January 16, 2016

Picture Books 2016 #2: Quirkiness, Crayons, and the Scientific Method

This review contains spoilers for various picture books.

Full disclosure: I actually read these in the final days of 2015. But they're being reviewed in 2016, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to put them under the umbrella of 2016 regardless.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

This was an adorable and genuinely funny story about a baby wolf who is adopted by a rabbit family. His elder sister is convinced he's a threat, but she just can't get her parents to believe that he's going to "eat them all up". The scene that brings the two siblings together, though, is the real gem.

...though you can read some uncomfortable subtext into the wolf's bunny costume if you're determined to take it as a metaphor for interracial adoption and find unfortunate implications here.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

The illustrations are utterly adorable and ridiculous, and so was the story. It fits perfectly in a world of children who love the quirky humor and art of shows like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls--and since those shows have such a huge periphery demographic, I think that alone implies that (young) adults will get a kick out of reading this with their kids, too.

Honestly, the whole thing is spectacular, and I love it.

This Is Sadie by Sara O'Leary

Yeah, I don't get the hype for this one.  It's just a girl with an imagination. Straightforward and simple, and while I appreciate the bucking of gender stereotypes, that's really all it had to offer.

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

In the sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan gets a series of postcards from his various crayons. They've all being doing interesting and amusing things… and I just can't be fucked to care about this anymore than I did about The Day the Crayons Quit.

It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and there's some genuinely endearing bits here… but apparently I just don't like anthropomorphic crayons. That's a weird foible to have, I'll readily admit, but it looks like that's just the way things are working out. Alas. No more crayon books for me, please.

Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

I love this one! It's definitely one of my best books of 2015! It uses the story of Dr. Mesmer to teach children about the scientific method and the placebo effect, and that's fucking awesome.

I seriously cannot recommend this enough; I've never seen a better educational picture book. (...said with sincerest apologies to my beloved Magic School Bus series.)

January 8, 2016

Picture Books 2016 #1: Dr. Seuss, Interstellar Cinderella, and More

This review contains spoilers for various picture books.

Full disclosure: I actually read these in the final days of 2015. But they're being reviewed in 2016, so I think it's perfectly reasonable to put them under the umbrella of 2016 regardless.

I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems

Did I just take acid? What the fuck just happened to me? It starts out with the same kind of "let me sleep!" plot line that Goodnight, Already! had, but then this takes a distinct turn for the strange. The illustrations are great, and... I kind of want to just hand this to someone when they're tripping and see what they make of it. (Is that a odd thought to have?)

...and that's my roundabout way of saying this was super amusing in the weirdest way.

Otter in Space by Sam Garton

This is a children's book that apparently ties into the author's blog, I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter. I can only imagine this story is more endearing if you're familiar with that, because as it stands alone… I'm not really affected either way. I'm not interested, amused, put off, or anything. I have genuinely zero opinions about this book and am only left with the sense that I'm missing some kind of context I need to actually enjoy it.

Waiting by Kevin Henkes

It's a super simple story about toys sitting on a windowsill as the seasons--and years, presumably--pass them by. There's not much to it, but it's kind of cute and sweet.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Guys, I genuinely cannot gush about this enough. I don't give out many five star ratings, but this easily snatches one up for itself.

The art is spectacular, and the concept is great. It's like a punk-ish space fantasy (Is spacepunk a thing? Can we make it a thing?) with a feminist angle; here we have a fairy godmother godrobot who gives Cindy not a dress and a pumpkin carriage but a space suit and brand-new tools so she can fix her spaceship, stepsisters who are wicked instead of ugly, and a Cindy who she earns the prince's attention not by being pretty and demure but by rescuing him with a timely spaceship repair. And, perhaps best of all, it bucks the notion that a fairytale's "happily ever after" must be a wedding (or worse, babies) between a teenage girl and a generic Prince Charming. This whole damn thing is spectacular; this is how you do a feminist retelling of a fairytale. This is pure fucking gold.

The only flaw I can possibly come up with is that a child will likely have to be familiar with the Disney (or Disney-esque) retelling to fully appreciate this. But, seriously, there's no way to prevent a child from eventually hearing that (and I'd argue there shouldn't be, since it's a cultural cornerstone for better or worse), so that shouldn't be a problem.

What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss

Honestly, the Seuss biography in the back, which included information on his various pets and how this manuscript came to be discovered and published, was more interesting than the book itself. But it's probably a fun read for an animal lover or a child expecting to get a pet soon. It's likely the perfect way, in fact, to get a child thinking seriously about what kind of pet they want (and from there, you can do some actual research into caring for their chosen animal before you go out and grab one, unlike the children in this story).

