Monday, February 8, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (26): Valentine's Day Part 2

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

There will be two of these posts, and you will not see the next one until 2017 because I am going to hoard it since this will be my last year getting these books for my graduated Storytime kid, since her little sister will graduate herself this year. I am sad, and I am in denial. If you want to read last year's post, check it out here!

Oh, Valentine, We've Lost Our Minds! by Dan Gutman

Published: December 23rd, 2014 by HarperCollins
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 104 pages of story, and like 30 pages of bonus puzzles and fun facts.
Part of a series? There are buttloads of the "My Weird School" series which has these characters in second grade, the "My Weird School Daze" series which has them in third grade, the "My Weirder School" which has them in fourth grade, and the on-going "My Weirdest School" series which I think is like a spin-off that's fantasy based. There is also a Specials series that are holiday based.
Got via: The library, what else is new?
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): A.J. and the gang from My Weird School star in this series of after-school, holiday-themed chapter books featuring all-new hilarious stories and thirty-two pages of games, puzzles, and more.

It's the week of Valentine's Day, and A.J.'s class is getting a foreign exchange student! His name is Pierre, and he's from France. But what happens when Pierre challenges A.J. to a duel (or at least a thumb war) over Andrea? One thing's for sure: when L-O-V-E comes to Ella Mentry, it spells the weirdest Valentine's Day story in the history of the world!

Thoughts: I gotta be honest, I don't understand why these are so popular. With kids, sure, but adults? I don't see the appeal of wanting kids to read these. The voice is very funny and engaging, but the whole book is kind of... meh. Everything is very cartoony. The illustrations literally look like a cartoon put in a book, and the story is a lot like that. Everything is extremely stereotyped and unrealistic. Kids do not act like this.

It's very heavy on the gender stereotypes, and basically everything you'd see in a not-amazing cartoon. Toilet humour, stereotypical French kid, casual xenophobia. It's also kind of gimmicky at times - there are two youtube links in the book. One of them has been taken down or deleted, and the other has open comments that could include innappropriate for kids comments.

The bonus features are my favourite part. I love the trivia and games. But that doesn't save it for me, honestly. There's nothing special here, and the stereotypes about girls are annoying and I don't think I actually want to give this to a girl. I may just return this one and give the girls the other books I have. Girls get enough stereotypes and bad messages and hate, and I don't want to be the one who gives that to them, you know? And maybe other books in the various series are better, but this one doesn't exactly inspire me to search out more.

I'd say go for Cupid Doesn't Flip Hamburgers (and why didn't I get that??? look at that beautiful fat cupid!), or Cupid Does Eat Chocolate Colored Snails maybe for the younger crowd if you want something that would likely appeal to a similar audience.

Valentine Frankenstein by Maggie Twohill

Published: January 1991 by Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 135 plus an about the author
Part of a series? I don't think so. This book has a character named Melissa and so does another book by the author, but they don't seem to be related.
Got via: I honestly have no idea. Maybe a yard sale?
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Valentine's Day is coming, and Amanda's class has decided to have a party - complete with valentine's boxes. Amanda knows her best friend Walter is very shy and not very popular with other students. So she devises a plan to make sure Walter gets more than his share of valentines. But her plan backfires because shy, quiet Walter has been suddenly transformed into VALENTINE FRANKENSTEIN!

Thoughts: This is cute and ultimately harmless. It's a little dated, mostly in the language - "slacks" for pants being a prime example of things I have not heard fifth graders say basically every - but there aren't really weird stereotypes or anything. It's mostly just kind of bland. None of the characters are that exciting, and the whole thing of Walter getting really arrogant is never really resolved. It's not amazing, it's not terrible. It's pretty run of the mill, middle of the line, for the time period it was published.

I probably would have liked this as a kid because of one of the things I find unrealistic - these fifth graders act like they're like fourteen. And that's okay, I think. Unrealistic, yes, but also okay. This has a RL3 on the back, and I think when you're a kid, you always think older kids are going to be infinitely more glamorous and awesome than it actually is. I find it amusing, and again, harmless. I also did like the message that Valentine's Day can become a popularity contest, and I am totally for schools having policies about giving everyone in their class valentines. Kids seriously don't need more reasons to get picked on.

Mostly I read this because I own it and I needed an extra book for my posts, and this is the only Valentine's themed book I owned. My copy has water stains on it... possibly my fault, I can't remember that either. I may have dropped it in the bathtub at some point. The cover is kind of faded and scratched up, and I just don't think there's anything here that kids would be irresistably drawn to. I also don't think I'll read this one again, so I will probably be passing this one along to free up the shelf space. If I don't want to read it again, and I don't think the kids I care for would want to read it, there isn't much point in holding onto it. There's nothing to worry about if kids do read this that they'll absorb anything harmful from it, but it's just kind of... cute and harmless and kind of bland.

Although I will say this cover is hilarious to me. Look at that kid's face! He's just like "YES!!!!!!" Cracks me up.

Ellie's Lovely Idea by Callie Berkley

Published: December 1st, 2013 by Little Simon
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 114 plus an excerpt of the next book
Part of a series? Yes, there's a fair few of these.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Valentine’s Day is coming up, and to raise money for a charity called Puppy Love, Ellie suggests that she and The Critter Club girls sell singing telegrams. The girls have a lot of fun writing and performing the songs, but all the holiday spirit makes Ellie wish someone would send her a singing telegram! Will Ellie get her wish?

Thoughts: Guys, this is so stinking cute. The cover has tiny sparkly accents. It is a perfect Valentine's Day book. These books are aimed at ages 5-7 according to the back, and if you prefer to talk about non-romantic forms of love for that age, this is perfect. The telegrams in the book are give to friends, teachers, and grandparents, and there's no mention of romance at all.

This book is a really great one for that just starting chapter books age. The language is simple but incredibly engaging and lively and never dull. Almost all of the pages have pictures, and that does really appeal to many in that audience. The animal angle, of course, is often very popular with young audiences, and I think this series will definitely appeal to the girls I'll be giving it to.

Speaking of girls, I absolutely adore the ones in this book. They started an animal shelter, man.You guys know how I am about girl gangs doing things books, and these girls do things. But at the same time, the things they do are very realistic. They never go anywhere alone, they raise around 100 dollars for the animal shelter, and they talk about how the telegramming and all the planning they have to do wears them out, and they get tired from all the work.

You don't get as much personality from each girl since they are pretty short, but I'm okay with just focusing on one at a time and letting the friendship shine. There's no real big conflict in this book, which I kind of love. The only thing I would have liked would be for out of the four girls, there be more than one girl who wasn't white. That said, Ellie is pretty awesome. I think it's wonderful that the illustrations show Ellie's beautiful dark brown skin and natural hair. That's so important for little girls to see. She's confident, she's talented, she's a leader, and she's wonderful.

This only took me about fifteen minutes to read, but I really enjoyed it. And I didn't just enjoy this in a "kids will like this" way, but in a "this is so sweet and wonderful" way. It's fun to read something that is so good-natured. There's no toilet humour, there's nothing I worry about giving to kids, but the story is still really, really fun, and I would totally read more of them.

Love Stinks! by Nancy Krulik

Published: December 29th, 2004 by Grosset and Dunlap, but I think my version might be a later edition since the cover is actually not on Goodreads at all, and it looks basically new.
Genre: Somewhere between MG Fantasy and MG Magical Realism, I think.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 76 plus a cute little craft idea.
Part of a series? There are thirty-five of these books, so yes.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It’s February and love is in the air! Everyone in the fourth grade is getting into the Valentine spirit. The kids are making cards, and are ordering personalized candy hearts from Cinnamon’s Candy Shop, the new candy store in the mall. But Katie has had enough—she is definitely not into all this mushy gushy stuff! So Katie makes a decision: there’ll be no Valentine’s Day for her this year.

But then Katie turns into Cinnamon, the candy store owner. And the personalized hearts she makes up are...well...not exactly to order! By doing this, she practically ruins Valentine’s Day for everyone. Will Katie have a change of heart and save the day?

Thoughts: This is another one with glitter on the cover! On this one, it's just a slight glitter on that slightly darker purple part of the bottom half of the cover. It's not nearly as bright as the Critter Club book, and I think that reflects that this is for a slightly older audience. In this one, they do talk a lot about crushes and it's an RL 3.4.

I think this one is a little predictable, a little stereotypical, and while I have only read this one, I feel like it's probably pretty formulatic. I think formulatic isn't necessarily a bad things for this age range, since it can make readers very comfortable in what they're reading. They know what to expect with each book. And there is a pretty good message in there about empathy and understanding what others are dealing with.

The illustrations are cute, although I do question that out of like a dozen people we see, none of them are fat? Or disabled? And there's like two black kids out of their whole class we see and like everyone else is white? But maybe that's explored better in other books in the series. All in all, this is a cute book. It's not amazing, it's not terrible. I can see why they're popular for sure, and I see nothing really wrong about this, just some underwhelming elements.

So what are you guys reading this Valentine's Day? I may actually have another post about that depending on how much I get done today, so keep an eye out!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, February 1, 2016

MG Review: Hangnail Castle by Ursula Vernon

I debated between doing a "Things" entry about this or a full-on review, and figured I might as well do a review. So, here we are!

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Published: January 1st, 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 372 plus an about the author and acknowledgements
Part of a series? Sadly, it doesn't seem to be, although I would absolutely love sequels.
Got via: La bibliothèque. (Just saying the library over and over is getting boring, but hey, I love the library.)
Amazon / Book Depository (hardcover, but the paperback to be released in March is like 10 dollars cheaper) / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

Review: So here's a fun story. I got it into my head that Ursula Vernon and Ursula Le Guin were the same person. Apparently I just thought they were one incredibly talented person who could draw and write in a ton of genres and was incredibly successful. It was literally not until I was looking stuff up for this post that I went "OH". Let's just, um, ignore that one, okay?

Anyways, I saw this on tumblr first, actually, and thought it looked absolutely adorable, and thought that I would love to read it, first of all, but also that my graduated reader might like this. I think this might be a little too advanced for her, but I'm going to give it to her mom and see what they think. Maybe they can read it as a family, or take turns. I do think, though, that this one could be really good for readers who are looking for just a little bit more of a challenge than they're used to. The illustrations are really engaging and adorable, and the chapters are pretty short, so they don't seem impossible to get through.

As I was writing the notes for this, I got 3 pages in and my third note was "very Eva Ibbotson". Imagine my surprise when I got to the end and one of the acknowledgments is Eva Ibbotson, a very sweet note about how Vernon found her inspiring. Well, Ms. Vernon, I would say you definitely accomplished a book that any Eva Ibbotson fan would love. Which, dear readers, don't get me wrong, that is not in any way saying that Castle Hangnail tries to be an Eva Ibbotson book, but that it is lovely and fantastical in the same way, while also being very unique.

Plot Talk: The summary's pretty accurate. Molly, a very Wicked Witch, moves into Castle Hangnail, and she has to prove herself to the Board of Magic and the castle's minions, and hijinks and magic happen. The bok has a blend of very classical elements like the castle, and magic and witches and ghosts, but also modern things like computers and telephones and plumbing. It's modern-day magic, with the same charm as those older magical books we love, with a perfect blend of both elements.

