Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review - Nell

Nell
by Karen Hesse
Date: 2011
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 12
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

"I am always dying. I am never dying. I have died and died and died again, but I do not stay dead."

When the lines between fairy tale and reality blur, identity becomes fluid, and compassion can have unexpected costs. In "Nell,' a short story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," award-winning author Karen Hesse adds a haunting, supernatural twist to a classic tale.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was depressing. But what else are you going to get from a retelling of "The Little Match Girl"?

Still, the way this was told was beautiful, a story within a story. The imagery was rich and the main character's voice was engaging. It's short, but it still manages to bring a new, supernatural twist to the old story.

Quotable moment:

How her mouth watered with longing when she passed a rosy-cheeked boy eating a bun,

soiling his mitten with bakery grease,

dropping crumbs and bits of raisins in his wake,

ignoring the admonitions of his father,

who held on tightly to keep the boy from running into the people around him.

The match girl stopped walking and stood where the bun-eater had stood and drew in a deep breath,

devouring the scent of the sweet roll that still lingered in the cold air.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.86 out of 5 ladybugs


Friday, April 6, 2018

Review - All Systems Red

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)
by Martha Wells
Date: 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 156
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had this novella on my want-to-read list for a while, so when the opportunity to read it for free came up, I couldn't say no. I managed to blow through it in a few hours, which is unusual for me. But the pace was so fast and the story so intriguing that I couldn't stop for long without wanting to get back in and find out what happened next.

The strength of this book is really Murderbot itself. The story is told from its perspective, and it's an interesting one. It's so convinced it's just a machine, continually reminding others, and trying very hard (it seems) to convince itself of that fact. But it has emotions and attachments, little quirks that make it evident that it's not just a robot.

The pace was so quick, and the story managed to pack a lot of action into relatively few pages. I'm very glad that this is just the first book in a series, though, because the ending was kind of unsatisfying and a little confusing.

I can't wait to find out what happens next in Murderbot's life (and will the poor thing ever get a proper name?).

Quotable moment:

I yelled, "No!" which I'm not supposed to do; I'm always supposed to speak respectfully to the clients, even when they're about to accidentally commit suicide.

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

Overall Rating: 4.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review - The Last Novelist

The Last Novelist
by Matthew Kressel
Date: 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 27
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel is a science fiction story about a dying writer who is trying to finish one final novel on the distant planet he settles on for his demise. His encounter with a young girl triggers a last burst of creativity.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This short story certainly painted a lovely picture of a foreign world... but, at the same time, I feel vaguely unsettled. It looks like the author tried to incorporate many cultures (you can see it in the use of language--I easily picked out the Yiddish and Indian influences), but the overall feeling I got was sort of Caribbean, from the tropical setting and mention of steel drums to the way the native inhabitants of the planet spoke. Are they human? I'm assuming they're descended from humans; despite having six-fingered hands and violet eyes, there's no indication that they're alien. Which makes it kind of awkward when the little girl--Fish, as she calls herself--speaks like a stereotype:

"I's at my uncle's," she says. "But I's back now. Get up you loafing fool, 'cause we gots work to do!"

This leaves me feeling... I don't know. Am I reading cultural appropriation? Or are we to believe that this planet was colonized entirely by settlers of Caribbean descent?

Aside from that, the story was okay, if a little unsatisfying. The world-building was probably the best part, even if it was a bit uneven at times with the technology. I also wonder if some of the themes are just the author's fears. In this future, nobody reads books anymore, preferring instead to download experiences directly into their brains. I'm not sure this would ever happen (at least, not to the extent shown here), and besides, the narrator still values the written word. Are we to believe he's the only one in the entire universe who does? (Obviously not, as Fish really takes to pen and paper, so the fact that everyone else supposedly avoids reading is a little hard to believe.)

