Wednesday, December 27, 2017

End of Year Survey 2017

Here we go! This is the 8th annual End of Year Survey that was started by Jamie of The Perpetual Page-Turner. I didn't bother last year (since I only read 3 books... *cough*), but this year was a little more productive, reading-wise. So, without further ado, here's what I read in 2017:

2017 Reading Stats

Number of books you read: 24
Number of re-reads: 0
Genre you read the most from: fantasy

Best in Books

1. Best book you read in 2017? 
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn't? 
The New Hunger by Isaac Marion. I'm glad I read it, but I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? 
The Princess and the Penis by R. J. Silver. I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would!

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?
Come on... I don't have that kind of influence! Nobody even reads this blog anymore...

5. Best series you started in 2017? Best sequel of 2017? Best series ender of 2017?
Best series starter is Scott Westerfeld's Spill Zone. I only read one prequel this year. No sequels at all.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?
I'd love to read more from Aaron Corwin... but he hasn't written anything else!

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I went on a graphic novel kick at the end of the year... and now I'm hooked! Roller Girl was the best one I read in 2017.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale.

9. Book you read in 2017 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
I don't re-read. Who has time for that?

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?
A Day of Signs and Wonders by Kit Pearson. The watercolour look fits with the story perfectly.

11. Most memorable character of 2017?
Ix'thor from Brimstone and Marmalade by Aaron Corwin. (Okay, so the story's from 2013... but it was the most memorable character for me in 2017.)

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?
I didn't read any books this year where the writing really wowed me.

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2017?
I don't think any of my reads this year really fall into that category.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read?
The New Hunger by Isaac Marion. I loved Warm Bodies so much, you'd think I would've read this prequel ages ago!

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2017?
Nothing is permanent. Not even the end of the world. ~ The New Hunger by Isaac Marion

16.Shortest & longest book you read in 2017?
Shortest: The Log Goblin by Brian Staveley (12 pages).
Longest: One by Sarah Crossan (400 pages).

17. Book that shocked you the most?
The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante. Mostly because you don't expect to find the word "shit" in a children's picture book.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!):
Soupy and Jack from Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci. I don't know if it was intended as a ship or not... but I shipped them anyway!

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year:
Nora and Addis (sister and little brother) from The New Hunger by Isaac Marion.

20. Favorite book you read in 2017 from an author you’ve read previously:
A Day of Signs and Wonders by Kit Pearson. I prefer some of her other books with fantasy elements, though.

21. Best book you read in 2017 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure:
I don't succumb to peer pressure! Never mind the fact that this requires you to have peers to pressure you. Not that I'm peerless. Ahem... What was the question again?

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?
This was kind of a dry year for fictional crushes. I wasn't that keen on anyone.

23. Best 2017 debut you read?
I didn't read any.

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?
Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner. Being a graphic novel helped... but the setting (an old house converted into an aquarium as a boardwalk attraction) was pretty unique in and of itself.

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?
A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. It was hard to read... but fun, too.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2017?
Brimstone and Marmalade by Aaron Corwin. Nearly. My eyes got misty, I'll admit.

27. Hidden gem of the year?
From 2017? I don't know. Any of the titles I'd consider hidden gems (Brimstone and Marmalade or The Princess & the Penis) were written in previous years.

28. Book that crushed your soul?
The New Hunger, I guess. I wouldn't say it crushed it, though; maybe just bruised it a bit.

29. Most unique book you read in 2017?
The Princess and the Penis. Come on. How often do you get to read about a character that's an actual dick?

30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
If I Wake by Nikki Moyes. The bullying/suicide angle was handled atrociously. Plus, I got attacked by a fanpoodle for sharing my thoughts. A bitter taste all around for this one.

Looking Ahead

1. One book you didn’t get to in 2017 but will be your number 1 priority in 2018?
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It's been sitting in my TBR pile for way too long.

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2018 (non-debut)?
Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver sounds intriguing.

3. 2018 debut you are most anticipating?
C. G. Drews's A Thousand Perfect Notes. I've read her blog for years, so I'm curious to see how her style will translate into novel form.

4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2018?
The second installment of Scott Westerfeld's Spill Zone graphic novel series.

