Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review - The Beach at Night

The Beach at Night
by Elena Ferrante
illustrated by Mara Cerri
Date: 2007
Publisher: Europa Editions
Reading level: A
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Elena Ferrante returns to a story that animated the novel she considers to be a turning point in her development as a a writer: "The Lost Daughter." But this time the tale takes the form of a children's fable told from the point of view of the lost (stolen!) doll, Celina. Celina is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minu, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.

Accompanied by the oneiric illustrations of Mara Cerri, "The Beach at Night" is a story for all of Ferrante's many ardent fans."

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Good lord. WTF was that?!

I was browsing through the e-book selection at the local library and came across this book. The premise looked a little bit interesting, and it was short, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Unfortunately, this is a book that tries so hard to be something that it ends up being a big mess. The illustrations are creepy and basic, the language is definitely not for little kids (unless you're willing to read books with the words "shit" in them at storytime), and the whole thing is just so creepy that I wouldn't be surprised if I have nightmares. Seriously... the villain tries to steal the doll's words by basically spitting in her mouth. Gross.

My library put this in the children's section. I live in a conservative area where a local school board once spent over a million dollars trying to ban innocent little picture books that featured homosexual parents. I don't think they'd be too amused that this has been placed in children's paths (but I kind of am... *evil laugh*).

Pick this one up at your own risk.

Quotable moment:

While I rise toward the surface, hanging from my own words, I hear the spiteful voice of the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset singing at the top of his lungs:

The tongue I slice
Right off, in a trice
The names I seize
With the greatest of ease
Together we sing
Treasure for a king
For affection I pine
On delight I dine
Your heart I'll shred
Until it's dead.

Recommend it to: someone you really don't like

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.4 out of 5

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review - A Day of Signs and Wonders

A Day of Signs and Wonders
by Kit Pearson
Date: 2016
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Can your whole life change in a single day?

Emily dreams of birds. She feels constrained by nearly everything—her overbearing sisters, the expectation to be a proper young lady, and even her stiff white pinafore.

Kitty feels undone. Her heart is still grieving a tragic loss, and she doesn’t want to be sent away to a boarding school so far away from home.

When the two girls meet by chance, on a beach on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, in 1881, neither knows that their one day together will change their lives forever.

Inspired by the childhood of acclaimed Canadian artist Emily Carr, A Day of Signs and Wonders is a sensitive and insightful look at friendship, family, and the foundations of an artist, drawn over the course of a single day—a day in which a comet appears, an artist is born and an aching hole in one girl’s heart begins to heal.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Having read some of Kit Pearson's novels for young people before, I thought I'd give this new one a try. It's historical fiction, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as some of her other books (especially the ones with paranormal elements), it was an entertaining story.

I really like reading books where I recognize the setting. In this case, the setting may be familiar... but the time period isn't. Victoria in 1881 is very different from Victoria today. I liked seeing how undeveloped the place was, as just a little "city" that was slowly growing and developing. Some of my ancestors actually ended up there a few years after the events in the book, so it was interesting to see what kind of a place they would've encountered.

The book is mainly a character sketch and follows two young girls throughout one unusual day. The style reminded me a little of such classics as Little Women, or of the books of L.M. Montgomery... although there were a few touches in this one that never would've been included in a book that was actually written over 100 years ago. But the story is still charming and somewhat quaint.

This book's main problem is that it's slow. The plot is basic. There's not a lot of action. The characters gain insight and develop (which is quite a feat, considering the story takes place during only one day), but there's not much that really happens to them. (While the girls themselves viewed the day as quite exciting and full, it might not seem that way to modern readers.) While I could appreciate what the author was trying to do here, I wonder if the target audience (middle graders, most likely, as the two main characters are 9 and 13) would want to continue reading, or if they would get bored.

The book is fairly well-written, though I wouldn't expect otherwise from Pearson. Aside from a slight mix-up with the direction of the comet (where it is in the sky doesn't match with where it should be, based on the map in the front), there wasn't a lot to complain about from a technical standpoint.

Overall, this is a lovely historical fiction novel. It would be a good starting place for those who want to learn more about Emily Carr.

