Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

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

This week's topic is Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read.  I'm not generally put off by subject matter; if I am, I tend not to finish the book at all.  For this list, I'm going with books I've actually finished -- otherwise, it would be populated with a lot of dusty old classics that only English professors care about:

Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren - This book was only available in paperback when I bought it, and it wasn't cheap.  I used a gift certificate on it, so even when it turned out to be one of the worst books I'd ever read, I felt like I had to keep reading.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater - I'm really torn about this series.  On the one hand, I kind of like Maggie Stiefvater's writing.  On the other hand, sometimes I don't... especially when it seems to be holding back the pace of the story.  I had a really hard time getting through this book, and I almost didn't finish.  It kind of feels like the reader is being strung along and not much is happening... other than a lot of setup for an overarching climax near the end of the series... I hope?

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson - This book wasn't quite as difficult to get through as some of the others, but only because I kept holding out hope that things would get better.  But they didn't.  Between the stupid-beyond-belief characters and the annoying info-dumps, this book was just hard to finish.

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst - Pregnancy is not something I expected to find in this novel.  Pregnancy as the result of the love interest tampering with the heroine's birth control... well, I expected that even less.  After that icky turn of events, I had a bit of a hard time getting through the rest of this book.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman - With the TMI nature of the accident itself, the unrealistic portrayal of hospitals and hospital staff, and Mia's ultra-boring out-of-body experience, this book was really a chore to get through.  Perhaps it was worse because I'd been looking forward to it.

More Than This by Patrick Ness - Do you know how boring it is to watch a character waffle on for two pages just to decide whether or not to pass through a door?  No?  Read this book and you'll find out.  After almost 500 pages, the characters weren't the only ones wondering if there was more than this.

Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout - I'm still angry about this book.  Everybody likes it, except me.  While the plot was okay (if derivative), the writing was so bad, and the author's attitude about it even worse.  I felt like I was grinding my teeth trying to get through this one... that is, when I wasn't laughing and/or swearing at the book.

The Puzzle Ring by Kate Forsyth - This one was just too long... and boring... and aimed at the wrong age group.  I'd really wanted to like it, and I'd gone to great lengths to acquire it, but it just didn't work for me.  I felt obligated to slog through to the end, though.  It wasn't easy.

The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap by H. M. Bouwman - I had a hard time with this book because of the characters.  I just could not keep the two girls straight.  The native girl was given an English name and the English girl a native one (it was a show of respect between the cultures).  But all it did was confuse me throughout the whole book... especially since both girls were snarly little things with bad attitudes.

Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle - This book has gotten my lowest rating so far this year.  It was so awful all around... and by the time I realized I should just give up, I'd already invested too much time in it.  I forced myself to finish, bringing my hatred of this book to full completion as well.

What are some books that were hard for you to read?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review - Hunter Moran Digs Deep

Hunter Moran Digs Deep (Hunter Moran #3)
by Patricia Reilly Giff
Date: 2014
Publisher: Holiday House
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 120
Format: e-book
Source: library

Two-time Newbery Honor-winner Patricia Reilly Giff's Hunter Moran hunts for a long-buried treasure, tearing up the town and getting into some tight spots in the process in a humorous and heartwarming third book about Hunter. A companion to Hunter Moran Saves the Universe and Hunter Moran Hangs Out.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I picked up this book at the library, thinking that it would be a fun, quick read.  I'd read another of the author's middle-grade books, Pictures of Hollis Woods, and really enjoyed it.  I did not, however, enjoy this book.  It's so weak, I can hardly believe it's by the same author.

