Reading For The Heck Of It

Gosh, I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand, the way they smell, the way they look piling up all around me as I drown amongst their pages...I really, REALLY like books.

 

Favorite genres: nonfiction (especially science), sci-fi/fantasy, classics, and children's literature.

 

Unread/unloved genres: romance and seafaring odysseys.

I would have been a runaway

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979 (Slightly Foxed Editions) - Ysenda Maxtone-Graham

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham is exactly what I was looking for this week. As the title suggests, this is a non-fiction book about what it was like to attend a boarding school for girls from the years of 1939-79 (in the United Kingdom obviously). The author conducted numerous interviews of women who attended these school who recalled startlingly vivid memories (both ill and pleasant) of their time there. From what it was like to be separated from family at a young age (some incredibly young) to the traumatic recollections of the horrible food they were forced to eat to what really went on when a bunch of hormonal girls were kept sequestered without any boys in sight this is a book that is both informative and interesting. (It's also super funny.) I've read some fanciful stories about what it's like to live in a boarding school but never true accounts from the girls themselves about what actually went on behind those austere facades. (Seriously a ton of them were in manor houses and castles which makes me super jealous.) There are many similarities between the institutions and also some gargantuan differences. For instance, some of the places (Cheltenham for instance) were strict, highly academic, and the girls that left there were more likely to continue into higher education. Others were more practically minded (or obsessed with horses and sports) and the girls that left there were generally encouraged to go to secretarial college and then look for a husband almost immediately after entering the workforce. It's an eye-opening read about what it was like for these upper-crust girls who were sent away by their families and then suppressed by these same people into wanting less for themselves. I highly recommend this not only because it's extremely well-written and researched but also because it's so fascinating comparing it to the way young women of today are educated and their expectations after leaving school. 10/10

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Yuck

Justine - Lawrence Durrell

I gave this book up until part 2 and it didn't so I did not finish it. Too pretentious and the way the women were characterized was deplorable. No thank you.

I seriously need to know what the teacups signify

Henry & Leo - Pamela Zagarenski

I tried explaining the Caldecott Honor to a group of pre-k children the other day. (It was pretty funny.) If you're unfamiliar, the Caldecott Medal and the Caldecott Honor are awarded to American illustrators whose work is singled out by the ALA as being "the most distinguished picture book for children". [Note: This does have a bearing on this post.]

 

I had decided to use a different style of picture book for my storytime and I chose to use Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski. Two of the books that Zagarenski illustrated have been awarded the Caldecott Honor (Sleep Like a Tiger and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors). You might have guessed that because she was both author and illustrator that Henry & Leo is most likely a visually stunning book...and you'd be correct. However, the kids weren't overly impressed with the storyline. :-/ I don't think this was so much the fault of the author but more a mistake on my part for trying this out with a group of pre-k aged children (solo reading for this age would most likely work fine though). It's a bit too introspective for such a large age of young children. The story centers on Henry who has a best friend named Leo...who is a stuffed lion. To Henry, Leo is absolutely 100% alive and he can't understand why his sister and parents fail to see this simple fact. Through a series of adventures, the reader learns just how much Leo and Henry mean to each other. I encouraged the kids to point out the crowns and other little treats that Zagarenski uses in all of her illustrations (without any explanation I might add). This was everyone's favorite thing to do but none of them could tell me much about the story after we'd finished so it wasn't as successful as I would have ultimately liked. Personally, I felt it lacked the heart that I had expected based on the premise and the beautiful artwork. I recommend that you check it out for yourself because I (and the children) might be overly harsh in our judgment. :-) For the record, this doesn't mean that I won't be checking out more of Zagarenski's work just that this one wasn't my all-time favorite. 3/5

Source: http://readinfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Does lion rhyme with iron?

Frog on a Log? - Jim Field, Kes Gray

This is my favorite picture book of 2017 and that's saying quite a lot. I liked it so much in fact that I bought a copy for myself and a copy for my mom (if you know mom then you know why I did this). It's a hilarious, rhyming story about a frog who thinks that the rule that all frogs sit on logs (told to him by a wiseacre cat) is unfair because logs are uncomfortable. What follows is the cat informing the frog about the rules of where certain animals are allowed to sit. (Look out for the fleas and make sure you ask the little people you're reading with to find them for you.) If you're using this in a storytime, I encourage you to read with panache and infuse the cat with lots of exasperated attitude. It's a fantastically fun experience when you get your audience invested enough to be shocked by the ending (which is hysterical by the way). The illustrations are absolutely adorable (I'm going to be looking for more works by Jim Field I think) and create another layer of playfulness which I appreciated. I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone (but especially those who work or live with small children). 10/10

 

Note: It seems that in the UK where this was originally published it was titled Oi Frog! which puzzles me mightily. Also, there's a sequel which is out and which I must get my hands on titled Oi Dog! (I don't get why they would change the name here in the US).

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Gives new meaning to "What's in the fridge?"

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast - Josh Funk, Brendan Kearney

A few weeks ago, I read a book called Dear Dragon which was about a pen pal relationship between a little boy and a dragon but they had no idea they were writing to someone of a different species. The illustrations were on point but it was the storyline that had me looking to see what else the author had written. (His name is Josh Funk by the way.) Turns out he had another book by the snazzy title of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (with a sequel called The Case of the Stinky Stench due out on May 2nd). This book has fantastic illustrations by Brendan Kearney which truly bring the fridge food to life. If you're reading aloud to pre-school age children, I highly encourage you to have the kids make predictions and point out their favorite (and least favorite) food items. Otherwise, this book might be a bit of a daunting read-aloud because there are quite a few challenging words (and lots of them) per each page. It follows our two main characters, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, on an epic quest to reach the last drop of syrup remaining in the syrup bottle. Lots of ridiculous rhyming, competitive taunting, and delicious food items abound. 9/10 for frolicking foodie fun.

 

Note: If you do decide to use this as a storytime read-aloud and/or you utilize this in a lesson I recommend you check out Josh's website which has a free downloadable activity kit to complement the book.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Tiberius is a pretty cool name for an arachnid

The Last Shadow Gate: The Shadow Gate Chronicles Book I - Michael W. Garza

The following book was kindly sent to me by the author, Michael W. Garza, who requested a review. This book is out now and you can get a paperback or ebook copy by visiting Amazon. :-)

 

The Last Shadow Gate is the first book in The Shadow Gate Chronicles and begins the story of Gavin and Naomi who are agnate siblings (i.e. they have the same father). On the face of things, there is nothing truly remarkable or strange about these two kids...and then they are sent to spend the summer with their great-grandmother. This is when they start to become interested in the mystery revolving around their great-grandfather, Papa Walker. As they delve deeper into what really happened to him they get closer and closer to a danger that will change their lives irrevocably. Without giving too much away, there is a swashbuckling, coming of age adventure mixed with fantastical creatures, political intrigue, and magic wielding. Garza has clearly spent a lot of time on world building and it shows. If you're a fan of books that consist of character names each more wild sounding than the last then you have stumbled onto the right book. I will offer one criticism which is that after the midway point I felt that the writing quality diminished significantly. It felt rushed and not as well thought out as the first half which is a shame as I had started to really get into the narrative by that point. I know that Garza is hard at work on the second installment of the series so I hope that the books continue to show improvement. (Note: I don't want to sound like this was horrifically written because it wasn't. It just became markedly more muddy and repetitive towards the second half.) For middle grade fantasy lovers, this would be a fun book to sink their teeth into this winter (especially if they're into series books which everyone seems to be these days).

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

The hard choice: Dmitri, Mason, or Adrian?

Frostbite - Richelle Mead

Not too very long ago, I read and reviewed Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. As mentioned in that post, Vampire Academy is the first novel in a young adult series about the Moroi (vampires) and dhampirs (guardians of Moroi) who attend St. Vladimir's Academy. Specifically, it's about Lissa and Rose who are shadow kissed and trying to figure out just what that means as there's nothing officially documented about the use of spirit. (I realize this will make no sense unless you read the first book in the series so you'd better go and do that first.) In the second book, Frostbite, Lissa and Rose are continuing their studies so that they can learn how to survive while the Strigoi begin to organize their attacks on Moroi royals. However, the biggest problem that Rose is facing is not against the Strigoi but against her own traitorous heart. (I hope that came across as dramatic as I imagined.) There is not one, not two, but three men in her life and she is very conflicted about her feelings. Ah, that teenage angst! If you were fans of the first novel in the series then undoubtedly you will enjoy this continuation because more of the mythology is unraveled and the characters continue to be fleshed out. It's still bordering on a bit too racy for me but it's the vampire lore which I'm here for primarily (although I am definitely team Dmitri). I'm most likely going to continue reading this series but I'd love to hear your opinion on the books, the reviews, and what you'd like to see me read next. Basically, I just want you guys to talk to me. :-P

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

What it takes to be a rogue

The Dungeoneers - John David     Anderson

This is the first book in a series (although there's no set date for the next book or even a premise so don't get too excited yet) about a group of kids who are learning the craft of dungeoneering (don't worry the book will explain precisely what this entails) in Thwodin's Legion (you probably haven't heard of it because it's pretty elite). Each of the main characters has a different specialization (rogue, druid healer, barbarian, and mageling). Anderson continues to impress with his characterization and believable 'voice' for this age group. Reluctant readers would do well to check out his writing. Fantasy lovers especially will enjoy this one and Sidekicked (PS He's also written a companion novel set in the same universe as Sidekick entitled Minion which I'm hoping to read soon.). Colm Candorly is the main protagonist and maybe one of my favorite characters ever written because he's flawed and instead of fighting that he embraces it willingly. There's plenty of humor but alongside that is a healthy dosage of dramatics (and violence). It's a fast paced, fun read that can be enjoyed by middle grade to adult readers. If you didn't guess already, I'm a fan. 10/10

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Using mixed media to perfection

Wonderful, Wicked, and  Whizzpopping: The Stories, Characters, and Inventions of Roald Dahl - Roald Dahl

I think it's been well-established that Roald Dahl is my favorite author of all time (with Charles Dickens at a close second). If you were in doubt about my love of Dahl's works you can check out this masterpost that I wrote last year with no less than 5 reviews. XD It should come as no surprise that I fangirled pretty hard over Wonderful, Wicked, and Whizzpopping: The stories, characters, and inventions of Roald Dahl by Stela Caldwell with (of course) illustrations by the incomparable Quentin Blake. From the very first page (the front-matter section), it is apparent that this is a special book. There are little snippets which look like yellow, lined notebook paper which denote actual notes that Dahl wrote to himself about the books which made him famous. (He always wrote his books on yellow, lined notebook paper by the way.) Did you know it was nearly James and the Giant Cherry instead of James and the Giant Peach? That somehow doesn't have quite the same ring to it. This entire book is like getting a glimpse behind the scenes PLUS reading condensed versions of some of his more famous children's books. The mixed media used in this book complements the subject matter perfectly. I'd go so far as to say this is a visually stunning book and you'd be silly not to check it out for yourselves...especially if you're a fan of Quentin Blake. You might have guessed already but this is a 10/10 in my books (pun totally intended).

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Years in the making

The Burning World: A Warm Bodies Novel (The Warm Bodies Series) - Isaac Marion

Isaac Marion's anticipated (at least by me) sequel to Warm Bodies is out now. Finally. The Burning World chronicles the continuing adventures of our favorite zombie-turned-real boy R and the love of his new life, Julie. The characters introduced in Marion's last novel make a comeback and we watch them as they travel away from all that they know and into a world of terror, Nearly Living, and gun toting baddies in beige jackets. (I think Nearly Living would make a great band name by the way.) Marion continues to build his world and his zombie mythology. We learn that as the Dead turn into the Living (and through the phase of Nearly Living) they go through a process of remembering their prior lives. For most, this is such an overwhelming and upsetting process that they take drastic measures to make the memories stop. (You don't want to know...but you will.) R has decided that he can ignore the memories trying to resurface and focus on building his new life...but of course that's not a real possibility. Their adventure/escape across the landscape of America is fraught with peril, new traveling companions, and R's increasing sense of unease as he remembers his "first life". If you're looking for a closing chapter to this series then you're going to end up disappointed. If anything, The Burning World raises more questions than it ultimately answers. It's very much a 'setup' kind of novel wherein it seems like a lot happens but actually nothing in point of fact does happen. Marion is clearly using this as a bridge to set up his conclusion (titled Living if you're curious). For someone who has been waiting for this novel for years this book was a bit of a letdown. I wanted the questions raised from the first novel (and the prequel) answered in this book. Also, there's a weird second "voice" in this book that appears to be the earth (?) and I'm not really a big fan of the way that took away from the flow of the book. It was more of a distraction than an addition to the storyline in my opinion and I have a sinking feeling it's going to play a role in Living as well. However, if you want to continue following R and his comrades you need to read The Burning World because without it you're liable to wind up very confused. Skipping to the last book which will probably be out in the next decade (I hope I'm being facetious here) would not be advisable. This is a 7/10 for me which is the lowest score I've given Marion thus far. I had much higher hopes for this book especially after the long wait. :-/

 

You can read my review of Warm Bodies which was originally posted back in April 2013. There's also my review of The New Hunger which was the prequel novella...and which I reviewed 4 days after I read Warm Bodies. Guess you could say I was a fan of the series. lol What's especially funny is that in the review of The New Hunger I mentioned how excited I was for the sequel and that it was due out in in 2014...and it's just come out this month. Go figure, eh?

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Lifting the veil

Cry, Heart, But Never Break - Glenn Ringtved, Charlotte Pardi, Robert Moulthrop

I can't remember how I came to find out about today's book but I am certainly glad that I did. The book is Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved with illustrations by Charlotte Pardi. (It's translated from Dutch to English by Robert Moulthrop.) The premise is a simple one: Teaching children how to handle the grief of a loved one who passes away. (Coincidentally, it might help adults as well.) The illustrations themselves are quite unique and beautiful but when linked with the words are perfect and stunning. The story follows 4 siblings who wait with Death who is there to take their grandmother. It's a poignant depiction of the tension that one feels when sitting at the bedside of someone near and dear to your heart. It's a lifting of the veil so that if a child were to experience death they would see that without it there can be no fervor or joy in life. It's a two-sided coin. It's an extremely touching story and I think it is a really lovely way to introduce a difficult topic to children (you can't shield them from it forever and you really shouldn't try). 10/10 and highly recommend to all ages.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order

South Riding - Shirley Williams, Marion Shaw, Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Science bros, Batman buns, and pirate love

Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton

I had heard a lot of good things about Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant and since the premise of it (historical parody + comics) sounded intriguing I naturally thought it would be a winner for me. Well, I can't in all honesty say that it was a winner in my books. There were certainly some comics that I thought were really funny but I feel like those few didn't override my overall reaction of "wow this wasn't as good as I had hoped". I think this is largely due to my sense of humor. I know many people who would probably fall out of their chairs laughing at this (and many others who would totally give up within the first couple of pages). Essentially Kate has selected different little themes (based on historical figures, events, etc) and written short comics to accompany them. Sometimes she writes a little explanatory paragraph at the bottom but this isn't always the case. There is something very "Tumblresque" about her work which might be the biggest draw for you...or it might make you very wary.  I always feel strange giving a "negative" review especially when it's more a question of my taste and not really anything to do with the writing itself. However, this is my blog and I can only review books based on my own tastes (as well as basic stuff like grammar, setup, and so on). For me, this was a 3/10 and I'm not likely to search out any of Beaton's work in the future.

 

I think it's Poe's face in that last panel that does it for me.

 

Should I have put a warning on this?

 

The 'nemesis' series was a hoot. 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

Wherein I discuss my totally rational fears + reminisce on blog beginnings

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson

Today I'm going to tell you about Deep Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania aka reason #5022 why I will never go on a cruise. I have an odd fascination with shipwrecks but also a deep, crushing fear of them. I cannot deal with images of sunken ships, statues, or really anything submerged under the water and nestled at the bottom of the ocean floor (you can also substitute ocean with sea, lake, or deep pool). Here is also where I confess that I am woefully ignorant about World War I. I always struggle to remember who was fighting in the war and what it was really about (I think this is still being puzzled over in some places). As far as the Lusitania, the only thing I knew was that it was a large passenger ship that had sunk (filling me with terror like the sinking of the Titanic and the film Poseidon with Kurt Russell). So I went into this book pretty much as a blank slate and by 30 pages in I was already spouting facts about it to my coworkers (who may never go on a cruise either). Like with all of Larson's works, he focuses on a major topic while interweaving storylines that occur parallel to the main event. For example, this book is about the Lusitania and its final voyage but in order to put that into context Larson had to discuss WWI and President Woodrow Wilson's state of mind in regards to the neutrality of the United States in that war (Wilson was one passionate dude, ya'll.). So not only did I learn about the machinations of the leading world powers of the early 20th century (Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S.A.) but I also got a glimpse into President Wilson's personal life, learned how submarines operate, and discovered that people really liked to smoke in 1915.

 

PS As mentioned in other posts, I love reading the end notes of nonfiction books because there are always fantastic little tidbits there that just didn't fit in the overall narrative of the book. Dead Wake was no exception. It led me to The Lusitania Resource which is a website dedicated to uncovering all of the facts of the sinking of the ship including primary documents, articles concerning the controversy of its significance to WWI, and much more. I highly recommend you check it out if nothing else than to whet your appetite for Larson's book. (Yes, I know that it's insane for me to be obsessed with this site after referencing my very real fears of traveling on a cruise ship but I like to have all of my facts ready for those trying to change my mind. It's perfectly normal.)

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

A school for blood drinkers

Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead

I saw a trailer for a movie called Vampire Academy ages and ages ago and even though it looked super corny I knew I would have to watch it. It was exactly what I wanted it to be...and then I discovered it was based off of a book series by Richelle Mead. Firstly, the makers of that film were very faithful to the first book in the series (a rarity, I think you'll agree). Secondly, if you're a fan of books which take place in boarding schools then you're likely to find this series right up your alley. Thirdly, Mead has created a new kind of vampire lore which I always find enjoyable especially as a long-time fan of vampire stories/media. Essentially, she's developed a whole subculture where 'vampire' is not even the preferred label. Fourthly, if you enjoyed Twilight because of the romantic aspect then you need look no further because judging from the first book in the series Vampire Academy is the racy cousin of Twilight that your mom warns you about. If you want a more academic vampire story along the lines of Anne Rice or Bram Stoker this probably isn't going to fill the void for you. However, if you're looking for a book that ticks off the "magical beings who act like bratty teens at a super secret boarding school" box then you need look no further because Vampire Academy definitely fits the bill. I haven't yet decided if I'll continue the series but if I do I'll be sure to let you know if it manages to stay at the bar that was raised by this first book. 8/10

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com

How to train as the #2 hero

Sidekicked - John David     Anderson

I haven't read a large amount of middle grade fiction but I must say that I've really enjoyed John David Anderson's writing thus far. Sidekicked was a lot of fun and right after finishing it I added two more of Anderson's books to my TRL. The story revolves around Andrew "Drew" Macon Bean (admittedly a fantastic name) who is not your typical sidekick. His powers aren't the usual 'faster than light speed' or 'stronger than steel'. Nope. (I'm not going to reveal his powers because they are truly unusual and it'll be more fun for you to read it and found out for yourselves.) However, he is a typical nerdy kid just trying to make it through middle school unscathed. There's the usual pre-teen drama about who likes who and fitting in but on top of that is uncertainty about the safety of themselves, their families, and the town. Like Miss Bixby's Last Day, Anderson doesn't shy away from tough subjects. The drawbacks to having superpowers such as having to lie to one's parents, worrying about the mental health of one's mentor (the Super assigned to each Sidekick), and navigating adolescence are dealt with in a very loving, realistic way. Drew is a likable character and I think boys as well as girls will identify with him and become invested in his story. If you have kids in your life who are obsessed with superheroes but are not overly enthusiastic about reading maybe you could suggest that you read this one together. I have a feeling it will be a hit. :-) 9/10

 

Source: http://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com