Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: My Grandma's a Ninja

My Grandma's a Ninja
By Todd Tarpley
Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou
NorthSouth, 2015
Reviewed from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 1 to 3
ISBN:  9780735841994
Publication Date:  March 1, 2015

Grandmas are great, ninjas are great, so the two together must be wonderful!  For a while yes.  Ethan's grandmother wows at show and tell, and she's amazes at soccer practice, until she pops the ball.  Then she gets Ethan in trouble on his way home because he's all messy.  But those ninja skills run in the family, you just have to know when to be a ninja and make it count. 

Grandma books are popular, ninja books are popular, so together, this book must be great!  Yes!  It's funny and engaging for readers, who will likely be asking their grandma to start zip lining with them to school.  The illustrations make the book, with grandma looking typically grandma-ish in pearls and white hair, but maneuvering with ninja stealth.  And when grandma decides that being a ninja isn't the best, readers will be happy with her next choice, and will look forward to another visit from grandma.

Granny should bring her black belt when she reads this book to her grandkids!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: Fairest

Fairest:  The Lunar Chronicles
By Marissa Meyer
Fewiel and Friends, 2015
Reviewed from eBook
Audience: Grades 8 to 12
ISBN:  9781250060556
Publication Date: January 27, 2015

There is more to the evil Queen Levana than what meets the eye.  After the death of her parents, she bristled at her lower position to her sister Channery, whose lax attitude toward her rule annoyed Levana to no end.  Levana was actually interested in her country, as well as the experiment being run to create a deadly biological weapon and superhuman soldiers.  In her opinion, the only way to deal with the dwindling resources on Luna was to take them forcibly from Earth.  But ruling Luna wasn't the only thing on her mind.  She falls in love with a place guard named Jacin, but learns that he has a beautiful, if fragile, wife who is with child.  After his wife's death, Levana uses her glamour to seduce Jacin and make him hers, even going so far as to manipulate his mind.  Meanwhile, Channery is pregnant as well and gives birth to an heir, another hurdle to Levana's rise to power.  But this little child will not stand in her way, and the whole story begins to come together and show the reader the Queen Levana readers have known all along.

What was supposed to be a short background story spun into a novel all it's own.  I've read other reviews say that it's not as rich as the other books, and while that is true, it's very detailed in the creation of Levana.  Like all villains, she was not born evil, rather she was made that way, mostly by her own sister.  Her actions are not excusable, but become understandable, which makes you see the danger to Cinder and Winter even more.  

Levana is very shrewd and cunning in this story, a side of her that has always been apparent in the other books but was never explored.  This type of intelligence combined with a thirst for power and acceptance have made for a very deadly combination.  

Other lesser characters are also introduced like Thurmatage Sybil, but most importantly, Winter.  Very little is ever said about Winter in the other books, even though she will be the focus of the final book.  In Fairest at least the reader learns about her difficult childhood, which will very likely effect the events in the next book.

I loved it personally.  I didn't miss the action and adventure of the previous novels.  I found myself absorbed in Levana's struggle for power and presence.  

On a side note, I heard that the musician Sia didn't want her face to be shown during the Grammy's, which got me to thinking about other artists who disguise themselves during live performances like Daft Punk and the Gorillaz.  Are all of these artists really just Lunars in disguise?  Are they among us already?  Likely not, but fun to think about none the less.

Only eight long months until Winter.  I can't decide if I'm anxious to read the final book, or sad to see it come to a close.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Lunar Chronicles Shorts

Marissa Meyer has so far released four short stories set in relation to the Lunar Chronicles.  Technically, Fairest is also a short story, but it was a short story that spun out of control and resulted in another book.  An excellent book that I'll discuss tomorrow.  But first, the shorts.

In Glitches, we follow Cinder as she arrives at Garan's home and meets his family, what is intended to be her family.  Instantly sweet Peony is a friend to her, but Pearl and Adri are harsh.  Cinder tries to make herself useful to the family but seems to fail every time and Adri is determined to make her feel unwelcome.  

In The Queen's Army, Z, a boy of around 12, is selected for the Queen's army and is taken from his home in the middle of the night.  He tries to be brave because this is an honor, but going to the testing grounds sounds terrible.  It is indeed.  Z is turned into a wolf solider, like those featured in Scarlet.  What might be worse than his treatment is his brother's treatment when he joins the pack some years later.  

The Little Android is different from the others in that it's a story that takes place in the Lunar Chronicles universe, but does not effect any of the other stories.  But honestly, it might be my favorite.  A mech droid who works on ships and should have no feeling what so ever, falls in love with a mechanic named Dataran after saving his life.  After hearing that she will be scrapped for having a glitch that makes her feel human, she runs away and encounters Cinder, who takes pity on her and gives her an old escort droid body.  Mech then goes back to the shipyard to be close to Dataran, but he is already falling in love with Miko, the daughter of the ship's owner.  Miko is holding a terrible secret, one that Mech can understand, and both love Dataran so much, that one makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Finally, Carswell's Guide to Being Lucky features everyone's favorite captain at 13-still running the ladies wild, and driving the men crazy with his slickness.  Carswell wants to escape his parents perfectly manicured world and be useful, so he's running several scams in order to save enough money to buy a Rampion ship and take off on his own, but he doesn't expect to start caring for a girl that he is trying to scam.  Especially not one as plain as Kate Fallow.

I'm not a big fan fiction person, but this isn't fan fiction necessarily, it's extra content.  However, Marissa Meyer got her start writing fan fiction, so there is something to writing fan fic.  I didn't realize how much I enjoyed being in this world until I read these stories.  I started to really miss the characters, because each of these stories is only enough to give you a taste.  It's only enough to make you really long for the release of Winter.  Again, The Little Android was my favorite, but the Little Mermaid has always been my favorite fairy tale, even with the tragic HCA ending.  The Carswell story did make me laugh.  His character really comes off the page.  

To read these stories, head over to Marissa Meyer's Wattpad page.  You will have to sign up for Wattpad (which is free) in order to read them all.  Then, to read the Carswell story, you'll have to sign up for Meyer's fan club.  Which only made me realize I should have done that ages ago!  

Tomorrow, I'll post about Fairest.  Until then, catch up on your short stories!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth

Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
By E. L. Konigsburg
Anthenuem Books, 1967
Review from Audiobook
Audience: Grades 4 to 6
ISBN:  9780807280003
Publication Date: September 1, 1998 by Listening Library

Elizabeth moves around a lot, so she's a little shy and a little uneasy about making friends, especially when some girls her age are two-faced like Cynthia.  Then on Halloween Elizabeth meets Jennifer, a witch, a real witch, not just a Halloween witch.  Jennifer takes Elizabeth on as an apprentice witch and the two girls start and unusual friendship centered around their practice as witches.  While they attempt to make a flying potion, they accidentally become attached to one of the ingredients, a toad and when Elizabeth saves the toad, thus ruining the flying potion, it seems as though the friendship is over.  But there's more to being a friend than witchcraft.

I'm not sure how to organize my thoughts on this book, so I'm just going to give it some bullet points.

  • I needed another audiobook for a long-solo commute.  This book was the perfect length, and despite the creepy cover, it was by E. L. Konigsburg.  Everyone loves E. L. Koningsburg so why not?
  • Maybe because this was an audiobook, I found that I couldn't, or didn't care to, keep up with the story.  The tone was very dry, which rather makes sense because Jennifer is a strange kind of girl, but it was pretty monotone reading, together with a boring drive on a cloudy day, my attention wandered.
  • This book has not aged well.  For 1967, this book rang true, but for 2015, it's very dated.  I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it had the right feel for 1967, not today.  
  • How is this book not being banned everywhere?  I am not in favor of banning books, or warning labels, or age guidelines, but really.  It's a book about two girls pretending to be witches, and they are very thorough in their pretending.  I can't imagine that the overprotective parents that want to shield their babies from the evils of Harry Potter would look any more favorably on Jennifer.  Maybe it gets ignored because it's old, and likely out of print.  Maybe it was challenged frequently decades ago, but I just kept thinking over and over, how have I never seen this on a challenge list?
  • That cover is terrible!  Jennifer looks far too sinister in it, in my opinion.
The curse of the audiobook strikes again, although I doubt I would have liked this book much if I'd read it.  Not every book can be From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  I think my other problem with audiobooks is that I'm only checking out e-audiobooks that I can download from my library, which means I have a very limited selection.  And I'd rather read a book than listen to it, so I also pass on books I want to read.  So that means I end up listening to books on the very fringe of my reading zone, and thus I'm less likely to enjoy them. 

My hubby and I are taking a road trip to Arizona this summer.  It would be great if I could find an audiobook that we might both enjoy, that is also rather appropriate for tiny ears because Alice will be 10 months by then.  What would you recommend for a family road trip?  But keep in mind that my hubby is not the children's lit fan that I am.  If it's too sweet, he might strand me in Oklahoma, and that would be terrible!

Happy Listening!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes
By Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 2014
Review from eBook
Audience: Grades 9 to 12
ISBN:  9781442440814
Publication Date:  September 16, 2014

What's done is done.  Lillia and Kat both feel responsible for Rennie's death, and both girls are trying to overcome their part in it.  But the biggest question on their mind is, where's Mary?  After Mary found out that she's really a ghost haunting the island, her aunt bound her to her room, but the bonds are broken when Lillia and Kat come looking for her.  Now an unpredictable Mary can roam the island exacting her revenge and since Kat and Lillia seem to no longer be on her side, they are fair game.  Lillia has fallen in love with Reeve, earning her hate from not only her old friends, but mostly from Mary, who is still intent on punishing Reeve for what he did to her.  Kat is trying to get off the island, but she gets sucked in by graduation goggles and eventually finds herself missing the island before she's even gone.  It all comes crashing down on prom night, of course, and this story goes out with a bang.

Spoiler alert!  Honestly, I knew vaguely how this would end.  I knew that none of the major characters, including Reeve, would really be hurt.  I knew Mary would go crazy, but that Kat and Lillia would break through to her.  Even knowing all of that, I still had to read this book, which proves that the authors really knew what they were doing.  It's rather formulaic, but despite that, I kept going.  Mary's revenge gets darker as she gets stronger and it was entertaining watching Kat try to figure out how to tame her.  Kat as a character opened up more in this book than others.  She starts caring about people after her spring break trip and finally becomes involved.  I would say that Kat is my favorite character.  Mary is too out of control, Lillia is too privileged, but Kat is just right.  

Lillia's relationship with Reeve is ridiculous and can't last, not only because of Mary but because it is so high school.  They love each other so deeply that Reeve is lost without her.  Some of the drama could have been amplified because Mary was messing with Reeve's dreams so much, but this relationship had all of the disturbing hallmarks of an obsessive high school relationship.  It was never going to work anyway, but it's still a little sad that it came crashing down like it did.

Ashes to Ashes was a fitting end to the Burn for Burn trilogy.  It tied up all the loose ends, especially with the epilogue, and did justice to the characters and plot so far.  I think that readers will be satisfied with this ending.

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review: Wild Things

Wild Things:  Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
By Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta
Candlewick, 2014
Review from eBook
Audience: For the Pros
ISBN:  9780763651503
Publication Date:  August 5, 2014

I've been name dropping this book for a while now, so it's time to get down to talking about it.  If you are a librarian, or teacher, or crazy person that thinks children's authors are the real celebrities, then Wild Things is the book for you.  To the outsider, children's books might be all fluffy bunnies and smiling authors living in quaint Vermont towns sipping cider and typing on old-timey typewriters.  But those of us in the biz know that Roald Dahl was a grumpy-face, Go Ask Alice was written by some doctor, and the best children's morality stories are scary German tales about barbers.  

The whole book is one big unveiling of some of children's literatures greatest secrets and funniest stories.  There's plagiarism, sex, unusual starting careers, and treating children like capable human beings that can make their own decisions.  The whole book flies in the face of conservative American ideals for children and books, and should quite frankly be banned in all 50 states right now!

Please ban this book!  Then everyone will read it!

Honestly, I read this book in fits and starts in the early days after having Alice.  I would read aloud from it while trying to ease her to sleep, which is no easy thing since I was reading her the section about the previously mentioned crazy German barber.  This book is most likely for a scholar of children's literature.  It's the kind of book that a librarian wants to talk about at a cocktail party, but none of her friends know these authors and can't really get into it.

So if you're a librarian and you've read it, call me!  Then we can also get all gushy about the YMAs.  Six Caldecott honors?  What the what?  

I need more librarian friends people.

If you want a book that will make you laugh out loud while discussing children's books, then this is perfect.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review: When Audrey Met Alice

When Audrey Met Alice
By Rebecca Behrens
Soucebooks Jabberwocky, 2014
Review from NetGalley
Audience: Grades 5 to 8
ISBN:  9781402286421
Publication Date:  February 4, 2014

Audrey is the first kid, meaning her mom is president, her dad is a scientist, and there's very little time for her to be with her parents.  Being a first kid is hard-new school, new friends, new house (the White House), and it's not all as amazing as it seems.  Audrey wishes she had someone that understands, and then she finds the diary of Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt's oldest daughter and natural-born troublemaker.  Audrey decides to "eat the world" like Alice and try to convince her parents that she's not a little girl anymore.  Some of Alice's experiences help, but most of them just get Audrey in trouble.  But in the end, Audrey and her parent's have a greater understanding of each other and Audrey does get a little more independence.

I downloaded this book from NetGalley ages ago and only recently found it lingering on my Kindle.  I was looking for something light and fun to read and this seemed perfect.  My little girl is name Alice, and her best baby friend (well, they don't know they're BBFs, but it's going to happen) is named Audrey.  My friend and I got a kick out of the book title and it did prove to be a nice light read.

Audrey finds Alice Roosevelt's diary, and excerpts from this fictional diary tell about Alice's life in the White House.  Audrey tells her own story and then the diary really fills in and gives advice.  Personally, I was more interested in Alice than Audrey, but I'm also an adult.  Audrey is facing an identity crisis since everyone thinks it's amazing to live at the White House, but really, it's lonely even though the country is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake.  (This really is the case.  There was just a story about the first-daughters looking bored at a White House event or something. I would look bored too if I were a 14-year old at a state function.  I would look bored at the kind of event now!).  

Most readers will relate to Audrey's feelings of being a little lonely, and being treated like a child when she's really a teen.  Parent's don't want their babies to grow up-a fact I totally get now!  And it's even worse when the whole country would prefer that you stay a child.  But Audrey wants to dance, she wants to have a boyfriend, and she wants to live.

Now to Alice.  Oh Alice!  Theodore Roosevelt once said "I can either run the country or control Alice. I can't possibly do both".  (I feel you Theo and my Alice is only 6 months old).  Alice was an uncontrollable force of nature.  She danced, gambled, smoked, drove like bat out of hell, which was really hard back then because car's only went about 20 mph.  And she was the country's princess.  I think that the fictional diary did justice to the real Alice, but it made me want to know more.  And hopefully it will inspire readers to do a little more research too.

With another election coming up, this will be a great book to give to readers that are interested in the lives of first-kids.  Add this to your collection of presidential books.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: Ghost Knight

Ghost Knight
By Cornelia Funke
Read by Elliot Hill
Listening Library, 2012
Audiobook borrowed from Library
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
ISBN:  9780307583345
Publication Date:  May 8, 2012

Jon is shipped off to boarding school, presumably so his mother can spend more time with her boyfriend.  This is insult enough, but it also seems that his school is cursed by a band of terrifying ghosts intent on killing Jon since he is of the Hartguild line.  With the help of an eccentric friend, Ella, Jon learns that the only way he might rid himself of these dastardly ghosts is with another ghost, Knight Longsbee, who took an oath to protect the downtrodden.  What follows is a tale of ghosts, knights, toads, choir boys, and learning that people are more than they appear.

Sidebar 1:  I first heard about this book at ALA two years ago.  I went to the Odyssey Awards ceremony and heard Elliot Hill read aloud from this book.  Along with the charming British accent, Elliot is rather dreamy looking, causing some of the librarians to swoon.  The Odyssey Awards ceremony is very cool, so go if you get the chance, plus you get to take the awarded audiobook of your choice.  I took The Fault in Our Stars-which was stupid since I'm officially banned from that book/movie/audiobook/future television or internet series, but there you have it.

Sidebar 2:  I borrowed this book from my library's online library.  Borrowing audiobooks and downloading them right to my phone is great and super easy.  If you are an audiobook person, I highly recommend it.  I am not an audiobook person though, so my actual experience was less than stellar.

The story itself is good.  To an adult, Jon's feeling about his mother's new boyfriend are largely unfounded and really quite whiny, but to put yourself in a child's position and you can see why he feels that way.  Jon's relationship with Ella was the high point for me.  Ella and her grandmother were the real stars in my mind.  I needed that humor more than the adventure story of deadly ghost knights.  

The action is well paced, until the very end, then I felt like it went off the rails a bit.  The main plot point is resolved, the secondary plot point is resolved, so why does the book go on for another four chapters?  I think that I was getting impatient with the story since I knew when the book ended, I would be home, but to me, it dragged on.

I would recommend The Ghost Knight for reading or listening.  But honestly, I'm not a great audiobook girl.  It's a big stumbling block for my reading, especially considering that I used to buy audiobooks.  Now, I sometimes enjoy listening to a favorite book that I've already read, The Westing Game comes to mind, but on most occasions, I'd rather listen to the radio.

All that said, I broke my rule and did listen to another audiobook last weekend on another long drive.  That review is coming up.

Happy Listening!