Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review - The Adventures of Benny

The Adventures of Benny
by Steve Shreve
Date: 2006
Publisher: TwoLions
Reading level: C
Book type: short stories
Pages: 162
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

As Benny goes on five adventures that take him from the woods behind his house to the pyramids of Egypt, he comes face to face with a host of bad guys—pirates, a mummy, and even his very own Booger-Man! And what about all those monkeys?

Join Benny on these wild adventures as he confronts all things hilarious and grotesque. Black-and-white art on every spread of the book will appeal to reluctant readers as well as fans of comics, graphic novels, and illustrated novels.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In spite of being divided into chapters, The Adventures of Benny is really just a collection of (mostly) unrelated stories about a boy named Benny and his... well, adventures. The book reads really young, and though I don't have a problem with reading children's books in general, this one probably isn't going to appeal to most adults. Kids (especially boys) would probably love it, though.

"Chapter 1: Bigfoot or The Value of a Smelly Friend" - This first story had sort of a fairy-tale feel to it, with a crafty wolf and the threat of being boiled up in a stew for dinner.


"Chapter 2: The Mummy or Another Great Use for Toilet Paper" - Okay, I'll admit, I kind of laughed at King Butthankhamen (aka King Butt). It was a pretty silly story, but kind of entertaining.


"Chapter 3: Pirates or The Truth About Life on the High Seas" - This is probably the weakest story. Aside from the cute pirate names, there wasn't a lot of plot.


"Chapter 4: The Booger-Man or A Good Argument for Not Picking Your Nose" - This one was obviously written out of frustration over living with a booger-wiping kid, but it's still kind of amusing. Especially the part about the dog.


"Chapter 5: Monkey Island or The Advantage of Opposable Thumbs" - This story I also thought was a bit weak, and not quite as funny as some of the others. It sort of ties into something that happened in the first story, but it stands on its own, as well.


All in all, it was just an okay collection of stories. There are some good one-liners that made me laugh, and the illustrations are really cute (they're probably the best part of the whole book). I don't think I'd recommend this one to adults the way I might recommend some other children's books, but for kids themselves, it's solid and fairly well written.

Quotable moment:

Benny looked over at Bigfoot.

"You don't have a nose," said Benny. "How do you smell?"

"Terrible," replied Bigfoot.

"I see," said Benny. "Well, that's a relief. I thought the baloney sandwich had gone bad."

Overall: 2.9 out of 5

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review - Dream Me

Dream Me
by Kathryn Berla
Date: 2017
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 270
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Every night Babe dreams of a boy she’s never met before named Zat. But Zat is no ordinary daydream. He’s actually a human from the distant future, who has travelled back in time to be with Babe in the only way that he can be—in her dreams. But the dreams leave Babe more and more tired and pained each morning. Zat is determined to help her, even if it means never sharing dreams with her again.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to read a version with the spoilers hidden, head on over to Goodreads and read it there.

I feel insulted. After 270 pages of implausibility sprinkled with what I can only describe as mansplaining, I'm miffed. No, I'm downright annoyed.

If this book had lived up to its synopsis, that would be one thing. But it didn't. It failed. Boy, did it fail! Where do I even begin?

To begin with, the premise of a far-future human coming back to inhabit the dreams of a present-day teenage girl is a bit far-fetched. If you're going to try to pull that off, you need to do more than... well, this. Zat is not just "a human from the distant future". In fact, I wouldn't even call him a human at all. He's some sort of reptilian creature who's evolved from humans. That would take a long time, right? Right. Zat comes from five billion years in the future. The Earth is devoid of trees (it's never explained how anything lives without oxygen), the "humans" sleep all day so they don't use up too many resources, and... well, I can't really explain much more about that future because the world-building was stupendously weak. Aside from the fact that their houses are like cubes and there are vipers lurking in the dark, we don't know much about this future world. Except that it's dying because the sun is expanding. People are in a scramble to get off the planet. You'd think that with, you know, five billion years of warning, they wouldn't have left everything to the last minute.