January 2, 2016

2016 Reading Challenges

2016 Hard Core Re-Reading Challenge

The 2016 Hardcore Rereading Challenge is being hosted by Lois Johnson over at You, Me, and a Cup of Tea; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Reread books you've already read!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Reread physical books or ebooks or "reread" audiobooks to reach your goal. Sign up for the challenge here.
Levels:
  1. Rereading Itch | 0 - 15 books
  2. Rereading Bug | 16 - 25 books
  3. Rereading Fever | 26 - 35 books
  4. Rereading Paralysis | 36 - 50
  5. Rereading Coma | 50+
I'm going to be aiming for Rereading Itch, though I may increase my goal at some point during the year.

  1. Chasing the Dream (Dolphin Diaries, #5) by Ben M. Baglio
  2. Racing the Wind (Dolphin Diaries, #6) by Ben M. Baglio
  3. Following the Rainbow (Dolphin Diaries, #7) by Ben M. Baglio
  4. Dancing the Seas (Dolphin Diaries, #8) by Ben M. Baglio
  5. Leaving the Shallows (Dolphin Diaries, #9) by Ben M. Baglio
  6. Beyond the Sunrise (Dolphin Diaries, #10) by Ben M. Baglio


2016 I Love Libraries Reading Challenge

The 2016 I Love Libraries Reading Challenge is being hosted by the reviewers over at Bea's Book Nook; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read library books!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Sign up at your blog or make a dedicated shelf at Goodreads or a similar site, and let everyone know why you love your library. Anything you can check out from your library counts toward your goal: physical books, audiobooks, ebooks, magazines, and the like. Then review your books and link them up over at Bea's Book Nook!
Levels:
  1. Board Book | 3 books
  2. Picture Book | 6 books
  3. Early Reader | 9 books
  4. Chapter Book | 12 books
  5. Middle Grades | 18 books
  6. Young Adult | 24 books
  7. Adult | 36 books
  8. Just Insert IV | 50 books
Honestly, the primary reason I love libraries--beyond the sheer nostalgia of being a member of my local library for literally longer than my memory extends!--is that it's the only way I can afford to read. When money's tight enough that having to choose between reading and eating is a real concern, there's no question that reading isn't going to win that fight. So libraries are absolutely vital for the underprivileged, as for many of us--at least in America--it's the one of the only ways we have access to books.

I'm going to be aiming for Just Insert IV this year; I doubt I'll have any problem. The majority of my reading is from library books (and the rest is by purchasing discarded library books for about $0.10 each from my local branches).

Books Read
  1. Samantha Learns a Lesson (American Girls: Samantha, #2) by Susan A. Adler
  2. Samantha Saves the Day (American Girls: Samantha, #5) by Valerie Tripp
  3. Nellie's Promise (American Girls: Samantha, #7) by Valerie Tripp
  4. The Curse of Ravenscourt (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #1) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  5. The Stolen Sapphire (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #2) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  6. The Cry of the Loon (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #3) by Barbara Steiner
  7. Clue in the Castle Tower (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #4) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  8. Danger in Paris (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #5) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  9. Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time, #2) by Kate Messner
  10. Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time, #3) by Kate Messner
  11. The Tiara on the Terrace (Young and Yang, #2) by Kristen Kittscher
  12. Don't Stay Up Late (Fear Street Reboot, #2) by R.L. Stine
  13. Menace from the Deep (Killer Species, #1) by Michael P. Spradlin
  14. Feeding Frenzy (Killer Species, #2) by Michael P. Spradlin
  15. Out for Blood (Killer Species, #3) by Michael P. Spradlin
  16. Chasing the Dream (Dolphin Diaries, #5) by Ben M. Baglio
  17. Racing the Wind (Dolphin Diaries, #6) by Ben M. Baglio
  18. Following the Rainbow (Dolphin Diaries, #7) by Ben M. Baglio
  19. Ultimate Attack (Killer Species, #4) by Michael P. Spradlin
  20. Dancing the Seas (Dolphin Diaries, #8) by Ben M. Baglio
  21. Leaving the Shallows (Dolphin Diaries, #9) by Ben M. Baglio
  22. Beyond the Sunrise (Dolphin Diaries, #10) by Ben M. Baglio

