Tag Archives: literature

Challenge: Katie Merkle’s Literary Scavenger Hunt: Rounds 2 & 3: Some Favorite Series

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So Katie Merkle created this scavenger hunt to amuse us all during this time of global chaos, and I have taken it and run. Last week I completed the scavenger hunt using only my 12 most recent reads.  I warned then that I had other ideas for this scavenger hunt.

Round 2: Can I complete this scavenger hunt using JUST Rick Riordan’s books? I sure can! I can do it with just his first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians! Spoilers ahead! Ready? Go!

Categories:

1. A weapon – So this one is easy. The best weapon is Anaklusmos, Riptide, Percy’s pen and sometimes sword that always returns to his pocket because magic.  Or it is the most prominent anyway.  I am actually fascinated by and wish we knew more about the forging of Backbiter.

2. A difficult decision – I think the most difficult decision of the series is Percy’s to sit back, to not be the hero—or to let his inaction rather than his action be heroic.

3. A beautiful setting – I miss the beach. So how about the camp’s beach on Long Island Sound with the fireworks reflecting on the water.

4. A first kiss – The first kiss was shared in Mount St. Helen’s forge, right?

5. A mistake – So, so many mistakes. Though mistakes get hard to define when there’s so much of fate and prophecy in this series. But I think the biggest mistake of the series is trusting that Kronos’ future will be better than the present.

6. A betrayal – I’m going to say that Luke’s betrayal is the hardest.

7. A loss – Beckendorf’s loss was the hardest for me.

8. Best friends – Percy and Grover are the most iconic friends in this series I think.

9. More than two siblings – *laughs in demigod*  But if we’re insisting on full siblings, then there’re the godly children of Kronos and Rhea: Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.

10. A single parent – *laughs harder in demigod* But the best single parent is Sally Jackson. We’re all in agreement on this, yes?

11. A grandparent – Kronos is grandfather to every child of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Demeter. If Hera and Hestia have any demigod children, he’s their grandfather too, but I am fairly sure that they have actually remained celibate.

12. A talking animal – Blackjack is the best talking animal, right? In this series? Followed shortly by pink poodle Gladiola.


Round 3: Can I do it with Harry Potter?  Again, spoilers.

Categories:
1. A weapon – The weapon we have is love.  That’s how the song goes, isn’t it?  But the Deathstick becomes perhaps the most important physical weapon of the series in the end.

2. A difficult decision – Shout-out to the Hat Stalls (which may a cop-out on my part, refusing to decide on a difficult decision to highlight).

3. A beautiful setting – I’ve already used the Burrow once for this.  But you know what other location has grown on me?  The shade beneath the lakeside beech tree with the giant squid’s tentacles skimming the surface.

4. A first kiss – “OI!  There’s a war going on here!”

5. A mistake – It was a mistake to put Hedwig in her cage.

6. A betrayal – I’ve been re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and I forgot how painful is the confession wrung from Peter by Sirius and Remus.

7. A loss – Dobby’s was the hardest for me.  I think because of the blood, and because things were just about to be all right—except….

8. Best friends – This has to be Harry and Ron, right?

9. More than two siblings – The Weasleys are my favorite.

10. A single parent – There aren’t a whole lot of single parent households that are mentioned in the text.  There are the Gaunts’ and the Lovegoods’ and Augusta Longbottom seems to be raising her grandson alone.

11. A grandparent – Augusta Longbottom is a pretty awesome grandparent—in the end.

12. A talking animal – “Thanksss, amigo.”

Are there other series or the collected works of other authors that you think you could use to complete this scavenger hunt?  Let me see your answers!  Somewhere out there, I feel, is someone who could do it for almost every author of multiple stand-alone novels.  I would love to see someone do it for, say, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Nora Roberts, Neil Gaiman….

Challenge: Katie Merkel’s Literary Scavenger Hunt

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20200518_134509I first found Olivia Berrier’s answers to Katie Merkel’s original challenge.  I’m still not in the right headspace to give you all serious book reviews, and I am reading fewer books and rereading more favorites during this time anyway.  So I hope you’ll permit me another week of fun challenges:

Rules:
1. Look in books to find something that satisfies each category.
2. A different book must be used for each category.
3. Once you’ve found all twelve categories, share what you found and the books they came from in the comments section.

Both of them seem to answer this challenge with their favorites from their libraries.  And I may do that too.  But you all ought to know by now that I like imposing extra rules on challenges (plus it makes it so that I can use the same challenge more than once, and choosing favorites is so HARD!).

Round 1: Can I complete this scavenger hunt using only the 12 books that I have read most recently? Can I do it in order from the most recent to the less recently?

Categories:
1. A weapon – Endgames by Ru Xu features Crow, a sentient android that controls the Goswing’s murder of flying, heavily armed drones.

