Monday, May 8, 2017

Review - The Princess & the Penis

The Princess & the Penis
by R. J. Silver
Date: 2010
Publisher: R. J. Silver
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 33
Format: e-book

A beautiful, chaste, and completely naive princess encounters a strange lump in her mattress. The lump soon morphs into a shape familiar to everyone but her, triggering her curiosity and her father's greatest fears. He frantically tries to intervene, but having a large phantom phallus in a curious maiden's bed is never a good combination.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This... This was...

What was this?

I'd heard about this little story a few times, thought it sounded kind of amusing, and then went out of my way to avoid it for fear of what buying it would do to my Amazon recommendations. But, eventually, I couldn't contain my curiosity any longer. I just had to give it a try.

I've had some miserable experiences with self-published freebies before. But this book is surprisingly, delightfully well-written. No comma splices making me want to pull my hair out. No grammar slip-ups making me wince. No typos to make me wonder if spell-check actually exists. And only one questionable said-bookism that made me pause for just a moment. I've had worse experiences with hardcovers coming out of mainstream publishers with multiple editors and proofreaders!

So, without any of that stuff to trip me up, I was able to just enjoy the story. And it's pretty hilarious. It reads like a fairytale, and it's pretty much a twisted version of "The Princess and the Pea" (though you could argue that it also incorporates themes from "The Frog Prince").

The characters were great. The king's obstinate desire to keep his daughter pure backfires when the penis appears, since she's woefully ignorant and ends up doing things that give her parents conniptions. My favourite characters, however, were the aunts. While there were a few great one-liners in the story, these two ladies seemed to have most of them.

Overall, this was just entertaining. It was funny, silly, and a bit dirty, while somehow maintaining this weird innocence and the flavour of a fairytale. It wasn't overly graphic, either; I hesitate to say that it would be okay for teens, but hey... if they're reading Sarah J. Maas, they'd be able to handle this.

If Silver can get a better cover for this little story, it might attract more of the attention it rightfully deserves. It's one of the better self-published pieces I've read.

Quotable moment:

"It's been both polite and gentle. So I don't think it's a demon or anything villainous. It feels more like it's lost and lonely -- yes, almost like a lost puppy."

"Ah, the lost puppy look," Aunt Leila whispered to her sister. "That one used to get me every time."

Recommended to: older readers who don't mind a bit of raunchiness in their fairytales

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.33 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review - One

by Sarah Crossan
Date: 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: verse novel
Pages: 400
Format: e-book
Source: library

Tippi and Grace. Grace and Tippi. For them, it's normal to step into the same skirt. To hook their arms around each other for balance. To fall asleep listening to the other breathing. To share. And to keep some things private. Each of the sixteen-year-old girls has her own head, heart, and two arms, but at the belly, they join. And they are happy, never wanting to risk the dangerous separation surgery.

But the girls' body is beginning to fight against them. And Grace doesn't want to admit it. Not even to Tippi. How long can they hide from the truth—how long before they must face the most impossible choice of their lives?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's been a while since I read a novel in verse. I like them because they tend to be quick reads. They can also pack quite a bit of emotional punch into relatively few words. This book was no exception. Although I did question its need to be in verse at first, I think the author chose the right format after all.

The subject of conjoined twins--both the biological and psychological aspects--fascinates me, so when I heard about this novel, I though I'd probably enjoy it. The story is fairly simple, but also poignant. The characters were all done quite well, and everyone had distinct roles and personalities. That's not to say that I liked all of them but, for the most part, they all seemed quite real. And the formatting of the text itself was unique and quite symbolic (especially near the end), which adds to the specialness of the book.

My main complaint with this book is more of a technical one. I've noticed this issue with many books, and that's the seeming lack of editing as the book goes along. This story is set mostly in New Jersey. However, a few British expressions and turns of phrase showed up in the last part of the book, which kind of threw me out of the flow of the story. The only conclusion I can draw is that editors don't bother going through the second halves of books. (The author does live in London, but she did live for a while in New Jersey. You'd think that, between her and the American editors, they could've caught some of these problems.)

Overall, though, this was a good read, and it's one of those stories that you'll think about long after you've finished.