But that's not the only problem with Zat and his part of the story. Instead of getting off the planet with the rest of his family, he decides to go back in time. Time-travel technology was supposedly invented before space travel technology (okay...) and was then abandoned in favour of the latter. One guy tried to travel back in time, and because the results were ambiguous, they abandoned the whole idea. And then Zat decides to try it. He basically stalks Babe for a while before he takes up residence in her dreams. With his body in the future dead, the only way he can exist is in her dream state. She gets headaches when she dreams of him, which of course he feels guilty about (insert suitable YA angst here... even though this is a guy who has access to five billion years of written history, so surely he would've known something like this could happen). Oh, yeah. About that knowledge thing. It's never explained, either. At one point he says that all of humanity's knowledge is "implanted" into them. Babe assumes it's a chip. But it's never explained. How you'd get five billion years' worth of history on an implantable chip is beyond me, but that's what the author decided to go with. Curiously, Zat only seems to read 19th- and 20th-century classics. Wordsworth. Hemingway. I guess we've peaked.

This book might have worked as a short story. All the nonsense about tennis and the pervert at the country club could've been cut. It didn't add anything to the plot. In fact, it took away from the main plot. When I read a book with sci-fi or fantasy elements like this, I don't want to spend the majority of the book hobbling through descriptions of the weather or what the characters are eating.

Then there are the characters. The book begins with Zat, so you'd assume he's a main character. Despite being a point-of-view character, he's not really a main character at all. The main character is Babe, whose parents named her after some female golfer, perhaps not realizing that naming your child after a term of endearment is infantilizing. When Babe, a modern-day teenager, mentioned a peer named Marvin, I threw up my hands in despair. How hard is it to look up popular baby names for the year 2000? I can pretty much guarantee that "Marvin" won't be on any of those lists.

Babe is one of the most insufferable characters I've read in a while. She's got this reverse snobbery thing going on, where she looks down at people who have more money or status and automatically assumes they're bad people. It was so blatant that I was hoping it would be addressed at some point. She continually judged a girl named Mattie Lynn, pegging her as a queen bee (and possibly a mean girl), when there was nothing to really give that impression. All I got out of Mattie Lynn was an overachiever who perhaps didn't recognize her privilege, but who wasn't necessarily cruel. Babe comes across as someone who whines and views herself as misunderstood... and yet she's constantly making the same snap judgments about others that she presumably doesn't want made about her. In short, she's kind of a hypocrite.

The writing in this book was just terrible. The grammar was off. The dialogue punctuation was wrong more than half the time. The tenses were weird. The book has three different points of view: Zat, Babe, and Babe's blog. Babe's blog is weird in that it's written in the present tense, while her "live" sections are written in the past tense. One of the commenters on her blog pointed this out, and she just dismissed it. (I almost got the feeling that an editor pointed this out to the author and, being too lazy to change it, she just tried to make it appear like a stylistic choice.) The prose veered into shades of purple at times, leading to some unintentionally funny descriptions of gelatinous skin and "creamy brown" hair. And, like I mentioned before, there was this condescending tone that crept in at times. Certain things that didn't need to be explained were mansplained to death. Babe herself takes things very literally at times, leading to some stupidity. (She ponders the meaning of terms like "fire ant", "sleepy town", and "vixen", wondering about miniature fire-breathing dragons, a town where everyone sleeps a lot, and an actual fox, respectively. Did I mention that this girl with her stunning vocabulary wants to be a writer?) And then there are things that are not explained at all, that the author assumes all readers will understand, like tennis terms.

Ultimately, though, this was just unsatisfying. The ending is pat and unexplained. Where did the real Zat come from? Did he take over someone's body? Did his soul/energy become solid? Did Earl have a magic camera that took his photo and shot his body out like an instant Polaroid? We never find out the identities of the mysterious blog commenters like Sweetness (they were written to sound relevant to the story... but I guess they weren't). Babe comes across as a dull, stupid girl, and I couldn't care about her or her "problems" (Perry? Why should I care about this non-boyfriend?) at all.

I expect this sort of thing from self-published books, but this wasn't. I guess I need to be careful about small indie presses, too. All around, a disappointment and a waste of time. Now I know why so many people on Goodreads DNFed this one!

For a book with a somewhat similar premise but a far better execution, try Corinne Duyvis's Otherbound instead. (Keep in mind that I only gave that book 2 stars; the fact that I'm recommending a 2-star book at all should tell you how bad I thought Dream Me was.)

Quotable moment:

It's that special peaceful time just before sunset, when day and night reach equilibrium and the world stops to exhale. I'm never up early enough to know if the world inhales before sunrise.

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

Overall Rating: 0.88 out of 5 ladybugs


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books I Wish We'd Read in School

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is a freebie with a back-to-school theme. I spent a lot of time in high school lamenting the books we had to read, and even more time afterward thinking, "Why couldn't we have read this instead?" (The answer was probably, "Because it's too feminine." We girls had to suck it up and read books about guys having adventures, and about other guys getting their dicks blown off--ahem, Hemingway--but god forbid any of the boys had to read about a girl who didn't get raped, wasn't an adulteress, didn't get murdered... You get the idea.) So here are ten books that I wish we could've read... instead of what we actually did read:

Ten Books I Wish We'd Read in School:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery - I went to school in Canada for all but two years of my education... and yet, we never read one of the most well-known Canadian titles of all time!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling - Now, I'll be the first person to say that these books are not exactly great literature. However, the stories in the first few were fun, and they would've gone a long way to encouraging reluctant readers to read. Unfortunately, I was out of school by the time the first one was even published. (I also would've loved to see the backlash our conservative area would've kicked up; I'm sure it would've been rather hilarious. Witchcraft! Oh noes!)

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer - Actually, many of Nancy Farmer's books--especially those set in Africa--might be great in the classroom. But this one is so interesting as a sci-fi/dystopian story in a not-quite-familiar future with a main character who was born purely to be used by others. There are lots of interesting discussions that could be had about this book.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - One of my favourite novels of all time seems like it would be a good fit in a high school curriculum. The fact that it's a coming-of-age story about girls is probably the reason it's not used.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - I got a chance to read this in university. I don't know why it wasn't part of the high school curriculum. It's got mystery, secrets, and plenty of archaic social customs to discuss. Isn't that what English teachers love?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler - This book could've been a great tie-in to learning about slavery in the United States. It reminded me a bit of The Time Traveler's Wife... but with much higher stakes.

Matilda by Roald Dahl - Actually, pretty much any of Dahl's books would've been fun to read, but Matilda is one of my favourites. It's about a bookworm. How can you not love that? (Plus, comparing your own principal to the Trunchbull would make any school despot look like a benevolent ruler.)

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare - I had to read A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet in school. Of course, after that, I thought I hated Shakespeare. I read Much Ado About Nothing on my own a year or so after high school, and I loved it. I found it way more accessible, and it has some great lines and insults.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Maybe some schools put this classic on their reading lists, but mine didn't. We really didn't read a lot of female authors at all. (Sense and Sensibility would've also been a nice one to read, but it probably reads too much like a straight romance for the classroom.)

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder - I found this book to be so interesting (but I'm a bit of a nerd). What might read like a dry textbook in the hands of another author was turned into an engaging story by Gaarder. I learned so much about philosophy and its history as I read this book... while also being entertained.


What are some books you wish you could've read in school?


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Book Recommendations for Adults Who Read Young

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Book Recommendations for _________. I'm going to go with books for younger readers that I think adults might also enjoy. I'm an adult myself, and I don't read a lot of books that are aimed at my age; I read mostly young adult books, with a few middle grade titles thrown into the mix. There are some real gems out there, if you don't mind the main character being a bit (or a lot) younger than you. Since many young adult books are already well known, I'm going to stick with middle grade titles here:

Ten Books for Adults Who Read Young:

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer - Don't let Goodreads's series numbering deter you. Despite being the third in a series, you don't need to have read the first two to enjoy this one. It's a fun time-travel story with great characters that takes place in England.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman - I read the book long before I saw the movie, and I still prefer the book. It's creepier than the movie, and a bit darker, which might make it even more appealing to older readers.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo - This is a great example of a book for young readers that doesn't talk down to them. The typing squirrel is delightful, and the whole thing has a sort of superhero/comic-book vibe to it, which may appeal to older readers as well.