I didn't really like the characters. Reuth, the narrator, wasn't developed all that well. We know facts about him, but we don't really know much about what he's like (other than the fact that he thinks it's okay to litter in the sea). I liked Fish a little more, but only because she was more interesting. The only other character to speak of was Fish's mother, who was just there to serve as a protective figure.

All in all, I'd say the imagery was the strongest part of the book, the characters the weakest. The story was somewhere in the middle. I'm not sorry I read it, but it's not that memorable.

Quotable moment:

Fish surprises me on the beach that afternoon. "I don't get it," she says.

I look up from my pad, unexpectedly happy to see her. "What don't you get?"

"Why write novels at all? You could project your dreams into a neural."

"I could. But dreams are raw and unfiltered. And that always felt like cheating to me. With writing, you have to labor over your thoughts."

My words seem only to perplex her more. "But you could dictate your story. Why make it so hard?"

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs


Friday, March 23, 2018

Review - That Game We Played During the War

That Game We Played During the War
by Carrie Vaughn
Date: 2016
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 16
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

The people of Gaant are telepaths. The people of Enith are not. The two countries have been at war for decades, but now peace has fallen, and Calla of Enith seeks to renew an unlikely friendship with Gaantish officer Valk over an even more unlikely game of chess, in Carrie Vaughn's novella That Game We Played During The War.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This story had an interesting premise that led me to want to know more. There are two groups, the Gaantish and the Enithi. The former is telepathic, the latter is not. They were fighting a war, though why they were doing so was never really explained.

The story basically describes a meeting between two people from opposite sides who met during the war, and now they've come together again and are playing chess. Of course, that's an interesting and complicated idea when one person knows the moves the other person is about to make! I'm still not sure if I missed something, but there seems to be more to the relationship between Calla and Valk than we're told.

This whole idea would be an interesting setup for a longer novel that might explain such questions as to why the war happened (nobody seemed to feel much like killing each other--taking prisoners appeared to be pretty common in lieu of killing--so it came off kind of like a big, stupid game with terrible consequences like famine), more of the mechanics of how the telepathic Gaantish society works, and maybe a clearer explanation of exactly what happened between the two characters here.

Overall, though, it was a fairly enjoyable story with some thought-provoking elements.

Quotable moment:

The Gaantish officer stared at her. Her hair under her cap was pulled back in a severe bun; her whole manner was very strict and proper. Her tabs said she was a second lieutenant—just out of training and the war ends, poor thing. Or lucky thing, depending on one's point of view. Calla wondered what the young lieutenant made of the mess of thoughts pouring from her. If she saw the sympathy or only the pity.

"You speak Gaantish," the lieutenant said bluntly.

Calla was used to this reaction. "Yes. I spent a year at the prisoner camp at Ovorton. Couldn't help but learn it, really. It's a long story." She smiled blandly.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.57 out of 5 ladybugs

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review - Bitter Grounds

Bitter Grounds
by Neil Gaiman
Date: 2003
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 17
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

Coffee, New Orleans & Zombies.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was a tricky one. On the one hand, it's Neil Gaiman. I've read some of his other short stories, as well as Coraline, so I thought it would be safe to assume that this would be a quality story. On the other hand, the typos were so bad that I was continually being distracted and thrown right out of the flow as I tried to figure out what the sentences with messed-up punctuation or missing words were trying to say.

Aside from that, though, this is the sort of story that doesn't really work for me. It starts so late that we basically just get an ending, to both the story and the character arc. Who was this nameless narrator? Had he been zombified? If so, where/when? Before he got to New Orleans? What happened with Anderton and the tow truck driver? What was going on with the anthropologists? Were they just a bunch of weirdos, or were they tied into the zombie stuff, too? Was everyone?

Overall, I just feel like I read the last few pages of a book and am utterly confused as to what the thing was even about.

Quotable moment:

In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the face and lips and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smiled and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door, I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.57 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review - The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (Tales from the Chocolate Heart #1)
by Stephanie Burgis
Date: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 253
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Aventurine is a brave young dragon ready to explore the world outside of her family's mountain cave... if only they'd let her leave it. Her family thinks she's too young to fly on her own, but she's determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she's transformed into a puny human without any sharp teeth, fire breath, or claws. Still, she's the fiercest creature in these mountains--and now she's found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time... won't she?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was so cute and so much fun! I wish it had been around when I was younger (but I still enjoyed it very much as an adult).

Aventurine is a great character. She has a distinctive voice, and we never quite forget that she's a dragon trapped in a "puny human" body. I love the message about finding your passion--the thing that makes you so happy that you want to do it all the time--and being true to who you really are on the inside, even when that might be difficult. There's no romance in this book; instead, we get some great friendship and family themes. And the dragons themselves are wonderful characters; instead of mindless beasts, they're actually quite scholarly (did you know dragons debate philosophy and write epic poetry?) and they even think humans are the stupid ones!

I've barely seen this book mentioned, and it's a shame, because it's a well-written story with a good message, a fun plot, and unforgettable characters. It hasn't gotten nearly the amount of attention it deserves.

Quotable moment:

When I passed a waffle stand two minutes later, I didn’t even let out the snarl of desperation that wanted to rip itself from my throat.

If all I had were five marks, I would not waste them. I was a fierce, powerful dragon despite my current body problems, and I could control myself, no matter what Mother or Jasper thought.

I just wished that all the horses I passed didn’t look so delicious.

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

Overall Rating: 4.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, March 2, 2018

Review - My Life as a Bench

My Life as a Bench
by Jaq Hazell
Date: 2017
Publisher: Nowness Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 234
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

'There are so many benches lining the riverside, each and every one tragic in its own way.'

Ren Miller has died aged seventeen and yet her consciousness lives on, inhabiting her memorial bench by the River Thames in London.

Ren longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Gabe, but soon discovers why he has failed to visit. Devastated, she must learn to break through and talk to the living so she can reveal the truth about her tragic end.

Unique, haunting, and compelling, this is a story about love, friendship, a passion for music and what, if anything, remains after we've gone.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

I really didn't like this one. Here's the thing: I made a sort of reading resolution this year that I was going to stick to books from big publishers in 2018. I've become exhausted from reading self-pubbed and indie crap. Picking this book up was my own fault... but, to be fair, I assumed an award-winning novel would be written and edited well. I didn't realize that the awards this book won were for self-published and independent-press books.

I don't really have a problem with the premise. In fact, it's kind of interesting. But the way it was executed was not. Ren's spirit is basically trapped in a memorial bench on the banks of the river. She has no one to talk to, other than another bench spirit named Lionel, who conveniently goes silent every night so we can listen to Ren narrate her life for us. There are a couple of problems with this setup. One is the repetition. For much of the book, Ren repeats herself, and we have to listen to variations on her first days in London over and over again. So much of that could've been skimmed over even more (but that would've decreased the page count on what is already a short book... even if it doesn't feel like it when you're reading it). By the time Ren finally tells us the whole story, we're into about the last quarter of the book. Almost all of the action happens after that point, making it really uneven. The second problem with Lionel may be something that's just a limitation of the Kindle edition, but I'm not sure. See, when Ren and Lionel talk to each other, Ren's dialogue is in italics. Lionel's isn't. There are no quotation marks. The problem comes in because Lionel's dialogue is formatted the exact same way as the regular narration, so sometimes I couldn't tell for a moment whether Lionel was speaking or if we'd reverted back to the narration. I have to wonder if perhaps the paperback edition uses different fonts for Lionel and Ren, but this issue, combined with a few others, makes me suspect that it was just the author being artsy.

There were other stylistic choices that I wasn't fond of. In fact, by the end of the book, I was getting really pissed off. And I'm going to assume they're stylistic choices, because someone with an MA in Creative Writing should know better than to pull all the crap this author did. Between the silent actions that passed for dialogue tags (probably my biggest pet peeve) to this weird dialogue thing she did where two sentences would be tacked together with a tag, but the second sentence always started with a lowercase letter, I was about ready to DNF the whole thing out of frustration.

The story takes place in London, for the most part, so there's a lot of British slang. I was wishing for a glossary as I was reading, and I discovered one at the end. But most of the words I'd had trouble with weren't even in it! (I have a feeling the glossary was written more for British folks who might not've understood teenage slang. As a Canadian, I encountered lots of other words I wasn't sure about... but that most Brits would probably know.)

The story itself is ham-fisted and looks like it was trying to take advantage of the current discussions about race and discrimination. The problem is that it was done so badly that I didn't buy it. On the one hand, we've got Gabe, a mixed-race kid (he's half black, which we don't even find out until way into the story, even though it's important to the plot), who's accused of murdering Ren. Despite the fact that he's pretty much squeaky clean, everybody assumes he killed her, even though it goes completely against his character. When we finally find out what really happened, it comes so far out of left field that I still have a hard time believing that that's how it unfolded. Besides the fact that the real killer's motives weren't foreshadowed enough, Gabe basically got out of jail because of a psychic. That's... would that really happen? If the police were so racist as to assume Gabe was guilty simply because he was black and in the vicinity, would he really get off because a psychic said he didn't do it?

The ending was left full of questions. Where did Lionel go? Why is Ren's spirit still there? Is she really going to stay there for decades, just so she can visit with Gabe? And does she expect Gabe to stay loyal to her and never move on with his own life?

Overall, this was an interesting premise that could've been worked into a really cool story, but the way it was handled was boring, repetitive, unrealistic, and kind of annoying. This isn't a book I'd recommend... even if it has won some awards.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 2/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Chapter Six

Chapter Six
by Stephen Graham Jones
Date: 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

"Chapter Six", by Stephen Graham Jones, is an anthropological zombie story about Crain, a grad student, who has a theory of mankind’s evolution. As he and his former professor scavenge on bone marrow left behind by the local zombie horde, he makes his well-reasoned argument.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a different sort of zombie story. Very cerebral. Even though we don't really see any brain-munching going on...

It was just okay for me. It read too much like a textbook, with these two anthropology nerds talking shop. The story did pick up eventually, but only at the end. It almost felt like... well, Chapter Six of a novel. All the technical discussions about evolution would've been okay as part of a larger work, but they took up way too much of this short story and made it kind of boring. The ending makes up for that a little, but it's still not something I'd read again for fun.

Quotable moment:

Once it was dark enough that they could pretend not to see, not to know, they used a rock to crack open the tibia of what had once been a healthy man, by all indications. They covered his face with Crain’s cape, and then covered it again, with a stray jacket.

"Modern sensibilities," Dr. Ormon narrated. "Our ancestors would have had no such qualms."

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.71 out of 5 ladybugs

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review - As Good as New

As Good as New
by Charlie Jane Anders
Date: 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

From the author of the Hugo-winning "Six Months, Three Days," a new wrinkle on the old story of three wishes, set after the end of the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Quirky and pretentious, this is a short story about a woman who finds a genie and his bottle after the end of the world and sets about trying to make things right. I wasn't impressed with the writing (here we have yet another author who doesn't know how to correctly punctuate dialogue), and the overall tone was both bland and affected. The MC's best friend's name was Julie for the first half, and Julia for the second, and there was even one spot where we were suddenly inside a non-POV character's head for one sentence. Editor?

The main character, Marisol, isn't too bad, but we don't really know much about who she is, beyond a few labels. The descriptions of her weird plays didn't help much, either; those just made me feel like she was trying way too hard to be an artiste. And Richard, the genie... Almost immediately, he's described as looking like a Jew, and then Marisol refers to him as a "self-loathing" genie. I went back and reread how the character was introduced, and I couldn't see anything that indicated self-loathing. So either the author was relying on a tired stereotype, or she was telling the reader about the character, rather than showing (which isn't great, either).

I didn't quite understand the wishes. I mean, I understood what they were, but Marisol's second wish pretty much eliminated the need for the third (and fourth) wishes, so I didn't really understand why she made them the way she did. I got the feeling that she was just trying to show how clever she was. She wouldn't make stupid wishes like all those other wishers of the past. She was too smart to do the things that would lead to apocalyptic results. Well, good for you, Marisol. But you basically wasted two wishes. She had all the time in the world to think about how to overcome any loopholes or paradoxes, so you'd think she would've been able to come up with something better... or at least a little more interesting. (Technically, she wouldn't have had a lot of time, but we're operating under the assumption that frozen microwave dinners have infinite viability. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to eat those after a few years, no matter how good your freezer was.)

This review is threatening to overtake the story itself, as far as word count goes, so I'll just end it here. Not terrible, but not great, and probably pretty forgettable. I'm sure there are better genie stories out there.

Quotable moment:

Maybe she would have done more good as a playwright than as a doctor, after all—clichés were like plaque in the arteries of the imagination, they clogged the sense of what was possible. Maybe if enough people had worked to demolish clichés, the world wouldn’t have ended.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.26 out of 5 ladybugs

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review - We Have Always Lived on Mars

We Have Always Lived on Mars
by Cecil Castellucci
Date: 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

Nina, one of the few descendants of human colony on Mars that was abandoned by Earth, is surprised to discover that she can breathe the toxic atmosphere of the Martian surface. The crew, thinking that their attempts at terraforming and breeding for Martian adaptability have finally payed off, rejoice at the prospect of a brighter future. But Nina's about to unlock the mystery of the disaster that stranded them on Mars... and nothing will ever be the same.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was a quick read, fairly predictable, and not all that original.

The writing is just so-so. The editing isn't great. People kept "laying" when they should've been "lying", and when someone was already lying on the ground, she said her knees buckled (huh?). Characters are sparse and not developed. The story raises a lot more questions than it answers. I prefer more answers. This story didn't offer nearly enough.

This was fine for a quick read, but it's not really something I'd want to read again or recommend.

Quotable moment:

We have been trying to infect the planet with life so that we can make it ours. But it is slow going. Sometimes there is moss.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.43 out of 5 ladybugs

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review - The Chocolate Touch

The Chocolate Touch (John Midas #1)
by Patrick Skene Catling
illustrated by Margot Apple
Date: 1952
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: MG
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this zany twist on the legend of King Midas and his golden touch, a boy acquires a magical gift that turns everything his lips touch into chocolate!

Can you ever have too much of your favorite food? John Midas is about to find out....

The Chocolate Touch has remained a favorite for millions of kids, teachers, and parents for several generations. It's an enjoyable story that pulls in even reluctant readers.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I started reading this, I felt like I might've already done so. Or maybe I'd just heard about the book. It's pretty old, after all.

This is a really cute, really quick read about a boy named John Midas who loves chocolate more than anything else. One day, he finds a coin with his initials on it, which he uses to buy a special box of chocolate from a mysterious store. Once he eats the chocolate within, things get really crazy when everything he puts in his mouth turns into chocolate.

If you know the legend of King Midas, there are really no surprises here, but the story was cute and had a good message. I did, however, have some issues with it.

The pictures date the story. Aside from some of the names (which could just be written off as whimsical rather than merely dated), it could almost be set in the present day. The book has a copyright date of 1952, while the illustrations are only from 1979. They look like they're from the 1950s, though, and I wasn't that fond of them.

The other issue I had was with one of John's first acts of chocolatitis, where he eats a whole tube of toothpaste. Yes, it turned into chocolate, but in an era where kids are stupid enough to eat laundry detergent pods, do we really want them getting the idea that eating a whole tube of toothpaste is something they should be doing? His mother was bafflingly blasé about the whole thing, so I was prompted to look up when they started putting fluoride in toothpaste. John's mother should've been a lot more concerned.

Overall, though, this was a fun book. The pace is quick, it's easy to read, and it'll introduce readers to the King Midas story if they don't already know it.

Quotable moment:

John took the spoon between his lips. The medicine turned to chocolate. John choked and spluttered, and chocolate syrup spurted from his mouth.

Dr. Cranium dropped the spoon in alarm. When it struck the white-tiled floor, the chocolate handle snapped into several pieces. "Mercy!" said Dr. Cranium. "I've never seen anything like it! The boy's whole system seems to be so chocolatified that it chocolatifies everything it touches."

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

Overall Rating: 3.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review - The Wicker King

The Wicker King (The Wicker King #1)
by K. Ancrum
Date: 2017
Publisher: Imprint
Reading level: YA
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 288
Format: e-book
Source: library

The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

This is a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed it. On the other, there were some aspects that really rubbed me the wrong way. Often, when there are too many of the latter, enjoyment goes out the window. Strangely enough, it didn't here.

The story itself is interesting enough. So are the main characters, August and Jack. Tackling mental illness is admirable, but there were some stigmas that I don't feel were properly addressed (i.e., the first concern of their friends, the twins, was that Jack was going to pose some sort of danger; if they really were the children of a psychologist, I think they should have had a better understanding of the fact that most people with mental illness are not dangerous). There were other aspects of the mental health theme that bothered me as well. Especially the stuff in the mental health facility. I was confused as to why August even ended up there in the first place. Believing that he was sent there instead of juvie for arson simply because he asked/pleaded insanity (it's not quite clear) is a bit of a stretch, especially once we see that his doctors have diagnosed him with things like mild depression, PTSD, and codependency. (Would there be anyone left outside of mental health facilities if that's all it took to get you locked away?) I understand the whole point about the codependency between August and Jack, how it drove their relationship, and why it was important to the story. That's all fine. But when characters end up in a mental hospital, I'd like to see actual severe mental illness. Jack wasn't even technically mentally ill, as his odd behaviour and hallucinations were caused by a physical problem. I'm not sure if that was taking the easy way out or not; if he'd had severe schizophrenia, say, it would have complicated things.

The book also suffers from the YA absent-parent trope, and I didn't buy it. Yes, there are neglectful parents out there, but in this case it seemed too convenient, a contrived way to further drive August and Jack into each other's arms for emotional support. August's mom is some sort of agoraphobic who sits and watches game shows all day. After he ended up in the hospital, she didn't visit. I'm not even sure if she was mentioned again after that point (if she was, it was so brief a mention that I've forgotten). And Jack's parents were just unrealistic. They're supposedly away on business all the time, but they couldn't even be bothered to come home for Christmas (even after saying they would), which affords a perfect opportunity for August to "defend" his friend by punching Jack's father in the face.

The supporting characters were just... weird. John Green lite. I've never met any teenagers who talk the way the kids in this book talk. (See quote below: Rina's only supposed to be around 19.) Everyone seemed to be harbouring a secret desire to be a poet. While it made the book sound really pretty, it was jarring, rubbing against the grain of my own experiences of high school and teenagedom. I also hated Gordie, August's girlfriend. She was vile. At one point--the only point in the story, actually, where anything like this took place--there was a disgusting scene in the school bathroom which involved her giving oral sex and "riding" August's fingers (it didn't help that he just wiped his hand on his pants and went back to class when they were done). I felt like I was going merrily along, then found myself stumbling through a bit of porn. It was a short scene, but still... if you're not expecting it, it might be a bit jarring.

However, I couldn't put it down. I wanted to find out what would happen with August and Jack. Would it be something good? Or would everything fall to pieces as their lives spiralled out of control?

