Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book review - Doodle Adventures

Title: Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs
Author: Mike Lowery
Genre: humor
Similar books: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
                     Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Silly and fun

Summary(provided by publisher): Pick up a pencil or pen. Sharpen your imagination! Here's an adventure story where you, the reader, directly participate. DOODLE ADVENTURES: THE SEARCH FOR SLIMY SPACE SLUGS! marries the pleasures of doodling and drawing with the fun of a ripping good story. Like a visual Mad Libs chapter book, or a graphic novel where the reader gets to help with the graphics, it celebrates engaging, gamelike, fill-in fun for middle-grade readers.
Mike Lowery brings the fresh lively look of his Kid's Awesome Activity Calendar, with more than 65,000 copies in print, to the first in a series of DOODLE ADVENTURES—lighthearted fantasy stories where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. The full-color book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! Page after page mixes Lowery's hand-lettered text with illustrations and then lots of room for the reader's contributions.
Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object—a jar with an artifact that's gone missing. By the end of the adventure, you'll have cowritten a tale you can read again and again and show off to family and friends.

My opinion: This book would have been the perfect choice for my nephew about five years ago. He's a bit too old for it now but it would be a great choice for any wildly creative kid. The bigger the imagination, the better the end result will be. It has the potential to be incredibly creative, with ridiculous and mildly gross humor. It would be fun for a kid to complete alone or as an ongoing project with a parent. There's not a great deal of plot but enough of one that a kid could potentially enjoy reading it again, even after completing all of the doodles.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Book review - The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You

Title: The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You
Author: Lily Anderson
Genre: realistic fiction/retelling
Similar books: A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchinson
                     Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
all that I could have hoped

Summary(provided by publisher): Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Dr. Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing--down to number four.
Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books--well, maybe not comic books--but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.
The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on--and they might not pick the same side.

My opinion: Never have I read a Shakespeare retelling that so deftly recreates the bard's wit and word play. The back and forth between Ben and Trixie is nothing short of marvelous. Anderson had me thoroughly hooked from the very first sentence. I liked the addition of the cheating scandal as an academic situation rather than a romantic one. A) It makes the eventual romantic reunion easier to accept in modern culture (imagine the outcry if a girl in a book took her boyfriend back after he called her a cheater and publicly shamed her). B) It gives the whole story a little extra depth. Now the danger of a retelling with close adherence to the plot of the source material, is in this book, is predictability. If we know the source plot well we can predict where this book will go. And this book was pretty true to Shakespeare. So I was a little annoyed and befuddled when it became apparent that the John character was not the mastermind. The divergence made more sense in the context of these particular characters, but it was still and adjustment. The best part of the book, to my mind, is the serious level of nerd-love. The characters are dedicated nerds, celebrating all manner of comics, sci-fi, fantasy, and educational fields. Some of them care about sports, pop music, popularity, and fashion, dismissing the notion that such things are for the shallow and "normal" teens. A good choice for most teens, fans of Shakespeare or no.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Picture books for everyone

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

The plot of this book is easy enough for even very young listeners to understand. The narration is simple enough that it holds up to repeat readings. Where it really shines, though, is in the illustration. Hatke includes and impressive level of detail in every illustration. Each page is complex with the main events in the foreground and usually some minor events happening unexplained in the background. This means that there is plenty to explore on every page. Add in the subversion of the usual fairy tale/fantasy character roles and this book is likely to delight most young readers and their parents as well.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Book review - Every Exquisite Thing

Title: Every Exquisite Thing
Author: Matthew Quick
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Looking for Alaska by John Green
                     The Other Way Around by Sashi Kaufman
Not a clone - what a relief

Summary(provided by publisher): Nanette O'Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hardworking student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bugglegum Reaper--a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic--the rebel within Nanette awakens.
As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young but troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that rebellion sometimes comes at a high price.
A celebration of the self and the formidable power of story, Every Exquisite Thing is Matthew Quick at his finest.

My opinion: Initially I was somewhat annoyed with this book. It can be wearying, reading about determined outsiders all of the time. Books tend to portray teen protagonists as quirky, literature loving, popularity shunning, and perfectly happy with their somewhat-outside-the-mainstream lives. They might get some guff from their popular peers but they are singularly unbothered by that lack of understanding. I was prepared to sigh and roll my eyes throughout the bulk of this book. Then Quick threw a curve ball, taking his characters far outside the norm. They reject most societal conventions, making choices that will have significant impact on the rest of their lives. They're lonely in spite of finding kindred spirits, depressed, and constantly question the choices they are making. Fear drives Nanette back into some semblance of the norm. Her friend, steadfastly following his new path, self destructs. I loved the constant question and re-evaluating. 
It's quirky and not for fans of mainstream fiction. More subversive than John Green, this is a book for the teen who refuses to do something or like something just because "they" say you should.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Martha-style blazer

A while back I had a notion that I might take a cardigan and give it elbow patches made of t-shirt fabric. I hunted through a handful of thrift shops for the perfect cardigan with no luck. What I did find, though, was a blazer. At only a dollar I figured I could make it work for my idea. Instead of t-shirt, though, I used some Hawaiian fabric I had tucked away. The result is almost better than my original idea.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Book review - The Messengers

Title: The Messengers: Discovered
Author: Lisa M. Clark
Genre: dystopia
Similar books: The Giver by Lois Lowry
                     Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Nicely done

Summary(provided by publisher):  The Message worth dying for . . .
There’s a truth out there to be discovered, a truth the government will stop at nothing to stamp out. By day, fifteen-year-old Simon pushes against the government’s control over his curfew, his meals, his fun. And by night, secret visitors and hidden messages make him question everything his life entails.
There’s a truth out there to be discovered, a truth the government will stop at nothing to eliminate. Join Simon and the Messengers as they risk their lives to protect it.

My opinion: Of all the situations proposed by dystopian novels, this is one I can easily imagine actually occurring, where religion, art, imagination, and innovation are pushed out in favor of logic, science, and reason. With societal apathy leading the way, its easy to see how such a society could develop. This novel has a solid cast of characters and pacing. With constant exploration, learning, and revelation of a secret society, it remains pretty exciting throughout. I was less than thrilled with the final scenes, which had some logical failings. We have our main characters in this highly charged, life-threatening situation and suddenly the villain just stops and turns the people's attention to a new entertainment. We needed more explanation of why he didn't proceed with his plan, a more explicit statement. A solid read, especially for kids with a religious leaning.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Books on screen

Ella Enchanted

I actually saw the movie version of this one before I even knew the book existed. That is probably why I enjoy both of them. There are some small, though notable, differences between the two. For instance, in Levine's original novel Ella and Char are friends in their youth, before Ella is sent to charm school where she meets her soon-to-be stepsisters, Olive and Hattie. The book has far more magical entanglements, more "gifts" bestowed by the fairy Lucinda that complicate Ella's life. The resolution is simpler in the movie, a single ball with a poisoned crown plot set by Char's uncle (also his guardian), while the book has a series of matchmaking balls set by Char's parents (not dead in this version) that Ella attends in costume before a group of plotters get hold of her and force her to become a part of their plot. I'd also say that the movie is cheesier though that cheesiness actually works in it's favor, giving it a sort of eye-rolling charm While it's not the most faithful representation of a book I've ever seen, this movie is well worth watching. Just don't be afraid to give the book a read as well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book review - Time Stoppers

Title: Time Stoppers
Author: Carrie Jones
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimee Carter
                     The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Okay, not great

 Summary(provided by publisher): Annie Nobody thought she was, well, nobody, living in a nowhere town where nothing goes her way. Day 1 at her newest foster home proves to be dreadful, too . . . and things get even worse when she's chased by something big and scary that definitely wants to eat her.
Luckily for Annie, not everything is what it seems, and she gets swept up--literally--by a sassy dwarf on a hovercraft snowmobile and taken to Aurora, a hidden, magical town on the coast of Maine. There, she finds a new best friend in Jamie Hephastion Alexander--who thought he was a normal kid (but just might be a troll)--and Annie discovers that she's not exactly who she thought she was, either. She's a Time Stopper, meant to protect the enchanted.
Together, Annie and Jamie discover a whole new world of magic, power, and an incredible cast of creatures and characters. But where there's great power, there are also those who want to misuse it, and Aurora is under siege. It's up to the kids to protect their new home, even if it means diving headfirst into magical danger.

My opinion: I go back and forth with this one. The plot, while serious in nature, is more playful and almost mocking in it's tone. While the plot is entirely appropriate for it's middle grade audience, I'm not sure the tone is there yet. It tries too hard to feel like kids talking and ends up feeling out of touch and almost condescending. I'm fond of the world building and the premise but I feel like the characters are over-simplified. I think it's a series that will go over fairly well with young readers, especially fans of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, but less so with adult readers.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A most unusual rabbit

This week's craft comes from a little doodle I idly made on the edge of a paper a few weeks ago. 

This little guy really wanted to be a puppet. So, I hauled out my sock stash and this is what I came up with:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Book review - Holding Smoke

Title: Holding Smoke
Author: Elle Cosimano
Genre: mystery
Similar books: Burning by Danielle Rollins
                     The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Really hit the spot

Summary(provided by publisher): John "Smoke" Conlan is serving time for two murders-but he wasn't the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke's new home and the only one he believes he deserves.
But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they're asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn't care that the "threads" that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name.
Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink's help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he's willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

My Opinion: I liked this book far more than I expected, given that it has significant supernatural elements, not my usual favorites. In this book it really works, perhaps because those elements aren't overwhelming. John and Pink talk to ghosts, sure, and the environment reflects the standard ghost signs: cold air, objects moving and lights flickering when the spirit is angry, that kind of thing. This book is so much more than just ghosts, though. You have the mystery (the murder for which John was imprisoned), the idea of hoping for a future beyond imprisonment, learning to trust people. 
I wasn't thrilled with the resolution. I found the last few chapters kind of muddled and hurried. This is a minor but notable flaw in an otherwise excellent novel with distinct and complex characters, genuine perspectives, and a logical and compelling plot.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Happy Star Wars Day!

I wonder sometimes about Yoda. What species is he? Are there others of his kind out there? Maybe other, more hardcore, Star Wars fans know. Me, I just wonder about it. And draw my idea of what a young Yoda might look like.

And while I was at it, I drew a young wookie. Other such drawings already exist. I just really like wookies.

May the fourth be with you, my friends. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Book review - Wild Swans

Title: Wild Swans
Author: Jessica Spotswood
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The New Guy by Amy Spalding
                     Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
Not at all what I expected

Summary(provided by publisher): Will Ivy fulfill her destiny as a dazzling Milbourn woman? Or will the pressure from her family cause her to crumble?
The summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden—all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives—and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?
But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past…

My opinion: I feel misled. The title of this novel has a lot of associations if you are at all familiar with fairy tales and especially given the references in the plot summary (even on the cover) to curses. I was expecting something along the lines of Nancy Werlin's Impossible: a girl's efforts to break her family's literal curse. For the entire first half of this novel I was waiting for the magical elements to reveal themselves. I was convinced that Connor, attractive older and knowledgeable about the family, was directly involved in the family curse. I figured he was Fae. Even once I realized that this wasn't the case, that there was no magic at play, it took a while for me to reset my thinking and accept this novel for what  it is. And the reality is somewhat disappointing. Now messages of falling in love, losing your friends, and accepting your family while learning to stand up for yourself are decent, they just aren't outstanding. For me this novel settles into a sort of acceptable neutral. And this seems to be the ultimate message of the novel: there is an acceptable neutral for most things. It's not a bad novel, but with that set-up suggesting an exciting and complex world, a firm root in reality was a serious let-down.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hand-drawn cards

I have a mild problem with birthday cards. I love giving them but my frugal side struggles with the notion of paying upwards of four dollars for a folded piece of paper. My solution is to draw my own cards. It's a lot more work but sits better with me. Of course, that means I have to come up with my own jokes, most of which involve the cake, presents, and other birthday items being eaten. Here's one of my recent cards, drawn for my nephew.

The concept drawing:

The final card: