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 got to around 150 pages into this book and realized this one was just not for me. I gave up the fight and returned it back to the library. I had such high hopes and thought the premise sounded really great but it felt completely flat to me. I figure I gave it enough of a shot though to see that it wasn't the book for me. :-/
Thanks to my friends (Katie, I'm talking to you!) over at Pegasus Books, I was able to get my hands on the latest installment to The Gower Street Detective series before publication (April 11th aka my birthday). Sidney Grice and his plucky assistant, March Middleton, are at it again in The Secrets of Gaslight Lane where they are tasked with solving not one but two locked room murders perpetrated in the same house several years apart. I have to caution yet again that this is not a series for anyone with a weak stomach or an aversion to overuse of adjectives and adverbs. (I think M.R.C. Kasasian possesses the most extensive vocabulary of any author I have ever read.) For those hoping for further resolution to the dramas surrounding Grice's past with March's mother and/or March's relationshiop with Inspector Pound then you're going to be fairly disappointed with this book. This is a case-heavy narrative with complicated facets and multiple characters. It's also chock full of hilarity and acerbic wit. Grice and March are definitely getting in the groove of their partnership and their back-and-forth banter (especially with clients) is delicious. This is a series I could see being re-tooled on Masterpiece Mystery and if cast correctly it would be fantastic. And as with his previous books in this series, Kasasian manages to drop a bombshell at the end which will leave readers salivating for more. 10/10 and I can't wait for Dark Dawn Over Steep House which will hopefully be out at the end of the year.
I had never heard of Frindle despite it being an award-winning book (2016 Phoenix Award) with many admirers (teachers, librarians, and children alike). Written by Andrew Clements with illustrations by Brian Selznick, this is the story of Nick Allen who is the premier 'idea man' of the 5th grade...until he meets Mrs. Granger. It's then that Nick's place among his peers is questioned as she challenges him to think more creatively than ever before. The humor, inventiveness, determination, and perspicacity of our main characters makes this an instant favorite for all ages. This is a super fast read (I read it in an afternoon commute in its entirety and I'm not a particularly fast reader.) and I think it would be a great one for reluctant readers especially if you're reading with them at home. Bonus: It's educational without ever really making that a big thing which is the perfect recipe for this age group especially if they're reluctant readers. *hint hint* This book is full of heart and more than a few surprises (this might give the little ones in your life some especially mischievous ideas) which means it gets a 10/10 from me. XD
Source: Book-A-Day Almanac
By chance, I saw that the second book in The Themis Files series by Sylvain Neuvel had hit the shelves. You may recall that I posted a review of the first book, Sleeping Giants, not quite a year ago and I really enjoyed it. It's a unique story that blends aliens and robots *shudder* with a heaping dose of science-y adventure and intrigue. In the sequel, Waking Gods, we're reunited with our mysterious narrator who continues to record his interactions with the team tasked with uncovering the mysteries surrounding Themis, the robot pieced together and purportedly left on earth by an alien race in the distant past. In the first book, the lid was blown off the super secret agency housing the alien creation. This book starts 10 years later where Themis and the EDC (Earth Defense Corps) are now household names. However, years of study haven't revealed all of the answers about this alien race or why they left pieces of a scattered robot across the globe. In fact, Dr. Rose Franklin is starting to wonder if maybe they were never supposed to find the robot at all... It becomes an even more pressing issue when another giant robot (larger than Themis) materializes in the middle of London. Is it a sign that they want to make contact? Is it a threat? How will the human race react? All of this and much more is explored in this book and if you thought the first was fast-paced and action packed then this one is sure to knock your socks off. 10/10
I didn't mean for this to happen but somehow I ended up running across another picture book that prominently features a frog. This one is I Don't Want to be Big by Dev Petty with illustrations by Mike Boldt and much like Frog on a Log? it's part of a series. It was the artistic style which originally drew me to this book but it's the humor that had me taking it along to storytime. This is a fantastic book to read to kids since it deals with that all-important topic: 'growing up'. Our main character is adamant that growing up is the absolute worst and he is determined that he's not going to do it. His father (an adorable frog wearing glasses) tries to convince him of the merits (all in the name of eating his dinner I might add) but the little frog has some pretty convincing arguments. I'd say my one niggling criticism is the way that the speech bubbles tend to overlap on the page which can make it a bit confusing at times (especially when you're doing different character voices). Other than that, it's a solid readaloud book that I highly recommend. 9/10
About a year ago, I stumbled into a cute little bookstore which specialized in mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy of both the new and used variety. I felt it was my solemn duty to have a close look and about an hour later I left with a few (or three) choice items. One of these I already reviewed and today's was actually a signed copy titled The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks. As the title suggests, this is a collection of short stories that have an eerie, fantastical vibe to them. Some of them are downright disturbing (the taxidermy one in particular stands out) while others are merely just off the beaten path into strangeness. If you like dark, eerie fiction that crosses into the borders of the unknown then this book would be right up your street. If you're looking to delve into short story collections but you're not sure where to start this also might be a good fit for you. As for me, I enjoyed a few of them but overall this wasn't my favorite of the short story collections I've read. (That honor either goes to Through the Woods or The Opposite of Loneliness.) 5/10
I think I've called this book everything but it's actual name when talking about it to other people and that's probably because it has quite the title: A Freudian Slip is When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Mother: 879 Funny, Funky, Hip, and Hilarious Puns by Gary Blake. If you think the title is a mouthful you should take a peek at what's inside. It's absolute chock full of punny goodness. My mom left this with me nearly a year ago with turned down pages and highlights of her favorite jokes (this is so her type of humor). I enjoyed employing them on unsuspecting coworkers and watching their eyes roll into their back of their heads at the corniness (and sometimes incomprehensibility).
To give you a taste of what I'm talking about here's one from page 211:
Did you hear about the guy who was hit in the head by a bottle of soda? Lucky for him, it was a soft drink.
Cue all of your friends either nominating you for an award because you used this on them or they might actually whack you upside the head with an actual bottled beverage. I must also caution that there are some rather problematic jokes in this book (the argument could be made that he doesn't pull any punches toward any group of people). Also, if you're not particularly hip to the political jibe (as I'm not) then some of these aren't going to make a lot of sense. I think this is one of those books that you come to every now and again but I wonder how many people sit down and read it cover-to-cover as mom and I have done...unless they're trying to get some new jokes under their belt. ;-)
PS The answer to the joke in the title of today's post: It wanted to lay it on the line.
After I started my dream job last year, my mom bought me a copy of I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan. (Thanks, mom!) I'm actually glad that I waited to pick this up because of the experiences I've already had after working as a Children's Librarian just a few months. (Don't worry. I'll remember them in my future memoir.) It still would have been funny back in December but it's exponentially more hilarious comparing it to my own experiences. (Note: If you don't work in a public library you'll still think this book is a hoot.) Sheridan has amasseds a collection of true things that have occurred in public libraries all over the world on her blog aptly named I Work at a Public Library which she started when...she started working at a public library. (I think you get where this is going from the title right?) It's organized according to the Dewey Decimal System and absolutely bursting with hilarious, heartwarming, disturbing, and disgusting tales. If you don't laugh out loud at some of these or gasp in shock then you're probably an automaton (and I'm terrified of you). Whether you're a library nerd at heart or just want to get a glimpse behind the scenes of where the library nerds gather this is the book for you. 10/10 and already trying to get all of my co-workers to read it. :-)
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
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
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).
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.
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).
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