Friday, August 28, 2015

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

received for review
4.5 stars
R- 2 ish

The information that accompanied this book has this to say about it: "The physics-bending charm of The Time Traveler's Wife meets the curious mischief of The Eyre Affair in this unconventional and utterly enchanting debut novel..."

And it's a great description.

This book was fun.  The fantasy element was interesting, the mystery satisfying, and the characters!  Oh, the characters.  A goofy cast of misfits that somehow cobble themselves into a family.

If nothing else, read it for the characters.

There were a few passages that seemed to be missing crucial details.... I'm hoping that either that's because I was reading an uncorrected ARC or I was more tired than I thought when reading.  Could also be a hint of "first novel" trouble, but overall this didn't read like a first novel.  (That's a compliment, I promise.)

There is (itty-bitty spoiler ahead, though really with how early I caught it, it can't be THAT much of a spoiler...) a somewhat subtle gay rights message, but it's not a hit-you-over-the-head-propaganda type and honestly even if you disagree with the choices of a gay lifestyle, I don't see how you would have anything but compassion for the character's implied backstory.  What a terrible burden to bear-- I say that largely because to that character it clearly was.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed this one and recommend it.  :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Austin, Lost in America by Jef Czekaj

picture book
received for review
4 stars

A cute journey through all 50 states with a little fact about each.

Austin is a Boston terrier looking to find a family.  So he travels the country on this quest.

This is a cute book with fun illustrations.  A LOT of words per page, so not a great read-aloud choice for the preschool crowd, but LuLu thought the pictures were funny.

Mister seemed to find in interesting, so I'd say it's possibly better for the 1st-3rd grade crowd... in fact, I think it might work better in a classroom setting.

Personally, I was a little annoyed to see the disparity (some states take up a page or two and have many facts, some are a quarter of a page with one fact) and there is a certain element of "THAT's the fact you picked about that state? Really??" for a few of them.

But overall it's a fun book that tells about all the states in a cute way.  The illustrations are funny and the bite-sized facts are perfect for kids.

MeiMei FINALLY gets to start school today!!  Wish us luck! ;)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Monday with MeiMei-- Backyard Witch

Sadie's Story
by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge

copy received for review

What?  It's not Monday, you say?

Meh.

Close enough this week. ;)

(I tell you, this week between the big kids starting school and kindergarten starting is KILLING US.)

So-- Backyard Witch

Pros: Cute introduction to birdwatching, silly witch, animals, MeiMei liked it.

Cons: fart jokes, lying to parents, whining/self-pity, pointless subplot, Mommy didn't care for it.

Sadly, the cute birdwatching and silly witch story was derailed by the pointless subplot-- which included the fart joke (I HATE fart jokes.  I thought they were stupid when I was a kid... they are no funnier as an adult), most of the lying to parents, a goodly portion of the self-pity, and did I mention was pointless overall.  The plot didn't need it, it didn't help anything along, and it went nowhere.

If you'd taken out those chapters, you'd have lost nothing and I'd have liked it a whole heck of a lot more.

MeiMei did like it, though, so if the cons don't bother you much (or if your child can read it alone and therefore you won't be subjected to any of it, lol) then this may be a good pick for the younger elementary school crowd.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cards That Wow With Sizzix

Techniques and Ideas for Using Die-Cutting and Embossing Machines
by Sizzix, Featuring licensed artist Stephanie Barnard

received for review

4 stars
idea book

A good idea book with large photos, lists of (some) supplies used, and some tips and tricks.

I wish it had a bit more by way of cards that could go through the mail easily... many included so many layers and shapes and pop-up options that they would definitely require extra postage.  I also wish some of the sections were organized a bit better-- the holiday section felt like a few random other holidays, a whole ton of Christmas, a couple of Halloween (which there had already been earlier), then more Christmas.  Grouping holidays would have been nice.  (I realize this is a nit-picky OCD complaint, but I seriously had to go back through trying to decide if I'd missed a page somewhere.)

Some of the tips and tricks are awesome! :)  And I really love some of cards.  (I wish I knew what brand and such the paper was!  It's all so cute... but I didn't see any info on it.)