2016 Cloak and Dagger Challenge

The 2016 Cloak and Dagger Challenge is being hosted by the reviewers over at Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh My!; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read books in the mystery, thriller, suspense, and/or crime genres or any subgenres therein. Novels and novellas count, but no short stories!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016 | The sign-up period ends on April 15th.
How: Make a goal post and link up here. Tweet your progress and your reviews with #2016CloakDaggerChal
Levels:
  1. Amateur Sleuth | 1 - 10 books
  2. Detective | 11 - 20 books
  3. Inspector | 21 - 30 books
  4. Special Agent | 31+ books
I'm going to be aiming for Amateur Sleuth, though I may increase my goal at a later point in the year.
  1. The Curse of Ravenscourt (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #1) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  2. The Stolen Sapphire (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #2) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  3. The Cry of the Loon (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #3) by Barbara Steiner
  4. Clue in the Castle Tower (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #4) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  5. Danger in Paris (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #5) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  6. The Tiara on the Terrace (Young and Yang, #2) by Kristen Kittscher

What An Animal IX Reading Challenge 2016

The What An Animal IX Reading Challenge 2016 is being hosted by Yvonne over at Socrates Book Reviews; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read at least six books with an animal in the title, an animal on the cover, an animal playing a major role in the story, or a main character that's an animal. (Obviously, humans are being excluded from the umbrella of "animal" here!)
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Sign up over here, and then get reading!
Levels:
  1. Level 1 | 6 books
  2. Level 2 | 7 - 12 books
  3. Level 3 | 13 - 20 books
  4. Level 4 | 21+ books
I'm going to be aiming for Level 1, but I doubt I'll have any problem reading Level 4.
  1. Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time, #2) by Kate Messner
  2. Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time, #3) by Kate Messner
  3. Menace from the Deep (Killer Species, #1) by Michael P. Spradlin
  4. Feeding Frenzy (Killer Species, #2) by Michael P. Spradlin
  5. Out for Blood (Killer Species, #3) by Michael P. Spradlin
  6. Chasing the Dream (Dolphin Diaries, #5) by Ben M. Baglio
  7. Racing the Wind (Dolphin Diaries, #6) by Ben M. Baglio
  8. Following the Rainbow (Dolphin Diaries, #7) by Ben M. Baglio
  9. Ultimate Attack (Killer Species, #4) by Michael P. Spradlin
  10. Dancing the Seas (Dolphin Diaries, #8) by Ben M. Baglio
  11. Leaving the Shallows (Dolphin Diaries, #9) by Ben M. Baglio
  12. Beyond the Sunrise (Dolphin Diaries, #10) by Ben M. Baglio


2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

The 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge is being hosted by the reviewers over at Bookish Lifestyle; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read the books you've had sitting around on your shelves. Novellas and short stories count, but 2016 ARCs and 2016 new releases do not.
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016 | Sign-ups close on November 30, 2016.
How: Sign up over here, and then get reading! Keep up with the challenge with #2016TBRPile and follow Bookish to participate in challenge giveaways. Also, check out the schedule on the sign up page!
Levels:
  1. A Firm Handshake | 1 - 10 books
  2. A Friendly Hug | 11 - 20 books
  3. First Kiss | 21 - 30 books
  4. Sweet Summer Fling | 31 - 40 books
  5. Could This Be Love? | 41 - 50 books
  6. Married with Children | 50+ books
I'm going to be aiming for A Firm Handshake, but I'd love to get to Married with Children. I have, after all, way too many books sitting around waiting for my attention!

Books Read:
  1. Meet Samantha: An American Girl (American Girls: Samantha, #1) by Susan A. Adler
  2. Samantha's Surprise (American Girls: Samantha, #3) by Maxine Rose Schur
  3. Happy Birthday, Samantha! (American Girls: Samantha, #4) by Valerie Tripp
  4. Changes for Samantha (American Girls: Samantha, #6) by Valerie Tripp


2016 New Release Challenge

The 2016 New Release Challenge is being hosted by Lexxie over at (un)Conventional Book Views; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read books published in 2016. Books must be at least 100 pages long, but may be either physical books, ebooks or eARCs, or audiobooks.
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016 | Sign-ups close on February 15th, 2016.
How: Sign up over here, and then get reading! And you can check out the challenge's Facebook group over here.
Levels:
  1. New Release Newbie | 1 - 15 books
  2. New Release Pro | 16 - 30 books
  3. New Release Veteran | 31 - 45 books
  4. New Release Enthusiast | 45+ books
I'm going to be aiming for New Release Newbie. I doubt I'll do any better (I read so few new releases!), but if I do, I may increase my goal later in the year. Really, I'll just be pleased to get around to any new releases; I rarely do.
  1. The Tiara on the Terrace (Young and Yang, #2) by Kristen Kittscher


2016 Review Writing Challenge

The 2016 Review Writing Challenge is being hosted by Shari and Sophia Rose over at Delighted Reader; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Challenge yourself to write a certain number of reviews in 2016. There are no levels here; choose your own goal!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Sign up over here, and then get reading!

