My 2018 in Books

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2018 was a strange reading and reviewing year for me.  I still owe you all three months of picture book reviews (March, June, and July).  I didn’t review all of the novels that I read either.  I still owe you a total of 49 reviews.  Yikes!  Sorry, friends.  9 of those are novels.  I may swing back and catch some of those reviews over 2019, but I doubt that I will catch them all, and it might be better for my mental health to begin 2019 with a clean, guiltless slate as far as reviewing goes.  If I haven’t got it in me to do complete reviews, would you be interested in really short ones for at least those 9 novels and maybe some of the best of the 40 picture books?

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I read fewer books and fewer pages in 2018 than I have done in previous years—even accounting for the additional 1204+ pages of novels not in the above total that I began reading but haven’t yet or probably never will finish.  For the first time in a long while, I got most way through a book, but gave it up without finishing it; I had just gotten what I needed from it without finishing it.  That was a rare nonfiction, an autobiography in the form of an encyclopedia of thoughts on various topics from Amy Krouse Rosenthal (An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which I was very much enjoying and would recommend but also warn you is sort of like an alphabetized Tumblr feed).  Right now I am in the middle of 8 novels.  I am actually enjoying most all of them (some more than others admittedly), so I am not rightly sure why I keep setting these aside except that other books keep presenting themselves and that there is comfort in the familiar.  I would like 2019 to be a year of finishing what I start—but I am making no promises and so far not making much headway in 7 of those 8.

goodreads2My average rating remained the same, actually matching my average rating of 2017 and 2016.

I am amused that the highest rated book of 2018 was a picture book written for adults by a late night comedy news show in response to a picture book written by the family of our vice president about their pet bunny rabbit, the White House, and the office of the vice president.

M. H. Bradford is a local, self-published author.  How his book came to be in our ARC pile at Barnes & Noble, I don’t know, but I took it home to review.  I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet.  So let’s do that here really quick, yeah?

This book takes the form of a set of questions posed to moon, wondering where it goes during the night. The book posits several theories from the moon descending into the ocean to seek treasure to it lighting the way for monsters in the darkest caves of the earth to it being protected by fireflies on the forest floor.

The illustrations use mostly a dark palette, contrasting sharply with the pale yellow orb of the moon, except for the furry monsters who are jewel-toned. The rhymes seemed a bit forced to me, sometimes repeating an idea to land on a rhyming syllable, sometimes using language above the reading level. I think that made the ending jar just a little. That and maybe the use of ellipses.

It’s a fun question to ask though.

***

Because I like to read more than one picture book for story time when possible, I often read multiple books by the same author.  I read 2 books from many writers—too many to list.  I read 3 picture books of Kobi Yamada‘s, 3 of Anna Dewdney‘s Llama Llama books, and 3 of Chris Ferrie‘s.  I read 4 books from when Dr. Seuss was going by Theo LeSieg and 4 of Aaron Blabey‘s Pig the Pug picture books.  I read 4 of the Pete the Cat books, all of them rereads for me.  I read 5 of Jane O’Connor‘s Fancy Nancy picture books.  I read 6 picture books of Mo Willems‘, all of them rereads, and 6 of Ryan T. Higgins‘.

I reread 2 novels of Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Raven Cycle and 2 of Sharon Shinn‘s The Twelve Houses.  I read 2 novels by Susan Cooper, 1 a reread and 1 new to me (and not yet reviewed).  I read 2 of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, both for the first time.  I read 5 novels of Rick Riordan‘s books; 3 of those were new to me.

To view the full infographic from Goodreads, follow the link.

Anything surprising in looking at your reads last year?

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Book Reviews: December 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Insects, Romance, and a Snowman Gone Rogue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Never Touch a Spider by Rosie Greening. Make Believe Ideas, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This came out as part of a series of similar books by Make Believe Ideas: Never Touch a Dragon, Never Touch a Monster, Never Touch a Dinosaur. These books are bright. The textures, made of rubber or some rubbery substance, are unique. I actually like that these are just fun; there’s not really any kind of educational element to these. They are silly. It makes a rare change in a touch-and-feel book—in touch-and-feel books. I admit that there’s not a lot of maybe value to this, but I enjoyed the laugh, and I enjoy the textures.

****

Click to visit the the publisher's page for links to order, summary, review, and sample pages.

