Monday, February 29, 2016

YA Review: A Boy Like Me

Yeah, look at me go with this reviewing thing! Oh, yeah. It's a leap day miracle!

A Boy Like Me by Jennie Wood

Published: September 4th, 2015 by 215 Ink
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 264 plus some resources which is a really nice touch, acknowledgements, and an about the author.
Part of a series? No, it's a standalone.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. And it was only, um, a year ago. Which is not horrible considering my track record.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound / Author's website

Summary (from goodreads): Peyton Honeycutt meets Tara Parks in the eighth grade bathroom shortly after he gets his first period. It is the best and worst day of his life. Determined to impress Tara, Peyton sets out to win her love by mastering the drums and basketball. He takes on Tara’s small-minded mother, the bully at school, and the prejudices within his conservative hometown. In the end, Peyton must accept and stand up for who he is or lose the woman he loves.

Review: First things first, just for the record, I'm on the asexual spectrum, but I am cisgender, so I won't talk about this like I know anything about the experience of being trans, or saying that this is inauthentic or even if I believe it is authentic, since I'm not the person who gets to say that. And if at any point you think I'm totally messing up, feel free to comment (Anonymous is always on), or email me, or DM me on Twitter, or... you get the point.

For once, I think I actually know what rating I'm going to give this book before I get to the end of the review, and that pretty much is my summary here. I liked it a lot, but there were also a lot of storytelling choices that just did not work for me, and while my over-all reading experience was positive, those things were frustrating because they did throw me out of the story, and make me notice the writing more, and that lowers my over all rating. We'll get into that as we go on!

Plot Talk: The book stretches from eight grade to the end of high school, and that's actually something that threw me off. I thought it was going to be set solely in middle school, and instead, a lot of time passes very quickly. In the few two chapters, a full year passes. This causes a lot of things to be glossed over that could be really interesting. Then at the same time, Peyton would be say something, and his friends would be like, "You didn't tell us that," and meanwhile I'd be like, "You didn't tell ME that either! When did that happen?"

The plot is basically described in the summary, although it's not my favourite summary. It's basically a coming of age, discovering yourself story, which is fine. But there are times when it felt like it focused on things that were mostly set-up, and ignored things that could have been really big conflicts. How much time passes in the book also makes it feel rushed, especially at the beginning when several years pass within the first few chapters.

Characters: Peyton is kind of clueless at a times, but in a sweet way, most of the time. He's really bad with girls. Seriously, the poor guy is a mess when it comes to dating, which obviously you can't blame him for with everything he's got going on. Sometimes, though, though, his motivations and characterizations didn't seem quite as fleshed out as they could have been. I did really love the music angle. There's so much stuff about music in here, and it's great to see the moments where Peyton gets to shine. And this is a bit of a spoiler so skip it if I want, but I also really enjoyed that Peyton got a GED, because that happens very rarely in YA, in my experience. Showing alternative paths of life education-wise is a really nice touch.

I wasn't so in love with Tara. She got kind of MPDG at times. Sometimes I just didn't believe that she would be acting in ways she was acting. It seemed more fantasy-girl than real girl. And it's not like girls can't do things that are sexual, or whatever, but maybe it was because we didn't get POV from her, it just wasn't the most believable thing. A ton of the plot is just based on the romance, too, which at times can get a little frustrating.

Meanwhile, both their mothers were terrible, but Peyton had a few great members of his family, and I really liked that he had a positive therapy experience. You guys know how I feel about therapy in books. The other characters also felt very authentically small-town, bigots and all. Which sounds terrible, but I live in a small town, and that's a reality.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of language, including several slurs (although not the one you'd expect considering the subject matter), violence including Peyton being attacked for being trans, a sex scene, and a brief time when Peyton becomes somewhat suicidal, and that is talked about a fair bit. There is also an abortion that is handled incredibly well. Which is not to say these things aren't handled well, or that they're bad to have, just so you know about those things going in.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The rushing is probably the biggest thing. Especially at the beginning of the book when you're supposed to be establishing stuff still, that is just frustrating.

There are two specific instances where I know things from reading and listening to people who know much more than me. At one point, Peyton's therapist defines transgender as meaning "you feel your gender identity is the opposite of the in which you were born", and I feel like that erases people who don't fall into the gender binary. There are many more than just two genders, and opposite is very binary language.

And I will say this with confidence - Peyton binds with elastic bandages, which is apparently what the book the therapist gave him recommended.
DON'T DO THAT.
It can seriously injure you, like deform your ribs and stuff. That is a really bad idea, and a book published in 2014 should know better. I was really disappointed to read that.

Cover comments: I like the cover. It's slightly cut-off here, but it's a good cover. I like that you never see Peyton's face, so it leaves a lot to the imagination, and I love the stars and how beautiful they are. I love galaxy stuff.*

Conclusion: Like I said, I liked this one. The story was really good, especially once it settled down and stopped skipping around. The rushing and the skipping was what I had the most problem with. I also thought the heavy pop culture mentions could get a little dated, but at the same time, many of them worked in context. (Although while mentioning Davis Bowie is actually clever, it kind of changes now that he's died.) Peyton is a very easy character to like, and he had a pretty unique story arc.

I'm going to put this out there, though - I wonder about how different this is from other books in the same vein. I think he has an interesting story just in the fact that he takes a different education/career path, and a lot of the book is about the romance. There's not really a huge moment of Peyton "coming out", more like a slow gradual process. Again, I'm not sure about this one, so I'm putting these out here as questions, not statements. These are things that I'm curious about how other people feel.

So my rating here of three roses is not based on that aspect, but on the rushing that happens at times, and somewhat on Tara's characterization. This almost feels like something that is an earlier draft of something that could have been amazing with more editing. As it is, it is good. Not amazing, but good, and I enjoyed it.



Other notes:

- Although it keeps making me think, like "universe in his head", and then I just read another book where music was a big thing, and some of that music was like church music, so my head keeps going to that "He's got the whole world in His hands", and guys, how do I know that song? I've never been to church or Sunday school or whatever in my life.

- The font in this is like identical to a book I had as a kid called Parents From Space, which I loved so much. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

- I forgot to mention this, but the formatting in this had a few wonky moments, like places where the indenting would be messed up, or the last sentences in a paragraph was justified, so there'd be weird gaps in the line.

Peace and cookies,
Laina




Monday, February 22, 2016

Things I've Read Recently (27): Goosebumps Edition

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.

Yeah, you read that right. I'm writing a blog post about Goosebumps. Who would I be if I didn't mention everything I read in a blog post? Hopefully this will be a quick one. I had to rush to get these to who I wanted to give them to because it was the last time they were coming before the winter break, so I'm doing this by memory and my notes.

And, hey, this is pretty timely now what with the movie just coming out on DVD!

The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena by R. L. Stine

Published: While first published in 1995, Scholastic released this edition just recently in early 2015.
Genre: MG Horror
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Goodreads says 144. I don't have my copy so we'll go with it.
Part of a series? Yeah, there are a buttload of these. It's #38 in the original series, and #27 in the Classic Goosebumps series.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Jordan Blake and his sister, Nicole, are sick of the hot weather in Pasadena, California. Just once they'd like to have a real winter with real snow.

And then it happens. The Blakes are taking a trip to Alaska! Mr. Blake has been asked to photograph a mysterious snow creature there.

Poor Jordan and Nicole. They just wanted to see snow. But now they're being chased by a monstrous creature. A big furry-faced creature known as the Abominable Snowman!

Thoughts: My graduated Storytime kid was interested in these, so I said to her mom that I'd get some for her. She's not too sure how she feels about scary things yet, so I was looking for ones that weren't too scary. This is definitely one of the more silly ones, and that works awesome. One thing I will say - if you have a reader who wants to get into these, but is a little hesitant about being too scared, see if you can get the old covers. This updated cover is definitely scarier than the book. My Storytime kid who still comes said this cover was scary, but the other two I got in the old ones weren't scary to her.

Kids do judge books by their covers, apparently!

The back says something like Grade 4 RL, with an appeal for 4-6. I think that's a really interesting thing they've started doing, since reading level isn't something we want to get too invested in when recommending books to kids. It can be nice as a general guideline, but there's so much more to it than just that. Since my graduated Storytime kid is younger than that range, it is nice, actually, that this is one I still feel comfortable recommending to her. There's not language or anything, this one is more silly than scary, and I think the voice is engaging enough to keep her interest so that it being a more challenging read doesn't make her want to quit.

