Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Long Non-Bookish Snarky Post

**Warning: long post containing possibly egregious snark**

So, my Shutterfly package went on vacation to Colorado.

I emailed customer service asking why it had left Utah and nearly coming to my house and got back a general "the estimated delivery date is between [this day and this day]-- if you have not received it at that time please contact us" which is not actually helpful.

Here's my (possibly unnecessarily snarky) response:

"Okay, no offense, but that's possibly the least helpful response possible.

Maybe I didn't make my concern clear-- my concern is not that the package is late, I was concerned that there was something incorrect in the shipping information sending the package hundreds of miles out of the way. If nothing else, it seemed like a company would like to know that something like that had occurred since it can't possibly be either efficient or cost-effective for your company to ship a package nearly to its destination and then send it on vacation in another state. I'm sure Colorado is quite nice in the spring and that my photos are having a lovely time, but it seems rather silly for them to be sent there.

If this is a random occurrence but nothing is wrong with the shipping information and my photos are merely making an entirely circuitous route to my home, then feel free to disregard my messages. I was hoping to be helpful in that either there was a problem in the shipping information and catching it earlier would be better than later or your company could save shipping costs by correcting whatever routing makes some packages randomly go elsewhere needlessly. Next time, I shall simply wait until the package is late and risk things being beyond repair."

Their response?

"We thank you for contacting Shutterfly.

Please accept our apologies for the previous response. We see that the order is expected to be delivered by April 15, 2015. If you have not received it by then, please write to us. We will be glad to assist you further.

Thank you for choosing Shutterfly. Please let us know if we can offer additional information. "

Oh gee, thanks.

Here's the thing-- I love Shutterfly.  I do.  But oh my gosh, can you be any less helpful?

Basically what they're saying is either a) your package isn't late, so we're not going to actually read your email or b) we don't know the answer to that, so here's a stock response.

Anyway, the package arrived ahead of time, safe and sound, and looking quite relaxed for its get-away. ;)

And what was in this package, you ask?  Pictures of this cute little Pixie, done by Lani Wilkinson Photography!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Round-up Passover Edition

Our friends at Kar-Ben publishing have some cool Passover titles this year.  We haven't read any of them yet, but wanted to spotlight them for those looking for fun Passover books!

After a long day of cooking and cleaning, Papa, Mama, Hannah, and Noah Sheep are all ready for Passover seder in And Then Another Sheep Turned Up. But just as they're about to sit down and begin, Grandma Sheep shows up! She's not the only unexpected guest that arrives during the seder, as Uncle Sol, Grandpa, Danny and Sharon, and finally Aunt Deb all join the celebration. Told in buoyant rhyme, this newest Passover story from Kar-Ben includes all the most important parts of a Passover seder while telling the story of the Sheep family's surprising evening!

Engineer Ari has only one day to gather all the things he needs for a seder with his friends in Engineer Ari and the Passover Rush, the fourth story in Kar-Ben's popular Engineer Ari series. Luckily, his many friends and neighbors happily share their seder plate items with him. In return, Engineer Ari promises to bring them matzah from the matzah factory in Jerusalem. He enjoys watching the workers make the matzah, but will he make it back to Jaffa in time to celebrate the seder with Jessie and Nathaniel? The "Engineer Ari" series is inspired by the historic train from Jaffa to Jerusalem rail line, built in 1892, which shortened the journey between the cities from 3 days to 3 ½ hours.

One minute, twins Scarlett and Sam are bickering about who's going to read the Four Questions at the Passover seder. The next minute, they've been swept up by Grandma Mina's time-traveling carpet and dumped in the ancient Egyptian desert! And as if being stranded 3,000 years in the past isn't bad enough, they also find their fellow Hebrews suffering in slavery.
So they team up with Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help free the slaves. The future's looking bright! But the story they know so well doesn't turn out the way they expected . . .

Hannah, in The Littlest Levine, hates being the littlest Levine. She can't ride the school bus like her sister and brother. During Sukkot, she needs help hanging her decorations in the Sukkah, and on Hanukkah she's not allowed to light candles by herself. "Be patient," her grandpa tells her, "soon you'll be proud to be the littlest Levine." Every evening in the weeks before Passover, she studies with her grandpa, and when the seder comes, it's finally Hannah's turn to shine!

Seder in the Desert invites you to join a group of families as they follow Rabbi Jamie into Moav, Utah to celebrate a most unusual Passover seder in the desert. As they hike through the sandstone and red rock desert, they learn important lessons about the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, such as the importance of helping one another. Together, the community hikes, learns, laughs, sings, debates, and enjoys the delicious Passover seder meal. The story is accompanied by photos of the celebration as well as stunning desert scenery by award-winning photographer Jeff Finkelstein.

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.