The main problem I had with this book is that, though it is classed as "middle grade", it comes across as really young.  Insultingly, condescendingly young.  I'm not sure how old Hunter and his twin brother are supposed to be (I can't recall him ever telling us), but judging by the kids' actions in the story (and the fact that their friend has braces), I'm guessing they're about ten.  I've read books for younger middle graders before and enjoyed them.  But there's a fine line between writing for kids and writing down to them.  This book did the latter.  It was also directed squarely at middle grade boys, to the point where girls of the same age probably would have been insulted.  There are two main girl characters: the twins' older sister, Linny, and their classmate, Sarah Yulefski.  The former is portrayed as a bossy busybody who's obsessed with ski trips to Switzerland; the latter is portrayed as a know-it-all with bad hygiene who is, inexplicably, liked by all the adults in town.

The characterization is uneven at best, and downright stupid at worst.  Younger brother Steadman is supposed to be five, and when he isn't letting out bloodcurdling screams to show his displeasure or fear, he's solving everyone else's problems and acting like a savant.  Older brother William comes out of nowhere at the most opportune times and saves the day.  (What would you call that?  Frater ex machina?)  The teachers at school are one-dimensional caricatures of aged nuns.  The town dentist is a sadist, and apparently doesn't even require payment or insurance before breaking out the drill.  The parents barely interact with their own kids, which is odd since they decided to have seven of them.  The mother's only defining characteristic is being a terrible cook (tuna fish and marmalade sandwiches, anyone?) which, again, is odd considering she appears to be a stay-at-home mother.  The father just seems tired all the time and has to put in long hours at work... presumably because he has so many kids.  Even the dog, Fred, is annoying.  He's extremely vicious, biting and snapping at people, and even frothing at the mouth... and yet he's considered an appropriate family pet, even with two babies in the household.

Then there's the whole stupid plot with the buried treasure.  You can't tell me that, in over 100 years, with all the people who have searched for it, these kids were the only ones smart enough to find it.  If they had been given a clue that nobody else had had, I might have bought it.  But when the clues turned out to have been in plain sight all along, and these kids were the only ones smart enough to figure out where the treasure was buried?  I'm sorry, but no.  That is not believable at all.

The best thing about this book is that the writing was technically correct.  The worst thing, on the other hand, was pretty much everything else.  I'm sure there are better books out there for middle-grade boys.  Skip this one.

Quotable moment:

So there I am. Trapped for the next hour. Beating drums, banging cymbals, with Sister Ramona yelling "Yowdie Yo!" every few minutes.

But something strange is happening. I can feel the beat of the drum in my head, and in my chest. It's actually soothing. No, that's the wrong word. It's better than that. It feels pretty exciting.

But then Sister Ramona raises one hand, fingers to her lips, tilting her head toward the coal room. "I think we have a killer here. I don't know much about him, but his name is Fred, and he speaks a strange language."

Recommended to: younger middle-grade boys whose reading tastes are not yet that sophisticated

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2.14 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey

Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey
by Emily Winfield Martin
Date: 2013
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Ideal for bed time reading, this book will appeal to parents and children who love Grandfather Twilight and On the Night That You Were Born. Author, illustrator, and creator of The Black Apple Etsy shop, Emily Martin convinces children to close their eyes and discover who their dream animal might be—and what dream it might take them to. With a perfect nighttime rhyme and gorgeous illustrations, this book is irresistible.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I love picture books with beautiful illustrations.  This book has plenty of those!

The basic premise here is that dreamers are carried to dreamland by one of a number of friendly animals.  Along with a pretty decent rhyming narrative, there are illustrations throughout: monochrome blue ones that depict the sleeping children in "real life" and full-colour ones that depict their fantastical travels in dreamland.

I hadn't read anything by this author/illustrator before, but now I'm intrigued.  There is a companion book to this one, called Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination, that just came out in August.  She's also published the crafty-sounding The Black Apple's Paper Doll Primer: Activities and Amusements for the Curious Paper Artist, which looks like a lot of fun.

This is a short-but-cute book that will probably appeal to kids, as well as to the parents who might be reading the bedtime stories.  The illustrations are darling and the poetry flows nicely.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one.

Quotable moment:

These creatures are the reason

Dreamers get where dreamers go.

