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