Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review - Daughter of Necessity

Daughter of Necessity
by Marie Brennan
Date: 2014
Publisher: Tor
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

By day she crafts; by night she unmakes. Surely somewhere, in all the myriad crossings of the threads, there is a future in which all will be well. Marie Brennan offers an intriguing new spin on a classic tale.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a case of "it's not you, it's me". There was really nothing wrong with this story. I just wasn't crazy about the style (it's very detached) and I didn't find the characters that engaging.

It's basically a short take on Penelope (wife of Odysseus) and what she was up to with that loom while she was waiting for her husband to return. Here, we're offered an alternate explanation as to why she was undoing her weaving every night (and it wasn't just to stall).

If you're really into myths and old stories, or have actually read The Odyssey, you might get more out of this one. For me, though, it was just okay.

Quotable moment:

She retires for the night, trembling, exhausted. Frightened. And exhilarated. When morning comes, all is as it was before, her problems unchanged, her desperation the same. Gathering her courage, she goes back to the loom.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.71 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review - Oddity

Oddity
by Sarah Cannon
Date: 2017
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 304
Format: e-book
Source: library

Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where normal is odd and odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, and instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven't been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town's yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared . . .

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (who's inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly quite laughable), Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity's secrets, even evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes . . . and Ada can't let it go. Because, if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

Join a tough eleven-year-old as she faces down zombie rabbits, alien mobs, and Puppet Cartels while trying to find her missing twin in Sarah Cannon's imaginative middle-grade debut, Oddity.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book seemed to start off pretty well, with an exciting scene involving schoolkids trying to take down live leopards in the gym. It set the tone for the rest of the book's quirkiness. Unfortunately, those quirks were both its strength and its weakness.

For the longest time, I thought I was going to DNF this one. If I go back over my notes, I see that I was over halfway in when I suspected I might be getting to the main plot. That's way too late for any book, never mind one aimed at younger readers. When the plot finally did get going, it still had some hiccups and stalls before finally barrelling through toward the finale. The pacing in the whole book seemed off as a result, and the little "six months later" epilogue at the end really could have been skipped, since it was basically just a rushed scene that didn't really add anything to the story (except another quirky anecdote).

So... Oddity, New Mexico is a weird little town. It's sort of along the lines of Midnight, Texas, but with a more kid-friendly slant. There are aliens running around town, getting into weird face-offs with zombie rabbits (which I actually liked; their grasp of grammar was especially amusing--one of them referred to a particular type of frozen meat as "beeves"... which makes a weird sense if you think about it). The whole town is run by a quartet of sentient puppets. Yes, puppets. It's just one of the weird and wonderful ideas in this extremely creative story.

The problem is, so much of the first part of the book is spent developing this complex world. Each chapter seems like a little vignette, unrelated to any sort of overarching plot. And while I can see, looking back, that those episodes helped to explain a lot of what was going on, it didn't seem like those bits were relevant at the time. It's almost as if this story wasn't meant to be a novel. I can see it as a graphic novel (where you could draw many of these creatures and scenarios without having to explain them in writing) or as an animated movie (it would be so cute and colourful); as a novel, though, all that exposition and world-building became a bit tedious.

Then there's the issue of the ages. There are a few things in the book that made me wonder if the characters had originally been written as a bit older (13 or so, maybe?) and then were aged down later. I'm not sure why this would've been done, because it would've worked so much better had the characters been a little older. Then I wouldn't have had to wonder why all these kids were going through precocious puberty (Ada mentions that she continually teased her guy friends about their cracking voices, and one of them wears body spray, implying he's already getting stinky... but they're only supposed to be 11-year-old fifth-graders), why nobody seemed to care that preteens were running around at all hours of the day and night, and why Ada used words that I constantly had to look up. Writing child characters can be tricky. They need to sound like kids. Ada didn't. I might've been able to go with it if she'd been 13 and a voracious reader or something, but when an 11-year-old who hasn't shown any inclination toward being particularly studious talks about a baby being "fractious", the author's clearly showing her hand.

There's quite a bit of representation here. Ada's black, her friend has two moms, and her aunt's disabled. However, I wasn't quite sure why Ada was black, particularly in this setting. It might've been nice to see a kid with a background from the local area, maybe Pueblo. There was also a questionable joke about a certain type of alien that resided in the town that came perilously close to an offensive racial stereotype. I'm not sure if that's what the author intended, but that's how I read it.

Still, I really wanted to find out what happened to Ada's sister, Pearl. So I kept reading. Luckily, this book has some of the technically strongest writing I've read in ages, so at least I didn't have to worry about that. And when we finally got around to the real meat of the story, it was exciting and ultimately satisfying.

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

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, February 2, 2018

Review - Ghosts

Ghosts
by Raina Telgemeier
Date: 2016
Publisher: Graphix
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 256
Format: e-book
Source: library

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake - and her own.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm in the minority here, based on the book's high Goodreads rating, but I just didn't like this all that much. I felt like it wasn't quite sure what it wanted to be: a serious "issue" book or a fantasy. I certainly wasn't expecting all those ghosts to actually show up... or to look so corny.

My main problem, though, was that I just didn't like the characters. Maya was obnoxious, and though I know she was supposed to be a spirited (and occasionally annoying) younger sister, she just rubbed me the wrong way. Cat was even worse. She was downright rude. If I'd behaved toward new neighbours the way she did--in front of my parents, no less--I would've gotten an earful... and probably been grounded. I get that teenagers can have an attitude, but Cat wasn't called out on her rudeness. Which made me kind of hate her parents. Actually, the only character I sort of liked in the whole book was Carlos, but he was kind of unrealistically perfect for a teenage boy.

The style of art didn't do much for me, either. In fact, I preferred the sketches that were included at the end, even though they were black and white. The whole Day of the Dead theme was interesting, but... it wasn't really enough to save this book for me.

As I said, though, I'm in the minority. Lots of people like it, so if you like graphic novels with stories about sick kids or ghosts, you might enjoy it more than I did.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review - Iggy Peck, Architect

Iggy Peck, Architect
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2007
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Meet Iggy Peck—creative, independent, and not afraid to express himself! In the spirit of David Shannon's No, David and Rosemary Wells's Noisy Nora, Iggy Peck will delight readers looking for irreverent, inspired fun. Iggy has one passion: building. His parents are proud of his fabulous creations, though they're sometimes surprised by his materials—who could forget the tower he built of dirty diapers? When his second-grade teacher declares her dislike of architecture, Iggy faces a challenge. He loves building too much to give it up! With Andrea Beaty's irresistible rhyming text and David Roberts's puckish illustrations, this book will charm creative kids everywhere, and amuse their sometimes bewildered parents.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is probably the weakest book in the series I've read so far. I wasn't thrilled with the story (although the kid building stuff out his his dirty diapers was an amusing feat). I don't like seeing female characters fainting; it just perpetuates old stereotypes. And the meter in this one, for whatever reason, was clumsy. It was really a stretch in places, and it would be a bit difficult to read aloud.

Quotable moment:

"Good Gracious, Ignacious!" his mother exclaimed. "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen." But her smile faded fast as a light wind blew past and she realized those diapers weren't clean!

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty
illustrated by David Roberts
Date: 2013
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she's a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions her one unfinished goal--to fly--Rosie sets to work building a contraption to make her aunt's dream come true. But when her contraption doesn't fly but rather hovers for a moment and then crashes, Rosie deems the invention a failure. On the contrary, Aunt Rose inisists that Rosie's contraption was a raging success. You can only truly fail, she explains, if you quit.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was the second I've read from this author. The first, Ada Twist, Scientist, was cute, but I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as Rosie Revere, Engineer. Aside from the great message to never give up when it seems like you might have failed, the illustrations are well done and Rosie's inventions (especially the anti-python cheese helmet) are pretty amusing. Like Ada Twist, Scientist, this is another book that may encourage little girls to pursue their STEM dreams. I think I really would've liked this one when I was a kid.

Quotable moment:

Alone in her attic, the moon high above, dear Rosie made gadgets and gizmos she loved.

And when she grew sleepy, she hid her machines far under the bed, where they'd never be seen.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review - The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
Date: 1964
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: library

"Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy."

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk...and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I think I probably read this at one time, given that I liked some of Silverstein's other books (I still remember that poem about the sharp-toothed snail). But, if I read The Giving Tree at some point, it would've been when I was young enough to not be so jaded. Because... holy crap, that is one codependent tree!

The poor thing gives and gives and gives, and while it's heartwarming in the beginning when the boy actually loves her back, it gets to be disturbing as the boy grows up and only comes around when he wants something from her. Apples. Her branches. Her trunk. It's never enough. Even after she's been reduced to a stump, she's still happy when the boy finally comes back to her. If that's not the definition of a dysfunctional relationship, I don't know what is.

If this was supposed to be a book about unconditional love, it kind of failed. If it was meant more as a warning about codependent relationships, then it hit the mark pretty well.

Quotable moment:

"Cut down my trunk
and make a boat,"
said the tree.
"Then you can sail away...
and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk

and made a boat and sailed away.

And the tree was happy...

but not really.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Review - Spork

Spork
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Date: 2010
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

A humorous “multi-cutlery” tale about how Spork — half spoon, half fork — finally finds his place at the table. A charming story for anyone who has ever wondered about their place in the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a cute little book! To adult readers, it would be pretty clear that we're not talking about cutlery, but about multi-racial families. But it's a great parallel, and addresses some of the issues that kids in such families might face.

I wasn't 100% sold on the illustrations, but only because I'm not sure how appealing they'd be to the target age group. The book is fairly monochromatic, with a rather rough look to it. Spork, however, is adorable.

Overall, this is a cute book with a great message about finding your place in the world.

Quotable moment:

One day, after the billionth time he was asked "What are you, anyway?" and the zillionth time he was passed over when the table was being set...

... Spork sighed and thought, "It must be easier to be a single thing." And he decided he'd try to pick just one thing to be.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5