Quotable moment:

"Every part of the human condition is packaged neatly in fairytales. Every bit of culture that makes us who we are." She tutted at him. "When I was a girl, such things were regarded with respect."

"I've always had trouble with that," he replied dryly.

Rina scoffed and settled down on the floor. "I know. But one day you'll learn it. All virtues not granted at birth are taught to you by life, one way or another. My mother told me that."

"Your mother sounds wonderful," August said, closing his eyes.

"She was."

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 8, 2018

Review - Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes (Lumberjanes #1)
by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters & Brooke A. Allen
Date: 2014
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 27
Format: e-book
Source: library

WHY WE LOVE IT: Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp...defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons...what’s not to love?!

WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls and features five butt-kicking, rad teenage girls wailing on monsters and solving a mystery with the whole world at stake. And with the talent of acclaimed cartoonist Noelle Stevenson, talented newcomer Grace Ellis writing, and Brooke Allen on art, this is going to be a spectacular series that you won’t want to miss.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together...and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! Not only is it the second title launching in our new BOOM! Box imprint but LUMBERJANES is one of those punk rock, love-everything-about-it stories that appeals to fans of basically all excellent things.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Our library needs to seriously get with the program. This is the only volume they have, even though it looks like most of the installments were published in 2014 and 2015. On its own, it's not very impressive. There are too many characters (some with weird speech affectations), and we jump into the end of the action... only to be told what happened earlier. It's an illustrated story, for goodness sake; if this isn't the place to show rather than tell, I don't know what is.

The illustrations are cute, but nothing special. Maybe I just didn't have time to get attached. I actually like the backgrounds better than the characters themselves.

Since these installments are short, I wouldn't mind reading some more to see if the characters or story grew on me. But I wasn't that enamoured with this one to want to seek out the rest. If the library gets the sequels in the future, I might pick them up. Otherwise, I probably won't bother.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - The Stonekeeper's Curse

The Stonekeeper's Curse (Amulet #2)
by Kazu Kibuishi
Date: 2009
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 219
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this thrilling sequel to AMULET #1: THE STONEKEEPER, Emily and her brother Navin head for Kanalis, a beautiful and mysterious city of waterfalls, where they hope to find the antidote for the poison that felled their mother. That cure lies in the eggs of a giant serpent atop Demon's Head Mountain, but the kids' archenemy, Trellis, is headed for the peak, too. A battle that will engulf all of Kanalis is looming. It's up to Em to triumph over evil while controlling the amulet's power... without losing herself!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was definitely weaker than the first volume. More graphic, too, with some of the scariest illustrated villains I've seen in a while. However, it reads pretty young. I know it's supposed to appeal to kids, but a tween telling her mom to basically go away and let the kids handle things because it's too dangerous is way too unrealistic for my taste.

While this series is aimed at middle graders, the plots and themes are kind of simplistic and unsophisticated. The robots and Miskit (What the heck is he? A robot? An animated toy? He heals, so I'm assuming he's organic, but... I don't get it.) were one thing in the first book, but now we've got talking animals and trees, and I'm finding it all just a bit silly. I probably won't be continuing with the series.

Kids might like it, though...

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 ladybugs

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review - NewsPrints

NewsPrints
by Ru Xu
Date: 2017
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 208
Format: e-book
Source: library

Blue is an orphan who disguises herself as a newsboy. There's a war going on, and girls are expected to help the struggling economy by selling cookies. But Blue loves living and working at the Bugle, the only paper in town that tells the truth. And what's printed in the newspapers now matters more than ever.

But Blue struggles with her secret, and worries that if her friends and adopted family at the Bugle find out that she's a girl, she'll lose everything and everyone she cares about. And when she meets and befriends Crow, a boy who is also not what he seems, together they seek the freedom to be their true selves... and to save each other.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Thank goodness there's going to be a sequel! I was a bit worried there for a moment...

This is one of the better graphic novels I've read. With its sort of steampunk 1920s setting and nicely drawn illustrations, it's a fun book. While it wasn't the most original in terms of some of the themes (i.e., girl pretends to be a boy so she can actually do stuff in a rather sexist world), it had a decent plot (though not what the synopsis led me to expect). Some of the characters were a bit of a miss for me (the mayor was kind of inconsistent, which didn't make him very believable), but others were downright cool. Crow was absolutely precious and had some of the best lines; I'll be picking up the sequel in the hopes that we get some more of his story!

Overall, this was one of the more engaging graphic novels I've read in the last month or so. I read much of it in one sitting, eagerly turning the pages. It's definitely one to check out, if you like this sort of format and are looking for an entertaining experience.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up (Sunny #1)
by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Date: 2015
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 224
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun -- it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park. It's full of... old people. Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn't the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they're having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors. But the question remains -- why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place? The answer lies in a family secret that won't be secret to Sunny much longer...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was underwhelming.

After reading the note at the back, I understand the message the authors were trying to get across. Unfortunately, that message was wrapped up in a disjointed, boring story that didn't really engage me at all. I wasn't all that impressed by the illustrations, either; maybe they just weren't my style.

Overall, I don't know if I'd recommend this book. There've got to be better ones out there with a similar message. For this age group, entertainment is important; if kids don't want to read (or finish) a book, the message will probably be lost on them.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 1.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review - The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper (Dam Keeper #1)
by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi
Date: 2017
Publisher: First Second
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 160
Format: e-book
Source: library

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon—a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: minor spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

When I checked this e-book out from the library, I didn't realize it was based on a short film. It does have a very cinematic look to it. The illustrations were probably the best part of the book.

Pig is left to be the dam keeper after his father disappears, and it's up to him to keep the fog at bay. It took a little while for me to realize that the characters are all children. You'd think that a town wouldn't leave its survival up to a young anthropomorphized pig, but I guess we have to suspend disbelief a little bit.

By the time the book ended, the story had only just begun. We've gotten to know the main characters (Pig, whose father was the original dam keeper; Fox, his best friend; Hippo, Fox's friend, who's a bit of a loudmouth blowhard; and now Van, who's some sort of unhinged lizard--and probably my favourite character so far), and we've followed them past the dam into what should be a wasteland... but it turns out that there's more beyond the dam than Pig's father let on.

The art is really beautiful, and I was engaged enough by the story that I wouldn't mind reading the next installment when it comes out later this year.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, January 1, 2018

Review - The Stonekeeper

The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1)
by Kazu Kibuishi
Date: 2008
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 193
Format: e-book
Source: library

After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an old ancestral home to start a new life. On the family's very first night in the mysterious house, a strange noise lures them into the basement, where Em and Navin's mom is kidnapped by a humongous, tentacled creature and dragged down behind the basement door.

The kids give chase down a twisty spiral stairway and find themselves in a strange and magical world below. Most surprising of all, it seems that their great-grandfather, who was an inventor and puzzle maker, was there before them – and he's left some unfinished business.

Now it's up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother's life!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This graphic novel starts in on the action within the first few pages and never stops!

The beginning is a little heavy for kids (think: what happens to the parents in many an animated Disney movie), but the rest of the story has plenty of crazy creatures and adventures to keep its target audience entertained. I found the "chosen one" thing to be a little cliche, and it led to more questions (why Emily and not Navin, for example), but I'm interested to see where the story will go next.

Like some graphic novels in a series, there's no real ending to the story here. By the last page, the kids are still trying to accomplish their goal; they've just moved on to a new locale. I'm not the biggest fan of this sort of thing; I like the books I read to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the illustrations are nice enough and I'm intrigued enough by the storyline to want to find out what happens next, so I'll probably check out at least the second book in this series at some point.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.38 out of 5 ladybugs