Thursday, May 12, 2022

Review - Unchosen [AUDIO]

Unchosen

by Katharyn Blair
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperAudio
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Length: 10 hours 3 minutes
Format: audio book [unabridged]
Source: library

For Charlotte Holloway, the world ended twice.

The first was when her childhood crush, Dean, fell in love—with her older sister.

The second was when the Crimson, a curse spread through eye contact, turned the majority of humanity into flesh-eating monsters.

Neither end of the world changed Charlotte. She’s still in the shadows of her siblings. Her popular older sister, Harlow, now commands forces of survivors. And her talented younger sister, Vanessa, is the Chosen One—who, legend has it, can end the curse.

When their settlement is raided by those seeking the Chosen One, Charlotte makes a reckless decision to save Vanessa: she takes her place as prisoner.

The word spreads across the seven seas—the Chosen One has been found.

But when Dean’s life is threatened and a resistance looms on the horizon, the lie keeping Charlotte alive begins to unravel. She’ll have to break free, forge new bonds, and choose her own destiny if she has any hope of saving her sisters, her love, and maybe even the world.

Because sometimes the end is just a new beginning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was looking through my book blog and realized I hadn't listened to an audiobook in over a decade. What?! Yeah, I know. But, to be fair, audiobooks and I don't always get along. Without visual input of some sort, my mind tends to wander. (Either that, or I fall asleep.) But I've been having trouble lately with starting books and then not finishing them, so I wondered if "reading" an audiobook might work better for me right now.

I haven't tried an audiobook in ages, and I also haven't read a young adult novel in a while. I think I might be getting too old for them. Or maybe I was just too old for this one. When the world has gone to hell and zombies are nipping at your heels, it seems a little ridiculous to start waxing poetic about some guy's shoulders. But... here we are.

I did really like the premise of this one, though. It's basically a post-apocalyptic zombie book, but the zombie thing is really unique. It's based on a curse rather than the usual virus, and it's spread through eye contact. This leads to some interesting work-arounds like the characters having to use mirrors to look at things, lest they get zombified.

Our main character is Charlotte, who's the inconsequential middle sister of three. Her older sister is some badass warrior, and her younger sister is literally the Chosen One who's supposed to save them all. On top of that, Charlotte is in love with her older sister's boyfriend, so things aren't running too smoothly in the family unit.

Once the story started to pick up a bit, and some villains were thrown into the mix, I found myself getting a little lost. Maybe it was because of the audio format, or maybe the book was actually just confusing. The pacing seemed uneven in spots, especially toward the end (which was a little lacklustre after all that buildup). I wasn't that impressed with the villains, either; they were your standard moustache-twirlers who enjoyed being evil just for the sake of it.

This probably wasn't the best book to ease me back into the world of audio. There was an awful lot of repetition, which was painfully obvious in audio format. (What I mean is that certain words and phrases were repeated way too close together, and characters' names were used too often when "he" or "she" would've sufficed.) I also wasn't a fan of this particular narrator, who would lower her voice for the male characters (which sounded silly) and harshen her voice for some of the female characters (making the villains, especially, sound more vapid than menacing). I do realize there's not much a single narrator can do with a book to differentiate the characters other than try to put on different voices. Still, I felt like the somewhat weird character voices were distracting and drew me out of the story at times.

Overall, I give the premise top marks for originality. The execution is a little lacking, though. Still, it will probably appeal to young adult readers who are looking for an interesting post-apocalyptic romp with a touch of romance.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Performance: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Review - Look at Me

Look at Me: a celebration of self, playfulness, and exploration

by Audrey Beth Stein
illustrated by Kristina Neudakhina
Date: 2022
Publisher: Audrey Beth Stein
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

What do YOU like to wear? Nail polish? Fancy suits? Pigtails? Monday underwear? Possibilities are endless in this vibrantly illustrated picture book for all genders about self-expression and play.

Feelings and senses take center stage in Look at Me as a diverse cast of children share what they like (and don't like) to wear. "Pants are itchy. I like tights," says one kid. "When I grow up, I'm going to live somewhere warm and be naked all the time," declares another. Look at Me inspires kids to be themselves and to embrace others' differences.

