Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 2015 Reviews

I've not finished a lot of books this past month, other than picture books, and even that has slowed down recently. I'm currently reading an ARC of  The Bones of You by Debbie Howell, a mystery thriller. I finally finished listening to Burton Raffel's translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and I have never been so glad to finish any audiobook.  I'm trying to figure out what I want to listen to next. There are some great ARCs coming out this summer, so I hope to be able to read more of them. I'm a little bit behind in book reviews, but I am slowly catching up again. 

I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children's books that I enjoyed. 

Naked! written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I first learned about this book at a library training session on children's books, so I had some of it before reading it to my son, and thought it reminded me a lot of him.  It is an adorable book and the nakedness is done tastefully, i.e. you know the boy is naked but they don't show parts. The little boy in the book is really excited about being naked and doing things naked, and the book is pretty fun to read aloud. Gradually after running around for awhile, he gets cold and puts on cape and later some pajamas and goes to sleep. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3-1/2 stars. 

Smick! written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Juana Medina
A very cute and simple book, but it totally works. My son enjoys this book and it reminds me of our dog. Smick is a dog that likes to chase sticks. One day he meets a Chick and they become fast friends and enjoy chasing the stick together, although slower than before. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars. 

Ah Ha! written and illustrated by Jeff Mack
I've used this a couple of times for Toddler storytime, mostly just because it  is cute and literally only uses two letters the entire time to form words. A frog just want to relax in the pond, but a young boy and his dog, a bird, an alligator and a turtle all want to capture him. But he manages to escape them all. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars. 

Small Elephant's Bathtime written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney

I love Tatyanna Feeney's illustrations, so that's why I picked up this book. The story was super simple and would be great for a bathtime or bedtime Toddler Storytime. Small Elephant does not want to take a bath, and only ends up taking one through some pretty creative imagination on part of his mom. For all the parents who have ever struggled with a toddler or preschooler's bathtime, this book is really cute. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars. 

I love Mommy! written and illustrated by Lizi Boyd
I read this for my Toddler Frog Storytime, and thought it was a cute sweet book. It is all about a mommy frog who hangs out and plays with her small frog child. They draw, dance, build forts, snuggle to read a story, and make dinner. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars. 

Mustache Baby Meets His Match (Mustache Baby #2) written by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

Baby Javier (aka Beard Baby) comes over for a playdate with Baby Billy (aka Mustache Baby), and Billy thinks he must show Javier how things are done around here and whose in charge. That plan backfires as Beard Baby proves he is tougher, and the two are at odds with each other. Mom steps in to referee, and explains that it is normal for kids to have competition, but it is always good to be the first one to apologize when things get out of hand. So instead of Javier being his sidekick, he is his partner. This was so much fun to read aloud to my son, and I will have to admit that I want a copy for myself because it made us laugh so much! My favorite part was when Billy tries to best Javier at art, with Billy as Dali and Javier as Van Gogh. Recommended for ages, 3-6, 5 stars. 

Viva Frida! written by Yuyi Morales and photographed by Tim O'Meara 
I've been wanting to read this forever because I love books about Frida Kahlo and Yuyi Morales is particularly talented. I just didn't like this book at all though. The puppets Morales made were incredibly detailed and gorgeous (and the reason this book got two instead of 1 star) and it does give a very basic look at Frida and her art, but the bilingual single or couple of words per page just made it too choppy for me. It is a very unique look at the artist though, so that's probably why it won a 2015 Caldecott Honor and a 2015 Pura Belpre Illustrator award. It is obvious through the book and the author's note that Morales really admires Frida's work. Recommended for ages 3-7, 2 stars. 

Perfectly Arugula written and illustrated by Sarah Dillard
Arugula the hedgehog (I love her name!) wants to have a tea party, but everything must be perfect. The food, the tea, the table, the guests, and of course the hostess. All of her friends come but they are so afraid of upsetting Arugula that no one is having any fun. Then an unexpected guest arrives and shakes things up a bit and Arugula sees that it is okay to not be perfect. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars. 

Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster written by Susan Hood, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Spike the salamander believes he is a monster and practices at being one. The only problem is that he is small, only the size of a lily pad. So everyone just thinks he is cute. One day a real monster, a Gila Monster, comes to the pond and all the other animals are scared and run away. Spike holds his ground and tries to scare the new monster, but only succeeds at making him laugh. The monster asks Spike for directions to his family's party as he has gotten lost, and Spike tells him the way. When the other creatures return, they are amazed that Spike has survived. Spike is actually an axolotl from Mexico and so the story is peppered with Spanish and you can't help but adopt a bit of an accent while reading it. The back of the book features nonfiction information on the axolotl, cinnamon teal duck, armadillo and vole featured in the story. My son and I really enjoyed this book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars. 

The Mighty Lalouche written by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

I will admit that I picked this one up for me because I was amused by the pictures. I'm not sure my son understood everything that was going on in the book, but he liked it too. Lalouche is a French postman in the 1890s who is fired from his job after his walking route is replaced by an electric car. He is devastated, and is about to give up when he sees a flyer for a kickboxing sparring partner and decides that this will be the perfect way to support himself and his pet finch Genevieve. Will the Mighty Lalouche be able to beat anyone in order to survive as a boxer? To find out, read this delightful tale of surprising victory for our hero and delightful illustrations for everyone. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars. 

The Totally Awesome Epic Quest of the Brave Boy Knight

I picked this up for my son after he just loved another graphic novel, Rutabaga: Adventure Chef. This is a good introduction to graphic novel/comics for young kids because it has the same format but larger pictures and text bubbles, plus it's all about the power of imagination. The Brave Boy Knight and his Bigfoot/Wookie friend Butterscotch roam the countryside helping the shape-changing Animal Princess save her world from a monster and find secret buried treasure. Recommended for ages 5-7, 3 stars. 

William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies written and illustrated by Charles Santore

I picked this one up because I liked the look of the cover. I didn't think my son could make it through this book because it was so long, but he was rapt the entire time. William the Curious is a frog who lives in the moat of a Queen's castle. One day, the queen decides that anything that is not perfect within the castle must be thrown out the window. Soon the moat is full of discarded items and the fish, frogs and other wildlife are afraid. All of the plants have been killed except for one water lily. William picks up the costume of a toy knight and dresses himself up and brings the flower to the queen, determined to ask her one question about perfection. It is cool because it's not only a fairytle of a sort but also about protecting the environment. My son really enjoyed the book and wants me to read it to him again. The illustrations were rich and detailed and I loved them.Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars. 

Hidden written by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano, Color by Greg Salsedo and translated by Alexis Siegel
This was an interesting graphic novel in that it is one that can introduce the subject of the Holocaust to much younger children than it is usually introduced to, which is usually in the fourth or fifth grade. The story is told from the viewpoint of a grandmother named Dounia who was a little girl during the time of WWII and the Nazi invasion of France, and is telling her story to her granddaughter Elsa. Her parents were sent to a concentration camp and Dounia had to live with French Resistance workers in the countryside. Eventually only her mother returned and she was completely unrecognizable to her daughter. Recommended for 7-11 yr olds, 3 stars. 

El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell

I've been wanting to read this one for awhile, especially after it won one of the two 2015 Newbery Honors. This book is the memoir of the author/illustrator CeCe Bell, who lost her hearing after getting meningitis at age four very suddenly. She has to adjust to not hearing and using a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear that straps to her chest, under her clothes. She is able to hear everything her teacher says with it and everywhere she goes with it and Cece believes she may have a superpower, and so makes up her alter ego superhero, El Deafo. Really the book is all about acceptance, which is so hard with young kids, especially girls and especially if someone is different. Will Cece be accepted and find a true friend? To find out, read this fascinating biography. Recommended for ages 8+, 4 stars. 

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Book 1 written and illustrated by Eric Colossal

I loved this graphic novel and surprisingly, so did my nearly 4 year old son! He kept asking me again and again to read him the "dragon story". Rutabaga, a chef, is going on an adventure to see different exotic foods, and make new dishes that no one has ever seen. On the way to find a rare ingredient which only grows on relics, he meets up with a group of three kids who are searching for the Dragon Killer sword. They need it to defeat the dragon, who has recently terrorized their village. He joins up with them, only things don't exactly go as planned and the dragon gets away. He has many more adventures after that, including a cook-off and defeating a monster with a group of Vikings. It was an adorable little book and great for ages 8+. I wish I could be an adventure chef. 5 stars. 

Young Adult
Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Joyride by Anna Banks

Templar written by Jordan Mechner, illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland 
Wow this was a hefty graphic novel. Definitely the first time I've read a over 400 page one, but it was a good read. "Templar" is about Martin de Troyes, a French Knight Templar who has recently come back from the Crusades. King Phillipe of France wants to destroy the Templar Order so that he can claim their treasure to fuel his war in the north, so he brings the whole Order up on false charges and imprisons them. Martin and few of his comrades manage to escape and they decide to steal the Templar treasure, based off a map they intercepted from the Grand Master of the Order, before the King can get his hands on the money. Will they be able to pull of their rescue attempt? To find out, read this fascinating journey into 14th century France! Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars. 

I have always been fascinated by the Templars, so I jumped to find a copy of this book when I saw it on a great graphic novels list. I will admit that even though I kind of knew it was coming, the Templar mass burning was a little hard to read. It's sad that the Pope essentially sold out the Templars (an order the Vatican started) to placate the King of France. The story is a bit like a religious Indiana Jones mixed with a bit of "Ocean's 11", in the sense that is an impossible job that miraculously works out. The author definitely knows the period and it is well-researched, and it even includes a extensive bibliography in the back of the book. The artwork is awesome. Martin is an interesting complex character and I really enjoyed his love Isabelle as well (for her feistiness). 

Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon
Claire Randall was a WWII English nurse and afterwards got back together with her husband Frank, a history professor. They have taken a second honeymoon to Inverness, Scotland to rediscover each other, after being apart for 5 years during the war. Once there, she discovers some ancient standing stones on the hill at Craig na Dunand when she touches the largest one, she is transported back in time to 1743 Scotland. She meets a ruthless English captain named Jonathan Randall, aka Black Jack, an ancestor of her husband Frank. She is rescued from Captain Randall by a Scottish man and soon after introduced to Dougal MacKenzie and his band. She bandages the shoulder of one of his injured men, who turns out to be Dougal's nephew, Jamie (who is also a fugitive from British law and who has had dealings with Captain Randall). She is taken to the MacKenzie castle Leoch to figure out what to do with her. She ends up as the castle's herbalist, before being taken to collect the land rents with Dougal and his party of men. She runs into Captain Randall while on their journey, and he wants very much to question her about her association with the MacKenzies and anything else she might know. To prevent this, Dougal marries her to Jamie which Claire is vehemently against because she is already married to Frank but sees that she has no choice. Jamie and Claire must get to know and trust each other very quickly. Will she be able to make it back to Frank? Does she want to? To find out, read the exciting start of this series. 5 stars. 

I have had this on my to-read list for awhile but never picked it up until now. I saw the Starz series of the same name and fell in love with the story and desperately wanted to know what happened next as they ended it rather abruptly (at 40% through the first book I found out later). The book is even better than the series, though I will admit that they stayed pretty true to the story. I loved all the medical info and what it was like to be a doctor in the 18th century (pretty crazy and with some really weird practices). Claire is a great character and I loved getting to know her and of course Jamie. Oh Jamie, how can I not love your Scottish accent, red hair and kilt! Thank you Sam Heughan for your Starz portrayal of Jamie, you are who I think of when I read about Jamie now - in a very good way. I can't even begin to describe how much I love Jamie as a character. Le sigh. I am hoping they have more info about Geillis Duncan as her role in the story was pretty fascinating, especially when they revealed that she is also a time traveller. 

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon
The book starts in 1968, with Claire and her grown daughter Brianna. It becomes apparent that she actually did come back to Craig na Dun and travel back to 1946, and she came back pregnant. She has never told her daughter the truth about her real father, and so brings her to Scotland to tell her the truth, after the death of her twentieth century husband, Frank. At the end of "Outlander", Jamie and Claire Fraser had to flee to France. They thought this would be the best way of getting into the good graces of Charles Stuart, the exiled Prince of Scotland (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie), so they could prevent the Battle of Culloden from happening in 1745 and all the subsequent MacKenzie and Fraser deaths. The best opportunity for Jamie to do this was to take over his cousin Jared's wine business while he was in Germany, and then become a friend and confidant to the Prince. He does but oh the court intrigue and politics, which eventually force the two of them to flee back to Scotland, after his outlaw charges are removed by the English. They end up having to join Prince Charles's army. Will they be able to actually avoid the slaughter at Culloden? To find out, read this second book in the Outlander series. 4 stars. 

Oh my goodness! I wanted to strangle Diana Gabaldon after reading this book (figuratively, not literally). First because the book was so damn long, and then because of the ending. I understand why she did it, essentially anyways as it had to cover over a year of time and a whole lot of political and social manuevering. But the book is still 947 pages! She definitely has researched her subject matter very well, and it shows in the writing. I only knew a bit about the Battle of Culloden because of a project I did at St. Andrews, so it was cool to get a more accurate representation about what was going on with the Stuarts and their attempts to re-establish the exiled monarchy, even if it was from a historical fiction viewpoint. As others have said, she did a great job of character development and letting us get to know Claire and Jamie even better. I loved Master Raymond's character, even if I couldn't completely understand who or what he was. My guess is magician/time traveller. Fergus was also an interesting addition to the Fraser family, as well as getting to know Jenny (Jamie's sister) a bit more. 


  1. Love how you break up your reviews into different sections by genre! An Ember in the Ashes sure seems to be receiving a lot of hype, and I am glad you found it a fulfilling read. If you do not mind me asking, what motivated you to pick up The Canterbury Tales?

    1. I had never read it, though it always interested me. So with April being National Poetry Month, I thought it was the perfect time to start it. It was fascinating, the way Chaucer mixed religion and mythology. I'm glad I listened to it, as I know I would've never finished it had I tried to read it.