There's a good coverage for different occasions-- celebrations (mostly birthday), holidays, thinking of you, miss you, hello friend, thank you, etc.

Really though, any of the card designs could be adapted to any occasion.  There are also some ideas for using cards in other projects-- decor, boxes, etc.

I really love how large the photos are-- crisp and detailed.  :)

LuLu would also like to (excitedly) point out that there are "polkanuts".  That girl sure loves "polkanuts".

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mondays With MeiMei-- Mercy Watson

Oh my goodness.

Have you seen the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo?

MeiMei LOVES them.

So far we've read the first two.  They are absolutely zany.

These are set up as short chapter books, but the length is such that we easily finish them in one sitting.

And just in case you didn't realize.... Mercy Watson is a pig.  As in an actual pig.  Who lives with the Watsons.... kind of as if she were their child. lol

Excellent for a young reader-- either in the "you read to me" stage or the "I'll read it myself" stage.  :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lo! Jacaranda: A Spanish Gypsy's Conte Jondo

(Deep Song of the Caves)
by Harry Freiermuth
2 stars for the novella, 4 stars for the illustrations
R-2
novella
received for review

Where to even start?

This novella was strange.  Bawdy and disjointed and with a jumpy, inconsistent point-of-view.

I seldom read novellas or short stories, kind of specifically because I come away feeling like they lacked depth, and this was no exception.  Also, the coincidences boggled the mind and the completely random conversations (what can a person's gas passing tell us about them?...  Let me randomly, out of nowhere, advise you girls to strengthen your vaginal muscles.... Look at how these natives even accept homosexual marriages! [that one REALLY came out of NOWHERE]) didn't do anything for me.

The title makes more sense in terms of the author's inspiration than the actual story, and there were many instances where things characters did or said seemed completely unlikely for the setting/story.

Overall, I didn't love the story and it just felt really odd.

The paintings, however, are an entirely different matter.  Freiermuth has illustrated his novella with his own oil and watercolor paintings and they are awesome.  If this were just an art book (and I will confess the art was a main reason for requesting it for review) it would get 4 stars.

In fact, the only reason the art wouldn't get 5 is because it felt like some of the art was repetitive-- as though we were looking at a slightly different section of the same painting.

I really enjoyed the art-- I would love to see a book of just art from Freiermuth, or even an offering of cards with the prints or something.

At the end of the day, the writing was a miss for me, but the art was great.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mondays with MeiMei- Thornton Burgess Edition

So now that MeiMei is getting ready to start school and we're doing more deliberate reading, I'm going to try doing "Mondays with MeiMei" as a fairly regular feature.
This girl cracks me up.  After her first day of swimming lessons this summer I asked if she'd learned anything.  Her response? "Don't drink the pool water.  It tastes gross."

Part of our summer routine this year was reading more deliberately to MeiMei-- preferably chapter books.

Which meant I had to FIND chapter books... preferably ones that she would like but that were not as mind-numbing for me (can we please not repeat the stacks and stacks of fairy books we did with Boo??).

We started with Thornton Burgess.  My friend had a bunch that used to be her dad's so she suggested them and we borrowed a couple.

For an animal-loving child like MeiMei, these were PERFECT.  Yes, they're slightly old-fashioned and sometimes sound weird, but still.

We've read Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and The Adventures of Buster Bear.  I think we both slightly preferred Buster Bear, which felt a little bit less disjointed.  Also, Whitefoot ends up getting married to a shrewish little mouse who continually calls him "stupid", which I really didn't love.  I did some editing as I read aloud.

We've got Buster Bear's Twins in our pile still, along with Paddy the Beaver.  We'll see who she ends up liking more. :)

PLUS-- did you know you can find a lot of them for free on the Kindle??  That's actually how we read Buster Bear.  I don't love reading ebooks still (they'll have to drag me into the ebook era kicking and screaming, I tell you) and they don't have the illustrations (at least they didn't on my phone using the kindle app) but it's kind of awesome to have so many choices.  Especially since they're old enough that the library has very few.