Some of the kids love how they look already. Others want to try something new. A few look the way they do for reasons beyond their control. But whether it's through their hair, their clothes and accessories, or something they were born with, each has their own playful and distinct way of exploring their appearance.

Although no child's race, gender, or disability is explicitly mentioned, the illustrations capture the diversity of the real world. Non-binary and gender-nonconforming characters appear alongside gender-conforming kids and adults.

Thanks to the wide cast of characters, every child who reads Look at Me will find at least one person they relate to in this thoughtful and sweet celebration of self.

Look at Me's bright thoughtful images and artful easy-to-read text inspire introspection and discussion.

Children often don't have the right words to communicate big emotions or physical discomfort. Look at Me gives parents, teachers, and caretakers the jumping off points they need to start a conversation with their kids about identity, gender, and self-expression.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A book like this might make a reader (especially an adult one) sit and think for a moment about how arbitrary (and silly) some of our society's "rules" are. Look at Me is a celebration of kids being themselves, dressing however they like... whether that's a little boy wearing nail polish, a little girl wearing a suit, or a child of unspecified gender wearing nothing but underpants. I can see some of the sentiments being quite relatable to many children.

That said, I'm not sure I love the execution. The text is sparse and the illustrations are not especially appealing. But I do have to commend the overall intent; it's good to see this theme appearing more in children's books. Everybody should have the freedom to be themselves, and there are more important things to worry about than policing the style choices of children.

So, I would recommend this one. Parents looking for books with similar themes might also want to check out Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Pink Is for Everybody! by Ella Russell, and Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Review - Marshmallow

Marshmallow

by Clare Turlay Newberry
Date: 1942
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A beautiful classic picture book story about an unusual friendship between a bunny and a cat.

Oliver is a tabby cat who is always the center of attention.

Marshmallow is a baby rabbit who moves into Oliver's home.

At first Oliver does not welcome Marshmallow, but the little bunny's charms are impossible to resist. This is the true story of how Oliver and Marshmallow become friends.

Clare Turlay Newberry's lifelong passions for cats and for drawing come together in this elegantly illustrated book, winner of the 1943 Caldecott Honor.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This could've ended very differently.

I hadn't even heard of this book, even though it was first published in 1942. It's a simple classic, though somewhat heavy on the text by today's standards.

Oliver the cat is content... until Miss Tilly brings a baby bunny named Marshmallow into the household. At first, the cat is afraid. But then his instincts start kicking in... and, for a moment, I was a little worried that this story was going to take a dark turn. Don't worry, though! This true story is safe for readers of all ages.

The illustrations are simple but effective, done in black and white with a few touches of peach. And the text perfectly captures the behaviour of both animals.

Overall, this is a cute classic that deserves a new generation of readers.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review - Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots

Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots
(Yara's Rainforest #3)
by Yossi Lapid
illustrated by Joanna Pasek
Date: 2021
Publisher: Lapid Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 50
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon

A pair of Yellow-Headed Parrots are guarding a well-hidden nest perched high up on an Amazon Rainforest tree. They are confident that their young chicks are safe in their well-hidden nest. But are they?

In this third volume of Yara's Rainforest series, Yara confronts a nest poacher bent on capturing these critically endangered Amazon Rainforest birds and selling them on the black market.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read the first book in this series, Yara's Tawari Tree, back in 2019. It's an interesting series of picture books, set in the Amazon rainforest, that tell stories around the people and the natural habitat there. Yara and the Yellow-Headed Parrots is the third book in the series (I'll have to see if I can track down the second one), but it ties in with the first book with the healing powers of a special tree.

The rhyming text flows nicely, and the story—about a would-be poacher who has his eyes on some yellow-headed parrot chicks—is both timely and sweet. He's not just a villain, but has his own reasons for his actions, which I found refreshing to see in a book like this. Not everything is black and white.

There's some good info at the back about endangered bird species. Overall, this is a strong addition to the Yara's Rainforest series.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Review - The Lighthouse Witches (DNF)

The Lighthouse Witches

by C. J. Cooke
Date: 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 357
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.

A lighthouse that weathered more than storms.

Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.

Coincidence? Or curse?

Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.

Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 27%

Nope. I just can't do this to myself anymore. Even if it is set in Scotland. Even if is about witches and paranormal occurrences. Every time I think about picking this book back up, I immediately think of something else I'd rather be doing. Vacuuming. Taxes. Waxing my legs in slow motion.

This book suffers from some of the worst editing/proofreading I've seen in a traditionally published title in a while. The continuity is awful. Characters sit down when they're already sitting. They help each other up when they're not even down. Events are changed, and then not all instances are caught. (At one point, the mother slaps her daughter across the face. The girl runs away, clutching the back of her head as if she's banged it, and the mother says the kid is injured. Later, a reference is made to when the mother "pushed" her daughter. I'm guessing the shove was changed to a slap, but not every reference was caught.) When the teenage daughter runs away, the middle sister tells her that their mother hasn't noticed yet... and then, a few paragraphs later, says their mother is freaking out over the disappearance.

Even if I wanted to subject myself to a few hundred more pages of that kind of thing, I'd still hate the characters. The mother is some sort of underdeveloped artiste type who says she loves her daughters more than she shows it. (She seems rather indifferent, honestly.) And the girls... They're 15, 9, and 7, but they all come across as about 4 years younger than their actual ages. The teenager pouts and runs away from home when she's upset, says her mother probably won't even care, and then writes a letter to her boyfriend, telling him that she's probably going to get murdered by a serial killer, so he can have her CD collection (at which point she says something about how her boyfriend was probably going to murder her for it anyway). The 9-year-old has no character development, either as a child or as an adult (parts of the narrative take place when she's all grown up). The 7-year-old acts like a toddler, clutching her stuffed giraffe and being carried around. (She's actually 7½. Why can't she walk?)

But the biggest thing that got my goat was the ridiculous plot point of the family's disappearance. I can't really say much more without major spoilers, but suffice it to say that there's a pretty big plot hole there. Either that, or the police in Scotland don't keep very good records.

I kind of want to know what happens, but I just can't take the stupid characters, continuity problems, and implausible plot points anymore. If someone makes a movie out of this one day, I'll watch it. But as a book... nope. I'm done.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Review - Once Upon a Forest

Once Upon a Forest

by Pam Fong
Date: 2022
Publisher: Random House Studio
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

This gorgeous picture book follows a helpful marmot working to save a forest recovering after a wildfire. Perfect for teaching children to practice kindness while developing an appreciation for animals and the earth.

After a fire leaves the forest smoldering, a determined marmot and her resourceful bird friend set off on a rescue mission in this beautifully illustrated, wordless story.

They clear away fallen branches and scorched bushes. They rake and dig and plant new seedlings in the earth. With determination and ingenuity, as the seasons pass, they care for the little trees by making sure they have enough water, protect their branches from the wind and snow, and keep away hungry creatures, until the trees can thrive on their own.

With a little time, care, and hope we all can help the earth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sometimes a wordless picture book is a nice change of pace. Just relax and let the pictures tell the story. Once Upon a Forest is the tale of a marmot who lives in a cute little log cabin (with her bird friend living in their own house just outside the front door). One day, they see smoke and witness a wildfire in the distance. So they pack up some seedling, tools, and supplies and head down there, only to discover the charred remains of a patch of forest. They plant the seedlings, then keep them safe through the seasons until they're strong enough to stand on their own. Finally they head home, having helped one little patch of the world heal.

The illustrations are cute but simple, done in black and white with only a few touches of colour (mostly green). The story is clearly conveyed, even without words.

Overall, this is a cute little book with sweet characters and a nice message. I'd recommend it to fans of wordless picture books, as well as to those looking for books with themes about conservation and the environment.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.8 out of 5

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Review - Once Upon a Unicorn

Once Upon a Unicorn

by Isla Wynter
illustrated by Anju Chaudhary
Date: 2021
Publisher: Peryton Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

Blaze the unicorn is born without a horn - will he be able to get it back?

Or is he maybe not a unicorn at all?

Join Blaze on his adventures as he searches for his horn, meets new friends and encounters an unexpected foe.


This illustrated children's book tells a magical story of friendship, helping others and forgiveness.