My first, ridiculously low goal is going to be twelve reviews, though I hope to increase that (significantly!) before the end of the year.

Reviews of 2016:
  1. Picture Books 2016 #1: Dr. Seuss, Interstellar Cinderella, and More
  2. Picture Books 2016 #2: Quirkiness, Crayons, and the Scientific Method


2016 Blogger Shame Review Challenge

The 2016 Blogger Shame Review Challenge is being hosted by Anna over at Herding Cats & Burning Soup check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read and/or review any review books that you've had for more than six months. There aren't levels for this one; set your own goal!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Sign up over here, and then get reading!

I'm also going to aim for twelve books/reviews with this one, but I hope to do better than that before the end of the year!


2016 I Love Picture Books Reading Challenge

The 2016 I Love Picture Books Reading Challenge is being hosted by the reviewers over at Bea's Book Nook; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read picture books! There aren't any levels here, either; choose your own goal!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016 | Sign-ups close December 1, 2016.
How: Sign up here and get reading!

I'm going to aim for twenty picture books in 2016; I know I'm at least going to check out the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards nominees when November rolls around, so I shouldn't have any problem with this.


2016 Horror Reading Challenge

The 2016 Horror Reading Challenge is being hosted by Tracy over at Cornerfolds; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read and review horror books, audiobooks, rereads, and/or short stories!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016 | Sign-ups close October 15, 2016.
How: Sign up here and get reading!
  1. Running Scared | 1 - 5 books
  2. Brave Reader | 6 - 10 books
  3. Fearless | 11 - 15 books
  4. Horror Hound | 16+
One of my New Years Resolutions is to increase my horror intake, so this challenge is perfect for me! I'm going to aim for Running Scared first, but I'm tentatively hoping to get to Horror Hound.
  1. Don't Stay Up Late (Fear Street Reboot, #2) by R.L. Stine

2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

The 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is being hosted by Amy over at Passages to the Past; check it out here. Here's a quick rundown of the gist:

What: Read and review books from any historical fiction subgrenre from historical romance to historical fantasy to young adult and more!
When: January 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016
How: Sign up here and get reading!
  1. 20th Century Reader | 2 books
  2. Victorian Reader | 5 books
  3. Renaissance Reader | 10 books
  4. Medieval | 15 books
  5. Ancient History | 25 books
  6. Prehistoric | 50+ books
I plan to go back through some of the American Girl books in order to review them this year, so I'm adding this challenge to my list! I'm going to aim for Medieval first, but I might keep going past that.

Books Read:
  1. Meet Samantha: An American Girl (American Girls: Samantha, #1) by Susan A. Adler
  2. Samantha Learns a Lesson (American Girls: Samantha, #2) by Susan A. Adler
  3. Samantha's Surprise (American Girls: Samantha, #3) by Maxine Rose Schur
  4. Happy Birthday, Samantha! (American Girls: Samantha, #4) by Valerie Tripp
  5. Samantha Saves the Day (American Girls: Samantha, #5) by Valerie Tripp
  6. Changes for Samantha (American Girls: Samantha, #6) by Valerie Tripp
  7. Nellie's Promise (American Girls: Samantha, #7) by Valerie Tripp
  8. The Curse of Ravenscourt (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #1) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  9. The Stolen Sapphire (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #2) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  10. The Cry of the Loon (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #3) by Barbara Steiner
  11. Clue in the Castle Tower (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #4) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  12. Danger in Paris (American Girl Mysteries: Samantha, #5) by Sarah Masters Buckey
  13. Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time, #2) by Kate Messner
  14. Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time, #3) by Kate Messner


Anything Else?

I might add some more challenges to my agenda as the year goes on, and I will be tracking my challenge progress here. So check back during 2016 and see what I'm reading! And, of course, at the end of the year, I'll be posting a challenge wrap-up.