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver - This one makes me think of Dickens... lite. The Victorian-esque setting is populated by some unforgettable characters... including two of the cutest ghosts you'll ever read about.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai - The subject matter in this one may be creeping up there, age-wise, but the narrator is still only thirteen. Her summer in Vietnam is full of humour, heartache, and growing pains. I haven't been let down by this author yet!

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson - Admittedly, I haven't read a ton of Peter Pan retellings. This book is more of a prequel, anyway, but it's one of the best books I've read that incorporates these characters and the world of Neverland. Don't go in expecting to meet Wendy and her brothers, though; this book takes place long before any of that.

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff - I saw the TV movie adaptation of this story before I read the book. It presents a touching story of a foster kid who's just looking for her place in the world.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt - This is an oldie, but it's still good. The questions about immortality and friendship are timeless.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine - Most people have heard of Ella Enchanted by the same author, but not as many have heard of this story, which is actually my favourite of the author's books. The cast of characters is wonderful, and it's nice to see a fairytale story that focuses on sisters and doesn't rely on a prince to save the day.

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker - Speaking of fairytales, this is one of my favourite retellings. While it's based around the "Sleeping Beauty" story, it incorporates plenty of other tales. It's funny and cute. I haven't gotten to around to reading the other books in the series yet, but if they're as good as this one, I probably won't be disappointed.


What are some books for younger readers that you think adults would also enjoy?


Monday, July 24, 2017

Review - If I Wake

If I Wake
by Nikki Moyes
Date: 2016
Publisher: Inspiring Publishers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 276
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Will is sixteen year old Lucy’s best friend. Their lives intersect in dreams, where destiny pulls them together through different times in history. Even though their meetings are more real to Lucy than the present, Lucy is uncertain if Will exists outside her mind.
Lucy’s mum thinks there is something wrong when Lucy sleeps for days at a time.
She is so caught up with finding a cure she doesn’t see the real problem. Lucy is bullied at school and is thinking of ending her life.
When the bullying goes too far and Lucy ends up in a coma, only Will can reach her. But how do you live when the only person who can save you doesn’t exist?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you want to read a version with the spoilers hidden, head on over to Goodreads and read it there.

I know it might not seem like it from the way I rate and review books, but I don't actually go into any book thinking I'm going to dislike it. The synopsis and premise are usually what'll spur me to pick up a book, and that was the case here. I was intrigued by the "dream friend" aspect of the story, and hoped that it would provide an interesting backdrop for exploring the themes of bullying and suicide. Unfortunately, it did not; I found the book to be problematic and potentially dangerous.

I wish there had been more critical reviews of this book on Goodreads so I would've known what I was getting myself into. Aside from some low ratings, there were (at the time of my reading of the book) no critical reviews. After posting some of my initial thoughts in my Goodreads status updates and receiving ad hominem attacks (ironic, considering one of the messages of this book is about being kind because you don't know what another person is going through in their life), I wondered if perhaps I wasn't the only one who'd been harassed for not liking this. In any case, here's the sort of review that I wish I had seen before I decided to pick up this book. I might've saved myself some grief.

Going in, I felt the premise had some merit, so I was almost immediately frustrated by the poor quality of the writing. If a book is just bad all around, with a stupid plot and lousy characters from the beginning, I won't care so much. But when there's a glimmer of something, some spark of potential, it's really sad when it doesn't work out. Even worse is when that spark gets obliterated by bad creative choices and the urge to send a preachy message.

I had problems right away, but I was willing to overlook them and see where the story would take me. From the start, I was confused. The book is written almost entirely in the present tense, even though it incorporates recent flashbacks, ancient flashbacks, and even a flash forward. At times, the narrative jumps between these times quite rapidly, making it difficult to tell where and when the main character is. Adding to my confusion is the fact that Lucy (the narrator) starts out the story referring to herself in the third person. I guess the author wanted to start the story with an air of mystery, but all it did was confuse me, and since the third-person perspective wasn't repeated again, it came off as little more than a cheap trick.