5. One thing you hope to accomplish or do in your reading/blogging life in 2018?
Read more books that I actually enjoy.

6. A 2018 release you’ve already read & recommend to everyone (if applicable):
I haven't read any 2018 releases yet.

And here are a few more stats, just because I felt like it:

Type of Book

graphic novel: 8
picture book: 5
poetry: 1
prose novel: 6
short stories: 3
verse novel: 1

Genre

contemporary: 4
fantasy: 9
historical: 3
memoir: 1
post-apocalyptic: 3
science fiction: 4

And there you have it! My year in books. Head on over to Jamie's site where others have linked up their surveys.

Happy reading in 2018, everyone!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review - Roller Girl

Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson
Date: 2015
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 240
Format: e-book
Source: library

The Newbery Honor Award Winner and New York Times bestseller Roller Girl is a heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby—perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile!

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid's life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school... in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

In this graphic novel debut that earned a Newbery Honor and five starred reviews, real-life derby girl Victoria Jamieson has created an inspiring coming-of-age story about friendship, perseverence, and girl power!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This will likely be my last read of the year, so I'm super happy it was such a good one!

I'll admit to being swayed by the Newbery sticker on the cover. I've had pretty good luck with Newbery Honor and Award winners, so I expected this would be an enjoyable read. I just wasn't prepared for how much I would like it.

The story is so well done, incorporating aspects of roller derby into a contemporary tale about friendship and growing up. Astrid's issues with her friend Nicole rang so true. Sometimes we do change as we grow up, and that can make friendships change... or even suffer. I thought this part of the story was particularly well done. I also loved all the roller derby stuff: the funky names, the attention-grabbing outfits, the rules of the game. If there's one downside to this book, it's that girls reading it might start begging their parents to let them give roller derby a try. It looks like so much fun!

The illustrations were absolutely adorable. Astrid's facial expressions captured her moods and her character perfectly. Some of the graphic novels I've read recently have been done in monochromatic palettes. But Roller Girl is in glorious full colour. (When there's a character named Rainbow Bite, why would you not take advantage of that?)

I'm so glad I picked up this book. I wish it had been around when I was a middle grader. Who knows? Maybe I would've ended up a roller girl, too!

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.75 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review - The Log Goblin

The Log Goblin
by Brian Staveley
Date: 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 12
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

On a cold winter's night, a goblin is caught stealing firewood. Then things start getting weird.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know. This story didn't really thrill me. It's extremely short, and while it did establish a good setting and painted the character of the goblin fairly well, there wasn't that much plot. The whole thing reads more like a scene from a story rather than a whole story.

I guess the point is about appreciating the little things and living in the moment. Still, I would've liked a bit more plot to help flesh things out.

Quotable moment:

I caught him the next night. I stayed up late, waiting inside until full dark, then pulling on my coat and boots to go stand guard. It was cold enough that the snow squeaked. The stars were knife-sharp. I waited with my hands stuffed in my pockets, shivering and feeling foolish. I was about to head inside when I heard him coming, huffing and cursing and muttering as he made his way up out of the woods, struggling through the deep drifts toward my shed.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Spill Zone

Spill Zone (Spill Zone #1)
by Scott Westerfeld
illustrated by Alex Puvilland & Hilary Sycamore
Date: 2017
Publisher: First Second
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Nobody's ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one's allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's been a while since I've read a book that has me really looking forward to the sequel. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. It turned out to be a sort of post-apocalyptic thriller with some very creepy creatures. I can't wait to see where this one is going next!

Addison supports herself and her little sister by taking pictures (illegally) inside the Zone. Her forays into the wasteland are interesting enough... but now we've got a plot thread involving the North Koreans (who had their own Spill) and some sort of superpowers.

Some of the images are pretty disturbing, and there's quite a bit of foul language (so if you're sensitive to that, you might want to give this one a pass). I'd say it falls within the young adult category because of these things.

There are so many questions I want answered. What exactly did the Spill spill? What happened to the animals and people within the Zone? What's the deal with Addy's little sister? Where is this all headed?

I guess I'll have to wait until 2018 to find out!

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.13 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review - One Trick Pony

One Trick Pony
by Nathan Hale
Date: 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

The aliens have arrived. And they’re hungry for electricity. In the Earth of the future, humans are on the run from an alien force—giant blobs who suck up electrical devices wherever they can find them. Strata and her family are part of a caravan of digital rescuers, hoping to keep the memory of civilization alive by saving electronics wherever they can. Many humans have reverted to a pre-electrical age, and others have taken advantage of the invasion to become dangerous bandits and outlaws. When Strata and her brother are separated from the caravan, they must rely on a particularly beautiful and rare robot pony to escape the outlaws and aliens—and defeat the invaders once and for all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

First, let's get the weirdly sexist blurb out of the way. This book is not about Strata and her brother. In fact, it's not even just Strata and her brother who get separated from the caravan. Their male friend is with them as well. I have no idea why the blurb makes it sound like a brother/sister act, because in reality, Strata saves the day while the boys do nothing helpful; in fact, they manage to get themselves captured and nearly killed.

So, setting that aside, what do we have? A pretty entertaining graphic novel. It's funny that I picked this up at the same time as Doug TenNapel's Ghostopolis. Both had a sequence with an unusual horse saving its teenage rider from a group of monsters using the exact same trick. The panels were almost identical! Whether Hale read Ghostopolis and decided to use the same sequence, I don't know; I just thought it was an amusing coincidence.

Unlike Ghostopolis, this is a darker story, even though it's intended for a younger audience. The post-apocalyptic landscape was creepy, and the aliens (called pipers because of the pi-pi-pi noise they make) were downright horrifying. I'm kind of glad this one was done with a monochromatic scheme, because full colour might've given me nightmares.

The story was quite imaginative, and I liked the whole idea of the world that was built here. I do have one major complaint with the story, however, and that was the ending. It was way too abrupt. If there was ever a book that needed an epilogue, it's this one.

My other complaint is about a minor (but still irritating) issue. This graphic novel had the smallest text I've seen so far. I couldn't even read it on a 21" monitor without having to zoom in. That's part of the reason why it took me so long to get through it, even though it's fairly short. Zoom, scroll, click... It was kind of a waste of time. And it's not like there wasn't room for larger text. I have a feeling that if I'd read this in physical form, I would've needed a magnifying glass.

All in all, this is a cool story with decent characters and some wonderfully horrible villains. Oh, and a title that makes perfect sense once you read the book. But I won't spoil that for you. Go check it out for yourself!

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review - Ghostopolis

Ghostopolis
by Doug TenNapel
Date: 2010
Publisher: Graphix
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 272
Format: e-book
Source: library

Imagine Garth Hale's surprise when he's accidentally zapped to the spirit world by Frank Gallows, a washed-out ghost wrangler. Suddenly Garth finds he has powers the ghosts don't have, and he's stuck in a world run by the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who would use Garth's newfound abilities to rule the ghostly kingdom. When Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather's ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, and nearly lose hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Minor spoilers! To read the version with spoilers hidden, check out my review at Goodreads.

This was a surprisingly quick read for the length of the book, but that's probably because this graphic novel's a bit lighter on text than some of the others I've read. The synopsis made it sound like a fun read, and it was... in places. But the book had some problems. Plus, I don't think I was the intended audience.

At times, I wasn't sure what age group this book was aimed at. Some of the subject matter was heavy (a kid with a terminal illness, as well as the relationship between Frank and his ex), and that threw me because my first impression was that this was a middle grade title. It's actually supposed to be aimed at teenagers, which is a bit confusing, given some of the humour that seems like it was directed at 10-year-old boys.

The characters were a mixed bag for me. Some were incredibly creative (especially in the afterlife realm), but others were annoying and left me kind of cold. Frank, in particular, I didn't really like; he came across as a petulant little kid, though he was supposed to be a mature adult. Claire's werewolf uncle was actually pretty hilarious (I want a book just about him!) and the villain was suitably nasty. The skeleton horse was probably my favourite character, even though he didn't talk. Garth, though, as the main character, was kind of underdeveloped. And I had a big problem with his illness.

See, he doesn't appear to be sick. He's supposedly dying (from what, we're never told), and yet he doesn't have any symptoms. He doesn't appear to be having any sort of treatment, either. Unfortunately, this makes the whole illness aspect seem like a cheap plot device (especially when he finds out that there's going to be a cure for his disease, so he's not going to die after all). I don't think this would play very well to kids who are actually sick.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this one. The world-building is cute and some of the characters are amusing, but I felt like it was aimed at much younger readers and I can't get behind a book that trivializes serious illness.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review - Soupy Leaves Home

Soupy Leaves Home
by Cecil Castellucci
illustrated by Jose Pimienta
Date: 2017
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 208
Format: e-book
Source: library

Pearl -Soupy- Plankette ran away from her abusive father, but has nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a disguise that gives her the key to a new identity. Reborn as a boy named Soupy, she hitches her star to Remy -Ramshackle- Smith, a hobo who takes her under his wing. Ramshackle's kindness and protection go a long way to help Soupy heal from her difficult past. But Ramshackle has his own demons to wrestle with, and he'll need Soupy just as much as she needs him.

Set in 1932, this is the story of two misfits with no place to call home, who build a relationship during a train hopping journey from the cold heartbreak of their eastern homes toward the sunny promise of California.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one, other than that it's a historical graphic novel. It takes place during the Great Depression, and offers the reader a glimpse of the hobo lifestyle.

At first, I wasn't thrilled with the style, as it appears to be monochromatic. It is... but those colour palettes change throughout the book. While we never get true full-colour illustrations, the pops of contrast work well enough to highlight certain important objects and plot points in the story.

The book is a little light on plot, and I didn't really find the ending believable (given Soupy's reasons for having left home in the first place); it just seemed a little too neat and convenient to me. The characterization was also mixed. I thought Soupy could've been developed a little more, given that she was the main character, and I also would've liked to learn more about Professor Jack (that guy's got to have a backstory). Ramshackle was probably developed the best, although he came across as a little too philosophical for my taste (and I'm not sure how that would play with the book's intended audience).

The real strengths of this one are its setting and history. I learned things I didn't know about riding the rails, and about hobos themselves. Did you know there's a difference between a hobo, a tramp, and a bum? Well, there is, as one character explains. There's also a neat glossary of hobo symbols at the end, so you can go back and see the messages that Soupy and Ramshackle encountered on their journey.

Overall, it was a decent read, but not one I'm that excited about. It had its moments of lovely writing, and a good historical foundation, but the story itself wasn't that memorable. I can see it as a good addition to a history class for middle graders, though.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Review - Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (Wires and Nerve #1)
by Marissa Meyer
illustrated by Douglas Holgate
Date: 2017
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 238
Format: e-book
Source: library

When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers' leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the series.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a huge fan of The Lunar Chronicles. In fact, I could only push myself to get through the first two books. But since I'm on a graphic novel kick at the moment, I thought I'd give this one a try.

Presumably, you don't have to have read any of the books in the other series for this one to make sense. All the characters are introduced at the beginning, and we're given a basic run-down of the events that took place in TLC. So even though I hadn't read Cress or Winter, I still understood what was going on.

Unfortunately, however, I just didn't care what was going on. The whole thing fell kind of flat for me, and I think that if I hadn't read Cinder and Scarlet, it would've been even worse. The characters are so underdeveloped that it made it really hard to care about them (especially the ones I wasn't familiar with). Iko herself was actually one of the worst. I knew her as a fun little robot who loved to gossip and play dress-up and dream of a certain handsome prince. But that's not really what we get here. I'm assuming her personality is supposed to be the same as before, even though she's in a new body, but I didn't really get that. Maybe it's the graphic novel format, but I didn't think any of the characters were developed particularly well. Iko, as the main character, should have more personality; unfortunately, her character development seems to rely too much on her arc in TLC... so if you haven't read any of those books, she's probably going to come across as quite dull.

As for the plot... well, there sort of is one, but it cut off at the weirdest place, just after the main conflict had been set up. I don't know if this is a comic book thing or what, but it just seemed weird to me. I'm used to stories having some sort of resolution to the main plot; even if there's a cliffhanger, there are usually other ends that are tied up before the next book. That's not the case here. We're introduced to the main problem (which is pretty much summed up in the blurb for the next volume), and then the book just ends.