2. A difficult decision – Of all the difficult decisions in Diane Duane’s A Wizard Abroad… I’m going to have to give this one to Ronan. For a boy who has always needed to be in control, yielding his self to Another and not knowing what would become of his mind or physical form afterwards took guts.

3. A beautiful setting – The Burrow has always felt like home, gnomes and weeds and chaos of housing a family of nine plus guests and all. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is when we first touchdown in the Burrow’s drive.  It’s beautiful in the way that a clean kitchen is with the kettle steaming on the stove top.

4. A first kiss – It certainly isn’t Monty’s first kiss, but the first kiss between him and the boy he loves does happen during a stolen night away from their chaperone in Paris in Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.  It’s kind of a big deal for Monty.

5. A mistake – Pig definitely doesn’t mean, I don’t think, to drive the van up the ramp to the broken section of the dam’s wall and then over the wall in Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo’s The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness.  Poor kid just can’t both see over the dashboard and reach the petals.  And I expect being chased by a frog with a gun is distracting for the best drivers.

6. A betrayal – The biggest betrayal by far in the first book of the series The Dam Keeper is Pig’s father’s abandonment of him, leaving him in charge at such a young age of himself and the dam.  I have feelings about this, and I hope he does turn out to be mad, because I’m not sure I’m going to accept any other explanations.  (Libraries are still closed.  I am still unable to borrow the third and final volume.)

7. A loss – Oof. Yeah, lots of loss in Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince. I think the loss of the queen of Carthya hits Sage the hardest.

8. Best friends – I don’t want to be cliche, but Jo and Laurie are a pretty iconic duo still in Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo.

9. More than two siblings – Turns out Clay has a whole squadron of blood siblings in the graphic novel of Tui T. Sutherland’s The Dragonet Prophecy.

10. A single parent – This one is harder…. The eponymous wayward children of Every Heart a Doorway are mostly grieved by their parents and sent away to Miss West’s Home to in theory become the children that they were before the “traumatic” experiences that those parents don’t recognize as wonderful adventures in other lands. Most of the children I recall having had both parents, and this is the first book in this list that I don’t have in the house to recheck my memory. So can we go out on a limb and call Eleanor West a parent? She is in loco parentis, and she does a pretty fine job of it considering the task that she has assigned herself.  And Kade is her nephew and is not wanted back by his parents.

11. A grandparent – I haven’t got a copy of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man with me either, but I don’t recall any grandparents in this volume. The first is more like disjointed short adventures than a continuous plot.  Dog Man may have saved a grandparent at some point… I really don’t recall.

12. A talking animal – I am in luck here! In Kazu Kibuishi’s The Stonekeeper’s Curse, the inhabitants of Kanalis have been becoming slowly more animal as part of a curse. The vulpine Leon Redbeard joins the crew. He’s a bipedal, clothing-wearing, talking fox.

So… kind of almost? To find a grandparent in these 12, I have to go to Endgames where Queen Corazana Lina’s recently deceased grandmother Queen Corazana began a war that Endgames, well, ends. Her portraits make appearances in the text.

If you want a more technically parental single parent, among these 12 the most befitting the title is Emily’s and Navin’s mother from Kibuishi’s Amulet series, though Pig’s father also qualifies, as does Sutherland’s Kestrel, I guess.

Look out for more versions of this game as I have a few more fun ideas for it, and thank you, Katie Merkel for the original hunt!

Challenge: Quarantine 2020 Book Tag

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I needed something lighthearted and fun this week for you all. I was going to play MASH again, which I haven’t done since 2015 and was thinking about again because I am again re-reading Harry Potter (my last round included seven very poorly named children whose names came from The Goblet of Fire).

Then I thought, “There must be some good new book tags about quarantine!” And there are, but the ones that I found are all the type where you answer more serious questions about your reading habits and make book recommendations.

I prefer the sillier book tags where you choose a number of books and the first word on a page becomes your answer to a question.

So I have written a quarantine book tag on my own! This will is the first book tag that I have ever originated. Please join in the fun. Please mention me as the originator.  Use it on whatever platform you like.

All told to answer these you will need the last six books that you read, your current read, and (if not among those seven) the first book that you finished in April and the last book that you finished in March. Good luck!


Quarantine 2020 Book Tag

You are quarantined with the protagonists of the last three books that you finished. Who are you locked in a house with?

I most recently finished Diane Duane’s A Wizard Abroad, fourth in the Young Wizards series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, so I am in a house with Nita Callahan, Harry Potter, and Monty Montague.

Where are you in your current read? That’s where you are all holed up.

I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban now, and we’re all quarantining together in the Shrieking Shack.

Did any of those protagonists bring pets to be locked in the house with you?

It looks like our only animal companion is Hedwig, who admittedly is a very useful companion during these odd times. She can get our mail out and back safely and take a bit of weight off the US Postal Service.

What are your house-mates all doing while locked inside? Open the last three books that you finished to a page at random. Each time find the first dynamic verb on the page. Use them to describe what each of them is up to.  (I changed the tenses to make them fit in my new sentences.)

Nita is coexisting with everyone. Just coexisting. She can have a bit of temper, but on the whole she is fairly easy to get along with. Harry doesn’t know what to do. Monty doesn’t say how he feels or what he’s doing. That’s probably extremely accurate.

How are your house-mates all doing while locked inside? Grab the three books you finished most recently. Open each to its first page. Find the first emotive adjective or adverb (you probably don’t want to use words like “small” or “red” here or “swiftly”; continue further than page 1 if you need to do) and use those to describe how they are all feeling.

It’s not easy for Nita. Harry is bored. Monty finds this all disorienting.

Make a grocery list. What favorite foods are you bringing back for each of your protagonist house-mates?

I think I am bringing back a lot of drinks: pumpkin juice, Coke, and booze.

You boldly venture to the grocery store for essentials and see the protagonists of the three books that you finished before that. Those protagonists are wearing masks and keeping a safe six feet distant from you. Give them a socially distanced high five.

I am waving hello to Pig from The Dam Keeper series by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, Sage from Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, and Jo March from Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

The antagonist of the book you most recently finished reading is NOT adhering to the rules and is grabbing up all the toilet paper.

The most recent book that I finished was A Wizard Abroad, so the Lone One in the form of Balor is hoarding the toilet paper.  Sowing chaos and destruction as usual.  Greetings and defiance to you, Lone One.  But you know what… I don’t know that I can stop him.  It took all the wizards of Ireland and the Sidhe to do so in this book, working with three ancient treasures of Ireland.  I am surprised to see Balor fit inside the grocery store at all.

What was the first book you finished in April? Open that book to a random page. The first name on the page is your cashier at the grocery store. Thank them for being there to help you.

The first book that I finished in April was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Lucius Malfoy surprises me by being my cashier, but he’s here, and he’s following the procedures put in place to keep everyone safe if only to keep his job at the store, so I’ll thank him.

Open it again. The first person on that next page is cleaning the carts for you. Thank them too.

Draco’s cleaning the carts. This is not the staff that I expected to find here.

Safely home (in the Shrieking Shack for me), you join a video chat with the sidekick of the book that finished last in March. What is she or he or they going to do to cheer you up?

That for me was The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which means Percy Newton and Felicity Montague (they really take turns being helpful to Monty) are there to back me up by video chat.  What are they doing to cheer me up?  Felicity is distracting me with scholarly discussions, I think, and tells me all she has learned about the virus and immune systems in general.  Percy is just being his sweet self.


I hope you are all doing as well as can do in your real-life quarantine situations. I hope you are healthy and sane. I hope you are keeping safe. And I hope you have toilet paper.

Book Reviews: Clearing the Fog with The Dam Keeper

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and authors' bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and authors' bios.When Pixar art directors get together to work on a graphic novel series, you have to expect excellent illustrations and story. It seems that the series is actually based on a short film from the two animators from 2014, and that they had intended a feature length film that, to my knowledge, has not been released. There seems too to be a series of short episodes under the title Pig: The Dam Keeper: Poems, released the same year as the first graphic novel. I’ve seen none of the animated pieces.

I am less attracted by the art style of these characters—which is very cartoonish and round—than to the background illustrations, which are soft and subtle and gloriously detailed. It was the description on the book’s flap and then the first few pages of text and illustration that got me to take the first home from the library, though, on a whim.

“Nothing lives in the fog… except memories. Painful memories. They haunt me. Memories of emptiness and loss. The dam holds back the sea of black fog.”

That’s fantastically poetic for a children’s graphic novel and fantastically bleak.

The protagonist Pig becomes the de facto dam keeper after his father, mad with grief, leaves the dam for the world beyond, which is shrouded in a dark and deadly fog. Still a child, Pig tries to balance his responsibilities as dam keeper—a job that the townsfolk have forgotten the importance of—with school and a friendship that he has built with Fox. Fox, more free of responsibility than Pig, has made a new friend in the school bully, Hippo, who frequently targets Pig. Fox tries to bridge her two friends into a trio, but neither Pig nor Hippo is particularly willing to see past first impressions.

An accident at the dam strands the three characters together in the wasteland beyond the town. Lost, they attempt to find their way back home and must rely on each others’ strengths to see them there: Pig’s brains, Hippo’s brawn, and Fox’s kindness.

Fox’s kindness leads them to the blind lizard Van, who promises to help the children home—but first they must retrieve—liberate—Van’s truck from a city very like their own with an even more impressive dam—but in this industry has made the air inside the city walls so foul that the three require their gas masks to breathe.

As they travel across the wasteland in Van’s stolen truck, they find more cities and more civilizations that have found ways to survive in what Pig has always believed to be a dead wasteland.

They narrowly escape being sacrificed by one such civilization to a creature of smoke, which they discover to be a machine with the insignia of the dam keepers on its side.

Throughout all of this, Pig keeps seeing the ghost of his father.