I didn't understand what was going on in the story with Lucy and Will, and I'm still not entirely sure. Lucy may have been some sort of hologram. She went back into the past to interact with Will, staying until she died... at which point, her body there would vanish and she'd wake up back in her own time. I can work with that. Will, on the other hand, made no sense. For a while, I thought he was reincarnating over and over... and yet, that theory went out the window in the later part of the book. See, Will shows up in all these different time periods. His name is usually a variation on "Will" and he looks similar enough in all of his incarnations that Lucy always recognizes him. But as we get to the end of the book (in a sudden switch to dystopian sci-fi at almost 3/4 of the way through), we're introduced to Willis... who's the grandson of Will... who's the great-grandson of Bill. And Lucy actually meets Bill in real time when he's an old man. So the Will who saves her from finally killing herself can't be the same one she was with in all those other time periods because he exists in the same time period as one of them. Confused yet? (And, yes, she's saved from killing herself by a boy. And then everything in her life magically gets better. Just like in real life, right?)

I've read stories with a similar fantasy premise before (see below), so I thought I knew what I was getting into. But this was just so badly done that... Well, let's see. Lucy supposedly went into a coma every year on her birthday (since age 11) and met with Will in the past. The thing is, we're only told about the instances at ages 11, 13, and 16. There was another brief one in England that the author seemed to have forgotten about, and the other missing instances were mentioned later (in one sentence). I thought this part of the story could've been fleshed out a little more. There was an awful lot of glossing over, including where Lucy apparently almost drowned in her bathtub and got pneumonia... but the only reason we even know about that is because she tells us (again, in one sentence). I found it really difficult to care about the characters because everything was so detached and unemotional. Reading the synopsis, I'd expected this to be a romance. But, aside from one kiss, there was little else. The characters didn't even have any chemistry. It's not entirely surprising, though, since Lucy was one of the weakest characters I've read in a while. She's defined almost entirely by her victimhood. The Wills are likewise bland. They exist seemingly to be there for Lucy and smile at her and... well, I don't really know what else. The villains are all ridiculously evil; there are no shades of grey. And that makes it all the more unrealistic when, at the end, Lucy becomes best friends with two of them.

Early on, Lucy made a comment about her suicide attempt that threw up a great big red flag. I kept it in mind, but waited to see if she would come around and not be so... well, stupid:

I did this to make her and her friends pay for their continued abuse - and to stop the endless emotional pain.

Deciding to commit suicide to punish a bully. Sounds healthy, right? (If someone is horrible enough to push you in front of a truck, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that they're probably not going to feel that bad if you commit suicide.) In the end, though, Lucy never really realized this was wrong, and even more ridiculous was the fact that "this" wasn't even an actual suicide attempt. Lucy's coma in the beginning of the book was caused by her bully pushing her in front of an oncoming truck. (Lucy takes credit for this, though, implying that this was actually a suicide attempt because she let it happen. Okay...)

I have so many problems with this aspect of the story. Lucy's life was absolute hell... to the point of it being completely unrealistic. At times, I wondered if her real life was another one of the dreams, since it seemed to be something out of The Twilight Zone. Her school was like an asylum populated by psychopaths. Everyone was cruel for no reason. The teachers were clueless, and kind of cruel themselves. (In one instance, one of the bullies shoved Lucy outside a grocery store, causing her to drop and break a bottle and then cut her hand on the glass. This was in front of the bully's father, who just stared at the bleeding, crying Lucy "like [she was] a stain on his carpet" and walked away. Then all the passers-by ignored her as well.) Lucy's mother was ridiculous. She obviously couldn't read people--even her own daughter's tears didn't seem to faze her--and she appeared to have no empathy at all. She didn't date anyone for sixteen years, and then she took up with a walking plot device named Frank, a lovely specimen who continually smirked at Lucy, groped her mother in front of her, whispered things like, "No one wants you. You're good for nothing. Do us all a favour; stop hanging around and just die," and even kicked a feeble old man in a wheelchair. (Yeah... we get it. Frank's a bad dude.) When Lucy finally makes a friend, said friend kills herself. Because... why not? Let's make Lucy's life even more unrealistically hellish. Then there was the amusing (if it weren't so disturbing) talk with the school counsellor after the friend's suicide:

"How did she die?" The words leave my mouth without me realising I moved my lips.
...
"That's not important," she says.
...
"She killed herself," I say. It's not a question. I've never felt so alone in my life.
"We don't talk about things like that!" the counsellor gasps.

The problem is that this pretty much negates what's in the author's note. If you're feeling suicidal, talk to someone: a friend, a family member, a psychiatrist, a counsellor. Right... Like Lucy's school counsellor who doesn't even want to talk about suicide? What is she there for, then?

Aside from the disturbing lack of care the suicide angle was handled with, this book was just poorly written. It was in dire need of a good editor. No, scratch that. Any editor. There were comma splices everywhere... and then where there should've been commas, there weren't any. There were plenty of misspellings, too, and some words that were just plain wrong (including one rather amusing use of "extract" where the author meant "extricate"). Some things weren't explained (like how Bill, an American, suddenly appeared in Australia with his whole family just in time to save Lucy). The comas were medically ridiculous. (At one point, someone mentions organ donation, and Frank wants life support switched off. As far as I could tell, there was no life support. Maybe Frank is one of those people who thinks "pulling the plug" means simply switching off the heart monitor.) The book comes across as self-published, though I'm not sure if it is or not (the publisher has a self-publishing division). In any case, the writing is juvenile, weak, and riddled with errors. Reading this was an exhausting task.

All in all, I wouldn't recommend this one, either for the fantasy aspect or for the suicide/bullying theme. For some better books with the "dream friend", reincarnation, or time travel premises, have a look at these:

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
Dream Boy by Mary Crockett & Madelyn Rosenberg
Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr
Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn

Quotable moment:

I am Lucy.

My body lies on the hospital bed being watched over by Mum. My mind has left the room and I'm in Will's world one final time. Sometimes I'm called back into the hospital room, although I don't know why. It's never happened before, but then this is the first time I've ever tried to kill myself.

Occasionally I wonder what would happen, if I wake.

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

Overall Rating: 1.25 out of 5 ladybugs


Monday, May 8, 2017

Review - The Princess & the Penis

The Princess & the Penis
by R. J. Silver
Date: 2010
Publisher: R. J. Silver
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 33
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

A beautiful, chaste, and completely naive princess encounters a strange lump in her mattress. The lump soon morphs into a shape familiar to everyone but her, triggering her curiosity and her father's greatest fears. He frantically tries to intervene, but having a large phantom phallus in a curious maiden's bed is never a good combination.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This... This was...

What was this?

I'd heard about this little story a few times, thought it sounded kind of amusing, and then went out of my way to avoid it for fear of what buying it would do to my Amazon recommendations. But, eventually, I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer. I just had to give it a try.

I've had some miserable experiences with self-published freebies before. But this book is surprisingly, delightfully well-written. No comma splices making me want to pull my hair out. No grammar slip-ups making me wince. No typos to make me wonder if spell-check actually exists. And only one questionable said-bookism that made me pause for just a moment. I've had worse experiences with hardcovers coming out of mainstream publishers with multiple editors and proofreaders!

So, without any of that stuff to trip me up, I was able to just enjoy the story. And it's pretty hilarious. It reads like a fairytale, and it's pretty much a twisted version of "The Princess and the Pea" (though you could argue that it also incorporates themes from "The Frog Prince").

The characters were great. The king's obstinate desire to keep his daughter pure backfires when the penis appears, since she's woefully ignorant and ends up doing things that give her parents conniptions. My favourite characters, however, were the aunts. While there were a few great one-liners in the story, these two ladies seemed to have most of them.

Overall, this was just entertaining. It was funny, silly, and a bit dirty, while somehow maintaining this weird innocence and the flavour of a fairytale. It wasn't overly graphic, either; I hesitate to say that it would be okay for teens, but hey... if they're reading Sarah J. Maas, they'd be able to handle this.

If Silver can get a better cover for this little story, it might attract more of the attention it rightfully deserves. It's one of the better self-published pieces I've read.

Quotable moment:

"It's been both polite and gentle. So I don't think it's a demon or anything villainous. It feels more like it's lost and lonely -- yes, almost like a lost puppy."

"Ah, the lost puppy look," Aunt Leila whispered to her sister. "That one used to get me every time."

Recommended to: older readers who don't mind a bit of raunchiness in their fairytales

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review - One

One
by Sarah Crossan
Date: 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
Pages: 400
Format: e-book
Source: library

Tippi and Grace. Grace and Tippi. For them, it's normal to step into the same skirt. To hook their arms around each other for balance. To fall asleep listening to the other breathing. To share. And to keep some things private. Each of the sixteen-year-old girls has her own head, heart, and two arms, but at the belly, they join. And they are happy, never wanting to risk the dangerous separation surgery.

But the girls' body is beginning to fight against them. And Grace doesn't want to admit it. Not even to Tippi. How long can they hide from the truth—how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's been a while since I read a novel in verse. I like them because they tend to be quick reads. They can also pack quite a bit of emotional punch into relatively few words. This book was no exception. Although I did question its need to be in verse at first, I think the author chose the right format after all.

The subject of conjoined twins--both the biological and psychological aspects--fascinates me, so when I heard about this novel, I though I'd probably enjoy it. The story is fairly simple, but also poignant. The characters were all done quite well, and everyone had distinct roles and personalities. That's not to say that I liked all of them but, for the most part, they all seemed quite real. And the formatting of the text itself was unique and quite symbolic (especially near the end), which adds to the specialness of the book.

My main complaint with this book is more of a technical one. I've noticed this issue with many books, and that's the seeming lack of editing as the book goes along. This story is set mostly in New Jersey. However, a few British expressions and turns of phrase showed up in the last part of the book, which kind of threw me out of the flow of the story. The only conclusion I can draw is that editors don't bother going through the second halves of books. (The author does live in London, but she did live for a while in New Jersey. You'd think that, between her and the American editors, they could've caught some of these problems.)

Overall, though, this was a good read, and it's one of those stories that you'll think about long after you've finished.

Quotable moment:

Sometimes we do something
completely ordinary,
like sweep the kitchen floor,
and Caroline lets her jaw drop
to show how fascinating
we are.
"Wow!" she'll say.
And then again,
"Wow."

I just find it funny
that she's paid us for this
and that
something so boring
could ever
make it to TV.

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review - Do Fairies Bring the Spring?

Do Fairies Bring the Spring?
by Eliza Gardner Walsh
illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Date: 2017
Publisher: Down East Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

After a long winter's rest with little to do,
are the fairies ready to start something new,

Do they use tiny brushes and oil pastels
to paint crocuses, lilacs, and daffodils?

Everyone knows fairies love spring flowers and summer sun, but is it the fairies who wake up the earth as the snow melts? Do they entice the trees to turn green and the flowers to grow? In this charming follow up to Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh, acclaimed author of the Fairy House Handbook and Fairy Garden Handbook, explores the matter in a children's picture book of rhyming questions. Combined with delightful illustrations by Hazel Mitchell this whimsical book will help children discover the world of fairies and learn to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little book has cute pictures, but for me the illustrations were a little too cute. The bright pastel colours are a bit much, and as an adult I really wasn't a fan of the look (little kids would probably love it, though).

The premise is interesting, though it's taken a bit too far for my taste. I would've preferred not to have the bit in the back about how to support butterflies and birds--the fairies' friends--in the garden, as the implication is that fairies are completely real. I'm all for magic in childhood, so I'm not quite sure why this rubbed me the wrong way. But it did.

The verse left me cold. The meter isn't terrible, but it doesn't exactly flow off the tongue. For a book that's likely meant to be read over and over again, out loud, I was hoping for the rhyme and rhythm to be a little cleaner.

All in all, it's not a terrible book, but it has limited appeal. My favourite picture books are ones that can be enjoyed by adults as well. This one seems more like it was intended for preschoolers who are going through a fairy-princess phase.

Quotable moment:

Does this pitter-patter wake
the natural world up
so we'll soon have
lovely flowers to pluck?

Recommended to: very young children

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

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 not 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
Source: Amazon.ca

"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
Source: Tor.com

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