I wasn't a fan of the art. It seemed too simplistic, and way too comic-bookish. The onomatopoeia didn't need to be written out as much as it was. The text was difficult to read, even on a 21" monitor, so trying to read this one on an e-book reader would probably be next to impossible. I also didn't like the monochrome palette; it was kind of boring (though I've just come off of two beautifully illustrated, full-colour graphic novels, so that may be colouring my judgment a little).

All in all, this is a series that will probably only appeal to fans of The Lunar Chronicles. If you haven't read any of those books, I'd recommend doing so first before trying this series.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.13 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review - Fish Girl

Fish Girl
by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
illustrated by David Wiesner
Date: 2017
Publisher: Clarion Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 186
Format: e-book
Source: library

Who is Fish Girl?
What is Fish Girl?

She lives in a tank in a boardwalk aquarium. She is the main attraction, though visitors never get more than a glimpse of her.

She has a tail. She can't walk. She can't speak.

But she can make friends with Livia, an ordinary girl, and yearn for a life that includes yoga and pizza. She can grow stronger and braver. With determination, a touch of magic, and the help of a loyal octopus, she can do anything.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nicely illustrated graphic novel with a sort of fairy tale flair. At first glance, one might think that The Little Mermaid would be the obvious tie-in. But I actually saw more similarities with Disney's Tangled, a "Rapunzel" story. Poor Fish Girl (she doesn't even have a proper name at the beginning of the story) has a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. She's kept in a fanciful aquarium on a boardwalk in an old house that's been converted to display all sorts of marine life. Neptune is her protector... at least at first. But as Fish Girl starts to understand the outside world, she starts to wonder if her protector is really that... or if he's her captor.

The illustrations were really quite lovely, especially when it came to Fish Girl herself. She's realistically drawn and quite pretty, and though she spends much of the book technically naked, she's always strategically covered by her fish friends (making this book completely suitable for younger readers). I liked the whole idea of the house converted into an aquarium; the way it was displayed on the pages was well done. Fish Girl's discovery of the outside world, including things like pizza and yoga, was touching. I really felt for her, and I wanted her to do well as she explored a new side of her life. Despite being naive, she was actually pretty smart... which is refreshing in a world of so many clueless heroines. I was, however, a little confused for the first few pages as I tried to figure out who was telling the story. I'm not sure if that was intentional or not, but I found it a little frustrating. Once I figured it out, though, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the book.

The plot is a little on the light side, and you do have to suspend disbelief a little to go with the events at the climax (I mean, even more than believing mermaids really exist). But, overall, this is a cute, quick read that would probably appeal to fans of graphic novels as well as fairy tales.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review - El Deafo

El Deafo
by Cece Bell
illustrated by Cece Bell & David Lasky
Date: 2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel/memoir
Pages: 248
Format: e-book
Source: library

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful--and very awkward--hearing aid.

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear--sometimes things she shouldn't--but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become "El Deafo, Listener for All." And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she's longed for.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know how I've gone this long without reading a whole graphic novel, but I have. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this little book at the library. But there was a Newbery Honor sticker on the front, so I figured it might be worth a shot. And guess what? It totally was.

As the author explains in an interesting note at the back of the book, this is a somewhat fictionalized memoir based on her experiences growing up wearing a super-bulky hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. I don't remember ever seeing any kids with this device, but the author is a few years older than me; I guess it was a little before my time. But I can see how having to wear such a thing could be embarrassing, and make a kid feel like they're so different from everyone else... at a time when all they really want to do is belong.

I thought the scenarios that Bell presented were well chosen. And the characters (mostly kids from the ages of 4 to about 10) rang really true. We find out how Cece lost her hearing, and then see her get various hearing aids--including, eventually, the Phonic Ear. We see her struggle to make friends, and the way certain kids treat her because of her deafness, and her feelings as she tries to make sense of it all. Throughout the book, we're treated to the cutest illustrations of anthropomorphized cartoon rabbits who play the roles of Cece, her family and friends, her classmates, and her teachers. We get an idea of what it might've been like to deal with the complications of such a clunky piece of technology, as well as its benefits. As Cece discovers her "superpower", she imagines herself as El Deafo, a superhero with superhuman hearing. The whole thing is sweet and touching, and I found myself really rooting for Cece as I was pulled along through the story. Will her crush talk to her? Will her best friend ever talk to her again? Will that girl stop talking to her in a weird, loud voice?

