Friday, April 28, 2017

Book review - Lemons

Title: Lemons
Author: Melissa Savage
Genre: historical/realistic fiction
Similar books: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
                      Soar by Tracy Edward Wymer
a solid read

Summary (provided by publisher): Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw will fall in love with this charming adventure story about a girl learning to accept her new life, her quirky detective neighbor, and their epic search for Bigfoot.
Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can’t possibly make lemonade out of her new life in Willow Creek, California—the Bigfoot Capital of the World—where she’s forced to live with a grandfather she’s never met after her mother passes away.
Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film. But along the way, Lem and Tobin end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined. And Lem realizes that maybe she can make lemonade out of her new life after all.

My opinion: In some ways, this is a standard fish out of water story. Lem wishes for her old life back even as she begins to adjust to the new. The cryptid aspect gives it some freshness. It's historical in setting, and needs to be for the sake of certain plot elements, but doesn't feel particularly historical. This has two very different effects on the book. on the one hand, it gives it an air of universality. We don't get stock on the history elements so it's easier for modern readers to relate. On the other hand, because we sometimes forget that this is set in the late 60s, those historical elements that do come through can be a bit jarring. Or we find ourselves wondering why the characters don't, say, Google a subject. This can leave the reader feeling slightly off kilter. Still, it takes itself seriously and thus doesn't belittle the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the reader.

More information: Lemons releases May 2.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pick 6: sci-fi

There are many levels of science fiction, from mostly realistic with some mild sci-fi elements to tales entirely set in a fictional world. While my personal tastes lean more towards the former, I try to read novels that fit all over the spectrum. Luckily, there are some really good sci-fi novels being written for young people these days. Here are six sci-fi novels, from beginning readers to teen novels, written in the last six months.

6 new sci-fi novels:

1. Nowhere Near You by Leah Thomas

2. The Time Museum by Matthew Loux

3. Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

4. The Castoffs by M.K. Reed

5. How to Tame a Triceratops by Will Dare

6. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Monday, April 24, 2017


If there's one craft material most of us have in abundance, it's cardboard. I've got two quick(ish) projects here I threw together out of corrugated cardboard.

Desk organizer
This project came out of necessity. I have a mug on my desk at work that holds pencils, pens, scissors, etc. Then I started keeping some sugar packets and condiments in there as well, and it struck me as a potential problem. A pen dropped a little too hard on a packet of hot sauce could spell disaster. Not to mention contamination. A little bit of hot glue and duct tape turned this box into a handy second organizer for my desk.

I wanted to keep random action figures and figurines in a birdcage. But birdcages are surprisingly hard to come by. So I made my own.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Books on Screen

A Series of Unfortunate Events

When The Bad Beginning first came out I was enamored. It wasn't the adventure or the mystery. It was the tone. A Series of Unfortunate events relied on a tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking, intentionally over-wrought tone. My brother and I devoured each volume. When the first movie was announced, I was thrilled. The dramatic, action oriented nature of the plot was well suited to film and the right cast could do justice to it's pseudo-serious nature. When they cast Jim Carrey in the role of Count Olaf, I figured it would perfection. The reality was ... less than perfect. In this case, I think it's a failure of the script, which combined several books and eliminated many of the best elements. It takes itself  too seriously and cuts out most of the quirky narration. The cast does it's very best, of course, but there is little you can do to fix a poor script.
Fast forward a decade to the Netflix miniseries. After the disappointment of the film I wasn't thrilled by the announcement. Even when I found out Neal Patrick Harris was slated to play Count Olaf. This new effort is stronger. While the cast is a bit lackluster at times (particularly the children) it has the same charm of the original novels. Lemony Snicket himself is a more present character. There are new jokes that keep true to the sense of the source material. I don't know that it is as engaging as the book but is worth watching. I've only seen the first two episodes, those based on the first novel, so I can't speak  to the series on the whole but it's a promising beginning.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Strange Medicine

Strange Medicine by Jon Farndon

Like many non-fiction books aimed at young readers, this is more a collection of trivia than any real informative text. It relies somewhat on the gross-out factor of folk remedies but Farndon takes pains not to be overly graphic. The text is gentle enough for an upper elementary reader. Use this one to what a child's scientific appetite.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book review - The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

Title: The Door in the Alley
Author: Adrienne Kress
Genre: adventure
Similar books: The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers
                      A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
delightfully silly

Summary (provided by publisher): Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.
   This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)
   This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.
   The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

My opinion: A nice introductory novel. The scenario is easy enough to understand right from the start but clearly has complexity on the way. These complications are added organically. Characters are unique and imperfect. So while they may not be 100% relatable they are very likeable. The humor tends to be of the absurd variety, which won't work for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact I'd say that those absurd moments were my favorite. It's not a must read, nail-biting adventure but is thoroughly enjoyable book with the potential to become even better with future volumes.