January 1, 2016

2015 Wrap-Up: Resolutions, Challenge Results, & More!

2015 Bookish Resolutions

  1. Catch up on my ARCs. (And by extension, get my Netgalley up to 80%.)
  2. Focus on reading books that I own; I have so many that they've long since overflowed my shelves, so I'd like to read enough of them that I can feel comfortable passing those I no longer want on to other readers. Since I'm an eternal dork, I'm going to be calling this "Project Get Shit on Shelves".
  3. Write a cumulative 250,000 words (including book reviews, blog posts, journal entries, and fiction).
  4. Read two hundred books.
  5. Stick to my planned posting schedule here at Amara's Eden. I have specific things planned for specific days, and I'd like to stay on top of that for as long as possible. The whole year, ideally.
  6. Complete both Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015.
  7. Complete at least the lowest level of all reading challenges I've signed up for.
  8. Complete the transition from Goodreads to Leafmarks (i.e., finish transferring books, shelves, and reviews once and for all).
  9. Read (and watch?) more horror this year. Horror is far and away my favorite genre, but I don't intake anywhere near as much of it as I'd like. I think I'd like to make 2015 the year I really delve into the genre!
  10. Read five books published in 2015. I'm always excited when the GR Choice Awards come around, except that always involves me staring at a screen full of books I've never heard of, let alone read. I'd like to try to keep up with some trends this year, I think. Maybe check out some 2015 Listopia lists for ideas?

So, How Did I Do?

  1. I utterly failed to catch up on my eARCs this year, though I did read a few. My Netgalley score right now is a truly dismal 20%.
  2. I completely abandoned the idea of "Project Get Shit on Shelves" within the first month of 2015. I read about twelve books that I own (out of fucking thousands), which is more than 2014 but still utterly pathetic.
  3. I think I write about 200,000 words in 2015, almost all of which was actually fiction. It wasn't the 250k I wanted, but I'm satisfied nevertheless.
  4. I read only one hundred books in 2015 instead of the two hundred I wished.
  5. I utterly failed with Amara's Eden during 2015. I abandoned my schedule altogether, and the blog went on hiatus for the majority of the year.
  6. I completed both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015, and I was super happy with everything I produced!
  7. I completed at least the lowest level of all my reading challenges in 2015!
  8. I still haven't finished transitioning my database from Goodreads to Leafmarks. I may resume my efforts to do so in 2016.
  9. I didn't find the time to get back into horror in 2015, though I did check out some horror movies as part of a Halloween binge. There were some great ones, but I'm still not satisfied with the quantity or quality of my horror intake!
  10. The only 2015 releases I read in 2015 were the Goodreads Choice Awards nominees for the picture book category. Technically, that means I hit this one, but it wasn't quite what I had in mind.

2016 Resolutions

  1. Get my Netgalley rating above 50%. 
  2. Read at least twenty books I own. 
  3. Read at least one hundred total books. 
  4. Complete at least the lowest level of all reading challenges I've signed up for. 
  5. Post at Amara's Eden at least twice every month. 
  6. Write 750words every day (barring Internet outages). 
  7. Write a thousand words of fiction every day. 
  8. Complete both Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015. 
  9. Write 400,000 total words. 
  10. Finish Sparrow.

Reading Challenges


2015 I Love Library Books Reading Challenge

So, How Did I Do? actual # / goal #

  1. 2015 Mount TBR Reading Challenge | 13 books / 12 books
  2. I Love Picture Books 2015 Reading Challenge | 39 books / 30 books
  3. You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge 2015 | 100 books / 100 books
  4. Hardcore Rereading Challenge | 12 books / 12 books
  5. What An Animal Reading Challenge 2015 | 30 books / 13 books
  6. 2015 Snagged @ the Library Reading Challenge | 75 books / 50 books
  7. 2015 Netgalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge | 10 books / 10 books
  8. 2015 I Love Library Books Reading Challenge | 75 books / 50 books