This one is somewhat dated, and others are more so, but it's not badly enough that I'm like "NOPE". Just little things like cameras with film, a lack of electronics, stuff like that. This one, like the Egypt one, might also be fun as a way to talk about Alaska, since they spend a fair amount of the book there.

My Hairiest Adventure by R. L. Stine

Published: Originally published in 1994 by Scholastic, with a reprint in 2006.
Genre: MG Horror
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Goodreads says 122.
Part of a series? Yes, this was #26 of the original series.
Got via: The Library
Amazon / Book Depository / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Larry Boyd just found the coolest thing in the trash. It's an old bottle of INSTA-TAN. "Rub on a dark suntan in minutes"- that's what the label says. So Larry and his friends do. But nothing much happens.

Until Larry notices the hair. Dark spiky hair growing on his hands and face. Really gross shiny hair.

Hair that keeps growing back even after he shaves it off....

Thoughts: This is another silly one. I actually saw the TV version of this one recently when Teletoon was playing the show before Halloween. Honestly, I said about the same thing about the book as I did about the episode - who uses self-tanner they found in the garbage????


These kids, apparently.

This one is... it's kind of ridiculous. There's a major thing dating it, in that the self-tanner expires in 1991. In 1994, that was not quite so far away! The kid also are in a band that plays really old music, like Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and they mention StarSearch at one point. This one is definitely not exactly scary, and there are some major plot holes.

It's not the best Goosebumps, but I wasn't looking for the scariest, so it's fine. The idea, while kind of nonsensical, is original, and the puberty metaphor snuck in amused me. Like I said, not my favourite, but it's fine. What is WITH this cover, though? What's the green goop he's swimming in?

Vampire Breath by RL Stine

Published: Originally released in 1996 by Scholastic, with a recent re-release in 2011.
Genre: MG Horror
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: Goodreads says 114
Part of a series? Yup, #49 in the original series.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Tough. That's Freddy Martinez and his friend, Cara. They're not afraid of anything. But that was before they went exploring in Freddy's basement. Before they found the secret room. Before they found the bottle of Vampire Breath.

Poor Freddy and Cara. They should have never opened that bottle of Vampire Breath. Because now there's a vampire in Freddy's basement. And he's very, very thirsty...

Thoughts: This one is both silly and more scary than the other two. The protaganists in this one are in more danger in this one. As an adult, especially, I can see the silliness (vampire with dentures anyone?), but I'm pretty sure I read this as a kid and was scared the appropriate amount. It has a good twist, and it's just scary eough to be fun for kids in this age range. This one also had a recent updated cover, and I think I'll say the same thing as the snowman one - scarier cover than the book actually is, and the more cheesy older cover might be more inviting for some readers who would be turned off by the cover.

If I didn't read this as a kid, I should have, because I would have loved it. Vampires and time travel? That's got baby!Laina written all over it! Vampires may not be quite as popular as they were at one time, but I think they're still pretty popular with kids, especially when you don't have the romance element at all.

I consider this one of the classics, and one of the better ones, and I really recommend this one. The only part I think some parents might have issues with is that the two main characters get into physical fights with each other, which I understand some people would have issues with. I don't have any reservations in recommending it, though.

The Girl Who Cried Monster by R. L. Stine

Published: June 1st, 1993 by Scholastic
Genre: MG Horror
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 137 plus an excerpt of the next book, and a couple of listings of other books.
Part of a series? Yes, this is #8 in the original Goosebumps series.
Got via: The library.
AmazonIndiebound / AbeBooks

Summary (from goodreads): Lucy likes to tell monster stories. She's told so many that her friends and her family are sick of it.

Then one day, Lucy discovers a real, live monster: the librarian in charge of the summer reading program.

Too bad Lucy's told so many monster tall tales.
Too bad no one believes a word she says.
Too bad the monster knows who she is...
...and is coming after her next.

Thoughts: I really love this one. I can't help it! Most of it takes place in a library, and I'm pretty much always going to love books set in libraries. Especially the one in this one, where it's kind of dark and creepy. I'm obviously a fan of libraries that are bright, open, and inviting to kids, but there's something about a creepy library that is also pretty cool, at least in a book. And the descriptions in this make me remember being in libraries as a kid. My childhood library had the children's section in the basement, so it was always a little darker and cooler than upstairs.

This one is one of the more scary ones of this group. The librarian is creepy, and there are some genuiely scary moments. Lucy gets chased, and is threatened, and it's scary. There's not even as much silly stuff in this one. And I am pretty sure I read and loved this one as a kid, and if I didn't, I know I would have loved it. The twist is great, and I won't give it away because it is actually really clever when you read it. I love this one, and it was really fun to read.

Okay, that's it! This was a fun thing to do. I know a few kids who are getting into Goosebumps these days, so that's really quite exciting. Maybe this is a starting place for some of you! Or, just fun nostalgia. Either way, let me know what you thought.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, February 15, 2016

MG Review: Middleworld

Four real reviews this year! Look at me go!

Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voekel

Published: It was first published in 2007 by Smith and Sons, Inc, but this revised edition was released in 2010 by Egmont USA. I miss you, Egmont. You were good to this blog.
Genre: MG Fantasy/Adventure
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 400 pages of story, plus a glossary, some extra neat fact pages, and a recipe for chicken tamales.
Part of a series? Yes, there are four books in the Jaguar Stones series, with the fourth just released in February 2015 concluding the series.
Got via: It was sent to me for review consideration. In 2010. I am horrible, and I apologize. My procrastination literally outlasted the publisher. But, hey, four reviews in 2015 so far! This year is looking up so far!
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy, video-gamer extraordinaire, is furious when his archaeologist parents cancel the family vacation to go on a dig in Central America. But things go from bad to worse when Max is summoned to join them, only to discover that his parents have vanished. With the help of Lola, a fast-talking, quick-thinking Maya girl, Max embarks on a quest to find out just what’s going on. Soon Max and Lola are running for their lives in the perilous rain forest, as they unlock ancient secrets, meet mysterious strangers, and begin to understand that, in San Xavier, nothing is ever as it seems.

Fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to Max Murphy. But can a teen whose biggest talent is for video games rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save himself from the villainous Lords of Death?

Review: I liked the adventurous toned of this one, and the lush, wonderful setting, but I had problems with it, too. I have five pages of review notes, guys. I love the idea of this. I love the idea of having more books about things like the Mayan people. I actually mentioned this to a friend while I was reading it, and she mentioned she'd seen it looking up the newest Percy Jackson book, and that is a great comparison. The lessons about history, and the Mayan culture and it's deep, wonderful roots are incredibly well incorporated.

But then there are other things. Boy, are there some other things. And as much as I liked a lot of the rest of this book, those things really throw me off. But we'll get to that in good time!

Plot Talk: Max's parents go off to do a dig in Central America. Max gets mysteriously called there only to find they've quite literally disappeared. Max gets into many, many adventures and has to save the world, basically. The summary's up there, I'm not good at this. I will say, though, that there is a ton of action in this. There's a lot of action, and it starts very early in the book. The history and backstory is done in a way that I don't think kids would find boring.

Characters: Max is pretty whiny. He has a moment where he realizes what a jerk he's been, but it's not until 200 pages in, and those 200 pages can be a little rough. The kid doesn't like granola bars, for crying out loud. Who doesn't like granola bars?? He also can be very rude and ungrateful, and a little racist sometimes, honestly. I don't think he's entirely unrealistic. This is, in fact, a very real-feeling way for a kid to react to being left alone by his parents too much, and thinking he's not interesting enough for his parents. But it's still kind of annoying.

Lola was cool, but her character was somewhat inconsistent sometimes. One minutes she's rafting through rapids in the dark with people shooting at them and completely calm, and the next she's crying over a chicken dying? Girls can obviously be nuanced, and varied, but... it seemed to out of character.

The characters are fine, but a lot of the time they seemed pretty stereotypical. Some of them I believe were meant to be that way, since the book laughs at them about it, but others are played straight, and it doesn't work well. Lola and several other characters veer towards Magical Mayan at times, and that's kind of... problematic. I'll go more into that later, as well, but I look at Lola, and I am just not satisfied.

