Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review - Elatsoe (DNF)

Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger
Date: 2020
Publisher: Levine Querido
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 368
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It's got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 18%

This sounded like it would be good, but I didn't even read 1/5 of it and I just can't bring myself to open it back up (which is always a bad sign). While the writing is technically okay, there's a big mismatch between the characters' ages and how they're portrayed. Ellie is supposed to be 17, but she comes across as a tween and the book (what I read of it, anyway) reads more like middle grade than young adult.

I'm also not a fan of the way the fantasy elements are handled. I expected more Indigenous myths. Instead, I got a mishmash of myths with everything from ghosts and vampires to river creatures and European fairies. Which myths are Apache? Who knows? (I kind of wanted to.)

What I read of this book reminded me of Sarah Cannon's Oddity, a middle-grade novel with a similar setting that also throws everything but the kitchen sink at its readers in terms of supernatural creatures. (I didn't love that one either, but at least it didn't try to pass itself off as YA.)

Judging by the high overall rating of this book, it definitely has an audience. Unfortunately, I'm not it.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Review - A Friend Like You

A Friend Like You

by Frank Murphy & Charnaie Gordon
illustrated by Kayla Harren
Date: 2021
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

There's nothing in the world like a wonderful friend. Friends are there to laugh with you and ready with a hug when you need one. There are forever friends and brand new friends. Friends for adventures and friends for cozy days indoors. Friends who are just like you and friends who are nothing like you at all. In this book, celebrate ALL the marvelous ways to be a friend!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked up this book without realizing I'd already read another one from the same author and illustrator, A Boy Like You, which I read in 2019 and really enjoyed. A Friend Like You features a lovely message, some great tips on making (and strengthening) friendships, and absolutely adorable pictures.

There's something charming and magical about Kayla Harren's illustrations. A beautifully diverse array of children is presented here, anchored by one friendship between a black girl and a white boy whose relationship carries through the pages of the book. Values like open-mindedness, forgiveness, and listening are illustrated with playful images that are both sweet and poignant.

I'd recommend this one to readers looking for strong books about friendship. How to be a good friend is a topic that's always timely.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Monday, September 6, 2021

Review - The Hiking Viking

The Hiking Viking

by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Timothy Brooks
Date: 2022
Publisher: Capstone
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

While the other Vikings love to holler and howl and battle and brawl, Leif prefers spending time by himself atop the beautiful fjord. But when it’s time for the Viking Games, everyone must participate. Will Leif let down his clan . . . or surprise them?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked this book up mostly because of the title (who doesn't love a good rhyme?) and was pleasantly surprised by what was inside. The Hiking Viking is the story of young Leif, who prefers spending time in nature. All the other Vikings, though, keep telling him he needs to act more like them. It's a matter of honour, they say. If they lose the Viking Games, their clan will be thought weak and ripe for plundering. So Leif tries his best, but... he isn't very good at feats of physical strength. When it comes down to the final challenge, though, Leif just may have the key to winning it all.

This is basically a story about appreciating nature and taking time away from noisy pursuits to have a few moments of stillness. Introverts will be able to relate to Leif's desire for peace and quiet. Nature lovers will delight in the illustrations, which are luminous and celebrate the natural world. The characters are stylized, but Leif is a standout, with great facial expressions and a charming vulnerability.

Fans of Viking stories will probably want to check this one out. So will those who appreciate nature and all the precious treasures it has to offer.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capstone for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review - Rory: An Orca's Quest for the Northern Lights

Rory: An Orca's Quest for the Northern Lights

by Sarah Cullen & Carmen Ellis
illustrated by Zuzana Svobodov√°
Date: 2021
Publisher: Majestic Whale Encounters
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.com

This little orca follows his big dream of seeing the Northern Lights. Who will he meet along the way?

Rory the Orca heard that there are beautiful lights in the sky called the Northern Lights. His friends and family don't believe they exist because none of them have seen it with their own eyes. Determined to prove them wrong, Rory sets off on his own to make his wishes come true.

As he travels north, he meets some unlikely friends along the way. A beautiful beluga, a sleepy polar bear and a dancing fox. This journey brings Rory the unexpected gift of true friendship.

Will Rory's dream of witnessing the magical Northern Lights come true?

Rory the Orca is a heartwarming children's book written in rhyme. If you or your child enjoy gorgeous animals, ocean adventures and stories about chasing your dreams, then you'll love Sarah Cullen and Carmen Ellis's tale of hope.

(synopsis from Amazon.ca; see it on Goodreads)

Rory: An Orca's Quest for the Northern Lights is a nice story, told in rhyme, about four rather anthropomorphized northern animals who join together to make a journey to see the northern lights.

The animals are adorable, and the aurora borealis are beautifully depicted. The rhymes and metre are surprisingly strong, so this would be a great book to read aloud to kids.

I'm not entirely sold on these four particular creatures teaming up as friends. In reality, the polar bear would probably eat the fox, and the orca might try to grab both of them and pull them into the sea... but since the animals are also wearing clothes and accessories, I guess we're supposed to suspend a bit of disbelief here.

Strangely, this story about the north is written by two sisters in Australia. I'm curious as to why this wasn't a story about a whale journeying to see the aurora australis.

In any case, I'm sure children will love this cute tale. It has great rhymes, nice (if somewhat unrealistic) characters, and appealing illustrations.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.43 out of 5

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Review - Mighty Mila

Mighty Mila

by Katie Petruzziello
illustrated by Nadja Sarell
Date: 2021
Publisher: Mighty Books, LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.com

Mila wants to prove to her family that she’s a BIG KID!

Her plan is to do everything on her own, without asking for help - not even once! She uses her creativity, willpower, and even her new cochlear implant hearing devices, to tackle one big kid activity after another.

But when faced with something new that she can’t figure out on her own, will Mila finally prove just how mighty she is?

Mighty Mila is silly, engaging, and fun for all kids (best suited for children ages 3-8), and contains the message that with imagination, perseverance, and even a little help from others, you can do everything and anything you set your mind and heart on.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute, relatable story about a little girl who wants to prove she's a big kid by doing things all by herself. She also happens to use cochlear implants.

The story is cute and has a good message (i.e., even big kids ask for help when they need it), and the illustrations are adorable. I haven't read that many picture books that focus on disabilities in kids, and most of them tend to feature the disability in a big way. Mila's hearing loss is rather tangential to the plot, and the story is more focused on her showing everyone that she's grown up and independent (which is a scenario that pretty much any child can relate to). I did like the inclusion of little things like Mila enjoying hearing the crunch of her morning cereal, something that most kids without hearing loss probably take for granted!

There's a short bio of the real Mila (the author's daughter) at the back, as well as some teacher-led activities. But this doesn't have to be read in a classroom setting to be enjoyed. I'd recommend it to parents of kids who are looking for strong picture books about children with different abilities doing normal, everyday kid stuff.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

Monday, July 12, 2021

Review - Anomaly

Anomaly
(The Blood Race #0.5)
by K. A. Emmons
Date: 2020
Publisher: K. A. Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 150
Format: e-book
Source: author

14-year-old Ion Jacobs just wants to belong to a family and feel normal. But his past is a mystery, his future is a question, and his whole life is about to change.

Tossed from one foster home to another and shadowed by his mysterious past, Ion fears he’ll never fit in — until one day, when he drops a pencil and instead of falling to the floor…it floats.

Shocked and bewildered, Ion searches deeper and discovers an undeniable truth about himself: he possesses extraordinary powers beyond his control. Healing injuries, levitating objects, and superhuman strength come as easy to him as breathing. Now Ion only has one goal: make sure no one finds out what he’s capable of.

Struggling to keep his newfound abilities a secret, Ion finds himself more isolated than ever — until he meets a mysterious stranger in the woods who seems to understand Ion better than anyone else. As tensions rise at home with his new foster family, Ion finds it harder and harder to control his powers. And when he accidentally sparks a fire that nearly destroys their home, Ion is forced to face the reality of his situation: not only is he capable of healing — he’s also capable of fatal destruction.

Anomaly is the gripping paranormal prequel to The Blood Race series by K.A. Emmons.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I recently read The Blood Race, which was the first book published in this series. I was curious to try this novella-length freebie for a couple of reasons: 1) to see if the author's writing had improved over the course of three years, and 2) to see if some backstory would help me understand the characters in The Blood Race better. The answers? 1) no, and 2) yes.

I should love this series. But there are some major problems with the writing, pacing, and character development that prevent me from doing so. Anomaly moves along at a much quicker pace than The Blood Race, with fewer halts in the action so that people can have boring conversations. I did like getting to know Ion in this book. And we actually get to know something about him! With The Blood Race, it was almost as if we were missing something, and we were dropped into the middle of the story with characters we were supposed to already be familiar with (which is a problem, given that it was the "first" book). I never really got a feeling for who Ion was in The Blood Race, even though other characters kept telling us what kind of person he was. (Unfortunately, these explanations didn't mesh with what we were shown.) In Anomaly, we meet a confused 14-year-old kid who's having some very strange things happen to him. And he has no support system because he's a foster kid who's been placed with a family of stereotypes. So... life is rough.

Unfortunately, that little bit of character development in Ion doesn't cancel out all the other problems the book has. The main character's voice is off; he's supposed to be a 14-year-old boy, but he talks like a 20-something woman who reads lots of self-help and spirituality books. Most of the characters speak very formally, but it's not as bad as in The Blood Race, where you could be forgiven for thinking there'd been some sort of time-slip into Regency England. What really gets my goat about these books, however, is the editing. The continuity problems are awful here, just as they are in The Blood Race, and I'm starting to wonder if editors just skim and call it a day. A particularly egregious example of what I'm talking about can be found in chapters 15 and 16. It starts by referring to a "navy" sky. So it's probably night (or close to it). But a few pages later, we're told the sidewalk is painted a "pale pinkish-gray by the setting sun". Two paragraphs later, it's "dark". Two paragraphs after that, "the sky was getting dark". I mean, it doesn't take a professional editor to know that the sun doesn't bounce up and down like a rubber ball... but that appears to be what's happening here!

If I were to recommend this series to someone, I'd probably tell them to start with Anomaly. It sets up the character of Ion Jacobs much better than in the official first book of the series. But I'd be very careful about who I recommended this series to; if they're detail oriented and prefer characters who seem at home in their chosen genre and time period, I might suggest they look elsewhere.

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

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Review - Death by Airship

Death by Airship

by Arthur Slade
Date: 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: paperback
Source: library

Prince Conn will never be king. And that's just fine with him. He's ninth in line for the pirate throne and is quite happy to sail the skies in his airship with his crew of cheery misfits, plundering as they go. But one by one his siblings are being murdered, in tragic fires, violent cannon attacks or mysterious poisonings. Soon all fingers are pointing toward Conn as the mastermind. To prove his innocence, Conn must make his way to Skull Island, navigating his airship through a gauntlet of villains, explosions and betrayals. Can he reach his father's kingdom before it's too late? Or will he suffer the same fate as the rest of his family?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was looking for a short YA book. This is short, but my library had it shelved wrong. But I figured, "Why not?" I'd read another book by Slade before, and it wasn't terrible, so I thought I'd give Death by Airship a try.

Disclaimer: I am not an eleven-year-old boy.

Maybe, if I had been, I would've liked this more. Maybe I wouldn't have been bothered by the physics-defying feats or the lack of logic. Maybe I wouldn't have thought it was so darn goofy. Maybe I wouldn't have seen the villain coming from miles away. Maybe I would've given the lacklustre resolution a pass. And maybe I wouldn't have seen the cover as a reject from a self-publisher's reject pile. (The book is not self-published... but that cover is doing it no favours.)

Still, if you like puns, snark, and silliness in a quasi-steampunk setting, you might like this more than I did. It's a quick, amusing read... but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting or looking for.

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

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs