Thursday, July 31, 2014

Snarked! Review

Snarked Vol.1: Forks and HopeSnarked Vol. 2: Ships and Sealing WaxSnarked Vol. 3

Book talk:  The kingdom is in trouble.  The king has been missing for three months.  People are getting restless and the king's trusted advisers have turned out to be scheming villains.  When Scarlett discovers their evil plot, she decides to take matters into her own hands and lead a rescue party to find her father the king.  But the only men she can find to help are the Walrus and the Carpenter, the infamous tricksters who lured unsuspecting young oysters onto their dinner plates.  Will the young queen, two con artists, and her baby brother Rusty be able to survive mad pirates, evil assassins, and a dreaded snark to save the king?

Rocks my socks:  Reading these comics filled me with laughter and a light-hearted sense of adventure.  They are just plain fun.  The nonsense world of Lewis Carroll is expanded in a most delightful way by Langridge.  He takes up all the portmanteaus and fantastic scenarios and blends them seamlessly while creating something quite new.  I reveled in all the Caroll references and had fun spotting them.  I enjoyed seeing the new directions Langridge took the characters while retaining the flair that made them so endearing to begin with.  The verse narration peppered throughout kept the material closely tied to the nonsense poems it is based on.  Langridge clearly had as much fun writing and illustrating it as I did reading it and it shows in the small, humorous details such as the ad for tea on the inside cover of the first volume ("you don't have to be mad to drink tea - but it helps!") and the creative panel layouts.

Rocks in my socks:  There probably were some minor flaws but I was having far too much fun reading the comics to notice them.

Every book its reader:  You'll get more of the jokes if you have a knowledge of Lewis Carroll, but even if you don't there's still plenty to entertain and amuse here.  There's abundant amounts of jokes aimed at kids, adults, and everything in-between making this great to read as a family.  I'd give it to fans of nonsense and humor.

Extras:

I always liked the Walrus and the Carpenter sequence from the Disney Alice in Wonderland movie:



Apparently there's a musical version of The Hunting of the Snark by Mike Batt starring Billy Connolly, which brings to mind two questions: Where has this been all my life, and where can I find the rest of it?




You can find an early version of the musical presented in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in its entirety on YouTube.  It stars Billy Connolly, John Hurt, and Roger Daltrey.  I feel like I have done something right and am being rewarded even though this production has apparently been around for as long as I've been alive.  Seriously, where has it been all my life?  There goes my productivity for the next hour!



Source: school library

Snarked! by Roger Langridge: buy it or check it out today!

The Madman's Daughter review

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter, #1)

Book talk: Juliet is a maid in King's College.  She works at night, cleaning off the blood stains in the operating theatre when the halls are as dark and silent as a grave.  It would bother many ladies and many men, but she is her father's daughter and she is made of stronger stuff.  She grew up falling asleep to screams from his laboratory where he performed the experiments that disgraced him and led to Juliet's dreary circumstances.  After believing herself an orphan for many years, she is shocked to discover that her father is alive and well--performing his experiments on an island far from the prying eyes of society.  She is warned that it's no place for a lady, but when things turn from bad to worse she is forced to flee London and travel to the island of her father, Doctor Moreau.

Rocks my socks:  This book was so deliciously atmospheric that I could feel the gloomy London fog and the oppressive tropical heat even though I was on vacation in Oregon.  The hints about the full extent of her father's experiments keep the tension high and his secretive nature casts a shadow of doubt over everything. Juliet finds herself caught in a love triangle with high stakes as who she trusts may decide whether she lives or dies.  Juliet is a wonderful heroine bold enough to do what needs to be done even when the men around her quail at the task.  The Madman's Daughter is a thrilling gothic romance based on a classic Victorian science fiction story.

Rocks in my socks:  Shepherd milks the love triangle for all its worth, so if you're tired of them steer clear of this book.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of gothic romance or anyone looking for a fresh take on a classic tale.  7th grade and up.

Extras:

Megan Shepherd has a website with more info about the series

There's a trailer for the book although I can't support its oddly cavalier waste of paper (seriously only two lines per two pages?)




Source: ebook from public library

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Brief Reviews Spring 2014 part 1

Alif the Unseen Alif the Unseen is a hodge-podge of fantasy, science fiction, religion, and politics that defies easy categorization.  It follows a Middle-Eastern hacker who goes by the handle Alif and sells his security to anyone with the money to buy it regardless of their affiliations. The story starts off in familiar terrain: Alif's world starts to collapse when the aristocratic girl he was seeing becomes engaged to an equally aristocratic man at her parents' behest. But it quickly leaves the familiar behind and soon Alif discovers a supernatural world within the city he thought he knew while evading government officials and writing code that draws on ancient magic.  I particularly enjoyed the conservative neighbor girl that ends up fleeing with Alif, Vikram the Vampire, and of course the talking cat.  Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson: buy it or check it out today!

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy Marina's status as the daughter of a famed ballerina means that she's had a privileged life in the Soviet Union.  But when her mother discovers something the government wants kept secret, Marina and her father have to flee their cushy life for small flat in Brooklyn.  I like a lot of the topics this book touches on: the cold war, ballet, spies, the mafia.  Unfortunately the book's strong points were also its weaknesses.  The plot was scattered and had so many threads that none were explored in depth and I never became emotionally involved in the characters.  There's a bit of ballet at the beginning then it's mostly abandoned, the spy and mafia plots barely get off the ground, and then there's a whole other plot involving Marina and her mother having some sort of supernatural powers that is touched on but never really explored.  I wanted to like it, but I wish it was either longer or culled some of the plot threads so that it could better focus on the remaining ones.  Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem: buy it or check it out today!

The Pirate's Wish (The Assassin's Curse, #2)This sequel was just as delightful and satisfying as Assassin's Curse. This time there was the additional bonus of a sassy talking cat (a trope I will never tire of), magical islands, more high seas adventure, and the love interests finally getting together.  After reading so many series that tease the main couple for three books or more it was satisfying to read one that wraps up the plot neatly in just two.  There's only so much tension I can stand!  I really like the unusual way their relationship is handled--not your typically happily ever after, but a happy ending nonetheless.  If you're looking for a light fantasy adventure with an atypical romance then this series is perfect for you!  The Pirate's Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke: buy it or check it out today!

The Midnight Dress There were many things about this novel that I liked.  First of all as someone who sews a lot of her own dresses, I enjoyed the parts that involved descriptions of the dress-making process and the history of the industry (who knew there were riots over buttons?)  I loved the rural Australian setting and the character of Edie. But despite all it had going for it, I put down the book disappointed.  The interspersed scenes from the aftermath of the crime at the climax of the novel were deliberately vague and felt disingenuous and coy to me.  That didn't prevent the ending from being predictable. I really don't mind knowing what's coming--I'm quite used to it in fact.  It does annoy me when the author makes such an effort to create a surprise and then doesn't deliver though.  Without getting into spoilers I will say that I didn't like the ending and I felt like it left things on a note where none of the characters really grew.  I turned the last page thinking "what was the point of all this?" The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Came from the Stars review

What Came from the Stars

Book talk:  In a final act of defiance and glory, the Valorim forge a necklace containing their art and send it off into the stars before they fall to a dark lord.  It travels across light years and finally reaches a planet on a distant solar system--where it falls into Tommy Pepper's lunchbox.  Tommy Pepper unknowingly absorbs the art of the Valorim and soon he starts making paintings that come to life, speaking in a strange language, and referring to events that sound like they come from a fantasy novel.  At first his friends don't know what to make of it, but when the dark forces that conquered the Valorim come to Earth, they start to believe in his crazy talk.  

Rocks my socks:  This book is a unique mix of high fantasy, science fiction, and a realistic school story unlike anything I've read before.  The parts involving the Valorim are written in a high fantasy style involving plenty of invented words and archaic language patterns.  The parts involving Tommy and his family coping with their mother's death and getting along with his friends at school contains a lot of compelling characters and issues.  Both of them could easily make up their own story, but when the two combine it creates a fascinating hybrid.  The writing was superb in both styles and full of meaty issues, complex characters, and fantastic world-building.  I absolutely adored it!

Rocks in my socks:  none

Every book its reader:  Because this book is a combination of genres it is a bit more difficult to find its audience.  Those looking for a school story and unused to invented languages could be easily turned off by the writing in the sections about the Valorim while those looking for a fantasy adventure novel may not like the realistic sections.  But if you can keep an open mind and enjoy reading across different genres then this book is well worth reading.  I'd give it to 5th grade and up.

Extras:  

Gary D Schmidt has his own website

Source: ebook from the public library

What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Henry and the...smart human review

Henry and the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human

Book talk:  What would the world be like if robots dominated and humans were an experimental, often buggy technology--only good for menial tasks and incapable of higher thinking?  Just ask Henry.  He's an average bot going through his tumultuous 13th upgrade.  One day a human goes berserko in his mother's shop and they get an experimental replacement.  This new human is unlike any he's seen before.  He can complete complex tasks without step-by-step instructions and he even likes to play video games and read comic books!  Henry knows that humans aren't like robots, but he can't help feeling like this new human is more than just an appliance.  Will Henry be willing to risk it all when his new friend needs him to break into the motherboard and fight off the G-bots so they find out how this inconveniently smart human came to be?

Rocks my socks:  I absolutely love the sharp wit of this novel and its extended comparisons between humans and robots.  This isn't a world after a robot uprising--this is a world where robots were here first and humans are a recent invention.  The way Messina draws comparisons between robots and humans throughout the novel is clever and insightful.  Much like how human teenagers go through changes that make them emotionally unstable, robots in this world go through a series of upgrades and the 13th is known to be particularly difficult to integrate.  Henry has a sort of virus that can make processing information at school difficult for him in a clear analogy to human learning differences.  The way this is described with such immediacy will ring true with many students.  Little touches such as the descriptions in the human instruction manual kept me chuckling throughout, but there's also a real emotional core to the novel and a sense of adventure as they go off to break into the motherboard.

Rocks in my socks:  The secondary characters are a bit flat and the plot fairly standard, much like the video games that Henry loves playing.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of robots, humor, and video games.  The action never gets too intense--the humor and robot perspective keep it pretty light--and there's no romance.  I'd say it's fine for 3rd grade and up.

Extras:

Lynn Messina has her own website.

There's a great book trailer on YouTube:




Source: school library

Henry & the Incredibly Incorrigible, Inconveniently Intelligent Smart Human by L.A. Messina: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Dog Called Homeless

A Dog Called Homeless

Book talk:  Cally used to be a real chatterbox, but after she sees her mother's ghost and no one believes her, she decides to stop talking.  What's the point if no one will listen?  Even as she stops, life keeps moving around her.  Her family has to move into a tiny apartment, her best friend betrays her, a neighbor teaches her a new way of talking, and she develops a special bond with a homeless dog.  If she wants to make a difference in their lives, she's going to have to learn how to make her father listen.

Rocks my socks:  I have a soft spot for Irish Wolfhounds, so I naturally enjoyed reading a book that features one so prominently.  I also liked the neighbor character who is blind and deaf and has a lot of spunk and wisdom. Overall this is a sweet, heart-warming story.

Rocks in my socks: I'm more inclined to shelve this under fantasy than realistic fiction.  The world they live in where everything miraculously works out bears little resemblance to reality, even leaving aside the bits that involve the mother's ghost.  Additionally, while I love Irish Wolfounds I don't think the book accurately portrays or takes into account the major time and financial commitment required to own one.  Adopting one should not be a surprise and is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to students in 3rd to 5th grade looking for a sweet story.  Dog-lovers will enjoy the book in particular.

Extras:

Sarah Lean has a website

Here's some more info on Irish Wolfhounds for the curious:




Source: copy provided as part of faculty & staff book club

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ask the Passengers Review


Ask the Passengers

Book talk:  Have you ever felt trapped by love?  Because you worried that it wasn't reciprocated or appreciated or because you couldn't control it.  Astrid used to, until she started giving it all away.  It all started with airplanes.  She would send her love to every passing airplane: an outpouring without expecting anything back.  Then she started doing it all the time, with every person she met.  She thought that if she gave all her love away, no one person could control it and she would be free.  But when she falls in love with a cute girl from work, her relationships with everyone in her life will be tested.

Rocks my socks:  This novel tackles a lot of complex issues.  It naturally deals with identity and acceptance as Astrid struggles with what falling in love with Dee means and as she deals with the repercussions of sharing her feelings with her friends, family, and the larger community.  It also talks a lot about consent as Dee pressures Astrid to take the relationship faster than she wants.  I haven't read many YA novels that talk this explicitly about consent and the fact that not saying "no" isn't the same as saying "yes."  I think it's an important topic to talk about, so I'm glad King dives in. I also love that Astrid looks to an imaginary Socrates for advice.  The class project they have where they have to create their own paradox to argue and dress up like a Greek philosopher for the day sounds amazing!  Her parents certainly aren't role models but their faults are portrayed in a complex and realistic fashion. There's a lot of ambiguity with all of the characters as they make good and bad decisions.

Rocks in my socks:  I love the concept of Astrid sending her love up to the passengers on passing planes, but I wish King hadn't included the vignettes with the passenger stories. They are so short and they bring up a lot of meaty issues that really deserve more context.  Additionally, I don't like the supernatural element added by the passengers physically feeling this mysterious burst of love from Astrid.

Every book its reader:  
I'd give this to students 8th grade and up looking for a character-driven school story.

Extras:

A.S. King has a website

Source: school library

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King: buy it or check it out today!