By the end of the second book, the reader begins to see the changes that their adventures have wrought in the three friends manifest. Pig loosens up enough to join his friends in attempting Van’s silly dance. Hippo crushes Van in a hug when they are reunited, and he is friendlier towards Pig.

It must be mentioned too that I appreciate a series with a female and two male protagonists that has no romantic entanglement in sight.

These authors favor a slow reveal through dropped bits of dialogue over a more straightforward and immediate reveal.

A good deal of the storytelling is done through the illustrations. Many of the issues driving the misfortune of the world are only hinted at and must be inferred: pollution, unsafe industrial practices that harm the environment and quality of life, forgetfulness, tribalism, ignorance, deforestation. Some of these I may be incorrectly inferring without the whole story too. There’s a third book that I have yet to read.

I think for this series about child protagonists who find their world turned upside down learning so little so slowly works.

Both of these books ends on a cliffhanger, and given the current state of things, I have not been able to arrange to have the third book in my hands.

The villains in Ru Xu’s Newsprints & Endgames and Kazu Kibushi’s Amulet series are (literally) more concrete than the ones here, but I think there are certainly some thematic similarities between the three, and this may be a new series for those who have enjoyed either. I have read two volumes of each, which is the full story (100%) for Ru Xu’s, two-thirds (about 66%) for Dam Keeper, and only about 22% of Amulet, so my comparisons may yet prove flawed.

***1/2

Kondo, Robert and Dice Tsutsumi. The Dam Keeper, Book 1. New York: Tonko House-First Second-Roaring Brook-Holtzbrinck distributed by Macmillan, 2017.

Kondo, Robert and Dice Tsutsumi. The Dam Keeper, Book 2: World Without Darkness. New York: Tonko House-First Second-Roaring Brook-Holtzbrinck distributed by Macmillan, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 7-11.

This review is not endorsed by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi, Tonko House, First Second Books, Roaring Brook Press, or Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: Modern Little Women

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

Spoilers.

After 150 years, it was perhaps time for an updated version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This isn’t the first attempt to update the classic, but I think it might be the first to do so as a graphic novel, and it is the first that I have read. In this, the sisters are from a blended family. Jo is Mrs. March’s daughter by her first marriage, Meg is Mr. March’s by his first marriage, and Beth and Amy are Mr. and Mrs. March’s. Meg and Mr. March, who is a soldier stationed in the Middle East, are African American. Mrs. March and Jo are white. Amy and Beth are mixed race, but as Jo explains to Mr. Marquez (who has replaced Mr. Laurence) and Laurie, even without the ties of blood to Meg, they are all four of them sisters.

Terciero and Indigo have moved the story from small town Concord to the more vibrant New York City with the Marches living in Brooklyn.

Chapters are frequently ended by emails sent by one of the girls to their father abroad.

On the whole this novel sticks well to the original’s plot, but there are some significant changes that Terciero and Indigo make to the original.

In this Jo has a secret she is keeping from her family, hinted at in diary entries and in her dialogue, which I don’t remember her having in Alcott’s original (it’s admittedly been a while…). And it isn’t the secret that I thought that it might be. I thought it likely that Jo would come out as transgender by the novel’s end but instead she comes out as lesbian. Her bravery in coming out to her family encourages Aunt Cath to wrestle with her own prejudices and come to the revelation that she herself is lesbian.

Meg does not marry the rich and well-connected Brooks when he laughs at her notion to become a lawyer for the less fortunate instead of taking the Vogue internship that he with his connections has secured for her. She is the catalyst in her family attending the Women’s March in DC. I was disappointed not to see Aunt Cath with them there, knowing that Meg had wanted her to come.

The novel still has the symmetry of the original, opening and closing on Christmas, covering only Little Women and not Good Wives, which is often nowadays released as the second half of Little Women, the two together in a single volume.

This was a longer graphic novel with a lot of text on each page compared to others that I have read, but still a much more accessible adaptation of the original work for both its length, its color, and its modern vernacular.

This story remains a celebration of familial love and a wholesome read in a time of darkness. It’s only that what was revolutionary in 1860s is less so now.

I think it a great introduction to the story, characters, and themes of Little Women, though those who are looking for the classic story on a one-to-one level, the text only modernized and simplified for a younger, more modern audience, would find other abridged versions more to their taste—and there are many.  I would consider this an excellent companion and comparison piece more than a abridgement.

But I personally really enjoyed what Terciero and Indigo have done with the story and celebrate this more diverse adaption.

****

Terciero, Rey and Bre Indigo. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Rey Terciero, Bre Indigo, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Healing and Unlearning with a Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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

Having read and loved the second book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, I knew I would go back to read the first. I expected this to leave off nearer to the beginning of the second, but it did not. I stand by my assertion that you can begin this series with the second. The two are really individual stories.

Little is said in this novel about Felicity’s childhood or what brings her to the Scottish bakery on which the second book opens.