Characters: Can I just declare my love for Molly? She is a wonderful 12 year old girl, and I would basically have been like "I want to be her" when I was 9 or 10 or 11 or... 23. She's polite and quite cheerful most of the time, but also Wicked (as in, Wicked Witch), and loves dark and creepy things without being mean, or unrealistic. She also never becomes overwhelmed by the other fantastic characters in the book, which is something that can happen when you have really great monster/ghost/etc characters with huge personalities. She's brave, and stubborn, and stands up for people and creatures who need defending, and scared, and lies a little, and I think she is a wonderful character, especially for young girls.

The minions, as they called the monsters that helped run the castle, were really awesome, too. They were all really interesting, and they came from all kinds of mythologies. Their personalities shone without anyone overwhelming anyone else, and they were all so important to the story.

I also thought it was nice to see a couple of the minions be female, and that there were a good amount of female characters. There's a lack of humans that Molly interacts with in the book in general, since most of the book is about the castle, but two of the most important human characters are women. While the minions aren't human, I would rather have female important non-human female characters like this, and if there are male non-human charactes, there should be female ones, too, and if those characters are super important to saving the day? Heck yeah, let some of them be girls!

PG-13 stuff: There's a some very light violence that could be scary to some younger or more sensitive readers, mostly magical, but I don't think it's really bad, and none of the pictures are scary or anything. I think most readers would be good with this, especially ones in the 8-12 range.

This isn't a warning against it - I think it's done amazingly well, and I want to give it kudos - there is a thread running through this book about consent. It's done by way of magic, and sharing power, but it's a very mature theme done in a way that makes me want to basically shout it from the roof. One of the things in the book, basically, implies that if you can't safely say no to something, you can't really say yes to it. It's anti-rape culture in a book aimed at 8-12 year olds, and I have never been happier to read something in a middle grade book.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Um. Maybe a couple more WOC? There's one character who could be read that way, with her face being brown being mentioned, but is also a gardener so could just be meant as tan, and I would have liked that to be more explicit. More POC is definitely something that could have been done, and I shouldn't ignore that just because I love a book. There should have been more POC besides one explictly black character.

Cover comments: I love it. The cover is what caught my attention first messing around on tumblr, and the colours are wonderful. I would have been so drawn to this as a kid.

And my art comments will go here as I do in other reviews, yeah? The illustrations in this are absolutely adorable. They're a little bit creepy at times, but in a really cute way, so it balances by both being really weird and really cute. I also adore how Molly is drawn. She's short and round, and it's really nice to see young characters drawn like that.

Conclusion: Can you tell I liked this one? I would have loved this so much as a kid, and I want to give this to kids and make them read it and love it. I love the balance of slightly creepy and sweet, the magic, and Vernon has a wonderful voice. There's so much personality in the narration, and I basically only stopped reading this to tweet about how much I was enjoying reading it. That's how awesome the voice is. It's charming, it's exciting, and it's really lovely. I really recommending this one. Four out of five roses, with a half rose knocked off because there really could have been more POC and more women, and it would be unfair for me to ignore that and how that does affect young readers because I loved a book. I still loved it, but those things should have been done better.



Other notes:

- Isn't it funny how I've read two books recently where a heroine named Molly has to save a castle in some way?

- I believe there will be a Valentine's Day book round-up next week if my library books come in time for me to read them and get the post up. Wish me luck!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, January 25, 2016

Things I've Recently (25): Baby-Sitting Books

If you're new around here or I haven't done one in a while, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

Sometimes I do themes!

Sometimes I think of themes AFTER I've posted one with a book that would fit perfectly with three others I have!

Sometimes I say heck with it and recycle a book from a previous post because it bugs me that I did that, and I don't have any other books that fit!

So, um. If you did read that post (and I will try and schedule this for pretty far in the future so it's been a while), skip the first book. The rest will be new ones.

It's now been well over six months, so it should be okay, right? And I want to link to this post in a future post, and I just started a new baby-sitting job, so let's do this thing.


Warning: Baby-Sitting May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Cynthia Blair

Published: January 23rd, 1993 by Fawett
Genre: YA/Upper MG Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 118
Part of a series? Yes, this is like 3 out of 5 of this "A Bubble Gum Gang Mystery" series.
Got via: It's a weeded library book, so a library sale.
Amazon / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): As far as Samantha is concerned, there are all kinds of mysteres. Can she handle baby-sitting as an after-school job? And why does the most popular girl in school actually want to be her friend? But the scariest mystery of all is also the most dangerous: someone is selling secrets at her dad's computer firm - and his business is in trouble. It's definitely a case for Samantha and her two other Bubble Gum Gang pals, but the price of finding the spy may be way too high...

Thoughts: Apologies for the awful picture. The biggest thing that annoyed me in this one is that one of the characters, Carla, is apparently fat and is dieting throughout the book to lose five pounds so her parents will throw her a frozen yogurt party. She's twelve. No one needs to be dieting at twelve. She's probably about to go through puberty! And seriously, look at the girl on the cover (the one with dark hair). She's tiny. Old YA books were awful to fat, or even chubby characters.

That was annoying, but luckily it didn't dominate the story, so I didn't have a stroke from the stress. Otherwise, I liked it alright. It's pretty dated (twelve year olds carrying purses!) and the plot is not nearly as dramatic as the summary, but I like mysteries, I like the "Girl gangs doing stuff" genre, and the baby-sitting angle is always pleasing to me, so in general, this one will probably keep its shelf space. I just wish it hadn't had the dieting subplot!

Katie's Baby-Sitting Job by Martha Tolles

Published: October 1st, 1985 by Apple Paperbacks which is (or was) a division of Scholastic
Genre: MG Contemporary/Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 124
Part of a series? Apparently there are two other books about Katie, but I only found that out looking at the author's books on goodreads. It functions as a standalone book.
Got via: It's a weeded library book, although I don't think it was from my library.
Amazon / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Katie was thrilled when Mrs. Stellan called and asked her to baby-sit for the evening. She had never done any baby-sitting before, but she was sure she could take care of four-year-old Annie. After all, Katie had watched her brother plenty of times. This would give her some real job experience - and she'd be paid for it, too!

But Katie's first baby-sitting job doesn't turn out the way she'd planned. Something is missing from the Stellans' house, and though it isn't her fault, Katie's sure everybody's blaming her.

It's bad enough that hardly anyone believes her - but now mean Michelle is telling everyone at school what happened. Katie knows she's got to get to the bottom of the mystery soon. Because if she doesn't, she may never be hired as a baby-sitter again!

Thoughts: Apologies for the pictures in this post, by the way. These old covers are hard to find good pictures of. While the last one is more unrealistic in plot (middle-schoolers finding actual criminals), this plot is actually pretty realistic. The steps taken by the characters are realistic to the age, with nothing they do really being beyond reality, and Katie's age of 12 or 13 isn't outrageous that she couldn't be baby-sitting a three year old on weekends and afternoons. Especially not considering they live very close to her own house, and her mother has just had a baby, and is therefore home most of the time, in case anything happened.

The writing has aged pretty well for a thirty year old book, and the writing itself has a lot of energy. It's easy to read, not a struggle or anything. Honestly, I don't feel bad about keeping this one in my collection. It was entertaining, and I think kids today could still enjoy it.

Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job by Willo Davis Roberts

Published: First published in 1985, this edition was published in 1996, I believe. And there's going to be a new edition in April!
Genre: MG Contemporary/Mystery
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 161
Part of a series? Nope. Davis has another book with a character named Darcy, the View from the Cherry Tree, but I'm pretty sure they're unrelated.
Got via: Some yard sale, probably. There aren't any library marks.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): From the moment she set eyes on the three Foster kids, Darcy knew being their baby-sitter would be no picnic. But the pay was twice her usual rate, and the job was only for a few hours a day - surely an experienced baby-sitter like her could handle it.

But Darcy hadn't counted on the mysterious things that started happening at the Fosters' home after she took the job. She did everything a good baby-sitter was supposed to do: she didn't let the stranger claiming to be from the gas company into the house and she called the police when the burglar alarm went off in the middle of the afternoon. But that wasn't enough to prevent a baby-sitter's worst nightmare from coming true. Now it's up to Darcy to rescue the Foster kids - and herself - from three ruthless kidnappers.

Thoughts: First, check out this cover! It's actually pretty true to the descriptions of Darcy and the kids, especially Jeremy's shirt, but look at the littlest girls' dress. Who dresses a two and a half year old like that on a normal summer day?? She's going to be covered in dirt, grass stains, and mysterious stickiness in half an hour.

I recently talked about a Willo Davis Roberts book I reread and really enjoyed, and I don't think this one has aged quite as well. Like, Darcy's family doesn't have a microwave, and there's no particular reason for that. That made me giggle a little. One thing that didn't have me laughing was the child abuse plotline. Not of Darcy's charges, but of another girl. Darcy mentions that Dr. Foster, the childrens' mother, doesn't believe in corporal punishment, preferring psychology. She then says, "My folks used psychology on us, when they thought about it, but when that didn't work they reverted to old-fashioned methods of discipline, which had included paddling when we were smaller."

Meanwhile, there's another girl whose known to frequently run away because her father hits her, often leaving bruises. She says she's talked to the police before and her father says she's "incorrigible" and he only hit her when she "sassed him back", lying to the police also that the bruises were because she was clumsy. I realize this book was written a long time ago, but can we just talk about the total disconnect, that "old-fashioned methods" like "paddling" are okay on small kids, but hitting an older girl isn't okay? He told the police he hits his kid, and they believe him over her. Basically that boils down to, it's okay to hit your kids as long as you don't leave marks, but only until they get big enough to leave.

That's just... really messed up.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the writing. Roberts has a really good style of writing that I always enjoy, and while the plot is a little outrageous, it's fun for that. The reactions and behaviours of the kids is also fairly realistic, which helps. I will probably keep this one, because I like the author, but I wouldn't be so quick to let kids under my care read it, or to recommend it to others these days.

Maybe I need to start sticking notes in books like this with "not cool!" written on them, or something, lol. I hope if they released this today they'd edit that part so it was different. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it at all if they did, because the plot is quite clever, and Darcy is a really good main character. I know I would have loved this as a kid. I'm probably a worry-wart, but I do notice and think about things like that.

Edit: I wrote this about six months ago, and at the time I was unaware there is going to be a re-release of this book in April. It looks like several of Roberts' books are being given new covers and re-releases, and I am totally happy about that! I do wonder about those things, though, especially the child abuse plot. A re-release really changes this from talking about old book for nostalgia purposes to a modern book that kids will likely have in libraries and such again, and I wonder what message we send with this kind of thing if we present it without criticism. I'm not pro-banning, just pro-conversation. Food for thought.

Taking Care of Terrific by Lois Lowry

Published: First published in 1983, this edition was probably released sometime in 1984.
Genre: Contemporary MG, but upper MG riding the line between that and YA. If published today, it may be classified as YA.
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 168
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: It was weeded from the library, and I bought it.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Fourteen-year-old Enid Crowley can't stand her name. When she takes a summer job baby-sitting young Joshua W. Cameron IV, Enid decides it's time for a change: she calls herself Cynthia, and Joshua becomes Tom Terrific. Every day they're off to Boston's Public Garden, where Enid hopes to meet people and find excitement.

It doesn't take long before Enid and her new park friends - Hawk, the saxophone player, and the old bag lady - are involved in the wildest adventure the park has ever seen. Their project is top secret. Nothing can go wrong. Or can it?

Thoughts: This is another one that I really enjoy, but I wouldn't recommend to kids under my care. The voice is lovely, because it is Lois Lowry, but some of the subject matter has not aged very well. For example, Enid signs a petition denouncing trans people, and although she doesn't understand it, there is a slur used. There are also mentions of "preverts" (spelled that way, don't look at me, spellcheck), diet talk that I'm really not fond of, fat camp for two children which makes my head want to explode. They are things that the acceptability has changed on over the years (over thirty!) and therefore, they'd probably be better read together with a child, taking time to explain how things have changed, and the attitudes people used to have, and how these things affect people today.

You know, responsible media stuff. However, not possible for children you simply care for, but don't get to keep, you know?

At the same time as there's the rather dated things, there are some things that are very truthful even thirty years later. One of the characters, Hawk, is black and when something happens with police, he's the one treated the worst, despite and this is a spoiler but it is a thirty year old book, people, despite being a Harvard professor. His very prescence in an old car in Tom's well-off neighbourhood is mentioned to be something that could cause people to be suspicious. It's horrible how thirty years later, those parts are still incredibly relevant and true to what people experience.

All in all, I really do like this one, both as looking back and as an adult, but I recognize the things that have changed that make me uncomfortable. It willl keep its shelf space, but will not be recommended to children today. Does any of that make sense??

Let's talk about the cover real quick instead.

(Image courtesy of Cliquey Pizza, which is a super cool blog, and hopefully they don't mind me borrowing the picture, because it's like the only one out there of it.)

Okay, so that thing where covers start yellow and then turn pink with age is totally a thing. This one has faded and gone pink, too, but you can kind of see how the back was this orangey-yellow colour. What's with that? I've totally got another one that did that in an upcoming post, too. Why do they go pink?

Have you read any of these? What do you think of the Willo Davis Roberts reprints?

Peace and cookies (but not before lunch),
Laina

Monday, January 18, 2016

Adult Review: Cleopatra's Daughter

When was the last time I did one of these? I don't think I even read an adult book in 2015! Let's see how out of practice I am!

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

Published: 2009 by Crown Books which is a division of Random House.
Genre: Adult historical fiction.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 411 plus an afterword, glossary, and acknowledgements that take about 20 pages.
Part of a series? No.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration in like 2009. I am terrible, and I apologize.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Selene's legendary parents are gone. Her country taken, she has been brought to the city of Rome in chains, with only her twin brother, Alexander, to remind her of home and all she once had.

Living under the watchful eyes of the ruling family, Selene and her brother must quickly learn how to be Roman – and how to be useful to Caesar. She puts her artistry to work, in the hope of staying alive and being allowed to return to Egypt. Before long, however, she is distracted by the young and handsome heir to the empire...

When the elusive ‘Red Eagle' starts calling for the end of slavery, Selene and Alexander are in grave danger. Will this mysterious figure bring their liberation, or their demise?

Review: Honestly, I was a little afraid of this one. Not because I thought it would be bad or anything, but because sometimes I'm a little intimidated by historical fiction, and sometimes a little intimidated by adult books. It probably comes from being a young advanced reader as a kid, where I was convinced I needed to read certain books to "better" myself, and just not finding them that interesting. Now, on a less personal-time-with-Laina note, this is not like that. This is told in first person, which I think helps me a lot with connecting with a book when it's something outside my usual reading areas, and the majority of the book, honestly, is dialogue. Because it does have so much dialogue, it avoids having a slow pace by way of too much description, while still being vibrant, and making you really able to picture the setting.

Both the press stuff I was sent and some of the goodreads shelf say this is meant to be both YA and Adult fiction, and I don't think that is remotely true. While it has crossover appeal for sure, for most of the book, Selene is eleven and twelve. The book ends with her a little under sixteen, but the majority of it takes place while she's under thirteen. This is definitely not MG, and I think in the end, this is an adult novel with a very young protagonist, which is very different. I think mature teens could enjoy this, for sure, and it's a very approachable book, but it's not YA. The voice isn't YA, the age is wrong, and as much as YA deals with very mature and complex subject matter, it's handled differently.

Go into this expecting YA, you're probably going to be disappointed. Go into this expecting an adult book with a young protagonist, and possible crossover appeal for an older/mature teen audience, and you'll be golden, Ponyboy.

Plot Talk: Okay, asking me to describe a historical plot is unfair. I'm not great at either of those things! So, ah, basically Selene is Cleopatra's daughter with Marc Antony, and this is about what happens after she and her brother are taken prisoner by Octavian after their deaths. That is the best you're getting from me. Good plot, loved the Red Eagle subplot that was very exciting, but I am bad at describing plot and I just put lotion on the giant eczema flare on my arm and now it's all itchy.

Characters: This is a fascinating case where I both really enjoyed the characters and thought they were very unrealistic. Like, they are eleven and twelve for most of the book, but basically every child character acts like they're teenagers. And I understand they were very educated children who had a lot of pressure on them due to their parentage, but.. they're also twelve. There are just some things I don't think are realistic in their voices.

Okay, this is going to make me sound like I'm the one who's twelve, but let's compare the complete opposite end of the spectrum. You know the Royal Diaries series? Or any other series where they take historical girls and write "diaries" about them? There's actually a Cleopatra one, ha ha. I believe those characters are twelve much more than I believed Selene and her friends were twelve. Obviously this is going to be much more historically accurate, but there are times where character-wise, I can't get into a state where it doesn't take me out of the book.

Otherwise, I'm good. Selene has a very solid voice for the most part, and she's a very fascinating person. It's a lot of pressure just to have Cleopatra as a mother. Then to lose her parents at such a young age, having to deal with everything she has to deal with, and having to survive being taken prisoner by the man who essentially murdered her parents and conquered her home. How she lives in the Roman life while still being herself, but also essentially becoming a member of his family is an amazing story.

PG-13 stuff: This does have some heavy content. There's a good amount of violence, suicide, murders, torture, rape. Which is actually one of the things that make me not so happy - I'm sorry, but I just don't think an eleven year old is going to brush off an attempted rape like that. She only thinks about it like twice. I think it's unrealistic with her age, and honestly trivializes rape to some extant.

I also think that this isn't really a romance, despite the goodreads shelves declaring it so. I mean, dude, she's pretty much twelve for most of this book. She has a long-enduring crush, but that's not really the same thing, and the actual romance of the book doesn't really happen until the last chapter or two of the book, when she's fifteen/sixteen. I'm okay with that because, again, twelve, but it does lead to some InstaLove since the guy is like ten years older than her, in his twenties when she hasn't even hit puberty, and that would really weird.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: What I mentioned was pretty much it. The voice, while lovely, could be a bit too old for the character at time, the attempted rape was not given enough weight, and that's about it. Not a fan of either of those.

Cover comments: I think this is a beautiful cover. It looks amazing. The colours are so gorgeous, the details are wonderful, and I think it suits the book perfectly. There's also a paperback cover with a blue and gold scheme that is just as pretty.

Conclusion: I'm glad I finally read this! I'll also probably be giving it to my mom to read because she thought it sounded interesting, too, when I described it. This was different from anything I've read in a really long time, and I really enjoyed it. I also loved the additional notes about the real people and history included so you could kind of see what happened to the characters, or at least their real counterparts.

It does lose a few points with me for the things I mentioned above, and I definitely don't think it's YA at all, but it is very good for what it actually is. This one gets four out of five roses from me, and I'm looking forward to reading the other book I have by this author!



Other notes:

- They sent me an actual Roman coin after I'd had this for a while. How cool is THAT for book swag?

- My pie chart is going to have more pieces this year!

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, January 11, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (24)

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason.

I had this all ready to go and didn't post anything instead! So my intro talking about Christmas isn't very relevant anymore. Oh well, let's get this thing up anyways.

Let's start with:

The Crazy Case of Missing Thunder by Tony Abbott

Published: February 28th, 2012 by EgmontUSA
Genre: Contemporary Middle Grade/Chapter Book
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 101 pages
Part of a series? Yes, there looks to be at least 6 of these.
Got via: Library
Amazon / Indiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Jeff, Brian, Mara, and Kelly are self-proclaimed goofballs. Since first grade these friends have been solving mystery among their schoolmates etc and now their reputation is expanding.

Rich kid Randall Crandall's horse, Thunder, goes missing and he calls upon the Goofballs to find him. Deciphering the clues that range from a flower delivery truck, a thunderstorm and a horse who's afraid of thunder, leads the Goofballs to recover missing Thunder, the flower-loving horse. In the meantime, they follow a trail of chomped-up flowers, disguise themselves as bushes in a florist shop and spend some time in a house that's bigger than the White House.

Thoughts: I grabbed this from the library for my Storytime graduate, and I wanted to pre-read it before I gave it to her mom. I liked it well enough. This reading level (it says ages 7-9) can be pretty basic and sometimes a little dry, but that's kind of just the territory. I thought this was cute. I've always liked detective stories in kids' books and I liked the way they solved the mystery, that it wasn't an actual crime or anything, and that the main character's mother drove them to meet their client. Touches like that are nice.

There is a touch of gross humour that I'm not personally a fan of, but kids would probably enjoy this. I also like that their group of friends seems to be fairly diverse, although the character development is not the deepest as this book is much more action driven. Which I wouldn't say is a bad thing - a lot of kids much prefer that. So, all in all, not my favourite, but certainly not awful or anything, and likely a lot more enjoyable for the intended audience.

Missing Monkey by Mary Amato

Published: February 25th, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Middle Grade/Chapter Book
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 116 in my copy
Part of a series? Yes, there's two others.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from the back of the book because it works better than the goodreads one): Twins Billy and Jillian want to be good, and that's a big problem.Why? Because their parents are famous crooks!

So the kids must do their good deeds in secret. Then their parents steal a monkey from the zoo to help them pick pockets. Now our heroes must find a way to return the clever animal, using disguises, inventions, and a wild game of Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Thoughts: I was recommended this one for a graduated Storytime kid, and I always pre-read before I give books to people. I quite liked this one. I thought the writing was good - chapter books can be a bit dry sometimes, but this one had a ton of personality and was really readable. I thought the premise was a lot of fun, too. It's silly and cute, and I enjoyed that though the narrator is Billy, a boy, his sister Jillian is very important to the story, too. It would be awesome if the book alternated POVs so the next one was told from Jillian's POV.

There's some toilet humour that some people won't love. That wasn't my favourite part, but I'm not in grade school! Also, personal bias? I hate monkeys. That's just my thing, though, and I enjoyed this regardless. I recommend this one.

Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond

Published: Originally published in 1960, but the Kindle edition I read was released February 26th, 2012 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Ebook
Page Count: Apparently 148 pages, but I read an ebook so I have no idea.
Part of a series? Yeah, there are a lot of Paddington books.
Got via: I downloaded a free kindle copy from Amazon.
Amazon / Book Depository although the boxset here is probably cheaper / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): That bear is back again, and in this new edition of Paddington Helps Out, his attraction for near disaster is as magnetic as ever. Who but Paddington would set out to cook dumplings only to find himself chased from the kitchen by something so nasty only his resourceful friend Mr. Gruber can rescue him? And who else could get away with sawing his neighbor's kitchen table in two or flooding the launderette? These and other riotous adventures all find their way into Paddington's scrapbook and make for another delightful book starring this beloved bear from Darkest Peru.

Thoughts: My power went out for like three hours, and I had a laptop battery full-charged, so I read this and a short story before I ran out of battery, and had to switch to paper books. I don't read a lot of ebooks on my laptop, but I download free kindle books every now and then (and I did use them for school, too, because that was really helpful sometimes). I actually watch the Paddington cartoon a lot in the morning, and I had seen the television version of most of the stories in this book, which was amusing

I actually hadn't read one of these books before, but it had a very nice writing style. Definitely would be appealing to kids. It was a very cute way to pass the time, and I really liked seeing the origins of something I enjoy watching.

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems

Published: October 13th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: That brand of MG where animals can talk but everything is otherwise isn't fantasy. Like there's no magic or anything, animals can just talk to other animals (not people).
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: Goodreads says 80 pages and I don't have a copy to check so we'll assume that's right.
Part of a series? I wish! So far it doesn't look that way, but I would love sequels.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Diva, a small yet brave dog, and Flea, a curious streetwise cat, develop an unexpected friendship in this unforgettable tale of discovery.

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France-but at no fixed address. When Flea passed Diva's courtyard one day, their lives were forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.

Thoughts: I LOVE Mo Willems. I love Elephant and Piggie, I love the Pigeon, I love basically all his books. This is his first middle grade book and I immediately knew I had to get it.

This is like the perfect book between early readers and more advanced chapter books. It's long enough to be more of a challenge for readers looking for something more than your higher level beginner readers. It has the most absolutely beautiful illustrations. Full-colour illustrations can be a really great stepping stone for readers who want a challenge but still want awesome pictures. And it's Paris, guys. What better reason for full-colour illustrations than Paris?

Speaking of Paris, there are French words sprinkled here and there throughout the book. I think they are used just enough so they enrich the book without becoming overwhelming, and I believe there is a glossary at the back of the book? I could be wrong about that. If there isn't, the French is so well integrated into the book and explained in the text that I obviously assumed there was a glossary.

I have an almost 6 year old (SOB) coming to my Storytime who has a sister a couple years older than her, and I gave this to their mom. She thought they would both love it, since they're both big animal fans, and big Mo Willems fans. I think this would be great for that age range, if perhaps a little less challenging for the older girl. The older sister does like to read to the younger one, though, and this kind of book would be perfect for them to share together.

The only thing I warned them about was that the cat kills a mouse at one point, and it is shown in the illustrations. Could be upsetting for some kids. Otherwise, this talks about emotions and feelings, it talks about being brave and doing new things, and I absolutely loved it. The pictures are wonderful, full of expression and the Paris setting is beautiful. All in all, I highly recommend this one.

So what have you guys been reading this year?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

YA Graphic Novel Review: Nimona

I have too many emotions. How am I supposed to write this???

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Published: May 12th, 2015 by Harper Collins, but it was originally available as a webcomic.
Genre: YA Graphic Novel
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 266 including thank yous and some bonus content
Part of a series? I WISH.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / You also can read the first three chapters here, although keep in mind that the illustrations have been much polished for the published version.

Summary (copied from goodreads and mushed around to match the inside of the dust jacket): Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Explosions will be involved. Science and sharks will be, too.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await!

Review: Okay, but I did all that stuff up there and I still don't know what to say. I just liked this so much and I'm still having way too many emotions. Seriously, I'm just sitting here not typing anything kind of staring at the book and my notes and getting nowhere.

This is beautiful and different and funny and heartbreaking and I don't know how to word anymore. I want about six sequels, but also it kind of has a perfect ending so I don't want that to be messed around with. Maybe I just want like six more books from Noelle Stevenson immediately. Good thing I have Lumberjanes volume 2 waiting for me!

Plot Talk: This is like a kind of epic plot. This is like science-fiction meets fantasy. You have knights and super-computers, agencies for sidekicks and kingdoms, zombie movies and banks where you can deposit a chest full of gold and no one blinks funny. There is no definitive time period, especially since it's filled with clashing things like that, but takes elements of both those things, with settings and clothing and everything from all sorts of time periods including modern ones.

Like the summary says, Blackheart and Nimona start out by trying to conquer the kingdom, and uncover something much darker. The plot is easy to follow, but complex. It deals with the hidden secrets of the kingdom and the institute, forgiveness, and both Nimona and Blackheart dealing with their past. The ending is somewhat open-ended, but good. There's closure, but you're left with some questions. I always want happy endings because I'm a sap, but this is a satisfying ending, and I think it works very, very well, especially with the epilogue which I read is exclusive to the book.

Characters: Oh man, this is hard. Nimona, man. She's surprisingly blood-thirsty, something I don't think you see that often in female characters, complex, has a body-type you don't always see in comics in that she's a bit chubbier (awesome), secretive, not always likable - and I loved her. She's one of my favourite types of characters, and I really just loved everything about her, honestly.

Our other main character is Blackheart, who is technically the villain, but is more like the hero since we know he's doing the right thing after a certain point, and the "good guys" are actually not very good at all. He has very strong morals, talks about how much he takes responsibility for death done at his hands, even when Nimona essentially shrugs it off. He's also visibly disabled with a prosthetic arm, and possibly some shade of MOGAI*. That last bit could be me wearing shipper goggles, but there's a whole lot of subtext, okay?

Nimona and Blackheart's relationship is something really lovely in that there is never any hint of romance between them. The age difference is... let's just say it's VERY complicated, but their relationship is presented more as an uncle and a niece, or even a father and daughter. It's very "found family", has very tender moments, and it's very refreshing to see such a complete lack of romance, or sex, or anything beyond a deep, caring friendship.

Other characters are wonderful as well, and I really enjoyed how the book broke down the hero/villain archetypes, and what actually makes someone a hero or villain. The Institution is a really interesting concept. The side characters are interesting, and every character had a really cool design where everyone was pretty unique-looking.

PG-13 stuff: This is definitely a more mature book. With the format, there is violence and blood, and everything is somewhat more... if you'll excuse the pun... graphic. I think the bruising especially is amazingly realistic, but injuries and death happen in this. People get injuries, bruises, scars. Beyond that, the themes are pretty deep. There's forgiveness, corruption, manipulation by authority. They're all done very, very well, but some younger or more sensitive readers may not be ready for this.

Mild language, if that's a concern.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I actually wish the subtext had been laid out as text a little bit more because I honestly don't know if it's me or if it's what the book meant to do. I'd love to be able to recommend this as a book with a disabled MOGAI main character - how awesome would that be? - but I'm not comfortable doing that because it's not explicit.

I wouldn't have minded a few more women, and while the extras are often POC, the main cast lacks them beyond one character (who is awesome). Also, more fat people always, beyond just "chubby" or smaller fat people would be nice.

Cover comments: I think it's a beautiful cover. I adore that picture of Nimona because her body isn't "perfect", but she's obviously about to kick some butt and really happy about it, and the whole thing is engaging and well-designed.

Since I don't have an art section, I'll put it here: The illustrations are freaking awesome. They have a ton of personality, they're very pretty, and I really enjoy the style of them. They carry the emotion of the story when there are no words, and I have absolutely no complaints.

Conclusion: I am so glad I read this. I keep trying to say how good it is, and I've got nothing. The characters are great, the story is great, the relationships in the story are great, the art is great. This is just really great. I'm kind of destroyed, and I blame everyone who recommended this. I'm giving this one four and... between a quarter and a half rose. Probably more like a quarter because I should knock off points for the things I mentioned in the cons segment, but I'm rounding for emotional devastation.



Other notes:

- *MOGAI

First review of 2016! How'd I do?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goals and Plans and Junk!

I'm good at titles!

It's the end of the year so I thought I'd ramble a little at you all. I'm feeling a bit retrospective, I guess.

It's been a little over 2 years since I came back from the hiatus I accidentally took because of reasons we don't need to go into. I've definitely slowed down when it comes to blogging, but I'm proud to say that in both 2014 and 2015, I blogged at least once a month every month. In 2015, I blogged more than 2014, and I'm proud of that, too.

Beyond strict quantity, I think the quality of my reviews has very much improved. Or, maybe, I'm just too chatty, but I think they're gotten much more thorough, detailed, and socially aware. Looking through my reviews, I like seeing the wide variety of books I've been reading the last few years, even the posts about old, probably-no-one-cares books. I've been really enjoying the posts I've been writing lately. I had a lot of fun doing the Friday Cuteness posts, although finding content for them is harder than you'd think!

I'm not entirely sure what will happen in 2016. There's been a lot of changes in my life, and I'm not sure what happens now. Honestly, thinking about the future makes me kind of have a panic attack, so I'm only going to try to think about things in my control. I don't make resolutions, but I do have a few blogging goals. I want to continue blogging once a month, but I think I'd like to aim for two posts a month. I would really like to do one review, and one "Things I've Read Recently" post a month, since I enjoy the low-pressure of those.

A not-really-a-goal thing (I guess this is the junk!) that I've been doing lately is trying to read more of books I own, and decide which ones I really want and which ones I could get rid of without minding so much. Part of this that I'm not sure I mentioned is that we moved in September from a 3 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment. Since my spare room was my library, I have a little less space now! I mentioned this a bit, I think, back when I was thinking about how much it would suck to move all the books I owned, but that's all happened now.

Now it's just on-going decluttering, but I think it makes for some interesting blog posts at least! This one, this one, and this one are all posts inspired by that idea, and I think it's been fun!

Onto the reading front! For the last couple years, I've used Goodreads' reading challenge feature. 5 years, actually. In 2011, I failed because I didn't understand how the "read" function worked (hey, don't look at me like that, I was new to Goodreads). 2012, I set a sarcastic goal and that was kind of a bad year in general. 5000 is the highest they'll let you set, FYI. 2013, I didn't set a goal at all, and in 2014, I set a goal of 50 books and squeaked in the last few books on the last couple days by a breath.

This year, I again set a goal of 50 books, but this year I hit it early, so I added 5 more books twice. I've hit 61 and I may read another book tonight depending on what I feel like doing. You can see my year in books here, which is fun. In 2016, I think I'll make my goal 50 again, since I've managed to do that 2 years in a row. That's a lot of numbers, so how about we all go look at the pretty pictures on that Goodreads thing?

I'm rambling now, but I think I've managed to cover everything. I have no idea where 2016 takes me, or this blog, but I'm hoping for good places, and at least blogging-wise, 2015 was okay. So, talk to me, peeps. How was your year and what are your goals or plans or dreams for 2016? ("Nothing," is an okay answer.)

See you next year!

Peace and cookies,
Laina