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. Little Bee-Bonnier, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Stevie Lewis has done an amazing job with these illustrations! They are so vibrant. My favorite by far is the page with the prince and his knight lounging together by the town fountain, watched by the joyful townspeople. Their pose says so much about the casual, comfortable love and trust that they have for one another. The kingdoms that the royal family travel to too are colorful. It’s difficult to tell but there seems to be some chance that the prince’s chosen knight is of a different racial background than the prince as well. The story is told in easy rhyme. The prince’s parents are supportive not only of his eventual choice but in his quest for the perfect partner, taking him abroad to meet princesses with whom he does not ultimately end up sharing a connection. The prince is often in stereotypical princess poses, for example leaning on a balcony railing, propping his head on one hand—or caught in the knight’s arms as he falls from the dragon. The story is good. The message is good. The characters are good—like, lawful good (chaotic good?). All around, I love this one.

*****

Click to visit BN.com for links to order, summary, and reviews.

How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace & Andy Elkerton. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-10.

This story plays with modern, living snowman “lore,” specifically referencing without naming Frosty of Rankin and Bass’ movie and Olaf of Disney’s Frozen. That was almost my favorite and least favorite part of the book—the references to other snowmen. The midnight snow star is new. The flying is new too. Why the kids want to catch a snowman is never really addressed; though it says in Goodreads’ description that the kids have built him for entry into a contest, I did not pick up on that in reading through the text; maybe if I examined the illustrations more carefully I would have done, but I often read these upside down for the first or second time. The kids’ traps all fail. The snowman is never caught but he creates a larger than life, snow trophy for them—which makes more sense if the kids’ first ambition had been to win a trophy. Some of the rhyming seemed forced, and I’m not overly fond of the direct address to the audience format.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: 777, Another Excerpt from My WIP

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Aimlessly scrolling through old challenges on this blog, I found this one.  I first did this challenge in April 2015.  The challenge is this:

  • Go to your current work in progress
  • Scroll to page 7
  • Count 7 sentences
  • Share the next 7 sentences after that
  • And of course, tag people to do the same. You can even tag 7 people if you want to really get into the number theme.

Since 2015… I don’t know how many more false starts I’ve written (4 or 5 I think).  But I am still doggedly working on the same novel that I begun in 2006.  This hopefully-not-false start I have been working on since November 2017.  Fingers crossed, all.  This draft is currently 59 pages of size 10 Verdana, single space, with a line between paragraphs.

The man grabbed Veil by the shirtfront and pulled him down nearer.

Veil shivered.

“Take it,” the man croaked.  “Tvorec, I need you to take it.  I can’t.”

“You’re—you’re going to be fine.”  Veil was far from sure that the man would be fine, but he knew that he had to—

Looks as though I have shortened the beginning of this novel since 2015.  This is a little later in the plot than that excerpt from 2015.

I like this challenge being my first post of 2019.  (TWENTY NINETEEN, ALL!  We made it this far!)  I feel like I have been spending a lot of time recently with my novel–since this past NaNoWriMo.  I hope that is a good sign.  I am getting into the excitement and frustration of new scenes, new ideas, new backstory, new rules of operation.  I hope this trend will continue into 2019.  I would like 2019 to be a year for writing.  But who knows what curveballs this new year has in store for me–for all of us?

Anyone I know with a blog and a WIP want to take up this challenge?  My followers, do you have WIPs?  I would love to know.  I would love to know who and what books to look out for in the new year or the next or the next or….

I went looking through the pingbacks from Olivia Berrier’s original challenge, and found that Gwen added a further piece to this challenge: the 777th word in my current draft is “Glenys,” a recent name change for an important secondary character.  It only took her 12 years to outgrow her original name.  I’m pretty sure until now she had been using her original name, chosen then because it meant “old.”  Her new name means “pure, clean, holy.”

Just for fun, the 2019th word in this WIP is “nearest.”

Challenge: The Joy of Christmas Book Tag

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I found this book tag on Adventures of a Bibliophile, who found it on The Terror of Knowing, who found it on Thrice Read, who found it on Macsbooks, who found it on the Booktubers Wikia, which I also didn’t know existed and am excited to find.  This tag originated with Samantha at Sam’s Nonsense.

Anticipation: The Christmas excitement is real, what book release(s) are you most anticipating?

I know what I want! I want that first book in the new sequel series to Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Cycle, a series all about Ronan Lynch! I hear a draft has been edited—and did I hear that it has been turned into the publisher? Did I dream that?

Christmas Songs & Carols: What book or author can you not help but sing its praises?