More information: The Door in the Alley releases April 25.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A quick skirt

It has become my habit every year to make a new skirt for Easter every year. Recently, I've taken to buying used skirts and modifying to better suit my style. This year I found a bright orange linen skirt at a thrift store. I liked the color but it was far too long to really suit my shape.

Once I cut several inches from the top, added an elastic waistband, and a ribbon embellishment I was all set for Easter Sunday.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Book review - Rooting for Rafael Rosales

Title: Rooting for Rafael Rosales
Author: Kurtis Scaletta
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
                      The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop
So much to love

Summary (provided by publisher): Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and—someday—play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret—the same secret—that forever changes how they see the world.

My opinion: If you had told me that one book could make me care about bees, business ethics, the Dominican Republic, and the politics of baseball I'd have laughed. But Scaletta has put together a pretty remarkable story here. What strikes me most is that it's about caring - caring about people, the environment, and that hard to define "right thing". It draws a line between legal and right and asks the reader to consider complicated moral issues. These are big questions for a middle grade novel and Scaletta doesn't really try to answer them, only to get kids thinking about them, which is far more important to my mind. This a great book to discuss with a group.

More information: Rooting for Rafael Rosales releases April 25.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Graphic Novel Spotlight - The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing

Graphic novels about magic, monsters, and hidden realms are certainly nothing new. I like the approach in this one, the notion that monsters are, in fact, all around but seldom have dealings with people. Given the tile, I expected this book to be more horror based. Instead it is rather light-hearted, almost humorous. This is reflected in the art style, which is loose, almost sketchy. Weing does some interesting things with design, building Margo with lines and points, the boy with soft lines and curves. The muted color palette prevents it from becoming overly cartoony.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Racial Profiling

Racial Profiling by Alison Marie Behnke

There are a number of different approaches that authors take to writing nonfiction. Behnke's tends toward the intellectual rather than the emotional, which is particularly noteworthy given the emotionally charged topic. The book is divided neatly into topics and well supported by statistics and individual stories. This isn't a book one would choose for pleasure reading or to inspire action, given the more dry approach and general lack of images. It would be an excellent choice for use in a research project.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book review - Grendel's Guide to Love and War

Title: Grendel's Guide to Love and War
Author: A. E. Kaplan
Genre: realistic fiction/retelling
Similar books: Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
                      Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes

Summary (provided by publisher): The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Revenge of the Nerds in this tale of a teen misfit who seeks to take down the bro next door, but ends up falling for his enemy’s sister and uncovering difficult truths about his family in the process.
Tom Grendel lives a quiet life—writing in his notebooks, mowing lawns for his elderly neighbors, and pining for Willow, a girl next door who rejects the “manic-pixie-dream” label. But when Willow’s brother, Rex (the bro-iest bro ever to don a jockstrap), starts throwing wild parties, the idyllic senior citizens’ community where they live is transformed into a war zone. Tom is rightfully pissed—his dad is an Iraq vet, and the noise from the parties triggers his PTSD—so he comes up with a plan to end the parties for good. But of course, it’s not that simple.
One retaliation leads to another, and things quickly escalate out of control, driving Tom and Willow apart, even as the parties continue unabated. Add to that an angsty existential crisis born of selectively reading his sister’s Philosophy 101 coursework, a botched break-in at an artisanal pig farm, and ten years of unresolved baggage stemming from his mother’s death . . . and the question isn’t so much whether Tom Grendel will win the day and get the girl, but whether he’ll survive intact.

My opinion: This book is exactly what I wanted to see from a retelling: so masterful and creative that the reader does not immediately realize that the story is, in fact, a retelling. Grendel is a truly sympathetic character, not entirely without blame for the situation but largely likeable and believable. He's a little hapless. Kaplan has built this book more off of the broad concepts of the original rather than the literal details (it would be far bloodier otherwise), which means that even a reader who doesn't know the original can enjoy this novel and allows for some original plot twists. While it's not particularly deep, it is a solidly entertaining read.

More information: Grendel's Guide to Love and War release April 18.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A stranger peg

I've been on this kick of making superhero peg dolls lately. I had no intention of making any other pegs. 

And then I watched Stranger Things.

Even before I finished the season I knew I needed to make a peg of Eleven. I originally intended to depict her in her hospital gown with the leads on her head. In the end, though, I knew she needed to be in the pink dress and jacket. The look is too iconic.