Friday, May 26, 2017

Book review - Words in Deep Blue

Title: Words in Deep Blue
Author: Cath Crowley
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett
                      We are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen

Summary (provided by publisher): A beautiful love story for fans of Jandy Nelson and Nicola Yoon: two teens find their way back to each other in a bookstore full of secrets and crushes, grief and hope—and letters hidden between the pages.
Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.
Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

My opinion: Read this one for the writing more than for the plot. It's beautifully engaging. There is grief - for people, for dreams, for the way life changes when we want nothing more than to freeze it as it is right now. There is the love of books in every form. Not just classics, but all literature that makes us feel. I defy any reader to finish this book and not want to go make notes in a novel, to spread thoughts and feelings through the universe. Read this book and enjoy each moment. Just let it be what it is without justification or explanation.

More information: Words in Deep Blue releases June 6.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pick 6: Magic

Spells, faeries, witches, giants. Magical elements seem to resonate with young readers and there are some really excellent fantasy novels being written for them. Here are six books published in the past six months that feature magic.

6 new magical novels

1. The Spell Thief by Tom Percival

2. Long Live the Queen by Gerry Swallow

3. The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell

4. Tricked by Jen Calonita

5. The Castoffs Volume 1 by MK Reed

6. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Shark Lady

Shark Lady by Jess Keating

I love that the primary message of this book seems to be "if you want something, work for it". In order to study sharks for her career, Eugenie first learns all she can about fish, works hard in school, studies in her spare time. Keating baskically tells young readers that the key to success is education. Read, learn, dedicate your time and effort. 
Apart from that, the plot is very simple, easy for even the very young to follow and well supported by truly lovely and dynamic illustrations.

More information: Shark Lady releases June 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book review - The Gravediggers Club

Title: The Gravediggers Club
Author: Robert J. Harris
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Similar books: The Magician's Fire by Simon Nicholson
                      The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg
a nice nod to a familiar story

Summary (provided by publisher): One day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all -- Sherlock Holmes. But right now Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve.
While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?
These strange clues lead them to a series of robberies carried out by the sinister Gravediggers' Club and soon they find themselves pitted against the villainous Colonel Braxton Dash.
Will Artie survive his encounters with graveyards and ghosts in the foggy streets of nineteenth century Edinburgh -- or will his first case be his last?

My opinion: We see plenty of young Sherlock Holmes or modern Sherlock Homes. I think this is the first I've seen young Arthur Conan Doyle. All references to known material aside, it's not a bad mystery. Clues aren't always the clearest but the pacing is solid. There are a number of cultural and historical references, which will be a barrier for some young readers. What I really enjoyed was the way Harris used elements from Sherlock Holmes stories in this plot, implying that events in his early life were the inspiration for Doyle's writing. Fun for a young Holmes fan.

More information: The Gravedigger's Club releases June 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 22, 2017

This sock won't be tamed

Like most people who craft with socks, I occasionally find myself with random spare bits of sock lying around. This weekend, I made up my mind to do something with a few of them.

 It was my intention to make something along the lines of this pin, but I just couldn't get the face right. Eventually, I stopped trying to force my sock bits into a traditional shape and let it lead itself. The end result is something along the lines of a cross between a chicken and a penguin. I call it Glen.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Book review - The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart

Title: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Baker's Magic by Diane Zahler
                      The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
loads of fun

Summary (provided by publisher): A chocolate-filled, girl-powered fantasy with a heroine who learns what it means to be a strong, fearsome human (and dragon).
Aventurine is a brave young dragon ready to explore the world outside of her family's mountain cave . . . if only they'd let her leave it. Her family thinks she's too young to fly on her own, but she's determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.
But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she's transformed into a puny human without any sharp teeth, fire breath, or claws. Still, she's the fiercest creature in these mountains--and now she's found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time . . . won't she?

My opinion: This book made me so hungry for chocolate. The descriptions of food had the perfect level of detail: enough to make our mouths water and create associations with our own food memories without becoming overly specific. Too specific would be distancing. Instead we can imagine our own idea of the most delicious hot chocolate. Its a very tactile novel, lots of sights, sounds, and sensations .We don't get just a red garment with a pattern like dragon scales but instead an image of shimmering red and orange scales . Characters are not deeply complex but do have several traits and experience growth, sufficient complexity for a middle grade novel. The elements of magic are present but not overwhelming. A true delight.