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for teaching empathy and understanding. It's easy (and quick) to read, but based on the subject matter, I'd probably recommend it for middle grade and up, even though the main character is a bit younger than that.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review - The Pocketbook of Sunshine and Rain

The Pocketbook of Sunshine and Rain
by Nenia Campbell
Date: 2017
Publisher: Nenia Campbell
Reading level: A
Book type: poetry collection
Pages: 59
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

be my sonata, my cantata, my love
sing me something sweet
but not too sweet
(or i may grow deaf to our harmony
as we decrescendo into silence)

This personal book of poetry focuses on that tricky phenomenon that escapes all of us: what it means to be human and alive.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Poetry is hard to review. It's so subjective. I don't read a lot of it, so I'm not sure how qualified I am to critique it. But I do know that I enjoy reading words put together in unique and interesting ways. With poetry, you can use all the lovely words you want without ending up sounding too... well, purple. (I guess that's why the term is "purple prose", not "purple poetry".)

This is a nice little collection that can be read in an afternoon (if you're not excruciatingly slow like I am). I highlighted a few of the poems as I went through, simply because the words struck a chord, or I liked a certain turn of phrase. There weren't any poems I really disliked, although there were a few that I didn't completely understand. (I also came across a few words that didn't seem to make sense. With poetry, though, it's sometimes hard to know if it was intentional and I just missed the point.)

Overall, a nice collection of poems. Lovely words. Lovely thoughts. Worth a look if you enjoy a bit of verse every now and then.

Quotable moment:

out go my words on paper wings
they fly off on their own
and if they do not find their way
will they come limping home?

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist, Scientist
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2016
Publisher: Abrams Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Scientist Ada has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. What would you do with a problem like this? Not afraid of failure, Ada embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nice rhyming picture book with very cute illustrations. I felt a little uncomfortable while reading it, though, as it seemed to portray a girl with a developmental delay. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, except that it wasn't really addressed, and the parents didn't do anything other than adapt to her behaviour (even though that meant she caused hundreds of dollars of damage to the hallway). I'm not sure that's a great message.

I loved seeing the characters of colour, and encouraging girls to take an interest in science is admirable. The illustrations are top-notch and absolutely adorable. Unfortunately, the text let the book down. There wasn't much story, really.

I've seen better reviews on some of the author's other books like Rosie Revere, Engineer. I might have to give that one a try.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.29 out of 5

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review - The Universes Inside the Lighthouse

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (Balky Point Adventures #1)
by Pam Stucky
Date: 2014
Publisher: Wishing Rock Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 221
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Two teenagers on a summer vacation on an unassuming island ...
A mysterious girl who appears in photographs taken decades apart ...
A science lab set up in a place that exists both nowhere and everywhere ...
A storage closet that is far more than it seems ...
A parallel Earth, exactly like our own ...
A universe made up entirely of ghosts ...
An entity that is taking over innocent lives and infiltrating the universes ...

Adventure, mystery, travel through space and time to find a man who seeks to rip the universes apart. Reminiscent of A Wrinkle in Time with just a dash of Doctor Who ...

and it all begins ... inside the lighthouse.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Wow. This was bad. So, so bad. I'm exhausted after struggling through this, and I don't even feel like writing a review. But I'm fed up with awful books with misleadingly high Goodreads ratings. I'm tired of wasting my time on stuff that should be good, but isn't.

The first problem with this book is that it doesn't know who its audience is. It's billed as "MG/YA sci-fi", but I don't think it would appeal to either age group. The characters are supposed to be 17 and 18, so they're driving around and letting their hormones make them all angsty. On the other hand, they act young. Some act so young, in fact, that I assumed they had an intellectual disability.