This novel focuses on the elder Montague, the heir apparent, Henry “Monty” Montague. The book opens on the morning of Monty’s departure with his best friend Percy Newton on their Grand Tour, on which Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, is to accompany them a small part of the way on her way to finishing school in Marseilles.

But Monty’s father is determined that this should not be the dissolute last hooray that Monty hopes it to be. He assigns them a chaperone. He warns Monty that he will not embarrass the family and especially not be caught in any compromising situation with another man or he will not be allowed to return home to his position.

But Monty knows already that he has developed romantic feelings for Percy.

The three are not long on the Continent before the trouble begins.

Spoilers ahead!

Monty is caught sans trousers with a woman in the apartments of the duke of Bourbon, and the Montagues and Percy leave Versailles in a cloud of whispers.

That might have been smoothed over, but Monty’s idle fingers filch a valuable object that looks like a useless trinket from the duke’s desk.

Their carriage is waylaid by a violent group disguised as highwaymen on the road to Marseilles.

Separated from their carriage, their chaperone, and their possessions, the three teenagers stumble to Marseilles.

But the revelation of the fate that awaits Percy at the end of this tour—not law school as he has told the Montagues but an asylum where he is being committed because of his incurable epilepsy—makes Monty especially question the direction of their tour.

With much cajoling from Monty, the three are pulled off course, abandoning their chaperone and carriage and leaving with only the money that Monty is able to wheedle from a young bank teller on the strength of a silver tongue. Their sojourn in Barcelona introduces an element of magic into the story.

The tour becomes a quest—a race against the duke of Bourbon—to retrieve a possible panacea (making this a particularly poignant read just now; who doesn’t want access to a panacea?) that Monty hopes will cure Percy, free him from the institution, and make it easier for the two of them to somehow be together—even if Monty isn’t at all sure what a happy ending with Percy could possibly look like in a world that expects him to step into the role of an earl and produce heirs of his own to continue the aristocratic line.

This book had everything that I wanted. It was an exciting adventure novel with pirates and swordplay and magic and music and mystery. And it dealt with contemporary issues well. Monty struggles with the world’s reaction and his own reaction to his bisexuality and is deeply effected by the parental abuse that he has suffered. Poor Percy struggles not only with the world’s reaction to his epilepsy but also to his mixed race heritage, the racism of white Europeans towards his darker complexion. Felicity fights against sexism and the future that society has planned for her—a loveless marriage and a life of minding house (her struggles especially are further explored in the second book).

The book is weighted by angst that helps to balance the swashbuckling and dissolution of the external journey that the characters take.

As the world went sideways and everything here in the US began to shut down, I handed this book to a number of customers (enough that we sold through our stock in paper- and hardback) as just a fun, action/adventure, and a way to visit faraway places without leaving the safety of the house.

Right now I am unable to return the library’s copy. I may just have to read it again.  I have already re-read parts of it, particularly the ending.

I hope that the third book comes out on schedule this summer so that I can spend some more time with this writer, Monty, and the Goblin.

****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 1: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2017.

Intended audience: Ages 13+

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Get To Know Me: Book Edition

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We’re having a little more fun this week.

A friend posted this on Facebook, and I stole it, but knew I would be saving it to post to my blog one day when I hadn’t anything else prepared instead of posting it directly to Facebook. Some of the original wording of the questions are NSFW. I have censored them because I know there are school age children reading some of these reviews. You’ll all probably still know what they said.

 

1. Book you threw across the room (or wanted to):

I have done this to very few books. The only book that I remember having thrown (against the bed a foot or so away from me) is Cassandra Clare’s City of Glass.

2. If someone reeeeaaaally loves this book, you’ll never be friends:

I’m really struggling with this one, because some of the worst books that I have read have been loved by good friends. And some books that I dislike on principle but have never actually read, like ones in genres that I just am not interested in even trying (sports nonfiction, say, or business books), have been loved by friends too.

I think it pretty safe to say that if a person absolutely adores some of BS books put out by those praising the current US president and tearing down his “enemies,” we likely won’t be more than friendly to each other when see each other in passing and only then if we never start actually discussing politics or worldviews. The cover of Glenn Beck’s latest book (Arguing with Socialists) is disrespectful if not offensive in and of itself, and I’m surprised the publisher let it be printed as such.  But admittedly I have not read any of these books (nor do I intend to do so).

3. Longest read:

I’m going to let Goodreads do some of the work for me on this one… According to Goodreads, the longest individual book that I’ve read since 2012 is George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, clocking in at 1,177 pages.

4. Book that got you through the bad stuff:

This is absolutely the Harry Potter series for me. I’m rereading it now. For reasons. Things are bad again. Globally.

5a. Scared the s*** out of you:

I tend to avoid books that are likely to frighten me as a rule. So I can’t say that anything has ever “scared the s*** out” of me. BUT I do remember that after reading Frankenstein for school, even though it didn’t seem frightening as I was reading it, I would feel like I was seeing the monster’s shadow in the forest around our house at night, and I would just… go inside and shut the door and sit in a lit room for a bit.

5b. Unsettled the s*** out of you:

One of my most unsettling recent reads has been Vox by Christina Dalcher for the parallels that I saw in this fictional future America to America in the present. But I was severely unsettled long ago by one particular scene or two in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked because small me was not ready for (READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL!) multi-creature, drug-spurred, ropes included sex in that brothel or for chains meant to deform the wearer used on a little girl later. For the scarring it left on my psyche, it definitely deserves a mention here. I remember fairly little of the rest of the book, but that one scene in particular is burned into my memory—and I think has effected some of the backstory for my WIP.

6. You laughed your a** off:

I don’t usually “laugh my a** off” at books either. I sometimes give a little giggle or a snort. Sometimes a single bark. Usually at a line that strikes me as funny in an otherwise not wholly funny story. Something I think though I can’t now remember what caused me to bark when I was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the other night. It might have been some claim about the Ministry’s competency. I do have books that I read because I think that they are funny and which really haven’t much value besides: Books from the Wayside School collection by Louis Sachar, Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment, and Meet Mr Mulliner by P. G. Wodehouse.

7: Movie version was also good:

My favorite adaptation (of a book that I’ve read because I’m taking that “also” seriously) is I think actually Ever After, which is a “Cinderella” story.

8: Author(s) that can do no wrong:

This is Rick Riordan right now because he is learning. His first kids’ series was about a biracial family with siblings who don’t look alike, but his second series was rather assumed-white and cis and het. But the third and fourth and fifth have proved more diverse in every way. And though I’ve not enjoyed the most recent series as much for its style, I’ve been proud of some of his bold plot choices. And he has stepped out of the way. He has also started an imprint to uplift other writers with similar styles writing about living mythologies about which they are knowledgeable and he is not.

9: Guilty pleasure read you’re willing to admit:

You know what I feel guiltiest about is re-reading the same few series when I have so many new friends waiting in the house to be discovered….

10: Best smut:

I’m asexual and probably not the one to judge. I used to read some of Nora Roberts’ more fantastical series because friends were reading them and I enjoyed the characters and the plots and the romantic side of the relationships if not the scenes where things were more physical (which are usually in hers only a few pages per book anyway). Three Sisters’ Island was my favorite trilogy, mostly because I aspired to the bookstore/cafe that the protagonists co-own. Once upon a time, those friends alongside whom I was reading those books and I thought that such a shop was our destiny too. I’ve not entirely given up the dream.

11: True Crime:

Not my genre. I don’t think I have ever read one.

12. Kids Book:

I’m going to interpret this more specifically as a picture book because most of my answers to these questions have already been kids’ books. And my favorite picture book right now is Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima.

13: If someone wants to know you, read:

I feel like this has to be Harry Potter again because it was so foundational to my childhood and teen years.

14: Life can neatly be divided into before this book and after this book:

…Ah, still probably Harry Potter.

15: Eye-opening true story:

I read so few nonfiction books… and most that I do read are mythology collections and studies…. So we’re going to reach way back and call up the ghost of a class on children’s literature and a book called From Instruction to Delight, which traces the evolution of society’s way of thinking about children and childhood through the books that are written for that age beginning in the 1500s and going up through 1850. I hadn’t really realized how recent childhood is as a concept.

16: Book you’ve tried to read at least three times:

Though I am ashamed to admit it, Andrew Peterson’s final book in The Wingfeather Saga, The Warden and the Wolf King has made it from my bookshelves to my bedside table at least three times since its release in 2014 without my having finished it yet—not because it is a bad book. It doesn’t seem to be, and I enjoy it whenever I pick it up again (though I do have my quibbles), but I am still only 45% of the way through it. Something else always comes along and distracts me. It’s on my bedside table again now, but I haven’t actually read any of it since December 2018, and it really ought already to be back on the bookshelf, awaiting a time when I decide to try again to defeat Gnag the Nameless.

17: Worst book recommendation anyone ever gave you:

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

18: Popular author with hidden depths:

I feel like this has got to be Rick Riordan again. You think you’re buying an action-adventure story based on Norse mythology. What you don’t expect is the crash course on what it’s like to be homeless in Boston in the winter or on what it means to fast for Ramadan or what it means to identify as genderfluid or the few words of ASL that Riordan describes well enough to be tried.

19: Best book you studied in school:

There’re actually a few to narrow down: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Odyssey, Little Women, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Beloved, As I Lay Dying, Virginia Hamilton’s collection The People Could Fly, Maria Tatar’s The Classic Fairy Tales, ha! I technically did take a class that required Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

By the time Harry Potter was required, I cut myself some slack and relied on previous readings rather than reading it for class, and it had already influenced me (and I recognize that it is not the best written among that set). I think To Kill a Mockingbird had the most profound influence on me as a book that I was reading first for class. The book that I read for class that I’m proudest to have finished is the full translation of The Odyssey by Robert Fitzgerald. That’s my brag book.  Partially because I attended a different high school my freshman year than I did sophomore-senior year, and the first school that I attended read the full translation, while at the second freshmen only read a few short selections from a textbook, so it did feel like something that I could brag about, something that I had done that the my peers had not.  But I also enjoyed it, and I enjoy having the knowledge of it now.

20: Fave short story:

My favorite short story may actually be “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” (that’s it; that’s the entirety of the text) because of what it is able to accomplish in SO little and because of the challenge that it issues. The story is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but it seems that the idea of this ad as a story predates him.

If we’re refusing to allow flash fiction, then my favorite short story is probably Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Lightning Tree” which was published in the anthology Rogues edited by George R. R. Martin. I like it because I like being in that world and that town and I like the focus on the children who are absolutely invisible in the larger novels of Rothfuss’ once Kvothe matures out of childhood himself, but I love it because of my memories of a being on a beach with two friends while one of them read it aloud to the other two of us, of playing in the ocean between sections, and of wandering down the boardwalk, trying to escape the sun and the heat.

21: Most beautiful writing:

I aspire to write like Patrick Rothfuss.

22: Favorite novel:

I may just have to choose Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix here. It’s my favorite of those 7.

23: Favorite short story collection:

Maria Tatar’s The Classic Fairy Tales is a fantastically put together collection of fairy tales organized by tale type so that stories resembling, say, “Cinderella” or “Bluebeard” are side by side despite their countries of origin, allowing for an easy comparison of cultures and tales of the same type with introductions to each tale type by Tatar. This collection includes folktales with and without known attribution, a wide collection from different countries, and includes a few modern retellings by authors like Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood.

 

Please feel free to take this questionnaire and format it for whatever social media platform you use. I’m afraid I don’t know who to credit with its origin.  Ping back to me if you do fill one of these out.  I would love to read some more.

Book Review: Wilder Girls, Infected and Quarantined

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

I read four novels in full and half of another and about 30 pages of one more for Barnes & Noble’s new YA Book Club in 2019. This was my favorite of them all. It was advertised to me as Lord of the Flies with a female cast. In Power’s novel a strange disease has struck an isolated island that is home to an elite girls’ school. The island has been quarantined, and the girls have already survived eighteen months in isolation when the story begins. The girls form new social strata. They form strong bonds with fewer people. But they form bonds. It is not every girl for herself. And there is order to their society. The few remaining adults still hold authority over the loose coalition of cliques.  There is still a sense of acting towards a collectively good and a collective goal of survival of as many as possible.

It’s honestly been too long since I last read Lord of the Flies for me to intelligently compare the two.

The disease, which affects everything living on the island—human, animal, and plant—turns things more wild, monstrous. The trees grow taller and the forest more dense. The animals in the forest grow large and turn carnivorous while their still living bodies begin to decay. It affects the girls in different ways. Some have protruding, spiked spines breaking the skin along their backs. Some glow in the dark. Some sprout scales. Girls die of the Tox—or of the changes that their bodies undergo because of it.  But some survive, and not everyone who survives the painful changes views these changes as monstrous.

The government sends supplies, but there are never enough supplies, and there is never a cure.

This is a novel that explores what makes a person human.

This is a story about survival and friendship and love, about trust or distrust of the authority, particularly male and adult authority over girls. This is a story about the ties between families and friends and what might sever those bonds.

I don’t remember this being a particularly uplifting story, but it is a story about surviving disease and about surviving quarantine that some of you might find timely.

The novel itself is fairly short, clocking in at 357 pages, and I found especially its latter third fast-paced.

SPOILERS:

When Hetty, one of the POV characters, is chosen for the elite group that crosses the island to fetch the supplies from the dock and bring them back, she discovers that one of the few remaining adults, Ms. Welch, is making the girls dump many of the supplies that are sent. It is not until later that she understands that she is trying to keep the girls from being either poisoned or cured.

The disease is revealed to be a disease released from melting permafrost, so this is a science-fiction more than a fantasy, though I hope no such disease is caught in our ice.

****

This review is fairly incomplete, but I’m afraid it’s now been 6 months since I read it, and I passed it quickly to a friend who wanted to read it. I’m writing this one from memory, and my memory is failing me.

Power, Rory. Wilder Girls. New York: Delacorte-Penguin Random, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Rory Power, Delacorte Press, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: March 2020 Picture Book Roundup: Important Lessons and Cartoonish Animals

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

A Whale of a Mistake by Ioana Hobai. Page Street Kids-Page Street, 2020.

I have been waiting for the release of this book since going to a talk by an editor for Page Street Kids who had an ARC with her. The cover is SPLENDID. The illustrations are SPLENDID. I adore the color scheme.  I hadn’t been able at that talk to spend time with its text. The text actually fell a little flat to me. I know that this book was inspired by the author’s divorce, though the text for children speaks more broadly to any large or seemingly large mistake. I was reminded strongly of Kobi Yamada’s What Would You Do series, and I think if I was not so familiar with these books, I would like this one better. It would be more standout. Still, this is a message that Yamada has yet to cover, and it is a good message—that large mistakes when we take a step back from them, are small in the face of a vast universe, and become less frightening to rectify when seen from this perspective.  This book just feels like it should be part of that series, and in that way, the contrasts of blues and salmons seem out of place; I expect sepia, and I expect my round-faced, medieval-ly dressed protagonist, not someone white-faced and blue-haired.

The mistake here is represented as a whale that takes the protagonist out to sea, away from help and community, and then shrinks as she faces it and steers it back towards land.  In much the way that Yamada’s problem seems overwhelming until it is faced and reveals its opportunity.

****

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

You Will Be Found by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman (inkymole). Little, Brown-Hachette, 2020.  Intended audience: Teens and young adults.

The text of this picture book, shelved at Barnes & Noble right now in the teen section though I think it is absolutely for any age, is the lyrics from the song of the same title from the musical Dear Evan Hansen. This song in particular has always made my eyes sting, and it could not have come out at a more appropriate time. The song in the musical (to my understanding from memorizing the soundtrack but never having actually seen the play) is the speech given by the title character, Evan Hansen, at a school assembly honoring the memory of a schoolmate who has committed suicide. This speech is filmed by one of the students and goes viral.  The general message is that we are never alone, that there is always help.  The illustrations in this edition are watercolors in mostly blues and purples but with flashes of yellow and warmer colors and one page that is a rainbow of text. It all looks very modern and very soothing. I think the illustrations chosen represent the text on the pages well. If you need this reminder (and I think we all probably need this reminder), this is a good book to keep on a coffee table. Is it as moving as the song? Probably not. Can I read the book to myself without singing the song in my mind? Also no. So my impression of it may be skewed.  The text isn’t 100% word for word, but it is near enough. I am glad though that the authors opted against keeping in, for example, the bridge text of the newscasters and Facebook comments and likes. I think it makes for a stronger book as it is than if they had done. For what this is, this is excellently done. I’ve read several books the texts of which are song lyrics, and I think this has been my favorite.

*****

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

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Jonathan Stutzman and illustrated by Heather Fox. Henry, Holt-Macmillan, 2020.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.  Intended release May 2020.

I received an ARC of this book about a lazy llama who doesn’t want to clean. His friend Alpaca loves to clean though. So Llama invents the Replicator 3000, into which he tricks his friend Alpaca. Two Alpacas clean Llama’s house with ease, but Llama wonders what he could do with more Alpacas. The legion Alpacas get loose and wreck havoc by cleaning the town. Llama sits happily in his clean home with a pizza. The pizza draws the many Alpacas back to Llama’s home, where Llama realizes his mistake and rectifies it with a reverse switch. But now he and Alpaca are both at his home in time for dessert, and Llama has only one slice of cake. And a Replicator 3000. This book is silly. But this book made me smile. Llama’s unthinking hijinks remind me of Pig the Pug, though Llama’s illustration style is even more cartoonish, sharing Pig’s and Trevor’s bulbous eyes but simplifying even more their bodies. I like this better than Blabey’s books though. Alpaca is unhurt. Llama is unhurt. Everyone gets cake. The damage is not permanent. And if Stutzman has a Replicator 3000 and a cleaning alpaca, now would be the time to release a legion of alpacas on the world and scrub everything clean.  I also enjoyed the framing of this story, opening with “By dinner, Llama will unleash a great Alpacalypse upon the world” and continuing to mark the passage of time by Llama’s meals, which include second lunch and second dinner.  Llamas eat often like hobbits.

****

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

How to Catch a Unicorn by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is narrated not by the would-be-captors but by the unicorn herself. Bored, she sets off for the zoo, but she is spotted by some kids who set out to capture her. She eludes their creative traps occasionally helped by the zoo inhabitants, so you could use this book as an animal primer. The unicorn lore in this was… interesting. A good bit of it I had never heard and I think was made up by Wallace for this story rather than pulled from previously established lore. You can’t say that any of its wrong, though, as unicorns, if they ever existed, exist no longer.

***

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

How to Catch a Dinosaur by Adam Wallace and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is the fourth book that I’ve read from this series (missed from this blog is How to Catch a Dragon, a book written for the Chinese New Year; I may go back to review those picture books eventually). This one is about a boy who hopes to win a school science fair by catching a dinosaur. Though ultimately unsuccessful in his hunt, his contraptions for catching the dino do snag him the trophy. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern dino facts that this book alludes to: that some dinos had feathers, that dinos are nearer to birds than other living creatures. In this particularly the “better luck next time” refrain that ends of each of the the books in this series is jarring because the narration and the perspective changes from the children to the dino for this last line.

***1/2

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.