July 21, 2017

Figuring out who you are

The only exposure I've had to roller derby is through the film Whip It which admittedly is more than some people. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to read more about it especially when I saw the cover of today's book. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson follows a middle schooler named Astrid who (after going to a roller derby bout) decides that she will be an all-star roller derby girl. However, there are a few hiccups in this plan. (I was going to tell you what they are but I decided it would be better for you to discover them yourself especially since they make up the backbone of the book.) This is a story all about discovering what you're made of, adolescent friendship, and perseverance. It's pretty much middle school wrapped up in one volume + crazy rollerskating antics. I should also mention that it's a graphic novel with truly epic illustrations which were done by the author (I love when that's the case). Overall, I thought this was a fast paced, angsy book that captures what it's like to be a preteen girl who is obsessed with <insert hobby>. It's a fun book, guys. If you have any middle grade readers in your life that love sports I think they'd really like this one. 8/10

And since I've done this with a few other author/illustrators I thought I'd include a blog post that Victoria Jamieson did with some sketches from the book. Here's a sample:

Source: Victoria Jamieson Illustration
And here's what you can expect from the finished product:

Source: books4yourkids

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 14, 2017

Activism in India

Like those of you who come to my blog looking for book recommendations, I often check out book vloggers/bloggers and 'what's new in children's lit' to see what I should be checking out next. That's how I heard about Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami. Firstly, I don't think I've ready any children's books from an Indian author before so I was interested to see if the styles would be at all similar and what kind of themes would be explored. Secondly, this book is about two of my favorite things: books and community activism. :-D Our main character, Yasmin, is a voracious reader and she gets all of her books from a lending library run by Book Uncle who sets up his 'shop' on the corner by her apartment building. There is no price for these books and if you want to keep it then that's perfectly okay. Yasmin and many members of her community come to see this little library as a constant in their lives but one day their world is upended because Book Uncle has been told that he must leave. What transpires next is nothing short of inspiring and that's just what I think is so phenomenal about this book. It teaches children that their actions matter and that activism can be accomplished by every member of the community. It's a great way to talk about 'doing your part' that doesn't make it overbearing or heavy-handed. It's also a great way to expose children to a different part of the world. 8/10

Note: This book will also make you extraordinarily hungry.

Source: Bright Group International

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 7, 2017

Long overdue + Anniversary!

"...the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between..."

There were several lines from The Phantom Tollbooth that I could have chosen to start this blog post but this one really stuck with me. It might come as a surprise for you to learn that this was the first time I had read Norton Juster's classic work for children. It has been on my TRL for years and I finally knuckled down and checked out a copy. I'm glad that I did because it was just what I needed. For those who haven't been initiated, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a little boy named Milo who seems to make his way through the world with a listless, bored attitude...until a mysterious package appears in his bedroom. What happens next is a pun lovers' dream. (If you're a fan of grammar and word play then this is the book for you.) Milo goes on an adventure which will totally change the way he looks at the world. This is the perfect book to create lifelong learners because it's all about critical thinking. (I realize that I'm making this sound like homework but I swear it's fun educational learning.)

A/N: Today marks 6 years that I've been posting my book reviews online. I can't believe that something that started as a fun little side project has turned into my second job (albeit unpaid). I feel very proud of how far I've come and I am very much looking forward to the future (and all of those books!). Thanks to those who have been around from the beginning and those just now discovering me (hello!). I hope that in some small way I've helped you to find your next great read and somewhat brightened your day.  Here's to the next 6 years! :-D

Our protagonist, Milo. Source: Book Jacket Letters
To give a hint of the word play. Source: you-books
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 30, 2017

Slow on the uptake

Alright, I'll admit it. I'm often drawn to a book because of its cover. There's nothing wrong with that. Why else would they hire people to make them attractive and spend so much time designing them to be eye-catching? And then there's the blurb on the back of the book. These can range from evocative, cringeworthy, perplexing, or in some cases spoiler-y. Even after reading the back of the book jacket of today's book and seeing the title and looking at the cover image I was still surprised to discover just what this book was about. Maybe you're all smarter than me. Can you guess what Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings is about just from the name? What if I told you that it was about a little boy who had 7 little monsters accompanying him on a rescue mission and each of them had a very separate personality? The main character of Deadly 7 is Nelson who comes across a machine which creates 7 monsters that only he can see. One is always sleeping, one is angry about pretty much everything, one keeps stealing everything in sight...have you figured out what they are yet? I almost hope you haven't because then I won't feel like such a dolt. This is Garth's debut novel but he's no stranger to writing as he was the genius behind the movie Sing. However, this book is pretty much nothing like that movie. This story feels like it could be rooted in our present but with a decided twist. There's an ever-present feeling of dread while flipping the pages of this book which honestly I think that a lot of kids feel at this age. Remember the anxiety and fear when you realized that you were changing and you didn't know into what? Jennings taps into that and uses the monsters as a way to illustrate it which I think is rather brilliant. I have to say that the plot of this is kinda all over the place but the writing is solid so I have hope that further books by him will be tightened up and be even better. Nonetheless, it was a quick read and entertaining and I think it would be a good springboard for conversation. It's a solid 6/10.