Rick Riordan is amazing. He is so excellently including blacker, browner, queerer characters in his mainstream middle grade fiction, and he is too popular and too well respected for most people to complain. He was so smart, writing a whiter, more heteronormative series first, and then learning from his fans. He learns from his fans—and that is the best. He is turning out books quickly and keeping himself relevant.

Gingerbread Houses: What book or series has wonderful world building?

One of the most expansive, deepest worlds that I’ve entered is Patrick Rothfuss’ Temerant—specifically the Four Corners of Civilization where the story he is now telling in The Kingkiller Chronicles take place. There are multiple, distinct cultures with their own traditions, beliefs, histories and folklore, governments, dress, and language. There are several sentient races. No one else that I know has a board game that can be bought in stores with its own history and multiple variations based on who is playing and when and where in the world they are playing. No one else I know knows the history and exchange rates of several currencies within his world.

A Christmas Carol: Favorite classic or one that you want to read?

I am currently reading Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve read parts of it for a class before, but I have never read it in full—but more than Aeneid, I want to read Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. I’ve read several other translations, but hers is the first published by a woman, and I’ve heard that she’s erased some patriarchal mistranslations.

Odyssey is my favorite of the classics that I’ve read—specifically I’ve liked Robert Fitzgerald’s translation the best yet.

That is what you meant by “classic,” right?

Christmas Sweets: What book would you love to receive for Christmas?

This is not a short list—and I am sure there are more on there that I don’t yet know about. But I have had my eye on the illustrated Harry Potter books, which I can’t justify buying for myself—or just anything that I’ve been wanting. I’m missing a book of Riordan’s. I’m missing all of the Rick Riordan Presents. There are other books I am waiting to buy. I need a copy of Chainbreaker by Tara Sim. I want to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. I like picture books, but I can’t justify spending money on them myself. There are graphic novels I would love to own: the whole Avatar: The Last Airbender set, Craig Thompson’s—but don’t own for the same reason that I so rarely buy myself picture books; it’s a lot of money for a few hours’ enjoyment.

What I got was a signed copy of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, and I am not at all displeased.

Candles in the Window: What book gives you that warm fuzzy feeling?

I have a hard time finding books that give me warm fuzzies—because generally that’s not what I’m looking for in a novel. Most recently though? I was given very warm fuzzies from the budding romance between Colton and Danny in Tara Sim’s Timekeeper. Those were warmer, fuzzier feelings even than I am getting from the sword and sorcery romance series that I am rereading.

Christmas Trees & Decorations: What are some of your favorite book covers?

I work in a bookstore. I see good covers all the time. ALL THE TIME. And very few of the books behind those covers have I ever—will I ever—read. As I look around my room I see more books that I’ve brought home because the cover and the jacket blurb convinced me. Books like Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Hatem Aly), like Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers (Diana Sudyka), like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (Rich Deas), which I am actually very slowly reading now because I am not ready for that level of emotion.

 

Of the books that I’ve read, I think that John Rocco did a wonderful job with Riordan’s books, particularly for The Heroes of Olympus, particularly The Son of Neptune and The House of Hades, but also on The Kane Chronicles, particularly The Serpent’s Shadow. I think Mary GrandPré did a great job with the Harry Potter covers, particularly for The Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows but recognize that I like those perhaps more for their nostalgia than for their merit alone (a poster of The Deathly Hallows hung in my bedroom for several years), but I like Jonny Duddle’s covers for The Philosopher’s Stone and for The Deathly Hallows best of all of the English-language versions yet.

 

 

Some special mention needs to be made for Morgan Rhodes’ Rebel Spring (Shane Rebenschied) and Shannon Messenger’s Flashback (Jason Chan) for having amazing covers which almost alone are the reasons I want to read these series—though I’ve not started either. I guess the way to draw me in is to threaten or attack me with a shiny, pointed weapon.

 

Looking at these all side by side, I think that I like jewel tones too, emotional faces of realistically painted heroes and heroines, lots of detail.

Christmas Joy: What are some of your favorite things about Christmas And/Or some of your favorite Christmas memories?

I want to change this one, because this question does not seem appropriately bookish. So let me pose this question instead: What is your favorite Christmastime scene from a book? You don’t come here to learn about my memories—or you shouldn’t do, because that isn’t what I’m here to share—you are here to learn about books!

I think the Christmas scene that gives me the warmest fuzzies is Will Stanton and Merriman singing parts of “Good King Wenceslas” in The Dark Is Rising on Christmas Eve to open the magical portal to the room that holds the book that teaches Will EVERYTHING. But young Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the film version of The Sorcerer’s Stone exchanging “Happy Christmas, Harry” and “Happy Christmas, Ron” and Daniel’s astonished “I have presents?” warm my heart more than most anything could do.

Merry Christmas, my readers, whatever you may be doing today, whether you are celebrating or not.  And hey! if you complete this book tag, let me know; I’d love to read about some of your favorites.  Cheers!

August 9: We Reach Wales

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Hey! You probably thought that I forgot that I was supposed to be writing these travelogues for you. Well, I didn’t, and I am sorry that they have been so scarce. Today, we’re going to Wales, so hop on nearly every form of public transportation (as I proudly told a surveyor on my journey back to the US), and journey with me.

We were up very early the next morning to walk back into town to catch a pre-booked bus to get to the port. Our shuttle boarded on O’Connell Street around 7:15, and our ticket warned us to be early to the bus stop (though I don’t actually think that was as necessary as they made it seem). We were taken along the river to the check-in, then boarded on another shuttle, which took us directly onto the ferry, we were unloaded, and conducted upstairs to a plush lounge with seats facing the front of the boat, lots of tables both at the windows and further into the center of the boat, a bar, televisions, a movie room, arcade games. It didn’t feel all that much like a boat. But I found us seats near the front where I could at least pretend to be standing at the bow and watching the sunrise and looking out for land. I’ll admit that I fell asleep for a good deal of the crossing. I read through some of it. I went wandering at one point trying to find a way to get to the sea-air, but without success.

 

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Route map courtesy of the Stena Line webpage

We docked in Holyhead in North Wales, went quickly through security, and crossed the bridge into the city to find lunch.

My sister took the crossing less well than I did.

I didn’t feel hardly any motion from the boat, even watching the horizon ahead. I could tell that we were moving forward at times, and I could see the boat turn once or twice, but I felt any movement far less jarringly than on any bus or train or plane.

Lunch acquired, sandwiches and coffees, we mostly played the waiting game. We were expected in Llanberis that night, and to get to the town, we had to take a train to Bangor and then a bus from there to Llanberis. The port and the train station are within the same building so finding the station was easy as was finding help with the schedule and the best route and the best lunch if only we’d asked sooner.

The train to Bangor got us there with lots of time to spare between arrival and departure. I wandered the city a little. Retrospectively, I wish I had looked at a map. I went up Holyhead Road and got so far as College Road before turning around then went down Farrar Road to High Street. I missed most of the sights. Y’all, learn from me. Consult maps. Use map apps. Know some of the sights before arriving. I hadn’t planned for a long layover in this city and knew practically nothing about it other than that it was the spot we needed to change modes of transportation.

We waited for a while at the bus stand, reading mostly, though I met a nice Welshman there and we talked for a little bit about Wales and Welsh before his bus arrived. I perhaps made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried to learn a little of the language before arriving from Duolingo, and of course, confronted with the problem of speaking, my practiced phrases fled me, but he took me through the sounds of the nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll so that I’d have that as party trick.

The bus ride took us up on (I think; please correct me if I am wrong) Elidir Fawr at one point, negotiating narrow and windy mountain roads, and at one point having to wait for an oncoming car to back up to be able to continue forward—which certainly made me forgive the driver for running late to Bangor. The bus route isn’t the most direct route between the towns, but the views of Llanberis and Llyn Padarn from atop the mountain were worth it.

 

The bus dropped us not too far from our bed & breakfast, Idan House, on the north-end of High Street. We actually saw it from the bus and got off a few stops earlier than the Llanberis stop to save some walking.

We checked in with a nice, older man, who showed us to our bedroom at the top of the house. The view was amazing. We could see Llyn Padarn and Elidir Fawr rising behind it, the lakeshore not but a block or so away.

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With our bags put down and a little more settled in, we went out exploring the town. Mostly we were looking for dinner. We settled on Indian takeaway and took it to the park by the lakeside where we had a view of the Elidir Fawr and Dolbadarn Castle too.