Dreamland is too far to run

And sleepy feet, too slow.

Recommended to: fans of the illustrator's work; young children who like to hear a soothing rhyme before bed

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.14 out of 5

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekly Recap - September 21-27, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Monday - I reviewed The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin and gave it 2.29 ladybugs.

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week's topic was books on our fall TBR list.

Wednesday - I reviewed Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg and gave it 4 ladybugs.

Thursday - I participated in Booking Through Thursday.  This week's topic was Shakespeare.

Friday - I reviewed Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle and gave it 4 ladybugs.

Saturday - I shared the books I got this week in New to the TBR Pile.  I didn't spend any money; it was just library books and a freebie this week!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New to the TBR Pile (3)

From the library:
Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey
by Emily Winfield Martin

Ideal for bed time reading, this book will appeal to parents and children who love Grandfather Twilight and On the Night That You Were Born. Author, illustrator, and creator of The Black Apple Etsy shop, Emily Martin convinces children to close their eyes and discover who their dream animal might be—and what dream it might take them to. With a perfect nighttime rhyme and gorgeous illustrations, this book is irresistible.

Flora and the Flamingo
by Molly Idle

In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
by Anne Isaacs
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

When Widow Tulip Jones of Bore, England, inherits a ranch in By-Golly Gully, Texas, and moves in with two trunks of tea, twelve pet tortoises, and three servants, hilarity ensues. The peaceful life suits the wealthy widow fine until word gets out and every unmarried man in Texas lines up to marry her. Widow Tulip and her small staff of three can't possibly run the farm and manage all the suitors, so she devises a plan—and it just might work. This story filled with giant tortoises, 1,000 brides, bad guys, a smart widow, and even a little romance is sure to get kids laughing.

Thomas' Snowsuit
by Robert Munsch
illustrated by Michael Martchenko

The fun begins as an epic battle starts to get Thomas to wear his new brown snowsuit - which he dislikes. Thomas' Snowsuit relates an everyday family event that all children, and parents, will recognise.

Freebie from Amazon.ca:
The Space in Between
by Jen Minkman

When Moira helps out her sister and brother in a Wiccan ritual on Halloween, the last thing she expects is to be swept away to a mystical wilderness. Sitting within the stones of the ancient circle of Penmaenmawr, Wales, she's convinced it's an illusion. But the dark-haired, handsome man with amnesia that Moira meets during her trance cannot be blinked away like a dream.

Hayko, the mysterious stranger, won’t let go. After returning home from her stone circle adventure, Moira is beckoned back night after night to the outlandish dreamland by an invisible force. But the hardest part isn't having to fight the terrifying creatures of these nightmares--it's realizing she’s falling for a guy without a past who isn’t real.

What if you really can fall in love with the man of your dreams?

What's new to your TBR pile this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Review - Flora and the Flamingo

Flora and the Flamingo
by Molly Idle
Date: 2013
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this innovative wordless picture book, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I saw this book when I was browsing through the local library's selection of e-books for kids.  I was first drawn in by the cover's colour and illustration, which give the book a definite vintage look.  On the inside, "readers" are treated to a cute little story about a girl and her flamingo friend who love to dance.

Upon reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I realized that this is a lift-the-flap sort of book, which makes me question why it would be published as an e-book.  There are just some things you can't do in a digital format.  Although it's probably technically possible to mimic paper flaps digitally, that wasn't done here... which leaves Flora and the Flamingo as just a collection of illustrations.

Not that that's such a bad thing.  The pictures are just so gosh darn cute that they don't really need any gimmicks to make them appealing.  But I do kind of want to visit a bookstore now and have a look at the hardcover... just to see what I might have missed!

