Monday, June 26, 2017

The Great Owl Repaint Project part 5

This is another owl that wasnt' particularly bad in it's original form. Since I decided to repaint owls, though, I thought I'd give this one a shot as well. Especially since that one eye is a little wonky.
It's new look is inspired by the Eastern Screech Owl.
I call this one Rowan. Meet the rest of the family: Evangeline, Leif, Clara, and Beatrice.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Book review - Finding Fortune

Title: Finding Fortune
Author: Delia Ray
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question by Martha Freeman
                      Jelly Bean Summer by Joyce Magnin
It will grow on you

Summary (provided by publisher): When Ren sees her mom heading out to dinner with that creep Rick Littleton, she's furious. How could her mom do that to her dad, a soldier stuck over in Afghanistan? Ren decides to run away to the school-turned-boardinghouse in the next town over. Once there, she makes friends with a boy named Hugh, who tells her that the boardinghouse is the site of a mystery. Every night, the owner, Ms. Baxter, searches for a treasure left in the building years ago. If Ms. Baxter can't find it, then the boarding house might shut down for good, and her dream of preserving the town's history by opening a pearl button museum will never come true. By the time Ren, Hugh, and other visitors help find the treasure-a bag of pearls-Ren and her mom also have found a way to forgive each other.

My opinion: At face value, this is a pretty strange concept. It shouldn't work, and at first it didn't. I found the characters initially hard to believe. They grew on me, though. As Ren learned more about the inhabitants of the boardinghouse they, and she, became more believable to me. And along with them so did the hunt for a treasure. We begin to see why opening a button museum might matter to these characters. The conclusion is emotionally and entertainingly satisfying. I wouldn't recommend it to just any kid but might be a good choice for a thinker, an observer.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pick 6: superheroes

Most kids have a fascination with superheroes. The promise of powers beyond our peers, unsurprisingly, captures the imagination. Here are six books published in the last six months that explore what it means to have super powers.

6 new superhero novels

1. Dreadnought by April Daniels

2. The Flash: Lightning Strikes Twice by Joshua Williamson

3. Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

4. Bug Girl by Ben Harper

5. Miraculous: Tales of Lady Bug and Cat Noir by ZAG Entertainment

6. DC Superhero Girls: Summer Olympus by Shea Fontana

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book review - What Goes Up

Title: What Goes Up
Author: Katie Kennedy
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
                      No True Echo by Gareth P. Jones
It just begs to be shared

Summary (provided by publisher): Rosa and Eddie are among hundreds of teens applying to NASA's mysterious Interworlds Agency. They're not exactly sure what the top-secret program entails, but they know they want in. Rosa has her brilliant parents' legacies to live up to, and Eddie has nowhere else to go--he's certainly not going to stick around and wait for his violent father to get out of jail. Even if they are selected, they have no idea what lies in store. But first they have to make it through round after round of crazy-competitive testing.
And then something happens that even NASA's scientists couldn't predict . . .
From the author of the acclaimed Learning to Swear in America comes another high-stakes adventure that's absolutely out of this world.

My opinion: I both loved and was disappointed by this book (though the love far outweighs the disappointment). The alternating point of view is strong. While the individual characters fall a little bit into cliche that familiarity of type works in the novel's favor. It helps that the ultimate aim of the novel is to explore identity and fate. Its really smart to have cliched characters questioning their roles, pushing the boundaries of what is expected of their personality types. And the actual line to line writing was tight and nearly blew me away. Some of those passages just begged to be shared, highlighted, contemplated. My disappointment was with some plot elements and a few of the characters. Those disappointments are easily overcome. A great book to read, reread, and share.

More information: What Goes Up releases July 18.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 19, 2017

King of the t-shirt jungle

When I wasn't able to find a gift I liked for my cousin's son, I figured it was just as easy to make something for him. He's a fan of lions, so I drew this t-shirt for him.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Book review - The Dissappearances

Title: The Disappearances
Author: Emily Bain Murphy
Genre: historical fiction/magical realism
Similar books: The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
                      These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Rating:
slow to start
Summary (provided by publisher):  What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?
Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home--and the place where Juliet grew up.
Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together--scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream--vanish every seven years.
No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible--and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind. As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone's secrets for long before it starts giving them up.

My opinion: I wasn't particularly into this book at first. My attention wasn't really captured until nearly halfway through. I got rather caught up in theories and secrets. I really wanted to know what was causing the sensory losses. While the characters were a little light, the plot kept me going. I was a little disappointed by the final reveals. I don't know that we got enough explanation about the stone and the curse. Between that failing at the end and the slow start, it could be a hard sell for young readers.

More information: The Disappearances releases July 4.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Picture books for everyone

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka

This book may be a bit of a stretch for some young people. There is no real story. It is, as the title suggests, based on be bop in its very format with lines like "overshoes overshoes overshoes o" and my favorite "never leave your cat alone". It's all about exploring rhythm and taking artistic risks. The illustrations are highly stylized, which works well with jazz text. I highly recommend reading this book with children of all ages, though I do recommend reading through it several times yourself, practicing your delivery. 

As a side note, the PBS program Between the Lions devoted a rather excellent episode to Charlie Parker Played Be Bop if you're looking for some inspiration.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book review - What to Say Next

Title: What to Say Next
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Don't Tell, Don't Tell, Don't Tell by Liane Shaw
                      Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer Smith
mostly delightful with a few disappointments

Summary (provided by publisher): Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.
KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they?  I don’t even understand.
DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.
When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David.  Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

My opinion: I liked the characters in this novel better than the plot. I loved the interplay between Kit and David. They both reject the label "normal", largely by necessity. David is aware that his personality quirks will forever separate him from his peers. Kit's grief is a tangible barrier from her old life. These characters have glimpsed beyond the societal facade. That part I loved. I even loved their doomed infatuation, even with it's obvious conclusion.
What I didn't love was the mystery. For the first two thirds of the book, the mystery of the car accident is seldom addressed, merely mentioned. For it to become the major plot catalyst felt a little clumsy. The revelations about the accident didn't have enough evidence supporting them.
It was still an engaging and emotionally complex novel. It just could have been much stronger.