End of Year Reading Survey 2015

Number of Books I Read: 100
Number of Rereads: 12
Genre I Read the Most From: Middle Grade
Best Book of the Year: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Biggest Disappointment: Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl, #1) by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens
Most Surprising: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Recommended: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Best New Series: Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions, #1) by Lemony Snicket
Best Sequel: Power to the Purple (The Ultra Violets, #2) by Sophie Bell
Favorite New Author: Cleveland Amory
Best Book Outside My Comfort Zone: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Thrilling: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Likely to Reread: The Wizard's Apprentice (The Keepers, #2) by Jackie French Koller
Favorite Cover: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Memorable Character: Polar Bear, The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Beautifully Written: The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
Most Thought-Provoking: Zora and Me by Victoria Bond
I Can't Believe I Waited This Long!: Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl, #1) by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens
Shortest Book: Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Edward Field
Longest Book: Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge by Kathryn Reiss
Most Shocking Book: The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship: Cleveland Amory and Polar Bear, The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Favorite Book from an Author I've Read Previously: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Favorite Book Someone Recommended: Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood
Most Vivid Setting: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Fun Read: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Most Tear-Jerking: The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
Hidden Gem of the Year: The Wizard's Apprentice (The Keepers, #2) by Jackie French Koller
Most Infuriating: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
Favorite Review of 2015: Claudia and Mean Janine (The Baby-sitters Club, #7) by Ann M. Martin
Favorite Non-Review Post of 2015: My Short Story Experience
Best Event or Meme: Cover Characteristic
Best Moment of 2015: Finally posting again at Amara's Eden after my long hiatus!
Most Challenging Thing About Blogging or Reading in 2015: Trying to stop procrastinating and to balance reading/blogging with my other hobbies.
Most Popular Post of 2015: The Haunted Playground by Shaun Tan
Most Neglected Post of 2015: I'm back!
Best Discovery: Kindle App for Android (It's so much better than my shitty Kindle. I can actually bear to read ebooks now!)
Completed Goals and Challenges: See above!
#1 Priority Book(s) of 2016: Zombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014 by Paula Guran, & The Best Horror of the Year Volume 6 by Ellen Datlow
Most Anticipated Non-Debut: The Tiara on the Terrace (Young and Yang, #2) by Kristen Kittscher
Most Anticipated Debut: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

December 31, 2015

[Book Review] Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl Mysteries, #1) by Jane B. Mason & Sarah Hines Stephens

Play Dead was downloaded free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unfortunately, I'm inclined to say this is another of those cases where the cover is quite a bit better than the book itself. I wanted to love this story, based on how utterly adorable both the cover and the concept are... but I only kind of tolerated it instead.

Play Dead, the first book in Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens' A Dog and His Girl Mysteries, is a mystery story told in alternating POVs, swapping at varying intervals between the titular dog, Dodge, and his titular girl, Cassie. There are some cute, funny moments throughout, most of which revolve around the dog (there's a bit about dogs using fire hydrants as what's essentially a community bulletin board where they leave each other notes), and I have to give it props for being what I'm fairly sure is the first chapter book (the cover makes it look like an MG novel, but it's definitely more along the lines of elementary grade fare) I've read that acknowledges that youngsters nowadays have phones.

On the other hand, it had two major elements that I was certainly not happy to see. Most frustratingly, we have the same old tired mean girl tropes trotting by one by one here in the form of a girl named Summer and her "posse", who all have "matching haircuts, phony smiles, and lunches that they'd barely eat". I'm genuinely inclined to wonder at this point why all all these kidlit and MG authors are recycling the same tired tropes with no regard to how they don't actually reflect reality--or if I'm supposed to believe believe that every one of them actually lived through childhoods beleaguered by roving gangs of catty, pretty girls. I'm certainly inclined to think it's the former, and I've gotta say it irks, to put it mildly.

Mean Girls was funny. Pretending that Mean Girls is an accurate reflection of female relationships is not.

But that's not the biggest problem I had with this. I can handle a mean girl or two. You have to be able to handle that stereotype if you want to read books like these simply because it's so frustratingly common. No, what really pissed me off about this one is that I couldn't stand Cassie; she's a complete at utter brat, an opinion was solidified when she decides that the only reasonable response to Summer's snide comments toward the new girl is to throw her lunch on her. Is that supposed to be funny? Because it's just utterly not.

Cassie, meanwhile, seems downright offended when she's the one who gets in trouble instead of Summer--you know, the girl she attacked. As she puts it, "As a member of the faculty, [the lunch aide, Ms. Croswell] automatically assumed the person screaming was the one who had been wronged." ...all of which perfectly exemplifies how Cassie is not, as the narrative would have you believe, some kind of underdog sticking up for the other students; Cassie's a bully. At a later point in the story, she refers to Summer as a "freaky Barbie puppet" and her friends team up to pull a prank on her that's every bit as mean and unnecessary as anything Summer and her friends pull. And I'm supposed to be rooting for this kid? No, thank you.

So my verdict on that front is a very simple, "no more mean girl plots, please and thank you." Seriously. I showed up for dogs and for mysteries; I neither want nor need any of this cartoonish cattiness. Are realistic relationships--both positive and negative--between fictional girls and antagonists who are more than cardboard cutouts of a stereotype really so much to ask for?

But the point of this story was the mystery, so let me get to that. The best thing I can say about it is that most of it is a perfectly reasonable, relatively enjoyable mystery. The worst thing I can say about it is that the plot twist was ludicrous. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say that it involves a trope that is utterly nonsensical and doesn't work in a mystery--not even one for children--with these kinds of stakes. I simply cannot stretch my suspension of disbelief far enough to do anything but laugh about the ending to the Play Dead mystery. It is straight-up silly.

If you have a small child who is absolutely, super-duper addicted to reading kidlit mysteries or in possession of an overwhelming need to read about a sleuthing dog, Play Dead might be what you're looking for. But if you're just looking to introduce your kid to a solid mystery series of chapter books, I'd definitely suggest the A to Z Mysteries series instead.

As for me, I think I'll eventually get around to giving the sequel a chance. But if there's no improvement there--particularly on the front of Summer and co., since I've certainly forgiven much sillier plot twists that this one in the past (I'm looking at you, Who Cloned the President?)--I think I'm out. Plenty of other stuff to read.

[Series Review] Flower Girl World by Lynelle Woolley

Lynelle Wooley's Flower Girl World is a series of two chapter books for young children, and the theme is exactly what you'd expect from the title. It's about a group of little girls who serve as flower girls in a wedding and decide to form a club for their not-quite-a-hobby. The series is fairly cute and I enjoy the art (it looks like something that would be at home in one of those casual Time Management games, like Diner Dash or Delicious or--more relevant here--Diner Dash's spin-off series, Wedding Dash), though I can't say I'm aware of any demographic of girls particularly interested in the idea of flower girls. I certainly didn't have any such interests when I was that age, though I imagine this series might have changed that, had it been around back in the mid-nineties!

I'm going to say that Rosie and the Wedding Day Rescue, the first book in the series, is definitely the weaker of the two. I picked up my copy for free from Amazon during a promotional period (I keep up with Kindle freebies over at /r/FreeEBOOKS), but I didn't get around to reading it until now. It's short and it's cute, though it's not exactly the most fascinating or logical thing I've ever read.

It's really exactly what you'd expect it to be. Three cute little girls (making up your typical white/blonde, white/brunette, and ambiguously brown/brunette trio) are invited to be flower girls at a wedding, and they get to pick out their clothes, deal with insecurity, and solve all the bride's problems along the way. Because of the low page count, though, there isn't much time devoted to any of these issues, and I'd say the "helping the bride" bits suffered the worst for that; but then, I always find these kinds "the kids save the day" plots kind of ridiculous--but I'm sure a kid within the age of the target audience will get a kick out it no matter what I think.

Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure was more fun. While the first book revolved around the brunette tomboy, Rosie, Aloha Wedding Adventure shifts focus over to the blonde, Iris, and gives her a new friend when she travels to Hawaii to be in another wedding. Unlike Wedding Day Rescue, which revolved around the typical "kids save the day" course of events with some wedding trappings as flair, the wedding here served as a set-up for something I find much more interesting.

Iris' new friend, Hana, is a mixed-ethnicity girl of Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian descent, and her Tutu--her grandmother--introduces the reader to some Hawaiian mythology in the form of the Menehune. It really helped to make the Hawaiian theme seem less like empty trappings thrown on for the sake of exotic flavor and more like actual cultural diversity, and I loved it. Had I read this as a kindergartner, I don't doubt that I would've adored it.

At the moment, the Flower Girl World website has no information about any upcoming books in the series, but if any more do come out, I definitely hope Woolley keeps going in the direction she took with Aloha Wedding Adventure. As for me, if I spot any more FGW books on Netgalley in the future, I'm definitely going to give them a chance. I'd love to see this series go further with the cultural exploration and get into different wedding traditions around the world.

Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure was downloaded free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

December 30, 2015

Picture Books 2015: Part Two

This review contains spoilers.

All books reviewed below were downloaded free from either Netgalley or Edelweiss in exchanged for an honest review.

Made in China: A Story of Adoption by Vanita Oelschlager
This is a sweet, rhyming story about a Chinese-born, adopted little girl with a white older sister who teases her about being "made in China", just like the label reads on so many American products. Concerned, the girl approaches her (also white) father, who tells her the story of her birth mother and her adoption while reassuring her of his love. It's another beautifully illustrated picture book focusing on a specific type of a parent-child relationship from the author of A Tale of Two Daddies and A Tale of Two Mommies. I recommend all three to anyone looking for pro-diversity children's book.