Revised edition with beautiful new illustrations.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The pictures here are cute, but this book suffers from a major problem: The creatures depicted aren't actually unicorns. They're winged horses.

The story is fairly predictable. A "unicorn" named Blaze is born without a horn. But it turns out that an evil camel has stolen all the horns. So Blaze steals one back, the camel apologizes, and... I guess there's some sort of lesson here.

Huge chunks of the text were missing. At least, I'm assuming that's the case. There were some blank pages, and it seemed like parts were missing from the narrative because they were referred to later. I guess it's a formatting issue, but it needs to be corrected. I think a good portion of the showdown with the camel was missing, which is unfortunate.

Overall, I'm not impressed. The plot is silly, the "unicorns" aren't actually unicorns, and the formatting issues mean the reader doesn't get the full story. The illustrations are somewhat appealing, but even they can't save this one for me.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Monday, February 7, 2022

Review - My Butt Is SO SILLY!

My Butt Is SO SILLY!

by Dawn McMillan
illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Date: 2022
Publisher: Dover Publications
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Everyone's favorite character from I Need a New Butt!, I Broke My Butt!, and My Butt is So Noisy! is back in a hilarious new story about a silly butt that won't stop moving! The talented duo of children's author Dawn McMillan and illustrator Ross Kinnaird have created another delightful, laugh-out-loud tale of a bothersome backside that leads to all kinds of amusing adventures. The fun never stops, from the first page to the last of this newest book in the best-selling series.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I think there's only so far you can take a joke. That distance might be a little greater if you're a kid that likes talking about butts.

I read I Broke My Butt! a couple of years ago, and while I didn't love it, I thought it was pretty silly and kids would likely enjoy it. My Butt Is SO SILLY! has the same problem as I Broke My Butt! (namely, the horribly executed metre of the rhyming text), and also introduces a level of absurdity that doesn't even make sense. How did the kid's butt end up square?!

As far as I can tell, this butt has a mind of its own. It never stops moving. At times, it made me uncomfortable, because it almost seemed like the kid had a disorder like dystonia, and making fun of medical conditions isn't funny.

Fans of the other books will probably like this one, too. But, as an adult reader, I wasn't that impressed. I liked I Broke My Butt! a lot more.

Thank you to NetGalley and Dover Publications for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.29 out of 5

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Review - Chase Your Dreams Little Princess

Chase Your Dreams Little Princess

by Aastha Miranpuri
illustrated by Ayesha
Date: 2021
Publisher: Aastha Miranpuri
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.com

Girls have the power to control their fates, make their dreams come true, and achieve anything they put their minds to. Girls are powerful beings.

Exceptional women in history paved a path of greatness for girls everywhere. Through their words and with their examples, these women have inspired generations.

Through innovation, education, fearlessness, determination, and hard-fought battles, these incredible women beat the odds.

Chase Your Dreams, Little Princess chronicles their remarkable stories and will inspire young minds to chase their dreams and go above and beyond to achieve them.

Grab your copy now for your favorite little princess.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In the same vein as books like Vashti Harrison's Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Chelsea Clinton's She Persisted, Chase Your Dreams Little Princess is a showcase of accomplished Indian women from a wide variety of fields. Each section is introduced with a list of names, and then the subsequent pages feature an illustration of the woman and what she did.

Unlike the other books I mentioned, the information in Chase Your Dreams Little Princess is quite sparse, amounting to only one sentence for each woman. It's a good place to start, but I would've liked some more biographical information.

The illustrations are... odd. They almost look like they were traced over photos, and some of them are cut off in strange places. (Weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, for example, is depicted as having no feet. When there is an actual amputee listed elsewhere in the book, readers could be forgiven for being confused.)

I'm also not sure why Mother Teresa is listed in the book. She's Albanian. (Nikki Haley, the American politician, is also included, so I assumed that the book was showcasing women of Indian heritage... not simply women who lived in India.)

Overall, I'm not super impressed, but I do think the book fills a void. This is by no means as complete as some similar books on the market, though; it's tough to be truly inspired by someone when their story is condensed to a single sentence.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Review - The Emerald Gate

The Emerald Gate
(5 Worlds #5)
by Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel
illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller & Boya Sun
Date: 2022
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 272
Format: e-book
Source: library

Oona and her friends face their ultimate challenge in the final installment of the graphic sci-fi fantasy series that's Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender!

In the epic conclusion to the 5 Worlds series, the final battle looms as Oona, Jax, and An Tzu travel to the treacherous world of Grimbo (E)! There, Oona must light the last beacon to save the 5 Worlds, but first she has to find it! When Jax saves an old friend, Oona is given a clue to the green beacon's location.

Unfortunately, the journey to lighting it on this strange, watery planet is the most dangerous yet. Meanwhile, Stan Moon has one more trick up his sleeve as his frightening powers and mysterious connection to An Tzu continue to grow. How can Oona ever hope to beat him? Can she count on her friends or will a terrible betrayal mean the 5 Worlds will be lost to evil forever?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's over. Is it weird that I feel a sense of accomplishment? It's not every day I'm engaged enough in a series to actually finish it, so this is a rare event.

While I didn't like this final instalment quite as much as some of the others, it's a satisfying conclusion to the series. Most plot threads are tied up, and the aftermath of the adventure is hopeful and sweet. I was confused at certain points in the story, but that may simply be because it's been a while since I read all the other books. (Readers who can now binge the whole series at once won't have this problem.)

Overall, this is a really strong middle-grade graphic novel series with creative ideas, appealing artwork, and likeable characters. I'd definitely recommend it.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

My reviews for the series:

The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds #1) 
The Cobalt Prince (5 Worlds #2) 
The Red Maze (5 Worlds #3) 
The Amber Anthem (5 Worlds #4) 
The Emerald Gate (5 Worlds #5) 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review - Eve of Eridu

Eve of Eridu
(Eridu #1)
by Alanah Andrews
Date: 2018
Publisher: Michael Terence Publishing
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 226
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

In a world where emotions are forbidden, what happens when you start to feel?

The harvest separates the worthy from the unworthy. Those who pass are destined to continue the human race, and the unworthy are culled.

For years, Eve has been the poster girl for emotional control. But ever since her brother was culled, Eve is finding it difficult to keep the monitor on her wrist an acceptable blue.

The next harvest ceremony is approaching and Eve will do whatever it takes to avoid the same fate as her brother. Gripping and intriguing, Eve of Eridu explores the lengths that humans will go to in their quest for survival.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Wow. I don't think I've ever had this much of a drop in enjoyment between two instalments of a series before.

I read The Harvest (the prequel short story) a week or so ago and was really intrigued by the world the author had built. Eve and Hana were interesting characters, the world was fascinating, and I wanted to know more. Why was Eve's brother, Luc, culled? That was the biggest question I had, and I really wanted to see if Eve of Eridu would answer it. Well, it did... but that answer was less than satisfactory.

It's painfully obvious that Eve of Eridu was written before The Harvest, even though the latter is the prequel. While The Harvest featured distinct characters and an intriguing introduction to the world of Eridu, Eve of Eridu feels incomplete, confusing, and not consistent with its prequel. I kind of liked Eve in The Harvest; she's completely unlikeable in Eve of Eridu. Maybe the author realized she needed to humanize Eve a little more in the prequel so that she didn't come off as a brainwashed sociopath. (Yes, she gets better toward the end of this book, but it's too little, too late... and even then, she's still spouting the cult's sayings like a loyal member. It makes her final actions ring a bit false.) Also, if you liked Hana in The Harvest, you'll be disappointed here; she's little more than a cardboard cutout for Eve to look down upon in this book.

The other way this book seems obviously written first is the writing and editing. The first part is okay, but then the editor seems to give up. The rest of the book is full of comma splices, misplaced action beats, and incorrect punctuation (including a seeming aversion to question marks). If I hadn't wanted so badly to find out how this cult started and what its goal really was, I would've given up.

I can't even imagine reading this book without first reading the prequel. As I was reading Eve of Eridu, I was thinking about how confused I would've been had I not already been introduced to the world and all its terminology. And as for Luc... well, that's probably this book's biggest failing. He's already gone by the time the story starts, so we never get to see his relationship with Eve... and that makes it really difficult to feel anything for her because we don't really know what kind of relationship she's lost. All we know is what she tells us. (Unfortunately, the amount of telling in this book borders on the ridiculous. We're often not shown anything at all, and Eve just explains things to us. At one point, we skip ahead by months, just with one sentence. This transition could've worked... but not stuck in the middle of a random paragraph as it was.)