More information: What to Say Next releases July 11.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A wild purse

I have this thing about sloths. They're kind of ugly/creepy but also completely adorable. When I spotted this bag on Amazon, I loved it. But I didn't love the price tag, especially since I knew it wouldn't be hard to replicate it. I bought a plain brown hobo bag instead.

A few customized felt appliques made it a close enough approximation of the original. It's loads of fun to carry.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book review - The Song From Somewhere Else

Title: The Song from Somewhere Else
Author: A. F. Harrold
Genre: magical realism
Similar books: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
                      Skellig by David Almond
intriguing, though not really my thing

Summary (provided by publisher): Frank thought her summer couldn't get any worse--until big, weird, smelly Nick Underbridge rescues her from a bully, and she winds up at his house.
Frank quickly realizes there's more to Nick than meets the eye. When she's at his house, she hears the strangest, most beautiful music, music which leads her to a mysterious, hidden door. Beyond the door are amazing creatures that she never even dreamed could be real. For the first time in forever, Frank feels happy . . . and she and Nick start to become friends.
But Nick's incredible secrets are also accompanied by great danger. Frank must figure out how to help her new friend, the same way that he has helped her.
Paired with gorgeous black-and-white illustrations from Levi Pinfold, acclaimed author A. F. Harrold weaves a powerful story about unlikely friendship, strange magic, and keeping the shadows at bay.

My Opinion: An interesting blend of multiple dimensions, magical realism, and mild horror. The first word I would use to describe it is, honestly, weird. The whole atmosphere is a half step away from normal, like a David Almond novel. Harrold takes a number of normal kid experiences (bullying, the missing cat, the weird kid at school) and makes them very "other", vaguely menacing. Shadows, mystery music, government, random ladies with carriages. All of these things are given mild menace. This would be a decent choice for a kid who enjoys reading outside of the mainstream.

More information: The Song From Somewhere Else releases July 4.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Books on screen

Maximum Ride

I was not surprised that the movie version of this story deviates from the plot of the novel. Firstly, the movie takes it's plot from only the first half of the novel, the part I would argue is less interesting. And it is a significant deviation. More concerning to me is the change in the characters. Their basic personalities and the way they interact with one another in the movie are a far cry from the book. Patterson presents us with this group: Max, the strong but loving leader; Fang, the dark and brooding, secretive protector; Iggy, the playful boy with hidden depths; Nudge, the excitable talkative girl; and Gazzy and Angel, siblings who are the most child-like, the most "normal" in spite of their enhancements. We see their special abilities, but also the bond between them. They are a family, a flock. Closely connected. None of that is present in the movie. The characters are indistinct and do not form a particularly tight knit group. In fact, they fight more than anything. Even their relationship with the School, Jeb, and Ari is altered, and not in a way that strengthens the story. It's not a particularly good representation of a complex series.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Non-fiction book review: Coding Projects in Python

Coding Projects in Python

I've read a variety of coding books and websites of varying quality. This is a particularly good one. Coding books for children have a tendency to be simplified, often to the point that they are hardly useful. DK, though, has provided young readers with an in depth introduction. Explanations are clear. Loads of examples of the various coding principles. Even more importantly, the examples are more than just code. We're given concrete, applicable uses for these principles, how to use them for creating, say, a game. It's this direct application, not for a particular project (as web guides tend to have) but for a type of project. This is an excellent choice for any kid or adult looking to get started in Python.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Book review - The Road to Winter

Title: The Road to Winter
Author: Mark Smith
Genre: post-apocalypse
Similar books: Parched by Melanie Crowder
                      The Road by Cormac McCarthy
a good level of tension

Summary (provided by publisher): Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his dog Rowdy for company.
He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.
But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.
And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.
Finn, Rose and Kas try their hardest to look after each other in the harsh post-apocalyptic world. They suffer setbacks, difficulties brought on by adults but also sometimes as a consequence of their own poor decisions. They’re kids—they make mistakes. They stuff up but they find a way through. There are no superheroes, no magical powers to help them out of life-threatening situations.
A novel about honor, friendship and love, and a gripping realist teen survival narrative.

My opinion: Think of this book as The Road meets The Children of Men, though appropriate for teens. The interesting thing to me is that this post-apocalyptic novel doesn't show society devolving. It has devolved. We get, instead, the attempt of the remnant to live in the aftermath. Teen fiction tends to show the down fall. This is a more adult approach. It works surprisingly well. While listings for this book make it clear that this is the first in a series, it stands fairly well. Additionally, the writing has a distinctly foreign feel but is not so foreign as to be distancing. A solid choice for teens interested in survival.

More information: The Road to Winter releases June 13.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, June 5, 2017

We're too cool for regular business card holders

My sister recently received business cards at work and was looking for something to hold them on her desk. Sure, we could have rigged up some kind of little box, but when I spied this recipe card holder it seemed like the perfect solution.
Plain white is a little boring, so this cow needed some paint. Personally, I'd have decorated the cow to look like Harry Potter, but my sister is a little more conservative. We went with a more subtle patterning.

It won't hold very many cards, but it certainly has more personality than a box.