PS Here's an article where Jennings talks about writing the book.

Source: Garth Jennings on Twitter

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 23, 2017

I'm conflicted

I am struggling with how to express my feelings about Grandpa's Great Escape by David Walliams. This is due to the fact that this man might actually be a bigger Roald Dahl fan than myself and his writing definitely reflects that. I don't think that Walliams makes any bones about this but I do think that if you've read Dahl's works it will be difficult not to compare the two which leaves Walliams falling a bit short. (Sorry!) Read on its own merit, it's a great little book which touches on topics which I think are really important in middle grade fiction. Our main character, Jack, has a very special relationship with his grandfather who was a fighter pilot in WWII. Their relationship is a unique one which is further complicated by the fact that his grandpa has Alzheimer's disease and believes he is once again in the midst of the Battle of Britain. Jack's parents are torn about what to do with the old man but Jack is adamant that he continue to spend time with him...until the vicar puts an idea into their heads about the old folks home beyond the moors. In typical Dahl fashion, Walliams fashions a slapstick comedy amidst flashbacks to WWII and serious discussions over elderly care and familial loyalty.

What I didn't care for:
  • What felt like blatant ripoffs of Dahl's works as well as his illustrator, Quentin Blake
What I legitimately enjoyed:
  • The approach and handling of serious discussions revolving around elderly care and Alzheimer's
  • The glossary at the back which discussed in more detail the topics touched on in the book such as the Royal Air Force, Battle of Britain, etc.
To get an idea of what I mean in reference to the illustrations I'm going to put an example of Quentin Blake's work for Dahl and following that a look at an illustration by Tony Ross for Grandpa's Great Escape. They definitely have different styles but they somehow evoke the same kind of whimsy and emotion. This is why I'm so conflicted about my feelings because truly it's like they're doing an ode to their heroes but...hmmm.

I'd love to know what you guys think so please check the book out and leave a comment below. :-)

Source: Yard Gallery
Source: World of David Walliams
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 16, 2017

Am I no longer afraid of robots?

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown has both fascinated me and frightened me for at least 2 months now. I kept seeing the cover when I was shelving or visiting other branches and the image of the single robot standing on top of a pile of rocks kept leaping out at me. I finally gave up the fight when I decided that middle grade fiction was the way to cure my book reading blues. I'm glad that I did because The Wild Robot was a lot of fun to read (and it turns out it's the start of a series!) made even more amazing by the superb illustrations supplied by the author. [A/N Peter Brown is no stranger to creating books as he's a well-known children's picture book author/illustrator but this is his first attempt at middle grade fiction.] This isn't your standard 'robot story' but instead it's a look at climate change, the ever-evolving landscape of our world with the advent of technology, and what it means to be truly alive. In short, it's beautiful, thought-provoking literature. The illustrations peppered throughout enhance the story by adding depth to the characters (I love that they're black and white.). Roz is doing the best she can given her circumstances which is really all that anyone can do. The only difference is that she's an artificial lifeform living on an island without any humans. How will this shape her? Will her presence have any effect on the local fauna and flora? Brown's commentary on our world is perfectly geared for a younger audience but it wouldn't go amiss for the adult crowd either. ;-) I can't wait to see how this story continues to develop as Peter carries on with the series. 10/10

For a look at the book from the author's perspective check out this awesome post written by Peter about his process of getting his book published: "The Wild Robot lives!".

The haunting cover. [Source: Amazon.com]
Source: New York Times

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 13, 2017

Newly Released: That Crazy Perfect Someday

The lovely folks over at Wunderkind PR were kind enough to reach out to me and ask if I'd be willing to let you guys know about a new book coming out just in time for summer. I happily told them yes. :-)



Synopsis:
The year is 2024. Climate change has altered the world’s wave patterns. Drones crisscross the sky, cars drive themselves, and surfing is a new Olympic sport. Mafuri Long, UCSD marine biology grad, champion surfer, and only female to dominate a record eighty-foot wave, still has something to prove. Having achieved Internet fame, along with sponsorship from Google and Nike, she’s intent on winning Olympic gold. But when her father, a clinically depressed former Navy captain and widower, learns that his beloved supercarrier, the USS Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to be sunk, he draws Mafuri into a powerful undertow. Conflicts compound as Mafuri’s personal life comes undone via social media, and a vicious Aussie competitor levels bogus doping charges against her. Mafuri forms an unlikely friendship with an awkward teen, a Ferrari-driving professional gamer who will prove to be her support and ballast. Authentic, brutal, and at times funny, Mafuri lays it all out in a sprightly, hot-wired voice. From San Diego to Sydney, Key West, and Manila, That Crazy Perfect Someday goes beyond the sports/surf cliché to explore the depths of sorrow and hope, yearning and family bonds, and the bootstrap power of a bold young woman climbing back into the light. 


Excerpt:
Google Mafuri Long.
Click video.
And voila!
Thats me, surfing the monster of all wavesan eighty-foot beast. Im like a tiny knife slicing through a gigantic wall of blue thats rearing up behind me, a total H2O Everest. Scale? Picture me standing next to an eight-story building. In 2023, I became the first chick to win the Nike XX Big Wave Classic: one of the few women in history to surf a wave that big, the only one to do it officially. I followed Daddys advice before we left the dock for the open sea. Dont ride that horse with half your ass, he said, sending me off with a fist bump. Go after it, cowgirl.
The freaky part is that the wave is a hundred miles off the San Diego coast in the middle of nowhere. The surf spots called the Cortes Bank, where the fish around you are the size of Volkswagens and very big things can swallow you whole. The only way out there is in a decent-size boat, and the only way to be saved after a serious wipeout is to be rescued by that decent-size boat or plucked up by a Coast Guard helicopter, which one big-wave legend experienced firsthand after a three-wave hold-down. The bank sits just under the water and can kick up epic hundred-footers. Its one of the biggest, scariest waves in the world, and I mastered it: little five foot three sandy-haired me.
Youd usually have to wait until winter for a wave like that, but weather patterns are so crazy with the globe heating up the last few decades, its monumentallike, who can predict? I had no clue how ginormous the wave was. I mean, nobody anticipated itnot my surf coach, the safety team, the other surfers, or the pilots in the choppers circling abovebut a tiny voice inside and the never-ending elevator ride up confirmed it was going to be borderline cataclysmic. When the wave hit its peak, I was staring down a seventy-five-foot vertical drop, fear shrieking inside me. Ride or die, thats what I thought. Like, seriously, flinch on a wave like that and its bye-bye girly-girl. I went supersonic after that, faster than I had ever gone before, my legs feeling the boards feedback full force, completely in the zone, focused, the entire ocean an angry fist beneath me . . . Then I pulled out of the wave.
When the video hit social, it ping-ponged around the world, out into space, and back again, sending up a collective girl-power supercheer, pretty much locking up a ton of cash in surf-sponsorships and placing me on every news feed from here to Alice Springs. Jaxthat's what people call my dadsays I have a gift. He says he noticed it the first time I stood up on a wave in Sendai, Japan, back when I was five and we were surfing together, years before that tsunami leveled the place.
The sponsorship money let me set my marine biology degree aside for a while. I couldn't find a job in the field anyway. Let me restate that: I was offered one at SeaLand San Diego straight out of UCSD, basically to put on a carnival show with a thirteenth-generation orca after her act was reintroduced, but I passed because that isn't science, and a creature like that should be ambushing seals out in the ocean and not squeaking for mackerel treats in a man-made swimming pool for some spoiled kids' amusement. So the money lets me spend my days training, and my eyes are on the big prize when the Olympics begin on August 4.


© 2017 Michael Mazza, with permission from Turtle Point Press




Author Bio:
Michael Mazza is a fiction writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. His stories have appeared in Other Voices, WORDS, Blue Mesa Review, TINGE, and ZYZZYVA. He is best known as an internationally acclaimed art and creative director working in the advertising industry. Along with being named National Creative All-Star by Adweek, his work appears in the Permanent Collection of the Library of Congress. He has lectured throughout the country and abroad, most notably at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. He has attended the Iowa Summer Writers’ Workshop, the Stanford Creative Writing workshop, and the Wharton School Executive Education MBA program. That Crazy Perfect Someday is his first novel. Connect with Michael at his website: www.mazzastory.com or on Twitter and Instagram: @mazzastory

**You can pick up a copy of That Crazy Perfect Someday June 20th at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.**

June 9, 2017

Invisible food, shadow people, and a door with no obvious purpose

As you know, I haven't been having the best of luck with the books I've picked up this year. I decided the best remedy for this was to pick random books out of the middle grade fiction section of my branch in the hopes of picking some winners. I have to say that so far it's definitely doing the trick.

My first selection was The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne. This book follows a little girl named Amelia Howling who is uprooted from her 'perfect' house into the home of her cousins who have just experienced a tragedy. If you're anything like me, you'll have little sympathy for this bratty little know-it-all but that thankfully doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of this book. There's a mystery enveloping this new house which is strangely put together with doors that lead to nowhere and different climates for each floor (don't go in the basement!). Amelia is stubbornly determined to remain aloof from the rest of her family and instead gets swept up in things far more sinister than she at first realizes (despite her assurances of being so clever). For those who like a bit of darker fantasy now and again then this is sure to hit the spot. I'd say the ideal age range would be anywhere from 10-14 (although this is more of a suggestion instead of a rule). For me, I found the fantasy/mystery elements quite good and the imagery excellent. Amelia was the worst but you can't win them all. A solid 8/10.

This was primarily why I picked up this book. 😍 [Source: Goodreads]
Artist's website: Péah aka Pierre-Antoine Moelo (the artwork is GORGEOUS)
PS I just went to the author's website and I've decide to check out another book that she's written (in the hopefully near future) titled The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief and Sinister. Stay tuned for further developments. ;-)

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 2, 2017

Slice of life is fun to say

Not very long ago, I saw an article that had gone viral about a woman who knew that she was going to die and she wanted to make sure that her husband found someone (it was like a dating profile but way better). The author was one that somehow hadn't made it onto my radar before this time and I couldn't help feeling thankful that I had found her even though it was under very tragic circumstances. You might have guessed who I was talking about at this point but just in case it was Amy Krouse Rosenthal and the article I'm talking about can be found here. Ten days after the article was published she passed away. It turns out that not only was she a prolific writer of children's books but she also wrote for adults. I thought I'd start with one of her well-known adult nonfiction pieces called Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. It's somewhere between a memoir which depicts a slice of Rosenthal's life and a quirky encyclopedia. It's one of the most unique books that I've ever read and after doing some research into the author that seems to adequately describe her. She took the events and circumstances of the year in which she wrote the book to record alphabetically (as one would do in an encyclopedia) different aspects of herself (and the world around her somewhat). For example, under the letter J you would find information about her husband, Jason, with a "See Also Husband" at the end of the entry. It was a lot of fun to dip in and out of it and learn about this totally singular individual. It's a shame that I'm late to the game discovering Amy's work but I am certainly glad that I've found her now. 9/10

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 26, 2017

Fortunately, I've posted a new review

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Skottie Young is simply delightful. It's hard for me to decide which was more enjoyable: the writing or the drawings. Honestly, I think that the reason I enjoyed this book so much was that the two of them paired so well together. This is exactly the kind of story that an imaginative parent would tell their child and embellish over time. The main character of this book is a father who is left alone to watch the kids and who goes out to get milk for breakfast and takes forever to get back home.When he finally returns he spins an impossible yarn to explain his tardiness to his extremely skeptical children. Anyone who has read Gaiman's writing knows that he's an absolutely wonderful fantasy author but it's his sense of humor that makes this book unique. Maybe you've heard of 'dad jokes' before? Well, this is basically one big dad joke accompanied by super cute ink illustrations. 10/10 on all fronts.

I absolutely love the illustrations by Skottie Young. This is another one of those books where you want to hang up the illustrations on the wall of your house...at least I do. Here are a few examples so that you can see what I'm raving about. ;-)

Source: boingboing.net
Source: littlekulture.com
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 23, 2017

Posting Schedule Update

As you may know, I've kept up a regular posting schedule for the last year and a bit where I post my reviews on Tuesdays and Fridays. (I announced this change on January 22, 2016 actually.) You might have noticed that this schedule has gone a bit wonky over the last couple of months. This is because of my new job. I just don't have the time or the energy to keep up the pace of a twice weekly posting schedule anymore. For one thing, my reading has dramatically decreased so I don't have the material for the posts. So I wanted to give you guys a little update and let you know that for the foreseeable future I will only be posting on Fridays. If I happen to accumulate more material I might make bonus posts here and there but for the most part it will be Friday reviews only.

I hope that this came out semi-coherently and that you guys get where I'm coming from with this. As usual, I welcome your feedback and I hope that you'll continue this reading journey with me. XD

May 19, 2017

The violinist from Bulgaria

Because I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, it really wasn't a difficult decision to pick up her newest novel, The Shadow Land. This book takes place in Bulgaria which is a land I am not at all familiar with beyond Viktor Krum and his Quidditch teammates. (I hope you know what that references because if you don't...let me know so I can review them for you.) You couldn't get further from witches and wizards with this book. The main character, Alexandra, is an American who travels to Bulgaria with emotional baggage (which I honestly could have cared less about) and an intent to teach English. Instead she stumbles into a mystery and a lot of dramatic intrigue. The cast of characters includes but is not limited to a wily taxi driver, an elderly artist, a menacing statesmen with flowing locks, and an intelligent street dog. I was expecting a lot from this novel and I have to admit that I came away disappointed. The characters weren't nearly as compelling or detailed as those in The Historian. **Possible spoilers ahead** The entire backstory of the main character turned out to be pointless. I had thought that there would be some kind of twist at the end but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, it was pretty predictable. **No spoilers beyond this point** Kostova still remains impressive when it comes to describing setting and events but as mentioned above the characters felt flat and one-dimensional. However, if you're a fan of historical fiction that is chock full of detailed descriptions then you're probably going to be a fan of Kostova's writing and if you're particularly interested in Bulgaria then you couldn't go amiss with this one. For me, I'm sorry to say, it's a 5/10.

Source: Goodreads

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 13, 2017

Persistence pays off

The following book was kindly sent to me by the author, B.C.R. Fegan, who requested a review. This book is out now and you can get a physical or ebook copy by visiting the publisher's website, TaleBlade Press, or by checking out Amazon. :-)

The Grumpface by B.C.R. Fegan with illustrations by Daniela Frongia is told entirely in rhyme. It's the story of Dan who is a clumsy dreamer inventor who is simply trying to win over the affections of the girl he's loved from afar. The Grumpface is a creature determined to thwart anyone he comes into contact with no matter how earnest or good-hearted. It's not a huge leap to learn that the main character and Dan have a run-in and shenanigans ensue. If you're looking for a sweet book about a character that never gives up no matter how insurmountable the odds then you should look no further. Added bonus is that this book is told in rhyming verse which hearkens back to the fairytales of old (and which little people especially enjoy). This is one that I think they'll be requesting over and over to read. 7/10

Source: TaleBlade Press

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 9, 2017

Sculpting the future

Longtime readers of the blog will recall that I've had a certain fear fascination with robots and A.I or Artifical Intelligence. You can check out my posts about books like Our Final Invention which details the growth artifical intelligence into super intelligence or In Our Own Image which is a thought experiment about what the evolution of AI will look like in the future to get an idea of what I mean. Today's book is somewhere in the middle. How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick's Robotic Resurrection by David F. Dufty covers the creation of a robotic incarnation of the famous sci-fi author which (according to its creators) has the ability to learn as it communicates with humans i.e. it is self-aware. The novelty of this machine was that it was created in the image of a man who was known for his paranoia about 'thinking' machines and that it was an artistic as much as technological acheivement. This book chronicled the creation of the android from its inception including the sculpting of the head and body by Dr. David Hanson through to its programming by Andrew Olney. (Not to mention the many volunteers from the FedEx Institute of Technology in Memphis who logged many hours helping to make this dream a reality without any compensation.) The PKD android was a sensation among scientific circles as well as among laypeople because of his realistic facial features, expressions, and his seemingly intelligent responses to questions. However, I am not convinced that he would have passed the Turing Test which proves that he was a self-aware artificially intelligent machine. Moreover, I found this book was lacking in many areas. Each of the chapters seemed to end without any real resolution and the ending fell flat. Also, one of my pet peeves is a nonfiction book without any endnotes or at the very least a bibliography and this one committed that sin. Overall, I'd say that this book would appeal to someone who hasn't done any significant research into this field and wants to dip their toe into that world but for me it didn't make the grade. 5/10

If you want to see the PKD android in action then you can check out the Hanson Robotics website. Be forewarned, if the idea of a seemingly artificially intelligent machine with human-like characteristics freaks you out then you shouldn't go to that website. To see what I mean, take a look at the pictures below. *shudder*

Source: Ascend Surgical
Source: Philip K. Dick Android Project


**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 5, 2017

Which witch is your fave?