Quotable moment:

Sometimes we do something
completely ordinary,
like sweep the kitchen floor,
and Caroline lets her jaw drop
to show how fascinating
we are.
"Wow!" she'll say.
And then again,

I just find it funny
that she's paid us for this
and that
something so boring
could ever
make it to TV.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review - Do Fairies Bring the Spring?

Do Fairies Bring the Spring?
by Eliza Gardner Walsh
illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Date: 2017
Publisher: Down East Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

After a long winter's rest with little to do,
are the fairies ready to start something new,

Do they use tiny brushes and oil pastels
to paint crocuses, lilacs, and daffodils?

Everyone knows fairies love spring flowers and summer sun, but is it the fairies who wake up the earth as the snow melts? Do they entice the trees to turn green and the flowers to grow? In this charming follow up to Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh, acclaimed author of the Fairy House Handbook and Fairy Garden Handbook, explores the matter in a children's picture book of rhyming questions. Combined with delightful illustrations by Hazel Mitchell this whimsical book will help children discover the world of fairies and learn to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This little book has cute pictures, but for me the illustrations were a little too cute. The bright pastel colours are a bit much, and as an adult I really wasn't a fan of the look (little kids would probably love it, though).

The premise is interesting, though it's taken a bit too far for my taste. I would've preferred not to have the bit in the back about how to support butterflies and birds--the fairies' friends--in the garden, as the implication is that fairies are completely real. I'm all for magic in childhood, so I'm not quite sure why this rubbed me the wrong way. But it did.

The verse left me cold. The meter isn't terrible, but it doesn't exactly flow off the tongue. For a book that's likely meant to be read over and over again, out loud, I was hoping for the rhyme and rhythm to be a little cleaner.

All in all, it's not a terrible book, but it has limited appeal. My favourite picture books are ones that can be enjoyed by adults as well. This one seems more like it was intended for preschoolers who are going through a fairy-princess phase.

Quotable moment:

Does this pitter-patter wake
the natural world up
so we'll soon have
lovely flowers to pluck?

Recommended to: very young children

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review - The New Hunger

The New Hunger (Warm Bodies #1.5)
by Isaac Marion
Date: 2013
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Reading level: NA
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

The end of the world didn’t happen overnight.

After years of societal breakdowns, wars and quakes and rising tides, humanity was already near the edge. Then came a final blow no one could have expected: all the world’s corpses rising up to make more.

Born into this bleak and bloody landscape, twelve-year-old Julie struggles to hold on to hope as she and her parents drive across the wastelands of America, a nightmarish road trip in search of a new home.

Hungry, lost, and scared, sixteen-year-old Nora finds herself her brother’s sole guardian after her parents abandon them in the not-quite-empty ruins of Seattle.

And in the darkness of a forest, a dead man opens his eyes. Who is he? What is he? With no clues beyond a red tie and the letter “R,” he must unravel the grim mystery of his existence—right after he learns how to think, how to walk, and how to satisfy the monster howling in his belly. The New Hunger is a glimpse of the past and a path to an astonishing future...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've been wanting to read this prequel novella for years, ever since I read (and absolutely loved) Warm Bodies. At that time, though, I couldn't get access, being Canadian and all... and I eventually forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and our library has it in its collection. I'm all about short books these days, so a novella sounded like a good idea.

At first, I wondered why this prequel was listed on Goodreads as #1.5. But after reading it, I get it. While most of the events (save for the first and last chapters) take place before the events in Warm Bodies, readers who aren't familiar with that book probably wouldn't get much out of this one.

Those first and last chapters were actually my favourite parts of the whole book, where Marion goes all poetic and we get a glimpse of the voice that made Warm Bodies so special. This book, unlike Warm Bodies, is told in multiple third-person points of view. We get to see the backstories of three of the characters in the novel (R, Julie, and Nora). I expected this book to be mostly about R, or even Julie... but I felt like it was more Nora's story. It's heartbreaking, and I hope she gets some more page time and resolution in the sequel, The Burning World.

There's not too much plot here; it's more of a fleshing-out of the characters that we met in Warm Bodies. R, Julie, Nora, Julie's dad, and M all make an appearance, along with Julie's mom and Nora's little brother, Addis. The problem with unfamiliar characters in a prequel who don't appear in the main book is that you know going in that things don't end well for them. Still, it was nice to see a little more development of the main characters with these secondary characters as foils.

So why didn't I give this book a higher rating? A couple of reasons. First, like I mentioned, there's not much plot. It could sort of be considered an origin story, I guess, although we don't really get enough answers for that, either (some of the characters are still a bit of a mystery). Second, it's a bit rough, editing-wise. A few spots could've used a bit more polish to get rid of contradictions and continuity issues. (Also, why doesn't Julie have asthma? Didn't she carry around an inhaler for most of Warm Bodies?) Mainly, though, this book just didn't suck me in, and I attribute that to the fact that it's not told by R, like Warm Bodies is. His voice is what I loved the most about that book. The Burning World appears to go back to his first-person point of view, so it will be interesting to see whether or not Marion can recapture the lovely, poetic voice of his unusual zombie character.

All in all, this novella is worth reading if you're a fan of Warm Bodies and want to know a bit more about the characters and the world they inhabit. If you haven't read Warm Bodies, definitely read that one first; you'll get way more out of The New Hunger if you read the books in the order Goodreads has indicated.

Quotable moment:

Nothing is permanent. Not even the end of the world.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.38 out of 5

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Review - A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots

A Wee Book o Fairy Tales in Scots
by Matthew Fitt & James Robertson
illustrated by Deborah Campbell
Date: 2016
Publisher: Itchy Coo
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 96
Format: e-book

"Wee pig, wee pig," said the wolf. "Can I come ben?"
"Whit? And let in a wolf that I dinna ken?
I'm in my hoose and I'm no feared.
By the hair on my broostlie beard
Away ye go, ye big hairy cloon."
"Then I will hech and I'll pech and I will blaw your hoose doon."

Her are six of the world's best-loved folk and fairy tales, retold in lively modern Scots by Matthew Fitt and James Robertson. Familiar stories like Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a fresh look and sound in these new versions, which are ideal for bedtime, nursery and classroom reading. Great entertainment for children and grown-ups alike.

Includes: Cinderella, Wee Reid Ridin Hood, The Three Wee Pigs, Snaw White, The Billy Goats Gruff and Rumpelstiltskin.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I heard about this book from my mom, who came across it online. I thought it looked like fun, and since Amazon had the Kindle edition for a good price, I thought I'd give it a try.

The book is written in modern Scots. I'd heard a few words over the years, being of Scottish background myself, but I'd never read a book in the language. Much of it is like English, but with many unique words. Familiar fairy tales are a great choice for a book like this, since most readers will be able to follow along and figure out what many of the unfamiliar words mean from the context.

The stories themselves are charming and funny, and a few offer some different little twists. In "The Three Wee Pigs", the pig who built his house out of stone goes off to the amusement park and rides the bumper cars before heading home to deal with the wolf. I don't remember that! The pictures were pretty cute, though I wish there had been a few more of them; even though this is a picture book, it's a little more text-heavy than I would've liked.

My only real complaint with this book is that it could really use a glossary. I read the e-book with the Kindle Cloud Reader so I could have another tab open in which to look words up. (Simply rearranging the stories also could've helped, since "Wee Reid Ridin Hood" offered clear meanings for a lot of words if you know the story... but it was at the end of the book, so that opportunity was lost.)

All in all, this was a fun introduction to the Scots language. If you've got a good grasp on English, you'll probably have little trouble reading this one.

Quotable moment:

"Never say never and dinnae sae cannae.
I'm here tae help ye. I'm your Fairy Grannie.
There's nothin can stap us, nothin at aa.
Cinderella, my dear, you will gang tae the Ba!"

Recommended to: parents who want to read stories aloud to their kids; anyone who enjoys fresh takes on fairy tales

Premise: 4/5
Meter: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review - The Beach at Night

The Beach at Night
by Elena Ferrante
illustrated by Mara Cerri
Date: 2007
Publisher: Europa Editions
Reading level: A
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Elena Ferrante returns to a story that animated the novel she considers to be a turning point in her development as a a writer: "The Lost Daughter." But this time the tale takes the form of a children's fable told from the point of view of the lost (stolen!) doll, Celina. Celina is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minu, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.

Accompanied by the oneiric illustrations of Mara Cerri, "The Beach at Night" is a story for all of Ferrante's many ardent fans."

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Good lord. WTF was that?!

I was browsing through the e-book selection at the local library and came across this book. The premise looked a little bit interesting, and it was short, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Unfortunately, this is a book that tries so hard to be something that it ends up being a big mess. The illustrations are creepy and basic, the language is definitely not for little kids (unless you're willing to read books with the words "shit" in them at storytime), and the whole thing is just so creepy that I wouldn't be surprised if I have nightmares. Seriously... the villain tries to steal the doll's words by basically spitting in her mouth. Gross.

My library put this in the children's section. I live in a conservative area where a local school board once spent over a million dollars trying to ban innocent little picture books that featured homosexual parents. I don't think they'd be too amused that this has been placed in children's paths (but I kind of am... *evil laugh*).

Pick this one up at your own risk.

Quotable moment:

While I rise toward the surface, hanging from my own words, I hear the spiteful voice of the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset singing at the top of his lungs:

The tongue I slice
Right off, in a trice
The names I seize
With the greatest of ease
Together we sing
Treasure for a king
For affection I pine
On delight I dine
Your heart I'll shred
Until it's dead.

Recommend it to: someone you really don't like

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.4 out of 5

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review - A Day of Signs and Wonders

A Day of Signs and Wonders
by Kit Pearson
Date: 2016
Publisher: HarperTrophy
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Can your whole life change in a single day?

Emily dreams of birds. She feels constrained by nearly everything—her overbearing sisters, the expectation to be a proper young lady, and even her stiff white pinafore.

Kitty feels undone. Her heart is still grieving a tragic loss, and she doesn’t want to be sent away to a boarding school so far away from home.

When the two girls meet by chance, on a beach on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, in 1881, neither knows that their one day together will change their lives forever.

Inspired by the childhood of acclaimed Canadian artist Emily Carr, A Day of Signs and Wonders is a sensitive and insightful look at friendship, family, and the foundations of an artist, drawn over the course of a single day—a day in which a comet appears, an artist is born and an aching hole in one girl’s heart begins to heal.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Having read some of Kit Pearson's novels for young people before, I thought I'd give this new one a try. It's historical fiction, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as some of her other books (especially the ones with paranormal elements), it was an entertaining story.

I really like reading books where I recognize the setting. In this case, the setting may be familiar... but the time period isn't. Victoria in 1881 is very different from Victoria today. I liked seeing how undeveloped the place was, as just a little "city" that was slowly growing and developing. Some of my ancestors actually ended up there a few years after the events in the book, so it was interesting to see what kind of a place they would've encountered.

The book is mainly a character sketch and follows two young girls throughout one unusual day. The style reminded me a little of such classics as Little Women, or of the books of L.M. Montgomery... although there were a few touches in this one that never would've been included in a book that was actually written over 100 years ago. But the story is still charming and somewhat quaint.

This book's main problem is that it's slow. The plot is basic. There's not a lot of action. The characters gain insight and develop (which is quite a feat, considering the story takes place during only one day), but there's not much that really happens to them. (While the girls themselves viewed the day as quite exciting and full, it might not seem that way to modern readers.) While I could appreciate what the author was trying to do here, I wonder if the target audience (middle graders, most likely, as the two main characters are 9 and 13) would want to continue reading, or if they would get bored.

The book is fairly well-written, though I wouldn't expect otherwise from Pearson. Aside from a slight mix-up with the direction of the comet (where it is in the sky doesn't match with where it should be, based on the map in the front), there wasn't a lot to complain about from a technical standpoint.

Overall, this is a lovely historical fiction novel. It would be a good starting place for those who want to learn more about Emily Carr.

Quotable moment:

Finally Mrs. Crane called from the hall. Emily was standing there, scowling. Kitty couldn't believe this was the same girl. Her round, rosy cheeks were soap shiny and her curls were gathered into a tight bundle at the back of her neck. She was encased in a spotless blue frock, a stiff white pinafore, low buttoned boots, and white stockings. She clutched a straw hat.

This was how little girls were supposed to look, of course; but Kitty wondered where inside this clean, tidy parcel was hidden the wild, barefoot Emily she had met earlier.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs