Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book review - The Mesmerist

Title: The Mesmerist
Author: Ronald L. Smith
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: The Diviners by Libba Bray
                     The Case of the Devil's Interval by Emily Butler
a solid if simple adventure

Summary (provided by publisher): Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London's supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself. 

My opinion: Think of this book as a younger, more transparent version of The Diviners. The source of these kid's abilities is known, as are the limits. Smith also incorporates more elements of magic: the fae, werewolves, seraphs, and so on. If you can put aside the obvious comparisons, we're left with a fairly strong team tale. Each character's abilities directly influence the plot, as well as their personal histories. Additionally, the setting is strong. We get a solid sense of historical London. Of course, that same setting will be a turn off for some young readers. It's a niche novel but a strong addition to that niche.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

I've been re-watching Firefly lately, which is what lead to this drawing.

 I'd intended to draw the whole dinosaur, but t-rex arms are surprisingly tricky to draw

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book review - Captain Pug

Title: Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas
Author: Laura James
Genre: early chapter books
Similar books: Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith
                     Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo
ultimately forgettable

Summary (provided by publisher): On one very ordinary day Pug's nose knows that breakfast is on its way. And with breakfast, come crumbs – but not just any old crumbs, jam tart crumbs. Jam tarts are Pug's favorite food, and he loves nothing more than to share them with his best friend, Lady Miranda. But just before Pug can finish the last jam tart, Lady Miranda picks him up and whisks him away for a sea-faring adventure. Unfortunately for Pug, it turns out that water may be his biggest fear!
To avoid the water, Pug takes a well-timed snack break. But when his brief respite takes an unexpected turn, Pug will have to find his true Captain self and steer a path back home.

My opinion: This little book provides a simple but wild plot speckled with all manner of unusual details and supported by dynamic illustrations. This can work well if the characters and plot are charming, a goal Captain Pug doesn't quite achieve. While Pug is cute, Lady Miranda's extreme privilege and selfishness are neither relatable nor endearing. Pug's naivete is paired with a sort of laziness. An entertaining enough book to occupy a young reader but perhaps not the best choice for a group reading.

More information: Captain Pug releases March 14.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Picture books for everyone

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea by Kate Hosford

This picture book is almost subversive. It's certainly sneaky, slipping messages of multiculturalism, self-sufficiency, and the value of friendship into an outwardly simple story about making tea. We see the Queen gradually learning how to make her own cup of tea and relaxing her stiff posture and formal appearance. She sacrifices strict dignity for happiness. . It's a pleasure to read. The text isn't overly complicated but flows naturally and conversationally. The detailed drawings convey their message well and do a great job of capturing facial expressions. A great book for older kids as you can build off so many topics

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Book review - Goodbye Days

Title: Goodbye Days
Author: Jeff Zentner
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: For This Life Only by Stacey Kade
                     You Were Here by Cori McCarthy
warning: likelihood of tears

Summary (provided by publisher): Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.
Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.
Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these Goodbye Days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?

My opinion: Given the concept here, I don't think anyone wold expect a joy-filled read. Indeed, the raw emotions are almost painful at moments, sitting right at the surface. Zentner doesn't shay away from harsh realities either. Carver deals with his grief in very visceral ways, at times nearly overwhelmed by guilt and blame, both internal and external. He's not only lost his friends, he is viewed by most of his town with suspicion. He's become something of a pariah. Grief on it's own is not unique. What makes this book stand out is the goodbye days, the way they illustrated the varied needs of grieving people. Each goodbye day presents the reader with a different approach to grief. Beyond simply exploring grief, Zentner explores how well we can ever truly know a person. And he does all this with prose that is beautiful in it's simplicity and artistry. Brace yourself before you start it, but do read this book.
More information: Goodbye Days releases March 7.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nana nana nana nana - Bat Pegs!

Anyone else see the Lego Batman Movie this weekend? I went yesterday with my sister, brother, cousin and his wife and kids. It was a solid laugh as well as a reasonably sensible Batman story. I'd been planning to make a Batgirl peg person so with the movie in mind, I made this trio.

I love Robin's goggles

Friday, February 10, 2017

Book review - You're Welcome Universe

Title: You're Welcome, Universe
Author: Whitney Gardner
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis
                     The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett
a decent read, if something of a mixed bag

Summary (provided by publisher): When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.
Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.
Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.
Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way.

My opinion: I have a lot of respect for the portrayal of Deaf culture in this book. Julia is raised in a Deaf family. She reads lips and signs. Her friend has a cochlear implant. Julia neither derides the use of a CI nor wishes for one. Her choice not to have an implant or wear hearing aids is less about not needing to adapt to the hearing world (as is sometimes the case) than about laziness. Using these devices would require more work than she is willing to put in. Julia is comfortable with her identity as a Deaf person and is initially dismissive of "hearies". Both Julia and her new classmates are forced to confront assumptions and prejudices, to see beyond a person's surface. This confrontation of cultures is certainly the strongest part of the novel. The elements of street art are a little weaker. While I love the visuals included in the book, the use of jargon felt unnatural and many elements of the plot relied too heavily on coincidence.

More Information: You're Welcome Universe releases March 7.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Graphic Novel Spotlight - Decelerate Blue

Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro

Think of this books as Feed meets V for Vendetta. Dystopias are a great subject for graphic novels since the author doesn't need to spend pages explaining speculative technologies, he can simply show them in use. We gather their details from context. While the inner workings of government and society can be harder to convey, Rapp and Cavallaro handle it fairly well, starting us out with a simple family conversation that, in it's very structure, reveals a lot about society. Some parts of the plot are difficult to follow but a little persistence pays off in a big way, especially since the ending defies expectations.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio

This song is an interesting choice for a picture book subject. While it is Billie Holiday's most well known song, a definite part of her discography, it is very dark. And while the lyrics are not the sole focus, they are an undeniable element. So, not one to pick for the very young. I could see using it in an upper elementary classroom, the age where the right picture book is still an appropriate way to introduce a complex topic. one could use this book as a starting point for a number of issues, even a discussion of racism in mdern society.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cork board objects

I'm working on a large craft project which is still in progress. With nothing new to post, I went looking around my house for something I'd made before but hadn't posted about yet and caught site of my bulletin board. There are a few items on the board that I'm particularly fond of. At one point I was working on a plan for a felt board of the story Officer Buckle and Gloria. That plan never came to fruition but I did get a little felt Gloria made and was so fond of it that I couldn't bear to just throw it away so it is pinned to my board.
I love her sweet little face
 Also on my board are two customized thumb tacks. Glitter coated horse and unicorn heads are perhaps a bit more girly than my usual fare, but I tend to think of them like taxidermied mounts. They're weird enough to keep. Plus, hacking the heads off of little plastic animals and gluing them to tacks is harder than you might think.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book review - Optimists Die First

Title: Optimists Die First
Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
                     When We Collided by Emery Lord
A pleasant, though predictable, read

Summary (provided by publisher): Beware: Life ahead.
Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.
The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears. But as the two grow closer, a hidden truth behind why he’s in the group could derail them, unless Petula takes a huge risk. . .

My opinion: We count on Nielsen to take a close look at grief and mental illness with heart and a surprising level of humor. Blame, especially self-blame, is a fairly standard element of grief, as is the collapse of the family unit. Add in the love interest and the obvious secrets between them and this could easily have become a predictable, cliched mess. What saves it is the charm of the characters. We have a delightful cast of damaged teens doing  their best to survive high school. While they, too, tend towards tropes, they have just enough individualism to make them compelling. It's eminently readable if not particularly unique.

More Information: Optimists Die First releases February 21.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Pick 6: classics

Retellings seem to be a perennial feature in youth lit. It's a trend that I wholeheartedly support. I read every one I can get my hands on. Here are six books published in the last six months that are either direct retellings or in some way directly influenced by classical literature.

6 new classically influenced novels

1. Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

2. The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

3. Snow White by Matt Phelan

4. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb

5. Manga Classics: Jane Eyre by Stacy King

6. The Spell Thief by Tom Percival