I'm just disappointed. I so rarely read YA these days, and I thought I'd found a series that I'd actually enjoy. Right now, I'm more annoyed than anything, and hesitant to even recommend the prequel (even though it's far better than this book). Judging by the rating on Goodreads, I'm probably in the minority. Your mileage, as always, may vary. But, if you do decide to read this, make sure you start with The Harvest.

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

Overall Rating: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Circle Round

Circle Round

by Anne Sibley O'Brien
illustrated by Hanna Cha
Date: 2021
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From one child to ten, hands are extended in an ongoing invitation to welcome all kids into a circle of inclusion, friendship, and play.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is basically a counting book, with various round objects (everything from bike wheels to soap bubbles to cookies) highlighted by each child that's added to the mix.

The mixed-media illustrations are nice. A group of diverse children is represented here. The theme of inclusion and friendship is perhaps a little stronger than the circle theme (I wasn't loving some of the verbs accompanying the various round items; some seemed a stretch).

Overall, this is a nice picture book that celebrates friendship and diversity while also showing various round objects for readers to count.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review - Group Hug

Group Hug

by Jean Reidy
illustrated by Joey Chou
Date: 2021
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

There once was a slug, / needing someone to hug.

When Slug happens upon a lonely beetle, he knows just what to do. He gives him a big hug--and then the two friends decide to pass it along. They meet Mouse, who's down in the dumps, Skunk, who's a bit smelly, and more and more animals, until their group hug stretches wide and tall. But when Bear comes along, will there be enough hug to share? This delightful picture book encourages kindness and goes to show that a hugger finds happiness 'longside the hugged!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I can see this book being used for a read-aloud storytime. It's got cute characters, a bouncy rhythm, and a nice overall message.

The pictures are just okay for me. Everything's kind of blocky, but I guess that's just the style. They're colourful, anyway.

Overall, a nice book about hugs.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Review - The Harvest

The Harvest
(Eridu #0)
by Alanah Andrews
Date: 2019
Publisher: Deadset Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: short story
Pages: 55
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

ONLY THE WORTHY PASS THE HARVEST

Ever since WWIII devastated the surface of the Earth, emotions have been strictly forbidden. Childhood friends, Eve and Hana, have grown up in an underground compound, their emotional control monitored at all times.

But the harvest is approaching . . .

In two days, the low-ranked students will be culled and the worthy assigned to their permanent positions in society.

Eve is a high-ranked student, but harbours secret concerns about her brother leaving—feelings that she must conceal from her monitor if she wishes to succeed. Hana has always struggled to control her emotions, and she fears that this harvest will be her last.

Both know there's no place for friendship when they're competing for their lives.

The harvest is coming, and only the worthy will remain.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't read nearly as much YA as I should. For some reason, it's my favourite age category.

I picked up this freebie and thought I'd give it a try. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Even though this is a prequel story, I didn't have any trouble getting immersed in the story and the world. It's a kind of standard dystopian with an underground society and people who are forbidden from having emotions. This particular story is told from the points of view of two girls: Eve, whose sections are narrated in the first person, and Hana, whose sections are narrated in the third person. I'm not really sure why this was done, as the first book in the series, Eve of Eridu, appears to be all from Eve's point of view.

Anyway, it's a tantalizing glimpse of a really screwed-up society. I'm curious about what happens to some of the characters now. The story itself is written fairly well, although the present-tense narration does have a few lapses into past tense. The author also repeatedly uses some odd turns of phrase (things like "up the front" rather than "up at the front"), though I'm not sure if this is a regional thing, as the author lives in Australia.