On a whim, I picked up Lunch Witch #2: Knee-Deep in Niceness by Deb Lucke. I was intrigued mainly by the artwork (it's a graphic novel) which at first glance seems delightfully whimsical. However, I found myself disappointed with the book overall. The story was only so-so and didn't really do it for me. I've certainly read more engaging graphic novels for this age group. Our main character, the Lunch Witch, was fairly boring. The plot was...threadbare is the only word I can think of to describe it. The highlight of the book were the pets (the bats were especially entertaining). The artwork was hit-or-miss and didn't make up for the bland storyline. I read some reviews for this book after I had finished and it seems that the consensus is that after the first book in the series (oops I started on #2) this one was a bit of a letdown. I've also just discovered that they're making a film adaptation with Kate McKinnon as the lead. Now that I'm looking forward to especially considering how the main character is depicted as such as the archetypal hag and you just know she's gonna be hilarious. With that being said, this book didn't rate higher than a 4/10 for me I'm afraid. I have no plans to continue reading anymore of the series. :-/

I can't find the source of this image. :-(

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

May 3, 2017

In the mood for some mystery

Trio for Blunt Instruments by Rex Stout draws us back into the world of Nero Wolfe and his loyal assistant, Archie Goodwin. The last time I visited with these distinguished detectives was back in 2015 (it's been too long!) so I was very happy to get a 3-in-1 with this book. This volume contains the following mysteries: Kill Now -- Pay Later, Murder Is Corny, and Blood Will Tell. As this is a collection, the stories aren't overly lengthy (Murder Is Corny was previously unpublished and was the last novella written by Stout.) but as with all of Stout's writings they pack a powerful punch no matter the length. I continue to maintain that Archie Goodwin is one of my favorite literary characters. His veracity, loyalty, bravery, and overwhelming likability mark him as a singular character that it's nearly impossible not to like. There is something so real about him and his narrative voice as the reporter of Wolfe's cases lends reality and humor. Of course, Wolfe is a singular character in his own right as a true 'armchair detective' in every way.

Kill Now -- Pay Later covers the story of Wolfe's shoe shiner who witnesses something (it's not too much of a shock for me to tell you it's related to a murder I don't think) and comes to Wolfe immediately afterward. Once Wolfe is on the case, it turns out that it's not as straightforward as the police think especially since a subsequent crime is marked as a suicide and the case is considered closed. It's up to Wolfe and Archie to continue the case to its bitter end no matter how winding their path becomes.

Murder Is Corny is an extremely corny title for one of Stout's mysteries as the victim works at a farm that produces corn. <pause for grimace> Archie is pegged as the main suspect after one of his prior flames indicates that he was at the scene of the crime. Wolfe at first demurs as it's 'Archie's private affair' but when he realizes that he stands a good chance of losing someone he relies on he steps in. This one has a lot of moving parts and quite a few memorable characters but what marks it as unique is that Goodwin isn't interested in the main female character. ;-)

And that brings us to Blood Will Tell which opens up with Archie receiving a rather strange package in the mail and snowballs into a dramatic story about spurned love, boorishness, and snappy dressers. I think this one was my favorite of the three because it provided a lot of sidestories to sink your teeth into and it kept me guessing up until the last.

Whatever your taste in mysteries, you can't go wrong with this 3-in-1 because it has a little something for everybody. If you haven't ever tried a Nero Wolfe mystery then this is an excellent place to start.

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 28, 2017

Short and sweet

I've fallen for Dev Petty and Mike Boldt again. I Don't Want to be a Frog reunites us with our spunky frog friend and his glasses-wearing dad as he continually asserts that he'd rather be anything except a frog. Once again, the humor and illustrations pair together perfectly to tell a fantastic little story about an adolescent amphibian that doesn't feel overly satisfied with his lot in life. (Frogs have to eat bugs after all. Yuck!) Get ready for the end because it's sure to cause howls of laughter with the little people in your life as you read it out loud to them. I could go on and on about how much fun I think this book is but I have to get back to reading. :-P

PS This is definitely one for storytime.

Source: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 25, 2017

So many books and so little time

I'd like to talk about a few books that I've picked up and ultimately decided not to finish. For most of our lives, we are told to always finish what we've started. This message is especially hammered into our heads by teachers who tell us that what we read will be used on exams or on papers. I think this is why it has been difficult for me as an adult reader to let go of guilt when I decide that a book isn't right for me. Maybe the book isn't written with me as the reader in mind. Perhaps I had expectations of the book that weren't being met. However, I think the biggest reason why I put down books (and this is what's happened to me recently) is that I wasn't in the mood for them. That's it. There's a chance (pretty slim in some cases) that years down the line I'll grab these books and devour them. There's also the chance that I'll never feel any level of interest in them. And that's okay, ya'll.

Let's talk about some of the books I've recently sampled and ultimately quit. The first one really cut me to the quick because I had waited nearly a year for it to become available at the library. The book in question was Justine by Lawrence Durrell (Yes, it is that Lawrence mentioned by Gerald.). It is maybe the most pretentious, misogynstic book I have ever had the displeasure of holding in my hands. I don't care that it was written before these things were called out. Ugh, I hated it. I made it until part 2 and then I rather happily quit reading any further. The second was Watership Down by Richard Adams. This book came highly recommended to me especially in light of how much I enjoyed Moletown which uses animals to discuss social changes in society. I got about 75 pages in and found that I was looking for anything and everything to do except pick it up and read it. There was nothing inherently wrong with the book. The writing was done well, the characters were diverse, and the storyline was unique. I just didn't have any interest whatsoever.

What's always annoying is when you highly anticipate a book and then it falls disappointingly flat. That's what happened with The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. This promised to be a highly interesting science fiction novel about a group of people who are chosen to conduct an elite ecological experiment. The goal of the experiment is to see if it's possible to recreate these conditions off-planet and survive. I read 150 pages of this hoping that it would turn around from being overly sexualized, inane chatter about the people hoping to be chosen for the experiment. That didn't happen. I wanted high level sci-fi and I got tawdry romance instead. *crying piteously* That leads us to the fourth book and most recent: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón which was translated by Lucia Graves from the original Spanish. This was another recommended read (these are always the hardest to let go because you feel obligated) and so I really did try quite hard to get through it. As some of you may know, I'm not a fan of explicit sex scenes in books because I don't see their point. In this book, there's one very near to the beginning and it involves an 11 year old. That was the warning bell. The inherent mystery of the book didn't feel overly complicated to me and because the writer kept harping on sex (it seemed overly gratuitous to me) I lost interst very quickly. I don't even think I made it 75 pages in before I ultimately gave up the ghost. (I looked up the synopsis afterward and I was right about the mystery's solution so I don't feel overly guilty about quitting this one to be honest.)

This has been a rather strange reading year thus far for me. I've reached about halfway to my personal reading goal and yet it feels like I haven't read that much. I think a large part of that are these books which I diddle daddle over because ultimately they hold no interest for me. Meanwhile, I'm wasting time with these non-starters when there are literally hundreds of thousands of other books out there just waiting to be enjoyed. That's the key right there. Why feel guilty over a book that doesn't strike your fancy when there are SO many books in existence? The biggest takeaway is to HAVE FUN. I hope you guys are having a great week and I'll be back on Friday with a review of a book that I did enjoy. XD

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 21, 2017

All the bants

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.

Source: Pegasus Books

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 18, 2017

War of the Words

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

A/N: I decided back in February that I wanted to make time to read aloud to the middle grade crowd at my library. This is partly why you've seen more middle grade fiction popping up from time to time on the blog. (The other part I've mentioned before is that I realized I hadn't really read much geared toward this age group and I wanted to rectify that.) With these aims in mind, I checked out quite a few recommended titles and so far I am really enjoying it. I hope you are too! :-)

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 14, 2017

A different kind of robopocalypse

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

Source: Goodreads
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 11, 2017

I really am my mother's daughter. It's another frog book!

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

An example of both the artistic style and those speech bubbles I mentioned:

Source: Amazon
Note: I've already acquired another one in this series titled I Don't Want to be a Frog so get ready for that one in the near(ish) future. XD


**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

April 7, 2017

Cabinets full of curiosities always seem to come with a blood sacrifice

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

Source: Amazon

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **