Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book review - Duels and Deception

Title: Duels and Deception
Author: Cindy Anstey
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books: The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
                      The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

Summary (provided by publisher): In which a lady and a law clerk find themselves entangled in the scandal of the season...
Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.
Until the day Lydia is kidnapped—and Robert along with her. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name unsullied and expose whoever is behind this devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants...

My opinion: High marks for style. Anstey really captures the atmosphere of something like an Austen novel. And not just the setting - the dialogue and the very sensibility of the culture and the characters. The plot has a fair amount of excitement and intrigue, what with kidnapping and secret machinations towards money and influence. It's intriguing but not always compelling. For a reader used to the style and pacing of most modern novels the pacing of this one can seem kind of slow. The plot is, at times, overly reliant on convenient twists and suffers from some logical deficiencies. While it isn't the sort of thing I normally read, I know of a certain class of teens that will adore this novel.

More Information: Duels and Deception releases April 11.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Now Rufus can go with me everywhere

Today's craft is a quick one. My local dollar store had some small, plain colored tote bags  that were calling out to me. I happened to have an iron-on transfer that went perfectly with the bag that I bought. While experience tells me these little woven bags don't iron (picture plasticy residue all over the iron surface. Not one of my prouder moments) it was easy enough to attach the transfer to a scrap of fabric, trim it, and glue it to the bag. A little bit of fabric paint finished it off.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Book review - Bull

Title: Bull
Author: David Elliot
Genre: retelling
Similar books: Underworld by Meg Cabot
                      Young Olympians series by Jane Yolen
a bit disappointing

Summary (provided by publisher): SEE THE STORY OF THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR
Minos thought he could
Pull a fast one
On me,
God of the Sea!
But I’m the last one
On whom you
Should try such a thing.
The nerve of that guy.
The balls. The audacity.
I got capacity!
Depths! Darkness! Delphic power!
So his sweet little plan
Went big-time sour
And his wife had a son
Born with horns and a muzzle
Who ended up
In an underground puzzle.
What is it with you mortals?
You just can’t seem to learn:
If you play with fire, babies,
You’re gonna get burned. 
Much like Lin-Manuel Miranda did in Hamilton, the New York Times best-selling author David Elliott turns a classic on its head in form and approach, updating the timeless story of Theseus and the Minotaur for a new generation. A rough, rowdy, and darkly comedic young adult retelling in verse, Bull will have readers reevaluating one of mythology's most infamous monsters.    

My opinion: It's not of ten that novels explore the emotions and motivations of the monster, so I was really looking forward to this one. My response, though, is mixed.
What I liked - The verse novel format keeps the pacing snappy. It's not weighted down with excess description and reflection. Additionally, it's a nod back to the original Greek storytelling method with a modern, near hip-hop, feel. Each character's perspective takes a slightly different format, helping to differentiate character and reflecting some aspect of their personality.
What I didn't like - This novel presumes that the reader has more than a passing familiarity with the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, simply referencing several details and never really telling the reader how the myth ends. Even more troubling for me, it bills itself as the story from the Minotaur's perspective. But Asterion gets very few pages. As the story progresses, he gets fewer lines. Asterion remains largely unsympathetic.

More information: Bull releases March 28.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Picture books for everyone

Yeh-Shen retold by Ai-Ling Louie

Retellings of classic fairy tales are a great choice for upper elementary school kids. They are, by that point, exceedingly familiar with the original story so variations fascinate them. You can explore similarities and differences. Yeh-Shen presents an interesting point of discussion as this tale actually predates the European version. Ai-Ling Louie's version is particularly atmospheric and is well supported by Young's illustrations. It may be a bit long for very young children but for the most part will go over well with mixed groups.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Children of the Past

Children of the Past by Lois Miner Huey

Most archaeology books we read do a great job of exploring every day life in a given society. The children get a brief mention, at best. So it was very cool to read about the hard evidence we have of the roles children played in those societies - the art and tools we know for certain they produced, the jobs they did. As an adult I found all of it very exciting and fascinating. I doubt a kid will feel the same. It's heavy in text and surprisingly dense with only a few photos and side bars. A good choice for a kid with an archaeology fascination, not so much for the general youth population.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book review - Amina's Voice

Title: Amina's Voice
Author: Hena Khan
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
                      Hundred Precent by Karen Romano Young
plenty of content but  brief

Summary (provided by publisher): A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.
Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

My opinion: Amina's Voice takes on some pretty big topics in a fairly short novel. That's admirable but it tends to feel oversimplified. Nothing is explored in any real depth. Changing friendships, stage fright, increasing responsibility, culture clash, and hate crimes all just get a surface exploration. All of these topics are deftly handled with realistic, likeable characters. There was simply a lot of missed opportunity to dig deeper, to explore motivations and repercussions. A decent read to introduce topics.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, March 20, 2017

Harry Potter bracelets

I ordered a Harry Potter bracelet online. It was reasonably priced and I figured if it didn't look good when I got it, I could scavenge the pendants for another project. It arrived looking pretty much like the picture on Amazon. The problem? It didn't fit. It was too loose and too bulky for my wrists. But I liked the individual elements.

Luckily, I keep a small stash of jewelry findings. It was a quick job to cut the cords on the original and attach new clasps. So now I have 3 bracelets that fit nearly perfectly and don't overwhelm my wrist. Not bad for a $3 purchase.
The bracelet as shipped

My new bracelets