Baby Santa by M. Maitland DeLand
I read and reviewed Baby Santa and the Gift of Giving, another book in this series, last year, but somehow I failed to snatch up the other Baby Santa books available at Netgalley! I'm fixing that this year, and Baby Santa, this first book in DeLand's series, is much the same as the most recent. It's another quick little story about Santa's and Mrs. Claus's young child, Baby Santa; while Gift of Giving had, as its title implies, a charity theme, Baby Santa introduces its main character and, as so many children's books do, lets him save the day--but only after he's put it in peril. If you're looking for a Christmas story, this is a perfectly reasonable choice.

Baby Santa's Worldwide Christmas Adventure by M. Maitland DeLand
Baby Santa saves the again in this second Baby Santa book; this time, Santa's sleigh is in the repair shop when it needs to be heading off toward rooftops, and it's Baby Santa's encouragement that gives Santa and his elves a plan. With the day saved, the father-son duo head out to deliver presents all over the world in various vehicles, from race cars and motorcycles to kayaks and blimps. If your small child enjoyed the first book, he or she will enjoy this one.

Baby Santa and the Lost Letters by M. Maitland DeLand
Once again, Christmas is in peril. A whole bunch of letters to Santa are missing from his mailbox, and this time, Baby Santa gets help from not only Santa and the elves, but Prancer and Prancer's network of animal friends around the globe. I'm not gonna lie, that's a fairly cute element that I can't say I was expecting. Thinking about myself as I was when I fit the demographic for this series, Baby Santa and the Lost Letters definitely would have been my favorite of the series.

Baby Santa and the Missing Reindeer by M. Maitland DeLand
I'm going to say this is the weakest of the Baby Santa series; it opens with its issue already in progress--Santa's team of fun-seeking reindeer have scattered off, and they need to be back in time for Christmas. So Baby Santa, whose whole family is unexpected change in this installment into ethnic Africans (from ethnic Europeans), and while I enjoy a children's book that presents a Santa Claus altered from the common variant displayed on the majority of America's Christmas products, I'm a bit thrown by the switch (especially since the change is reverted for the next book, Gift of Giving).

In any case, the story follows Baby Santa on his journey around the globe and presents us with the rather disturbing image of a reindeer dancing on his hind legs in The Nutcracker--costume included, in case you're wondering--while another is seen playing professional, Christmas-themed American football. All in all, it's kind of a weird experience, and I'd say that in terms of plot, it's a bit weaker than the others in the series, which all had more build-up and involvement from the other characters before diving into the 'round-the-world sleigh ride. But if your kid enjoys the Baby Santa series, I'm sure they'll enjoy this one, too.

Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Edward Field
Magic Words is a short poem about Inuit mythology--a little too short for my tastes, actually. But the illustrations are beautiful, and if you're trying to spark or nurture your child's interest in Native American cultures and mythologies (specifically Inuit or in general), this might be a great choice for you.


Does an Owl Wear Eyeglasses by Harriet Ziefert
Does An Owl Wear Eyeglasses? is a nonfiction book that teaches kids about eyes and eyesight by asking the titular question for various species. I think that aspect of it is undeniably well-done, but I have to admit that I'm a bit put off by "dear parents" letter preceding the book. I found it rather condescending, in all honesty. But it doesn't detract from the value kids will get from the book!

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg
A Storm Called Katrina is about a musical little boy and his family as they survive and ensure the hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath, even adopting a little dog presumably stayed by the storm. It's a bittersweet family story that will serve very well for today's young children; though the target audience is now much too young to have experienced the disaster themselves, many will surely have relatives who were affected, and A Storm Called Katrina is a great way to begin introducing a child to the reality of the storm--and natural disasters in general.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland
How the Meteorite Got to the Museum is a picture book with a repeating element, a la The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. I think there's a bit of a disconnect between the target audience's age and the reading level of some of the diction, so this is probably better read to a child than by a child (unless that child is particularly intuitive four-year-old capable of discerning definition from context or inordinately fond of consulting their dictionary). It's not a bad story or an unenjoyable book by any means, but it might also require its child audience to have some preexisting knowledge of what exactly a meteorite is, because that's not really covered here. Pair it with Magic School Bus' space episode, though, and I think you've got a solid, fun educational experience for your kid(s).