever wrong!  I couldn't wait for this one to be over; the only reason I even bothered to finish it was because it was relatively short (for an audio book).

The plot was pretty weak.  So there are these little creatures who come at night, gather nice memories from your belongings, and then turn them into dreams which they then bestow upon you.  That's fine.  But that's about all there was to the whole story!  Everything was oversimplified and (I thought) a bit condescending.  The villains weren't seen much, and they weren't that scary.  A horse-like creature (a Sinisteed) breathes its way through your walls (I'm not joking) and gives you a nightmare.  Okay... but why did the other dreamgivers act like this was a matter of life and death?  They couldn't always prevent the nightmares, and even then, nobody died.  So what was the big deal?

The characters were so boring.  I couldn't relate to any of them.  Littlest One was naive and annoying; her mentor, Thin Elderly, had about as much personality as a piece of drywall; the old woman was clueless and one-dimensional; John was a lost cause and downright scary (when a foster kid keeps talking about getting a gun and shooting you -- and your dog -- you should probably be a little bit worried); John's mother was almost an afterthought, and probably shouldn't even have made an appearance if she was going to be so underutilized; and Toby, the dog, was just a boring dog character (and dogs should never be boring).  The only character I was interested in was one of the dreamgivers who'd turned into a Sinisteed.  That was interesting... but that story angle wasn't given much attention.

Overall, the thing that really made me dislike this audio book was the narrator.  In fact, I've made a note of her name so I never have to endure that sort of torture again.  At times, all the characters sounded the same, which was confusing; at other times, she tried to differentiate the voices, only to become even more annoying.  Her attempt at a tiny creature (Littlest One) sounded forced in its attempt to be childlike, and yet near the end of the book her regular narration voice lapsed into this irritating tone.  All the old characters (Thin Elderly, Most Ancient, the old woman) spoke the same way, with a creaky voice that had this weird downward inflection at the end of each phrase.

I have to admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I fell asleep numerous times while listening, so I may have missed a second or two here and there.  But, if anything, that only further proves that this story is too boring to be tolerated.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Performance: 1/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Saturday, March 17, 2012

This is not acceptable, Google!

I noticed this morning that my blog is now at blogspot.ca instead of at blogspot.com.  What this will do to any links that are out on the Internet is anyone's guess...

But my bigger problem is that the Quick Edit pencil icon is gone.  The settings say it should show up, but it doesn't... which means that I can't edit any of my old posts (like my Reviews page) without searching through 2 and a half years of postings to find the right one.

This is not a unique problem.  Other users have had this happen with the switchover to country-specific URLs.

Message to Google, Blogger, Facebook, and any of these other tech companies who keep giving people what they don't want: knock it off!  It's not enough that Facebook messed everything up with the chaotic Timeline feature, or that Google now requires more steps for me to even access my blog... but now Blogger has broken my blog?!

Sometimes, the things that already exist are good enough.  You know what they say: If it ain't broke...

Review - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #1)
by Ransom Riggs
Date: 2011
Publisher: Quirk Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 352
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Let me first say that the synopsis (which is also on the jacket flap) does not do the story justice.  In fact, the synopsis almost makes this book sound boring... and it's definitely not.

At its heart, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fresh, exciting take on the young adult fantasy genre.  It's a story about some peculiar children at a home in Wales, yes; but it's also a story about family, the nature of reality, and the battle between good and evil.

The narrative is well written -- almost too well written in spots, which made me think of the narrator as an educated, middle-aged man rather than the privileged (yet troubled) teenaged boy he is.  Why is Jacob so troubled?  Because he experiences something terrifying, something out of his worst nightmares (and that actually gives him nightmares), and yet nobody will believe him.  On the advice of his therapist, he takes a trip to Wales with his father, hoping to find the house and children that his grandfather often spoke of... but that nobody believes are real.  They are real, and very much alive...  (Sorry... but I can't say more about the plot without giving too much away.  That's probably why the official synopsis is so cryptic!)

What really makes this book unique is the use of carefully selected vintage photographs.  They're scattered throughout in places that correspond to the text.  As a result, you get to see pictures of all of the peculiar children (or the ones that matter to the narrative, anyway).  This makes the characters and story come alive in a way that's different from most fantasy novels.  And yes, the girl on the cover is actually one of the children.

All in all, this was an interesting, unique, sometimes spine-tingling, and always captivating story.  It's not a stand-alone title (which is obvious from the rather open ending), but the author is working on the sequel so there is more coming!  If you're looking for something that's a little different, why not give Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children a try?

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

Overall: 4.57 out of 5

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In My Mailbox (52)


Borrowed from the library (audio books):
Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo

When 10-year-old India Opal Buloni moves to Naomi, Florida, with her father, she doesn't know what to expect -- least of all, that she'll adopt Winn-Dixie, a dog she names after the supermarket where they met.

Right away, Opal knows she can tell Winn-Dixie anything -- like the fact that lately she's been thinking a lot about her mother, who left when Opal was three. And that her father, the preacher, won't talk about her mother at all. And that she's lonely. But with such an unusually friendly dog at her side, Opal soon finds herself making more than a few unusual friends. And ultimately, Opal and the preacher realize -- with a little help from Winn-Dixie, of course -- that while they've both tasted a bit of melancholy in their lives, they still have a whole lot to be thankful for.

First Light
by Rebecca Stead

Peter is thrilled to join his parents on an expedition to Greenland, where his father studies global warming. Peter will get to skip school, drive a dogsled, and –- finally -– share in his dad’s adventures. But on the ice cap, Peter struggles to understand a series of visions that both frighten and entice him.

Thea has never seen the sun. Her extraordinary people, suspected of witchcraft and nearly driven to extinction, have retreated to a secret world they’ve built deep inside the arctic ice. As Thea dreams of a path to Earth’s surface, Peter’s search for answers brings him ever closer to her hidden home.

Rebecca Stead’s fascinating debut novel is a dazzling tale of mystery, science and adventure at the top of the world.

Gossamer
by Lois Lowry

Littlest One is a tiny creature slowly learning her job of giving dreams to humans. Each night she and her teacher, Thin Elderly, visit an old woman’s home where she softly touches beloved objects, gathering happy memories, and drops of old scents and sounds. Littlest One pieces these bits together and presents them to her sleeping human in the form of pleasant dreams. But the dreaded Sinisteeds, dark fearsome creatures that plague their victims with nightmares, are always at work against the dreamgivers. When the old woman takes in John, an angry foster child with a troubled past, the Sinisteeds go after him with their horrifying nightmares. Can Littlest One, and her touch light as gossamer, protect John’s heart and soul from the nightmare of his dark past?

From We Give Books:
Little Dog Lost
by Mônica Carnesi

On a cold winter day, a curious dog wanders onto a frozen river, and before he knows it he is traveling fast on a sheet of ice. Many people try to help, but the dog can not be reached. Finally, after two nights and 75 miles, the little dog is saved by a ship out in the Baltic Sea.

Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants
by Giles Andreae & Korky Paul

When King Colin's golden pants go missing, he calls for Sir Scallywag, the bravest knight in the land. But... Sir Scallywag is only 6 years old and with an evil giant to pursue, it's nearly mission impossible! Luckily, it's a story of David and Goliath. With his trusted steed Doofus at his side, Sir Scallywag proves that even the unlikeliest hero can be the bravest knight of all.


What was in your "mailbox" this week?


In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review - Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants

Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants
by Giles Andreae
illustrated by Korky Paul
Date: 2012
Publisher: Puffin
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

When King Colin's golden pants go missing, he calls for Sir Scallywag, the bravest knight in the land. But... Sir Scallywag is only 6 years old and with an evil giant to pursue, it's nearly mission impossible! Luckily, it's a story of David and Goliath. With his trusted steed Doofus at his side, Sir Scallywag proves that even the unlikeliest hero can be the bravest knight of all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Oh, my goodness!  Well, this was different.  It's the sort of book that would probably be appreciated most by little boys... but the fun illustrations and jaunty meter would make it fun for most kids (and for the parents who might be reading it aloud).  I found it rather difficult not to guffaw when reading lines such as:

"They're my underpants of glory,
My underpants of power!
My breakfast will be ruined
If they're not back within this hour!"

So, all in all, it's a pretty fun little book.  I'd definitely recommend this one!

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

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Little Dog Lost

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic
by Mônica Carnesi
illustrated by Mônica Carnesi
Date: 2012
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: We Give Books

On a cold winter day, a curious dog wanders onto a frozen river, and before he knows it he is traveling fast on a sheet of ice. Many people try to help, but the dog can not be reached. Finally, after two nights and 75 miles, the little dog is saved by a ship out in the Baltic Sea.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I remember hearing about this story a couple of years ago. As a dog lover, it intrigued me.  It would make an interesting basis for a great picture book.  Unfortunately, this book wasn't what I was looking for.

Yes, it is a picture book intended for a young audience.  However, I found the language much too simplistic, and almost condescending.  And when I read a picture book, I want great illustrations.  The pictures here were nothing special, and I wasn't impressed.

Overall, I'd probably never read this again, and I doubt I'd want to give it to a child.  This version didn't do the original captivating story justice at all.

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

Overall: 2.4 out of 5

Review - Because of Winn-Dixie [AUDIO]

Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
Date: 2000
Publisher: Listening Library
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Length: 2 hours 28 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

When 10-year-old India Opal Buloni moves to Naomi, Florida, with her father, she doesn't know what to expect -- least of all, that she'll adopt Winn-Dixie, a dog she names after the supermarket where they met.

Right away, Opal knows she can tell Winn-Dixie anything -- like the fact that lately she's been thinking a lot about her mother, who left when Opal was three. And that her father, the preacher, won't talk about her mother at all. And that she's lonely. But with such an unusually friendly dog at her side, Opal soon finds herself making more than a few unusual friends. And ultimately, Opal and the preacher realize -- with a little help from Winn-Dixie, of course -- that while they've both tasted a bit of melancholy in their lives, they still have a whole lot to be thankful for.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really haven't had much experience with audio books.  For some reason, I'd viewed them sort of as cheating... like if I didn't actually read a book myself, then it didn't count.  Which is kind of silly, actually.  The last audio book I listened to was an abridged version of Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy way back in the 1990s (on cassette tape -- my age is showing).  I really enjoyed it, so I don't know why I was so hesitant to try audio books again.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a cute story about a girl and her dog.  It's one of those books that evokes the atmosphere of small-town America in a way that seems so real that it can create a sense of nostalgia (even for those who've never been to small-town America).  The cast of characters was colourful and entertaining, and everybody had their own story.  Winn-Dixie was a fun animal character, too, with his unusual but friendly manner of greeting people and his neurosis about thunderstorms.

There's really not much I have to say against the book, though I wasn't crazy about the choice of narrator for the audio book.  Opal was supposed to be a 10-year-old girl, so listening to what sounded like a 40-year-old smoker kind of threw me.  Other than that, the performance itself was good, with lovely inflection and different voices for the various characters.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review - Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival

Jolted: Newton Starker's Rules for Survival
by Arthur Slade
Date: 2009
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 240
Format: paperback
Source: Indigo

Newton Goddard Starker lives with a mysterious curse: his family attracts lightning.

Nearly all of the Starker family have died from lightning strikes, including Newton's beloved mother. Fourteen-year-old Newton, the last in the Starker line, is determined not to be next, and he may have found a way to beat the odds. He has enrolled at Jerry Potts Academy for Survival, a boarding school in Moose Jaw, Canada, whose motto is Survival Through Fierce Intelligence. Newton's ready to learn, and to be remembered in the school's Hall of Heroes.

What Newton hasn't counted on is the other students. For a boy who's spent most of his life in a protective dome, making friends is sometimes as challenging as surviving. Especially when he's vying for top marks with the dynamo Violet Quon.
Throw in a supertalented pig, students in kilts, wacky teachers, and some important questions about fate and the universe, and you've got an irresistible story that's as unique as Jerry Potts Academy.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one.  I'd never heard of it, and I only bought it because I found it in the bargain bin and it looked vaguely interesting.

It was a relief to read something that was generally well written, though I would expect as much from a middle grade novel (it's the young adult stuff that usually has the writing/editing/grammar issues).  While I'm pretty sure most 14-year-old boys don't talk the way Newton and his friends did, the style worked well enough in the context of the novel.  Some of the descriptions were really well done, and I'll probably always remember that Newton's great-grandmother was "as friendly as a pickled wolverine" (a phrase like that tends to stick in your head)!  I liked the inclusion of Josephine, Newton's pet pig (even though it was pretty unrealistic), and the academy, with its kilt uniforms and Scottish flavour, was interesting.  However, there were a few points that kind of turned me off.

The Jerry Potts Academy is a school that teaches survival skills, and apparently that includes killing whatever crosses your path and eating it.  There was a particularly disgusting scene about halfway through the book that had me (and many of the students in the book) gagging.  It might be right up a 12-year-old male reader's alley, but it was a bit much for this 30-something female reader.  Later in the book, it's implied that a person might get dizzy, pass out, and hallucinate after not eating meat for a couple of meals.  Aside from being a bit insulting to the intelligence of vegetarians, it's downright ridiculous and untrue.  And since Newton was something of an aspiring chef, I would have expected him to be a little more knowledgeable about food.

The last part of the novel reminded me of The Hunger Games, only much more lighthearted and of course nobody died (although when Newton kept thinking things like kill or be killed, I was a bit worried).  The story was different, with the Starker family curse (lightning!) and some of the characters were interesting... but there were some things that could have been done better.  I would have liked to know more about the school and see more about the teachers (we only really get to know a couple).  Plus, the ending is rather ambiguous and almost seems tailor-made for a sequel... except there isn't one.

Overall, it was fairly entertaining.  I might be more inclined to recommend it to its intended audience, though; some parts were a bit puerile for my taste.

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

Overall: 3.86 out of 5