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.