Quotable moment:

Finally Mrs. Crane called from the hall. Emily was standing there, scowling. Kitty couldn't believe this was the same girl. Her round, rosy cheeks were soap shiny and her curls were gathered into a tight bundle at the back of her neck. She was encased in a spotless blue frock, a stiff white pinafore, low buttoned boots, and white stockings. She clutched a straw hat.

This was how little girls were supposed to look, of course; but Kitty wondered where inside this clean, tidy parcel was hidden the wild, barefoot Emily she had met earlier.

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

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 16, 2017

Review - Brimstone and Marmalade

Brimstone and Marmalade
by Aaron Corwin
Date: 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

Just in time for Halloween, we have a funny, sweet, and slightly skewed short story by Aaron Corwin, an up-and-coming writer from Seattle.

All Mathilde wanted for her birthday was a pony. Instead, she got a demon. Sometimes growing up means learning that what you think you want is not always what you need.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not sure whether to laugh or cry.

I've had this short story on my want-to-read list for a while. Who could say no to that synopsis? The story is actually far funnier than I thought it would be. Mathilde's demon is pretty much a hamster on paranormal steroids. He lives in a cage, eats soul pellets, and even has his own exercise ball.

It's actually a little bit of a deeper story than it seems, with Mathilde grudgingly accepting the gift of a demon because she wants to prove to her parents that she can take care of a pet. (Her ultimate goal is to get a pony.) Ix'thor was pretty cute for a demon, and I found myself kind of wanting one of my own. Of course Mathilde finds herself warming up to her "starter pet"... leading to a conclusion that's both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Aside from some clunky transitions (I'm not sure if there are just some missing paragraph breaks or what), the writing wasn't too bad. Brimstone and Marmalade is a cute, quick read... and definitely worth taking a few minutes to explore.

Quotable moment:

Mathilde peered through the glass cage. She looked at the Dark Lord's tiny clawed fingers, at his dark billowing cloud.

Mathilde thought about her pony. "Hello," she said. "What's your name?"

I AM IX'THOR, MASTER OF THE VENOMOUS PITS OF KARTHOOM! The creature raised his arms over his head. He had a voice like the truck that picked up their garbage in the morning, only smaller. BOW BEFORE YOUR MASTER, SMALL ONE!

"How about that!" The old man raised his fuzzy white eyebrows. "He told you his name first thing! He must really like you."

"Well, I don’t like him..." Mathilde crossed her arms. Ix'thor lowered his arms and hung his head a little. "... But I guess he’ll do."

Recommended to: this story would probably be enjoyed by middle grade readers and up

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.2 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - What James Said

What James Said
by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Matthew Myers
Date: 2015
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A funny, heartfelt, perfectly pitched story about misunderstandings and the importance of true friendship.

When a little girl thinks that her best friend James has been saying bad things about her behind her back, she takes action in the form of the silent treatment. As they go about their day and James tries harder and harder to get her to talk to him, they both realize that true friendship surpasses any rumor... or misunderstanding.

A classic childhood situation is brought to life with humor and poignancy with energetic illustrations by Matt Myers and a simple, telling text by Liz Rosenberg.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little picture book is worth reading for the adorable illustrations alone. The intent behind the message is good, although I wish it had been spelled out a little more; I'm not sure if little kids who'd be reading this book on their own would understand the resolution without a bit of explanation from an adult.

It's all about a misunderstanding, like a game of "telephone". The little girl--our narrator--thinks that her best friend has said something bad about her. James's attempts to get back in her good graces are sweet, although the poor kid must've been so confused by his best friend's sudden shunning of him.

I loved the illustrations. The kids are so cute, with the best facial expressions. Pictures can either make or break a picture book, but they were pretty much perfect here.

Quotable moment:

I'm not sure he knows we are in a fight.

I sat with my girlfriends at lunch and glared at him across the cafeteria.

He came over and asked, "Do you have a stomachache? Do you want me to walk you to the nurse?"

"No, thank you," I said, and went and threw my lunch into the trash. I wasn't very hungry, then.

Recommended to: anyone who enjoys sweet illustrations and simple stories about little kids being kids

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5