PG-13 stuff: There's one joke about "jackass bitters" being mistaken for cursing, some toilet humour that I didn't really find that funny, and some violence/scary imagery, but other than that, I don't think there would be anything to worry about.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: This is a book about Mayan people, and their gods and culture. It stars a white boy who is the Chosen One. Why is a white boy so special? Why isn't this Lola's story instead, or a Mayan boy? It really ventures into White Saviour territory. I fully believe the authors love this culture, but I question whether this is truly telling their story, or just telling their story through white eyes.

There are things they do also that are probably because they're aimed at a young audience, but I think do that audience a disservice. Many characters who speak two languages say things in their native language, and then repeat them basically word for word in English, even when they're not talking to Max. That is solely so we know what is happening, and I think it comes off as really inauthentic.

I question if the references aren't somewhat dated. Are kids 10+ still into Lord of the Rings? Swiss Family Robinson? There's a reference to Jurassic Park - before Jurassic World, were today's kids really into that movie still? I'm 23, and I only saw that movie when I was like 20 because I told my uncle I had never seen it, and he immediately went and got the DVD and insisted we all watch it. The book in general is somewhat dated already since we've long-passed December 21st, 2012, which is part of the plot, obviously.

Last, there are some really fatphobic moments. There's one time when Max mentions tourists as "overfed". He's seeing them from a boat across the river and has never met them before. How does he know they're overfed? What does overfed mean when you're looking at strangers? Later, one of the gods of death who is presented as very evil is also described as "enormously, disgustingly fat", and Max at first things someone bought a fat suit because... fat people don't exist in this world? He is the only fat character that shows up, so maybe they don't. It's a nice touch, especially, that there's an illustration. It's great seeing the specific weight that is disgustingly fat, especially since the picture doesn't actually look that fat.

Cover comments: The cover is pretty awesome. It shows a scene from the book, which is always something that I think is cool, and it represents both that scene and the characters well.

Conclusion: I can rant about the fatphobia because that's something I know well. I am not qualified to speak on racism as a white person. I only know anything because of wonderful blogs like writingwithcolor who have spoken on the things I've mentioned in this post. In the end, I am not going to be comfortable recommending this to kids as a "diverse" book, or whatever you want to call it, when I feel like there's a strong sense that this would make many people who actually are qualified to speak about these things uncomfortable. It feels like it could be praising something that is just another microaggression for someone, and I'm just not aware enough to recognize it.

I liked the writing, and I think this could be a fun book for people who like Percy Jackson and the like, but I don't want to give people books with stereotypes, fatshaming, and possible racism. I did enjoy reading this! I thought it was fun to read! Some of the twists are really unexpected and clever! But I can't recommend it wholeheartedly. Gosh, I feel so bad to review this five years late, and then give it a bad review. I think kids would probably like this one, but I can't ignore those things.

I don't think I will be looking into the later books in the series, and I'm not sure if I will be keeping this one, or passing it along. I'm going to have to give it only two and a half roses. I'm so sorry!



Other notes:

- I seriously want a smoothie. Or ice cream. Books be making me hungry lately!

- Why couldn't Max go to Italy to stay with his grandmother/other family if he can stay in Boston alone for who knows how long with only the housekeeper to watch him?

- Hope you had a good Valentine's Day! Or a good Sunday, either way.

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (8)

This is a somewhat series on my blog of random fun things, usually book-related, that are emailed to me, and I think you guys would like to hear about. Got something you want to share? Hit my contact button and send it to me!

I got a lovely email the other day from Simon and Schuster Canada telling me about this fun event they're doing to promote reading on Valentine's Day. A Valentine's Day spent curled up reading with chocolate basically sounds perfect to me! While I won't know for sure if I can attend this event until a little later in this week, I thought I'd type this up and post it for anyone looking for last minutes plans!

You can see the event called Books, Be Mine: Valentine's Day 2016 on Facebook, and check out Simon and Schuster Canada's page as well since they'll be posting a lot of really fun book-related things in the time leading up to Valentine's Day.

And isn't that the cutest little graphic?

So will you be attending? If not, what are your plans for Valentine's Day?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

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: Castle Hangnail 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