The main character (or so I thought, until near the end when the point of view jumped around to the point of distraction) is Emma, a girl whose defining characteristic is having a crush on Ben. She's also an introvert. That's literally the only character development we get for most of the story, which made Emma an excruciatingly boring character. Charlie is Emma's twin brother. He's old enough to go lusting after girls, but chants things like, "Aliens, aliens, aliens," when he discovers the identity of his new friends. And he doesn't just do this once. I guess it was supposed to be a character trait or quirk, but it just made him come across as someone with some sort of disorder. Ben is the guy Emma's lusting after. He's walking arrogance who has dark hair and... yep. That's about it. (The physical descriptions for many of the characters were either non-existent, or came way too late; we found out at 85% that Charlie had green eyes.) Eve is one of the "aliens", but she looks human, and of course she's blonde and beautiful and Ben and Charlie are both attracted to her, which leads to jealousy on Emma's part. (Although, when Charlie finds out that Eve isn't human, it leads to a kind of icky reaction where he pulls his arm away from her and asks if she's even really even a girl, as if the only thing that matters is what's hidden under her clothes.) Eve's father, Milo, is kind of a blank, although I winced when he made an inappropriate comment about his daughter's body odour in front of her new friends. Dr. Waldo is a sterotypical absent-minded professor who speaks in run-on sentences and has overly expressive body language. The villain's name is Vik, and he's pretty much what you'd expect from a bad villain: black hair, black clothes, perma-sneer, and a bad habit of talking about his evil plans in front of the protagonist.

Another problem was the way the characters--as well as the whole book--were written. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but then I realized that it reminded me of old kids' novels from the 1950s. Some of the word choices made the characters sound like they were in their 80s. And Emma and Charlie calling each other "dork" didn't help; do teenagers today even use that word? The characters could go from sounding like a child to a grandparent within a paragraph. It was really awkward. Also awkward were the emotions. They didn't fit half the time. Sometimes they were too strong, sometimes they were too weak, and sometimes they were just plain wrong, given the situation. Another thing that reminded me of those older books was the subtle sexism. The women had to organize the potluck. A woman came over to watch her husband fix a leak (because, apparently, women can't do plumbing themselves). Eve swooned into Ben's arms after an emotional outburst. No. It's the 21st century. I don't want to read that kind of crap.

For a book about travelling through multiple universes, the story is actually super boring. I think the main idea was that the teens were trying to stop Vik from destroying the method of travel throughout the universes. But you could be forgiven for not noticing. There were so many info-dumps, so many perseverating ramblings about things that had nothing to do with the story (like the names of the planets in a parallel solar system). I could definitely see where the author drew inspiration for parts of the story. The Void reminded me of the Dementors from the Harry Potter series, and the story about the planet that had been affected by The Void reminded me a lot of the movie Serenity. And yet, the rest was strangely unimaginative. At one point, the teens end up on another planet with "primitive natives", and we don't even find out anything about them (other than the fact that they can apparently change gender... but I suspect that was just a typo). Later, two eat a meal on Eve's home planet, and they eat... steak and salad. With sporks. With all the infinite possibilities, why are they eating a Western meal with a familiar utensil? There's too much of a reliance on stereotypes, which leads to the book feeling even younger (I'm thinking of the ghost planet in particular, where everyone wears flowing dresses, glides around, and talks like this: "Helloooooooo!").

The writing and editing were pretty bad. The writing was unsophisticated and disjointed. Conversations were especially hard to follow, since often questions would be asked but not answered... until pages later, when someone would bring the topic back up, as if it had never been left in the first place. It made me wonder if the book had been really badly edited, with new passages clumsily added, but I don't really feel like this book was edited at all. There were so many punctuation errors, and even duplicate words, especially toward the back half of the book. And, overall, the book's message is preachy, and kind of insulting to introverts. I wasn't impressed.

What little enjoyment I got out of this one was unintentional, and mostly from how bad it was. You can see how bored my brain was when it saw the following passage as dirty:

A young, dark-haired man stood in the empty space where there once was a door, covered in debris and dust from the explosion, a satisfied grin on his face, a giant weapon in his hands.

Am I the only one who found that funny? Probably. I was punchy and tired, though, from slogging through the utterly drab plot, so I guess I was looking for entertainment wherever I could find it.

Quotable moment:

Glen opened the door.

There stood the aliens.

"Eve!" said Ben and Charlie.

"Milo?" said Emma.

Amy Renee, who had joined her husband at the door, looked from the people standing in the doorway to her children and back. "So you're the aliens then?" she said matter-of-factly, as though people claiming to be aliens appeared on her doorstep every day. "I'm not so sure I should let you in."

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

Overall Rating: 0.63 out of 5 ladybugs


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