More information: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart releases May 30.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Programming the Raspberry Pi

Programming the Raspberry Pi by Simon Monk

Having recently purchased my first Raspberry Pi, I did what any self-respecting reader would do: I looked for a book on the subject. Programming the Raspberry Pi is a great choice if you've done absolutely no programming with Python. Probably 2/3 to 3/4 of the book is focused on the basics of Python. There isn't much in the way of projects in this book. For those, look to the internet. I would not hesitate to give this book to a middle grade reader, though. While too complex for the very young, a 5th to 8th grader could easily manage the concepts presented. Be aware though: the first section of the book walks the reader through setting up your Pi board. The model it references is the Pi 2. Both the Pi 3 and Zero differ in significant ways from the Pi 2.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book review - Finding Mighty

Title: Finding Mighty
Author: Sheela Chari
Genre: realistic fiction/mystery
Similar books: The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach
                      The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart
a unique perspective

Summary (provided by publisher): Along the train lines north of New York City, twelve-year-old neighbors Myla and Peter search for the link between Myla’s necklace and the disappearance of Peter’s brother, Randall. Thrown into a world of parkour, graffiti, and diamond-smuggling, Myla and Peter encounter a band of thugs who are after the same thing as Randall. Can Myla and Peter find Randall before it’s too late, and their shared family secrets threaten to destroy them all? Drawing on urban art forms and local history, Finding Mighty is a mystery that explores the nature of art and the unbreakable bonds of family.

My opinion: Previous books that I have read which feature graffiti have talked only about artists and activists, people using graffiti to spread a strong message. They almost entirely dismiss the typical tagger, those who look to put their names in bold places. Chari takls about moth: those trying to say something and those who are out to deface. She acknowledges that you can't have one without the other. At heart though, this isn't about tagging or even parkour. It's really about family secrets and discovering true strength. Its an interseting exploration, though not my first choice for the average reader.

More information: Finding Mighty releases May 30.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Book review - Wallace and Grace Take the Case

Title: Wallace and Grace Take the Case
Author: Heather Alexander
Genre: beginning chapter book
Similar books: Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angleberger
                      Good Crooks by Mary Amato
a great beginner mystery

Summary (provided by publisher): In this charming series, perfect for newly independent readers, kids will be treated to simple whodunit mysteries as an utterly delightful owl duo put their heads together. In their first adventure, Wallace and Grace meet a rabbit who is sure he saw a ghost! But the clues lead them in a different direction. Something is spooking the garden . . . can Wallace and Grace solve this case?

My opinion: As a beginning reader, this book is by nature pretty basic. Even so, its a pretty solid mystery. Clues are easy to follow but not completely obvious. Characters have clear personality differences and distinct voices. And the illustrations cleanly support the text. A solid choice for young readers.

More Information: Wallace and Grace Take the Case releases May 23.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reflections on Free Comic Book Day

Saturday was Free Comic Book day, an event I attended with my brother, sister, cousin, and my cousin's two small children. Its an event that we look forward to and plan for months in advance.

For those unfamiliar, the first Saturday in May the big comic book publishers provide an assortment of specially produced titles for comic book shops to give away. Our particular store allows each customer to pick 3 comics. It's a wonderful thing. Except...There were 50 titles  available this year. Of those titles, the official list counts 20 of them appropriate for all ages. Personally, I'd put that count closer to 15 and at least a half of those are based on either a television show or video game. This means that by the time we arrived at the store mid-afternoon, my cousin's boys were able to pick 1 title from the current list (both rejected DC's Superhero Girls, no matter how much I tried to convince them that it isn't a 'girl' book). They were able to find a couple of titles left over from last year but it was pretty slim pickings. Even we adults had some trouble as we don't prefer graphic violence and heavy swearing.

On the car ride home, while the boys happily ready Angry Birds and Sonic in the back of the car, we lamented the state of super hero comics. The early comics were aimed at children. While the heroes were all adults and fought villains, found themselves in peril, the content was perfectly acceptable for young readers. Now the only super hero comics that are aimed at children feature young heroes and tend to be more humorous.  As soon as the plot takes a serious tone, the content becomes more violent and psychologically dark. 

How did we get from these:

to these:

Consider this our open letter to comic book publishers: we need good superhero comics for kids. Adventure and daring-do without sex, gore, abuse, and copious cursing. 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book review - Spill Zone

Title: Spill Zone
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: dystopia/graphic novel
Similar books: The Castoffs by M.K. Reed
                      Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
an intriguing, if mysterious, beginning

Summary (provided by publisher): Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.
The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone's twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse.
When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison's name.

My opinion: It was only a matter of time before someone wrote about what amounts to technology zombies. And if someone had to do it I'm glad it was Scott Westerfeld. He stands the best chance of doing the subject justice. This is a compelling first volume, but it is little more than the barest of introductions. At the end of the book we don't really have a clearer picture of what is going on than we did at the very beginning. All this book really achieves is to introduce us to the characters. Personally, I'll need at least one more volume before I can say for certain exactly how I feel about the series.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Book review - Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Title: Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
Author: Shari Green
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
                      Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
nicely done

Summary (provided by publisher): Sixth grade is coming to an end, and so is life as Macy McMillan knows it. Already a “For Sale” sign mars the front lawn of her beloved house. Soon her mother will upend their perfect little family, adding a stepfather and six-year-old twin stepsisters. To add insult to injury, what is Macy’s final sixth grade assignment? A genealogy project. Well, she’ll put it off—just like those wedding centerpieces she’s supposed to be making. Just when Macy’s mother ought to be understanding, she sends Macy next door to help eighty-six-year-old Iris Gillan, who is also getting ready to move—in her case into an assisted living facility. Iris can’t pack a single box on her own and, worse, she doesn’t know sign language. How is Macy supposed to understand her? But Iris has stories to tell, and she isn’t going to let Macy’s deafness stop her. Soon, through notes and books and cookies, a bond grows between them. And this friendship, odd and unexpected, may be just what Macy needs to face the changes in her life. Shari Green, author of Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, writes this summer story with the lightest touch, spinning Macy out of her old life and into a new one full of warmth and promise for the future.

My opinion: Some stories are just made for the verse novel format. This is one of them. Pacing is tight and word choice is solid. Some verse novels get so caught up in artistry that the reader isn't clear on what is actually happening. That isn't the case here. I also appreciated that while Macy is deaf, its not the sum total of her character. She's your average middle grade girl who just happens to be deaf. She has social problems at school, struggles to connect with her future step family. Problems that are largely her own fault. She is not dismissed due to her handicap. Rather, she uses that as a reason to push others away. It may not be the first verse novel I'd hand to a young reader but I wouldn't hesitate to give it to a kid who's already read a couple.

More information: Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess releases May 15.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Graphic novel spotlight - Bluffton

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

If you know one of those people who dismiss graphic novels as childish or just about superheroes, this is the book to convince them otherwise. In Bluffton, Phelan captures the joys of summer in childhood, the magic and dark corners of vaudeville, and the hard life of a turn-of-the-century child actor, namely Buster Keaton. This is presented with impeccable pacing and artistry. The color palette is slightly muted, adding to the nostalgic atmosphere of the book. It's worth reading this one just for the art. More than that, though, it's an engrossing story. Perhaps not one that young readers will clamor for but a book that one will appreciate more with each read.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Non-fiction book review - Meatless?

Meatless? by Sarah Elton

Books about vegetarianism usually have an agenda. The author tries to convince you that vegetarianism is the only healthy, morally responsible choice to make. That's what I like about this book: Elton has no agenda. She only presents facts. Young readers will learn about types of vegetarianism and their roles in religion and throughout history. We learn the social and ecological impact of various diets as well as the various motivations behind making a diet switch. The goal here is merely information. The reader is encouraged to review these facts and then make his/her own decision.

More Information: Meatless? releases May 15.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review - A Face Like Glass

Title: A Face Like Glass
Author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
                      City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
pleasant if a bit long

Summary (provided by publisher): In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . .

My opinion: The world of this novel is a particularly inventive, complex one. Hardinge has done an amazing job with the world-building. We are presented with myriad cultural rules and a complex political situation. Toss in a strange girl completely unprepared to navigate any of it, a pawn in a game she can't begin to understand, and its a recipe for a fascinating read. All of this world-building, though, means that the pacing is on the slow side, a situation compounded by the complexity of the characters. It must move slowly for the reader to follow the plot, but this can feel like it is dragging. It's a book that takes a fair amount of dedication.

More Information: A Face Like Glass releases May 9.
Adanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, May 1, 2017


I don't know about you, but sometimes an idea grabs hold of me and just won't let go. Today's craft started with this doodle:

Once I drew this hippo, I couldn't drop the idea of giving an animal wings. I didn't have any plastic or plush hippos around but I did find this anteater. A scrap of cardstock and some elastic string finished it off.

Reynaldo loves his new wings.