Friday, March 20, 2015

Black History Month?

Wasn't that last month? lol

Here's a round-up of picture books we received recently from Harper Collins!

Bronzeville Boys and Girls
by Gwendolyn Brooks
4 stars

Not a huge fan of the style of illustrations, but the poems are great.  The "everyday-ness" of childhood joys... and fears... and concerns.  I liked this collection.

My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth
by Ann Turner
3 stars

*shrugs* This was okay.  I thought the Author's Note was a lot more interesting than the text, but I could see using it in a classroom setting.

Harlem Renaissance Party
by Faith Ringgold
2.5 stars

This one was kind of just weird.  A white kid and his black uncle go to a party (in the 1920s?) and meet EVERYone from the Harlem Renaissance.  The narrative is really clumsy and it's not at all clear what's going on.  The GoodReads description told me more about what was going on than reading the book did.  I like the idea, but not the execution.
The glossary at the back is pretty cool though.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens
by Nina Nolan
4.5 stars

I was totally unfamiliar with Mahalia Jackson before reading this one.  The narrative is both smooth and informative (where the Sojourner Truth one above didn't necessarily feel like it was either... I read this one thinking "See, if only that one has been written like this one!").  And of course, after reading it I had to go looking for a clip of her singing (what did we do before Google and YouTube?).

So, here you go-- Mahalia Jackson singing What a Friend We have in Jesus

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

Copy received from the publisher for my honest review

I want to be very careful in how I word this review, because I mean no offense to the author or her fans.

I had many issues with this book.  I felt like the pacing was terrible, the character development all over the place, and the gothic touches irrelevant.

But, here's the problem.  I had gone into this thinking it was a mystery.  Yes, I knew there would be a romance, but I really thought it was going to be a mystery that was somewhat gothic and also had an element of romance.

From the standpoint OF A MYSTERY-- the pacing was terrible, the character development all over the place, and the gothic touches should have been left out entirely.

The problem is, now that I've read the book I realize it is, in fact, a ROMANCE with a touch of mystery and gothic.  And really, had I known that, I wouldn't have agreed to review it.  That's not my thing.

And if you're eating an orange, and it's the best orange in the world, but you wanted, you know, a bowl of mashed potatoes.... well, the orange is bound to disappoint.

What I can say is that despite my picking this up on a night when I was rather in the mood for something else, it did draw me in quickly and I still finished it in under 24 hours.  I rolled my eyes during several scenes, but again, I wanted potatoes and this was totally an orange. ;)

If what you like and want is an orange, I honestly would recommend this one.  If I look at it as objectively as humanly possible, I think it's probably a pretty good orange.

(Yes, this review is identical to my GoodReads review.  I honestly try to not duplicate like that, but once I'd managed to actually get down how I felt about this book I couldn't bring myself to try to either expand upon it for a blog post nor to condense it for GoodReads.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Sparks by Kyle Prue with GIVEAWAY

Book 1 of the Feud Trilogy

3.5 stars

Copy received for review

An interesting story, and fairly compelling read.  For the most part it kept me intrigued and I'd be interested in reading the other two.

Really, a solid 5 stars for concept, 4 for character development, 3 for execution and 3 for editing.

Also, probably only a 2 or 3 for tying in the "sparks" concept/title.  That didn't really come through.  I saw where he meant it to go, but it just wasn't fully developed.

Three families, feuding for forever, may actually have a common enemy for the first time since their ancestors were given the supernatural powers that makes each family what it is.

Yes, to some extent you see where it's going, but that's not always a terrible thing.

(The fact that one of the families has a raven as a symbol and the colors were black and purple amused me.  Go Baltimore!)

It definitely needed to be more concise.  There was an entire chapter with potential, but as far as I can tell it didn't actually have any point.  The story wouldn't have been any different without it.

That's where you need a good editor to say "Look, I know you'd rather cut out an organ than a chapter/scene/character/whatever, but the story will be the better for it.  I promise."

The writing isn't bad, but you can tell the author is young.  Is it better than what I wrote at 17, yes.  Does it suffer from some of the same issues my writing did at 17, also yes. ;)

All in all, it's a pretty solid debut.  And dang, to have a solid, published debut at 17? Whew!

If you'd like to win your very own copy, leave a comment below (PLEASE include an email address!) and I'll very scientifically have LuLu pick a winner March 7th. (US and Canada only)

If you'd rather skip the gamble and purchase the book yourself:
  • DISCOUNT CODE: We have a special discount code for readers who want to purchase The Sparks. You can purchase the book from Kyle Prue’s store on his official website (linked). The code ‘BLOG25’ will get you 25% off an autographed copy! NOTE: This code will not work on purchases made on Amazon. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

5 stars
Reader's Choice nominee Feb- May 2015

Oh my.

Let me start by saying I don't know that this book actually deserves 5 stars, objectively.  I don't know that I would have given this book 5 stars at another point in my life.

But, as AJ knows, sometimes books come to us at exactly the right time.

Why is this exactly the right book at exactly the right time? I honestly don't even know.

Reading this didn't actually start out well.  I didn't like AJ.  I didn't like the supporting characters much more.  I didn't know that I cared much either way for what was going on.

So then, even as I was reading, I was thinking "Great.  This is going to be another review to write in the 'it's not you, it's me' vein" because I could tell I SHOULD be liking it.  I mean, it's a book about BOOKS.  What's not to love?

AJ.  AJ is what's not to love.

Let me say something else about AJ-- the AJ at the beginning of this book would have HATED being a cliche.

In the end, that's what this book is.  It's a cliche.  It's almost formulaic.  It's possibly even trite.

But you know what?  It's the right kind of cliche.

Because, as AJ learns, cliches are cliches for a reason and life is made up of a series of beautiful little cliches.

This is ultimately what I got from this book-- the beauty of the ordinary.  And the fact that I saw what was coming and felt a bit like "yeah... this story's been done before" felt intentional... it felt like part of the point.

Ultimately, for me, right now, this was a 5 star book.  In one word, I found it delightful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rare Is Everywhere

Local friends-- put this on your radar for this weekend!

Utah Rare Disease Day: Feb 27 and 28


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

4 stars
Memoir, "stunt nonfiction"

Fascinating concept. Some sections resonated with me, others I kind of wanted to roll my eyes at, but that's the point-- everyone's project would and SHOULD be unique. The things she focused on wouldn't necessarily work for me, but they were HER things. We all have our things. :)

On that note, here are MY things... about this book. ;)  In no particular order, here are random things I liked and marked with scraps of paper that got smaller and smaller as I ripped them off what I was using for a bookmark.

I really liked the idea of focusing on something specific each month over the course of a year.  

And I love what she says about making little changes within the life you have:
"I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen."

I also really loved this thought (which is actually a comment someone left on her blog):
"Remembering that joy exists is tough when you've been traumatized.  Joy is a big concept and utterly unbelievable when we are in the depths of catastrophe.  But happiness... happiness is more accessible.  We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if just for a few seconds."

This quote (also left on her blog by a reader) from Hermann Hesse:
"Happiness is a howl not a what.  A talent, not an object."
I LOVE that.  It calls us to action-- if happiness is a talent then it is something we can work on and cultivate.

Since she's a writer, one of her months focused on that-- pursuing a passion.  She used No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty and did her own NaNo (in September).  Based on the description, the novel she wrote isn't my style, lol, but I did love the closing line: "She'd do her shopping at a different drugstore."  I don't know why exactly, but that struck me as a really awesome ending.

I found it hilarious that her husband didn't get why anyone would ever use a website where you can upload your manuscript and get a bound book.  Um, you're married to a writer, dude.  What's not to get?

Overall, not what I normally read, but it was really interesting.  (That's the best part of book clubs, isn't it? Finding a book you enjoy that you never would have picked up on your own.)  If you're interested in starting your own happiness project, Rubin has put together a website of resources-- the Happiness Project Toolbox.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

3 stars

An utterly madcap tale, you don't just jump in from page 1, you plunge in and start to drown.  It really feels like the middle of a series, rather than the beginning. (There is technically a prequel, but it was published a full ten years after Saffy's Angel, so it doesn't really count in terms of how little set-up there is.)

You absolutely CANNOT take anything in this book seriously.  If you start to analyze the ineptitude of the parents, the dysfunction of the family, or really anything other aspect, you will go stark raving bonkers.  I mean it.

From stowing away to Italy to eating paint to sitting on your window ledge with your legs dangling outside, let's just say I wouldn't want my kids getting any ideas from the Casson kids. ;)

But because the whole thing is so incredibly over-the-top insane, I don't actually see that being a problem.  Kids aren't that stupid.

Overall, it was fun, but I don't feel a deep need to read the others.  I desperately wanted more depth, but I suppose you don't need it for the intended audience.  I kind of wish things hadn't been hinted at if they weren't going to be fleshed out, but maybe I was reading too much into some things.

One note: the vocabulary is quite British, so some young readers may need explanations of certain terms.