I haven't yet decided if I'll move on and read the actual first book in the series, but it's not because this one didn't pique my interest. If you're looking for a strong dystopian read, give this story a try and see if the world of Eridu might be your cup of tea.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.57 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Who Guards My Sleep?

by Marie Chow
illustrated by Sija Hong
Date: 2021
Publisher: Marvel Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A beautifully illustrated picture book that will explore the fantastical elements of the Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings while introducing readers to a child-aged Shang-Chi and his family.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The illustrations here are interesting, but the story is confusing and boring. The book is clearly a movie tie-in, and some of it won't make sense unless you've seen the movie. (At least, that's what I'm guessing. Who the heck is Morris? He's not explained here, so I assume he plays a part in the movie.)

Maybe this is great if you've seen the film. But if you're coming to it without knowing anything about the story on screen, you're liable to be as unimpressed as I was.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Duck on a Tractor

Duck on a Tractor

by David Shannon
Date: 2016
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

David Shannon's wildly popular, award-winning Duck on a Bike left children begging him to tell them another story about Duck after seeing him pictured alongside a shiny red tractor. Now Duck is back and turning the farm upside down!

Flushed with the success of his trailblazing bike ride around the farm, Duck decides he's ready to drive the tractor. As in the bestselling Duck on a Bike, all the barnyard animals share their humorous comments as they watch Duck do the unthinkable. Then, one by one, they join him on the tractor for a ride!

But what happens when Duck drives the big red tractor through town, past the popular diner where all the locals are having lunch? What will those folks really think when they see Duck and all the other animals riding around on Farmer O'Dell's tractor? Filled with entertaining detail and sly jokes, readers will pore over each picture again and again. Perfect for reading aloud!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one. I read another of David Shannon's picture books back in 2018, and pretty much hated it. The pictures creeped me out. Luckily, this book isn't about the demon child named David, but about a duck who, having mastered riding a bicycle, tries his hand at driving a tractor and takes all his barnyard friends along for the ride.

This is apparently the sequel to Duck on a Bike, which I haven't read (although I kind of want to now). The premises of these books are just silly enough to work, and I can see why they appeal to kids. I thought it got a little tiresome by the time we got to town and heard all the thoughts of the people in the diner, but if you don't mind repetition, you might like this a bit more than I did.

The illustrations are detailed and fun, and all the characters are well defined. I wonder what shenanigans Duck will find himself caught up in next...

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Friday, January 14, 2022

Review - Holi Hai!

Holi Hai!

by Chitra Soundar
illustrated by Darshika Varma
Date: 2022
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Gauri is excited to splash colors on everyone for Holi. But when she doesn't get her favorite color, Gauri gets mad. Will she find a way to overcome her anger and join in the festivities?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This a relatable little holiday story about a girl named Gauri. As her family prepares for Holi, each person is assigned a colour and must make a coloured powder. But Gauri doesn't get the colour she wanted, so she sulks all day and doesn't get anything done. Later, Grandpa tells the kids the story of Holika and Prahlada, and Gauri realizes maybe she's been acting with too much anger in her heart. So she works hard all night to try to make things right.

I've read a few Holi picture books. This is one of the stronger ones. The story is engaging, and isn't just about the festival. I enjoyed how Gauri's childhood anger and entitlement was portrayed, and how the issue was eventually resolved. There's a great author's note at the back that explains more about Holi, and there's even some recipes for making coloured waters, just in case you feel like getting joyfully messy.

Overall, this is a nice picture book about Holi with strong themes of family, compromise, and making the best of things when they don't turn out exactly as you wanted.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

Review - Sharon, Lois & Bram's One Elephant Went Out to Play

Sharon, Lois & Bram's One Elephant Went Out to Play

by Sharon Hampson, Lois Lilienstein, Bram Morrison & Randi Hampson
illustrated by Qin Leng
Date: 2022
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

From the creators of Skinnamarink comes another picture book based on the classic counting song made famous by this beloved trio of children's entertainers.

One elephant went out to play upon a spider's web one day.
She had such enormous fun, that she called for her baby elephant to come.


Sharon, Lois and Bram invite readers to join them in a musical story about a magical spider web. Jungle animals and kids in costume join in the fun on the web, including a glamorous giraffe, a cranky crocodile, a silly, smiley snake and five monkeys. After the 10th animal is invited onto the web, EVERYONE is invited to the party -- but is the web strong enough?

Through Qin Leng's wonderfully whimsical illustrations, this delightful picture book tells the story of a diverse group of children coming together in play and song.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Ah, the nostalgia. Growing up in the '80s in Canada, we got our fill of Sharon, Lois & Bram. I remember this particular song well. So well, in fact, that I kept remembering the original words as I was reading the book. No matter. This is a lovely picture-book adaptation of one of the trio's famous songs, charmingly illustrated by Qin Leng. Sharon, Lois, Bram, and a diverse group of friends (including an elephant) take a walk through a jungle. They meet a friendly spider who spins a curiously strong web and then invites all her new friends to play in it. Things are going great, and the spider dutifully counts each new playmate as they're added (five monkeys get added at once, so the book isn't too long), but then... there's just one new friend too many. But it's all good; even failure is fun here, and there's a promise of more play to come.

The illustrations are really cute, and show a great variety of kids. There's even a child in a wheelchair who somehow manages to join everyone else in the web (hey, it's fiction). The sense of fun and play is really on display here.

Adult fans of Sharon, Lois & Bram will probably love this, especially since it's a potentially great introduction to the trio for their own kids (or grandkids). Also be sure to check out Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink, which came out in 2019; it's based on another of their songs, expanded for the purposes of the picture book, and also completely adorable.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tundra Books for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Monday, January 10, 2022

Review - Little Birds

Little Birds

by Hannah Lee Kidder
Date: 2018
Publisher: Hannah Lee Kidder
Reading level: A
Book type: short stories
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

“Little Birds” is a collection of glimpses into some of the darkest corners of our lives–the lies we tell ourselves, the ways we hurt others, the painful truths we pretend to face. Each story is a raw, unflinchingly human experience.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read Kidder's Starlight last year, and enjoyed it more than I enjoy most short-story collections. Little Birds went on sale, so I snapped up a copy.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"Dear Emma"

Well, that's a dark way to start off a collection. Interesting flash fiction, though.


"What Remains"

Another depressing sort of story, this time about a woman who likes to bury dead things in her yard. There's a reason, of course.


"By the Window"

Two sentences. They say a lot.


"Qui Vive"

Eh... okay. Ew. Whatever.


"He Wrote Me a Song"

Unnecessarily sad. Sometimes I'm not sure whether people write these sorts of stories just for shock value, or what.


"An Envelope"

That was anticlimactic. And now I don't like the main character.


"Crop Stet"

This "story" is one awkwardly worded sentence. I have no idea what the title means.


"Winnow"

This feels both too long and incomplete. We get the overall idea of what's going on pretty early, but then nothing ever really comes of it; the basic premise is just reinforced.


"Ignorance"

Deep. Short. What more is there to say? (This review is four words longer than the story.)


"Wolverine Frogs"

Dark and disturbing. Well written, though.


"Little Birds"

I don't know if this is from the point of view of a stalker or an ex (who's just acting like a stalker). But it makes me wonder all sorts of things that I'm not sure if I'm supposed to wonder about. Am I overthinking it? I never know with literary fiction.


"Green"

Another boring snippet. To be honest, I don't think I'd call some of these "stories"; they don't have a beginning, middle, and end. Many of them have a theme of leaving... and this is no exception.


"Cane Sprouts"

By far the longest story in the book, "Cane Sprouts" is a snapshot of a family living on the edge of the bayou. The grandfather is sick, and two grandchildren have come back to visit. They go fishing. That's about it. I was a bit distracted in this one with some of the grammar slip-ups and continuity problems (at one point, it's implied that the narrator somehow peels an orange with one hand; either that, or she's got three hands).



Little Birds is an okay collection, but I can really see the growth between what's included here and what's included in Starlight. Some of these stories are super short, and while there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, it kind of makes for an imbalanced collection when the final story takes up a full 40% of the book. I'm really not a fan of adult contemporary/literary fiction; it's not escapist enough for me. So, overall, I enjoyed Starlight, with its fantasy and horror vibes, far more.

That said, I would still recommend Little Birds to the right audience. If you like adult contemporary short fiction with heavy themes, try Little Birds. If you prefer fantasy and/or horror short fiction with heavy themes, you might enjoy Starlight more.

Overall: 2.77  out of 5