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Our meal done, we wandered the city some more. We passed our first free-range sheep on public land. We found a path that pointed toward the local waterfall, Ceunant Mawr, and followed, trying to find the overlook. I think we missed our turn off the paved road, but continued up beside the railway line and beside houses and woodland and meadow until we reached a sign saying that we’d reached private land and weren’t to go any farther. Un-penned sheep greeted us at the top and another wonderful view of Elidir Fawr in the setting sunlight. We were near the waterfall; we could hear it and see a bit of it through the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, but never got a photo-worthy view. The climb was steep and exhausting. It dashed our hopes of being able to conquer Snowdon on foot the following morning.

 

We worked our way back down, back into the park beside Llyn Padarn, and then back to the b&b to settle in for the night.

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Llafn y Cewri seems the sort of monument with which one poses. It was erected in memory of the Welsh princes and resembles one of their swords.

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Our first day’s travel in Wales, following the blue not the white line.  Created using Google Maps.

Book Reviews: November 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Valuing Women and Two Holidays

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Women in History and Today

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.My First Little People, Big Dreams: Audrey Hepburn by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.

****

Seasonal Stories

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.

I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.

****

Click to visit Barnes & Noble for links to order and summary.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018.  Originally published 1953.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and activities.

Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.

***** 

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Shelfie: January 22, 2017: Opportunistic Reads

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This is a page from Thornyhold by Mary Stewart.  I grabbed it on a whim one day while trapped in my chair; I don’t remember why I wasn’t able to move.  The book is my roommate’s, one that has survived several shelf purges even since we moved to this house–and one that she brought with her when we moved in.  I don’t know how long she has had it, but by that alone, I know it is one that she enjoyed.  I enjoyed the writing style that I was exposed to in these few pages, but I never have yet gone back to finish it.  Sometimes, I can be convinced to try a book by mere convenience.  Have you ever picked up a book just because it seems to be the best thing near at hand?  Have you found any favorites that way?

Book Reviews: October 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Celebrity Writers and Fall Fun

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Elbow Grease by John Cena and illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I was pleasantly surprised by this picture book. I know John Cena more for his philanthropic work than as a wrestler, but I still did not really expect a quality picture book from this celebrity (nor do I from most celebrities). This is the story of a family of monster trucks who each have a particular skill or trait that helps him dominate one aspect of the monster truck arena—all expect Elbow Grease, who is the smallest of his brothers and electric besides. His brothers make fun of him. He decides that he will prove them wrong and drives all night to enter a demolition derby. When he gets there, he’s already exhausted, but he goes to the starting line anyway. Despite the other trucks being bigger, having more experience, and better technique, he does not give up. In the middle of the race, his battery gives out. But when a lightning strike reenergizes his battery, Elbow Grease is able to make it across the finish line. The winner of the race declares that Elbow Grease has gumption, and the brothers’ (female) mechanic, Mel, tells them that if they only stick to what they are good at, they’ll never learn anything. The book closes with all the brothers being coached through new challenges by Elbow Grease. There are a lot of lessons and broken stereotypes crammed into this one brightly colored picture book. It was a little long, a little spasmodic, but neither excessively so.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio. 

Little Elliot, Fall Friends by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I adore earlier Little Elliot books. This one, frankly, didn’t live up to my expectations. The illustrations were still beautiful and the story was clever and fun, but it lacked the message that I am used to seeing in this series. Perhaps if the reader was infrequently in the country, the message would be the delights of the country, but here, where everywhere we look is not too dissimilar from the landscapes depicted in the vibrant illustrations (though rarely do we get that much fall color), it’s not much of a lesson; we know the joys of pumpkin patches and watching clouds and picking apples and eating pies. In this, the two friends on their vacation decide to play hide-and-seek, but Elliot hides too well, and Mouse can’t find him—until Mouse bakes a pie and fishes Elliot out of the cornfield, Elliot following his nose to the source of the delicious aroma (which honestly feels a bit like cheating at hide-and-seek though it is clever and the reward is reunion and pie). This of the Elliot books seems to be the one aimed at the youngest audience.  There are many farm animals in the final pages, and though few if any are explicitly named in this story, those pages could easily be turned into a testing of animal names and sounds when reading to a young child.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. Alfred A. Knopf-Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This isn’t a format that I particularly enjoy. This story was basically a series of lists, and it seemed long. It seems like the sort of book that you ought to read page-by-page, stopping to decorate for Halloween, stopping to do some Halloween activities at school. Why one wants to scare a ghost is never addressed. The only thing that scares the ghost is a vacuum. That one scene is a page long. Scaring a ghost becomes comforting a ghost and playing with a ghost and taking a ghost trick-or-treating. The book’s ideas are quite clever, but the format just doesn’t help those ideas, I don’t think. I’d rather read a story about less-generic, better characterized kids making a ghost friend and taking it trick-or-treating than listicles with a vague “you” addressee. My little story time guests wanted to know why the ghost was incorporeal when the kids were playing with it on the playground, but it was able to be corporeal enough to wear a costume, and why wearing a Halloween costume made a ghost visible to adults.  I couldn’t answer them.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, video, activity kit, and authors' and illustrator's bios..

Builder Brothers: Big Plans by Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers, and illustrated by Kim Smith. Harper Collins, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was another celebrity picture book that surprised me with its quality. During a summer day the brothers, children in this story, are dreaming up plans for a tree house, which makes the grown-ups laugh, thinking their wild ideas impossible.  (“There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation.” )  The brothers set out to prove the adults wrong. They decide to build a luxury, two-story doghouse (a bit of a step down from their castle tree house with a catapult, but perhaps more manageable on a small budget). They draw up blueprints, go to the store to purchase all that they need, and build their house—only to find that they measured incorrectly, and the scale is not right for their dogs. They are at first upset, but realize that the scale is right for a birdhouse. It’s a cute tale of trying to prove adults wrong, trying to prove that young people can succeed, that they can brings their dreams to life. It’ll be a fun one to read before setting out to build a birdhouse of your own with your little—instructions are in the back of the book.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: Read Timekeeper Quickly

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

I did not give Timekeeper the reading that it deserved, and I’m going to probably always regret that a little. I bought this book when it first came out, and—let’s get this out of the way—I wanted to love this book, and how much that bias colored my reading, I don’t know, but when I did read this book, I did love this book. Timekeeper is the first novel by Tara Sim. Tara Sim is the first person of my graduating class at my alma mater to get a book deal from a big name publisher (one that easily supplies Barnes & Noble). She is the first author that I’ve known personally to get such a book deal. She’s the one who made it first. (She won’t be the last.)

I don’t know what happened when I was reading this book—I honestly don’t. I bought it in November 2016. I’d actually opened it and read a few pages in November 2016; I have pictures. I started reading it in earnest in January 2018 or earlier—earlier I think, but I didn’t finish it until September 2018. Between January 2018 and September 2018 I reread three favorites, I read The Burning Maze, I started a mess of books, including several set in Wales in preparation for a trip to that country, without finishing them. I think portability made a big impact on my reading of Timekeeper this first time. Because I did read a new book called Tara Takes the Stage, a little 151-page paperback, and two of those rereads were portable paperbacks too.

I also have a niggling memory of a sense of being overwhelmed by book reviews that I hadn’t had the energy or time to get to you—and a feeling that I didn’t want to add to my pile of overdue reviews by finishing anything new; I think that might have been part of why I allowed myself so many rereads this year….

All this to say that I did not read Timekeeper in one great, thirst-quenching, squealing gulp like I ought to have done—like you ought to do; learn from my mistakes.  (And I’m sorry it took me so long, Tara.)

I was squealing enough about this book in January that I had to tell Goodreads about the dopey grin that I kept developing whenever I read about Danny and Colton and their will-they-won’t-they, forbidden romance.

Every time I opened it, I was infected by the characters’ emotions, but I somehow never sat down and put nose to page until I vowed to finish the books that I’d started instead of starting more. Once I was in maybe the last quarter of the book, I was tearing through it.

I was surprised by the ending.

I love that I was surprised.

The characters are all well-crafted, the world is vividly imagined and deeply considered. (There’s a note in the back where Sim talks about the ways her mythology and the changes that she made to humanity’s timeline in Timekeeper affect the characters and society in her world as compared to the world on our unaltered timeline, absent of her mythos.)

Here are so many things to cheer: well-portrayed PTSD; several, strong, well-rounded female mechanics, including one who is half Indian; a beautiful, gay romance; respected, well-rounded black characters in a Victorian setting because (to reference Psych) black people weren’t invented after 1888.

There are moments when Sim plays with textual layout and presentation to create story in a way that is nearly unique among books that I’ve read.

I intend to do better by Book 2, Chainbreaker, when I get my hands on a copy. The series deserves my attention.  Book 3, Firestarter, is due to come out in January.

This book deserves at least four stars, probably five if I’d read it as it ought to be read.

****

Sim, Tara. Timekeeper, Book One. New York: Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by Tara Sim, Sky Pony Press, or Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.