Quotable moment:

Recommended to: little girls (or boys) who love to dance and who love the colour pink... but try to get a physical copy, rather than the e-book

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Booking Through Thursday (35)

Booking Through Thursday asks:

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

I've actually read Shakespeare outside of school... and that was after reading three of his plays that I didn't like as assigned reading.  In school, we read A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet (twice... in Grade 12 and in first-year English in university).  I hated the first, barely recall the second, and am simply tired of the third.  After that, I picked up Much Ado About Nothing (which I loved) and The Tempest (which was just okay) on my own.

I love the movie version of Much Ado About Nothing.  I haven't had much experience with adaptations of other Shakespeare plays.  I do remember some boring movie versions of Hamlet, though...

I do think Shakespeare is a bit overrated.  I wish we hadn't had to study one play every year in high school.  Pick one or two and do them in the same year; that's more than enough.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review - Snowflakes Fall

Snowflakes Fall
by Patricia MacLachlan
illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Date: 2013
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.

MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was familiar with both the author (Sarah, Plain and Tall) and the illustrator (Pinkerton, Behave!) from my childhood, so when I saw that they had collaborated on this picture book, I knew it was probably going to be pretty good.  Snowflakes Fall is a beautiful little book, a tribute to the children who died in Sandy Hook in 2012.  Though it was inspired by an awful event, the book itself is charming and sweet, with a lovely message and well-crafted illustrations.

It's a simple premise, told in sparse free verse, about the continuity of life and the precious individuality of each of us.  It's a relaxing sort of book to read, and I can imagine kids curling up with this one to read the text and pore over the illustrations.  It's one of the nicer picture books I've read lately.

Quotable moment:

Snowflakes fall

To sit on gardens

And evergreen trees

And the tongues of laughing children—

No two the same—

All beautiful.

Recommended to: picture-book lovers who like to savour the reading experience and linger over illustrations

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List

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

This week's topic is Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List.  I didn't even get through all the books I wanted to read over the summer, and now I have to make another list of the books I want to read (but probably won't get to) this fall?  Oh, well.  Here they are:

Carrie by Stephen King - I've been wanting to read this book -- which will be the first Stephen King novel I've ever read -- for a while.  I know the library has it, but I just need to get around to reserving the e-book.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers - I've heard good things about this book (and its sequel), and it's been sitting in my TBR pile for a while.

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver - I loved Before I Fall, so I wanted to read something else by the same author.  The library has this book and Delirium... though I didn't feel like starting another series.  So I'm going to go with this one.

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer - I read The House of the Scorpion years ago, and really enjoyed it.  I found this sequel for a good price recently, so it had to go into the TBR pile.  I hope it's as good as the first book!

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George - Aside from part of Tuesdays at the Castle, I haven't read anything from this author.  I do enjoy fairy tale retellings, so I'm hoping I'll like this book.

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski - I'd rather read The Winner's Curse, but this book by the same author is already in my possession, so I guess I'll read it first!  If I like the way the author writes, maybe I can justify buying the other one.

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen - I've read a number of positive reviews on this book.  It looks good!

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton - This book has intrigued me since I first started seeing it on people's book blogs.  I like a bit of magic realism once in a while.

Timebound by Rysa Walker - This book has been in my TBR pile for a while, and it was also on the list of books I wanted to read this summer.  Time travel, if it's done well, can be a great plot device.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld - I'm not that familiar with the series or the author, but I've heard good things about both.  I don't have a ton of dystopian fiction on this list, so... why not add this one?

What's on your to-be-read list this fall?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #1)
by Michelle Hodkin
Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 466
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.
There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.
She's wrong.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's interesting that I chose to read this book soon after Megan Miranda's Fracture, given the similarities between the plots of the two books.  The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was the better of the two stories... but not by much.

The writing in this book was pretty bad.  If the author wasn't forgetting where she'd put her characters from one moment to the next (leading to weird scenes where characters who are sitting across from each other at a table are somehow able to discreetly clasp hands under it, or Mara putting the same book in her bag more than once within a couple of pages), she was trying to subtly give grammar Nazis the finger by improperly conjugating verbs, using the wrong words, and continually using a semicolon when what she really needed was a colon.  There were so many mistakes that I wondered at one point if they were intentional, a sort of "Spot the Mistakes" game for readers to play.

And all of that was in addition to the horrendous Kindle edition which, while not the fault of the author, kept me from reading along without interruption.  When there's missing punctuation and even missing line breaks (usually in the middle of a conversation, so I'd have to puzzle out who was saying what before I could continue), it really disrupts the flow.

The characters... well, I didn't really feel one way or the other about them.  Mara is an antihero (in case you miss all those hints her English teacher drops).  I liked that she wasn't the same vanilla Caucasian kid that's so pervasive in YA books.  Having an Indian mother made her a little different.  However, aside from Jamie (the school's token black Jewish bisexual), there's not much else in the way of diversity.  Noah, the love interest, was kind of a nice guy, despite what everybody else (including Mara) said about him.  I don't think I've ever seen such a blatant display of telling versus showing.  Everybody keeps saying that Noah's such an ass, but that's in such contradiction to what we're shown about him that it rings false.  He can be haughty and cocky and teasing... but he never seems really mean about it.  It's like everybody is projecting onto him or something, as if continually calling him a jerk will make it so.  (Keep in mind that I recently read Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which set the asshole bar pretty high.  Pretty much anyone is bound to look like an angel next to Daemon Black.)  The only thing that kind of turned me off of Noah was his possessive language; I didn't like how he kept referring to Mara as "his".  Mara herself was kind of a blank, and she wasn't really written very well.  Her main emotion seemed to be suspicion, since her oft-repeated facial expression was narrowing her eyes.  (Just for laughs, search your Kindle edition for the word "narrowed".  Go on, try it!)  It also took a while for me to figure out she was into art.  Maybe I missed the hints... I don't know.  I was kind of zoned out for a lot of the book.

I kind of lost interest and had to force myself to finish because the pacing was really off.  I knew there was something going on and I wanted to find out what it was (even though I guessed pretty early in the story), so I kept reading.  While I do appreciate that the author was trying to develop Mara and Noah's relationship so that it wouldn't seem like insta-love, it did slow down the pace of the story.  Aside from a couple of interesting incidents in the middle of the book, nothing of note really happened until almost three-quarters of the way through.  And then there was a rush of action at the end and the obligatory cliffhanger.

A couple of other things really bugged me.  The characters are shown using cell phones while driving.  This book is not that old, and we've known the dangers of this for a while; I expect better, especially in a book aimed at teenagers.  Second, while driving their cars, the characters drive recklessly fast.  Mara is going 90 miles per hour at one point, and Noah clocks 95.  Aside from being completely irresponsible, this also made no sense because the author had previously established that Miami has "agonizingly slow" bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highways.  Oops.

One of the best pieces of advice for writers that I've read was from Stephen King.  I believe it was from his book On Writing.  He recommended that, once you finish a first draft, you put it away for six weeks and go work on something else.  When you come back to your manuscript and read it again, you'll be doing so with fresh eyes and it'll be easier to spot your mistakes.  I have a feeling that very few authors do this; from what I can deduce from the shoddily edited books I've had to slog through recently, they're rushed to press with barely any editing or proofreading.  It shows.

Quotable moment:

I was drunk with happiness, intoxicated by him. I felt a stab of pity for Anna and for all the girls who may or may not have come before, and what they lost. And that birthed the follow-up thought of just how much it would hurt me to lose him, too. His presence blunted the edges of my madness, and it was almost enough to make me forget what I'd done.

Recommended to: fans of YA paranormal fiction who don't mind lots and lots of technical writing errors

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.29 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Weekly Recap - September 14-20, 2014

Here's what I blogged about over the last seven days:

Sunday - I reviewed Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and gave it 3.71 ladybugs.

Monday - I reviewed The Cat and the Wizard by Dennis Lee & Gillian Johnson and gave it 3.29 ladybugs.

Tuesday - I participated in the Top Ten Tuesday meme.  This week's topic was authors we've only read one book from.

Wednesday - I shared my status with WWW Wednesdays.  It's been a while since I did one of those posts!

I also reviewed Froggy Dearest by Scott Gordon, Konstantin Grishin, Sebastian Kaulitzki & Julien and gave it 1.17 ladybugs.  I was not impressed.

Thursday - I participated in Booking Through Thursday.  This week's topic was readers in the family...

Friday - I reviewed Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane and Hoda Hadadi and gave it 2.67 ladybugs.

Saturday - I shared the new books I got over the past week in New to the TBR Pile.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New to the TBR Pile (2)

Freebie from Amazon.ca:
Froggy Dearest
by Scott Gordon
illustrated by Konstantin Grishin, Sebastian Kaulitzki & Julien Tromeur

One fine day, you come across the frog of your dreams. Soft spoken and ever courteous, you've never met a creature quite so charming. But tread carefully, for this frog has quite a secret to share!

Mistress of the Solstice
by Anna Kashina

As the head priestess of the ancient Solstice cult, Marya must sacrifice a virgin every year. She copes with this gruesome duty by assuming a mask of cold detachment, as her father—the evil tzar Kashchey—devours the maidens' souls to maintain his youth and power. It is his power alone that keeps Marya’s kingdom safe from all enemies—or so she was raised to believe.

When Ivan arrives on a quest to stop the virgin sacrifices, Marya throws all her magic against him. To maintain her life—and that of her father—she must destroy Ivan before he completes his quest. But can she find it in her heart to do so?

Baba Yaga, Leshy, Vodyanoi, and the ancient animal deities come alive in this beautifully crafted romantic story that will take you into the authentic world of Russian fairy tales—with a dark, sensual twist.

Bought from Amazon.ca:
Good Kings Bad Kings: A Novel
by Susan Nussbaum

'My first week I learned that people refer to ILLC as "illsee". Emphasis on 'ill'. The Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center may not sound like the name of a nursing home, but that’s how they work it. Naming these places is all about misdirection. Inside, it smells, sounds, and looks like your standard-issue nursing home. Same old wolf but in a lamb outfit.'

Told in alternating perspectives by a varied cast of characters, Good Kings, Bad Kings is a powerful and inspiring debut that invites us into the lives of a group of teenagers and staff who live at the ILLC. From Yessenia, who dreams of her next boyfriend, to Teddy, a resident who dresses up daily in a full suit and tie, and Mia, who guards a terrifying secret, Nussbaum has crafted a multifaceted portrait of a way of life that challenges our definitions of what it means to be disabled. In a story told with remarkable authenticity, their voices resound with resilience, courage and humour.

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1)
by Sarah J. Maas

Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

What's new to your TBR pile this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review - Deep in the Sahara

Deep in the Sahara
by Kelly Cunnane
illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Date: 2013
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Lalla lives in the Muslim country of Mauritania, and more than anything, she wants to wear a malafa, the colorful cloth Mauritanian women, like her mama and big sister, wear to cover their heads and clothes in public. But it is not until Lalla realizes that a malafa is not just worn to show a woman's beauty and mystery or to honor tradition—a malafa for faith—that Lalla's mother agrees to slip a long cloth as blue as the ink in the Koran over Lalla's head, under her arm, and round and round her body. Then together, they pray.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a strange little book.  Cute, but strange.  I'm not quite sure how to review it, as I know some of my prejudices are getting in the way of me giving the book a higher rating.  And yet, I can't shake a sense of unease when I read about a little girl being culturally and religiously indoctrinated.

The book takes place in Mauritania.  In the author's note, the author states that she lived there from 2008 to 2009.  I was not familiar with Mauritania except for one thing: I remembered that they practiced a form of force-feeding called leblouh to make the girls as fat as possible (since obesity is a status symbol in that culture).  Many claim that this practice has stopped.  But after a military junta took control in 2008, the practice has made a comeback, especially among poorer Mauritanians.  This was not addressed at all in the story, but there are some fatter women depicted in some of the illustrations, and one particular illustration of the little girl reclining on her grandmother's lap while they have a snack takes on some rather scary new connotations.

I also wasn't sold on the whole premise of the book.  When Lalla concludes that a malafa is for faith, it seems rather abstract.  The book shows men and women praying (separately, of course), but there's little else that could help explain what "faith" is... or even what it means to the little girl.

The writing was fairly good, with its evocative turns of phrase.  But it was also a bit strange, as it was in the second person.  It tells the story of Lalla, and yet it also refers to her as "you".  I'm not sure why the author chose to do this.  Perhaps she thought it sounded more artsy.

The illustrations are really the best part of this book.  They're simple, but bright and colourful.  It looks like they're a combination of drawings and paper collage.  The colours as described in the story itself come alive on the page, giving the whole book a warm and exotic feel that puts one in mind of its desert setting.

I'm not sure if I'd wholeheartedly recommend this book or not.  The illustrations are worth looking at, and the poetic language of the story is lovely... but it seems to be a bit light on plot and message.  Kids who take the book at face value and don't ask a lot of questions might get more out of this than more inquisitive children.  If I had read this when I was younger, I probably would've had a lot of questions that even the author's note wouldn't have been able to answer.

Quotable moment:

Trees of red flowers bloom with heat.
Acadia pods rattle, and fruit bats sleep.
Grandmother sits on a cushion to brew tea,
her malafa the robe of ancient royalty.
More than all the mint leaves sold in the market,
you want a malafa so you can be like a long-ago queen too.

Recommended to: kids with an interest in other cultures

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Booking Through Thursday (34)

Booking Through Thursday asks:

Do other people in your family also like to read? Or are you in this on your own?

In my immediate family, I'm the most voracious reader.  My mom reads fiction when she has time.  My father rereads his favourites over and over (maybe that's why I'm averse to rereading... he makes it look so boring).  My sister reads, but her tastes are more quirky than mine.  Some of the books she likes are ones I've never heard of!  Although, she did brave Fifty Shades of Grey and warned me away from it (for which I will be forever grateful).

I know that some of my cousins are really active readers... though I don't have a lot of contact with them.  So I'm pretty much in this reading thing on my own!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review - Froggy Dearest

Froggy Dearest
by Scott Gordon
illustrated by Konstantin Grishin, Sebastian Kaulitzki & Julien Tromeur
Date: 2014
Publisher: S. E. Gordon
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

One fine day, you come across the frog of your dreams. Soft spoken and ever courteous, you've never met a creature quite so charming. But tread carefully, for this frog has quite a secret to share!

(synopsis from Amazon.com)

This lackluster children's book epitomizes the perils of exploring the world of self-published books.  It fails on nearly every level and does little but annoy the reader.  I'm glad I didn't have to pay anything for it.

The book's first problem is that it's completely inappropriate for its reading level.  The frog speaks directly to the reader, basically singing his own praises in the hope that he'll get someone to kiss him.  For a book that's intended for kids between the ages of 3 and 6, that's just a little bit creepy.  Also, the language is a bit advanced for that age group.  Would kids that age know words like "misfortune", "radiating", and "stereoscopic"?  I kind of doubt it.

The book's other main problem is the "illustrations".  The author basically went onto stock image sites and found a bunch of pictures of digitally rendered frogs that fit with the text.  The "illustrators" are listed on the copyright page, but not on the front of the book.  That strikes me as a bit dishonest, and overall it just seems lazy.  If you really want to write a picture book, collaborate with an artist and give them proper credit.

And, finally, the book is just boring.  There's no plot.  The frog is annoying and creepy.  And the ending is just stupid.  I would not insult a child's intelligence by giving them such a book.  There are much better children's picture books out there.

Quotable moment:

You paint my heart a deep shade of red: vibrant and passionate and full of love.

Recommended to: nobody

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

WWW Wednesdays (8)

WWW Wednesdays is hosted at Should Be Reading.
To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?
My answers:
What are you currently reading?

I'm reading The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin.
What did you recently finish reading?

I recently finished Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
What do you think you’ll read next?

I think I'll read Timebound by Rysa Walker.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

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

This week's topic is Top Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More.  I think I can come up with quite a few authors this week.  I'm terrible for finding an author (or series) I like and then putting them off for months... or years:

Paolo Bacigalupi - I really enjoyed Ship Breaker.  The world the author created was so interesting.  There is a companion novel called The Drowned Cities, which I really should read.

Ann Brashares - Though I haven't read any of the Traveling Pants books, I did read My Name Is Memory, and I loved it.  Since there isn't a sequel (yet), I might try The Here and Now.

M. G. Buehrlen - This author has only published one book so far, but it had a cliffhanger ending that left me wanting to know what happened next!  I definitely need to read the sequel to The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare when/if it comes out.

John Connolly - The Book of Lost Things was really good.  I'm not sure if many of the author's other books are my cup of tea, but The Gates looks like it might be a good read.

Beth Fantaskey - One of my favourite vampire novels is the fun Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.  I have the sequel tucked in my TBR pile somewhere.  I really should read it and get my Lucius Vladescu fix!

Isaac Marion - Warm Bodies was one of my favourite reads in 2013.  I haven't been able to get my hands on the prequel yet... so I've only read one book from this author.

Wendy Mass - Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall is a fun YA verse novel that I really enjoyed.  I've got one of the author's MG titles, 11 Birthdays, in my TBR pile, but I have yet to get around to reading it.

Sarah Miller - This author's gorgeous historical fiction is definitely something I'd like to read more of.  The Lost Crown was wonderful.  I'd like to read Miss Spitfire, especially if it's just as meticulously researched and well written!

Lauren Oliver - I read Before I Fall years ago, and fell in love with the author's style of writing.  I really should read more of her YA offerings.

Mary E. Pearson - The only book I've read by this author is The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I really liked.  I want to read the other books in that series... as well as The Kiss of Deception (which I've heard good things about).

What are some authors that you have little experience with that you'd like to read more from?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review - The Cat and the Wizard

The Cat and the Wizard
by Dennis Lee
illustrated by Gillian Johnson
Date: 2001
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

This picture book tells the story of a disgruntled wizard and his unwanted bag of tricks. One day, in a laundromat, he befriends a black cat with a spiffy hat, a heart full of hospitality, and no one to share it with. Together they retire to Casa Loma, where the party begins.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Cat and the Wizard is cute rhyming story about a wizard who has skills nobody wants and a would-be hostess of a cat who lives in a castle all by herself.  I didn't realize that Casa Loma is a real castle in Toronto... but it is, and that makes reading a story about it all the more interesting.

The whole book is written in rhyming verse, and for the most part, it flows off the tongue quite well.  The wizard has skills of questionable usefulness, but they're awfully fun to read about.  The cat wears a spiffy hat, and seems to be something of a Martha Stewart wannabe.

I have few quibbles with the text itself.  However, I was really disappointed by the illustrations.  I have a hard time believing they were done by an "acclaimed illustrator".  They seemed rough and amateurish to me.  It's a shame, because with really cute illustrations, this could have been a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend.  As it is now, it would be a good book to read aloud to children... but the disappointing illustrations would probably prevent it from being a picture book that kids would want to look at again and again.

Quotable moment:

He carries a bird's nest

That came from the Ark;

He knows how to tickle

A fish in the dark;

He can count up by tens

To a million and three--

But he can't find a home

For his wizardry.

Recommended to: parents who intend on reading the amusing verse aloud to their kids

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5