Monday, February 22, 2016

Currently Reading 2/22/16

Check out Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for the roundups

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
I know this book means a lot to many people, but it didn't work for me at all.  I've been trying really hard to figure out exactly why, and I think all my problems stem from the fact that everything seems very obviously manipulated by the author to facilitate certain outcomes. I suppose this contrived plotting could be attributed to the hands of fate or the magical spell working its way through the lives of these children, but all I saw were all manner of people never acting how real people would act for plot resolutions that were ludicrous in their unrealistic outcomes.  I WISH SO MUCH I loved this as much as everyone else, but it was a big disappointment and I don't think I'm every quite so disappointed as when I just can't make myself love a book everyone I know loves. **

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Harding is probably my very favorite MG author, which is ironic because I always put off reading her books because they're so long. Once I finally get to them, though, I never want them to end.  Nobody describes things as well or as ingeniously as Hardinge, and though I've seen this book often described as slow, I'd gladly read Hardinge chronicling paint drying, so that wasn't an issue at all for me.  
It's a deliciously creepy tale (there's one line in particular that sent actual real-life shivers down my spine), an examination of the effects of war, grief, and displacement in both the wide world and the family unit, AND a creative turn on fairy and changeling stories I used to think were boringly familiar.  Until the very end I never thought she could reign in such a proliferative plot, but I was completely satisfied by the resolution.  Fantastic characters across the board (I don't remember the last time I read a book where my sympathies changed for each character so repeatedly), but Pen is a character for the ages: undeniably cranky and annoying and, quite frankly, horrible, but tough and strong and lovable too.  The fact that Hardinge had me feeling every bit as protective of her as Triss did is probably my favorite quality of the book.  Violet's awesome too.  It's all awesome.  READ THIS BOOK.  Than go read everything else Hardinge has ever written.  *****

Tighter by Adele Griffin
The ending is unsatisfying and ambiguous in the worst possible way, but the story up until the end is quite well-done.  Creepy, yes, but less a ghost story than an examination of a tormented mind.  ***1/2

Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell
I read this because someone said it was better than Agatha Christie. It's not. The set-up and solution are quite clever: not exactly shocking, and not exactly believable (and certainly dated), but well-plotted. The characters are expertly drawn in the briefest of sketches (the first chapter is one of the greatest super-quick character depictions I've ever read), but I didn't like any of these people at all. I can deal with disliking the suspects so long as they're actually interesting people, but here I didn't even like the detective, and it's hard to read 200 pages of a detective novel when you find the detective off-putting and not even very competent. The beginning was interesting, and the end riveting, but most of the middle seemed to be a lot of bumbling around searching for a solution that just wouldn't come.  I'll read another by Rendell, but I wasn't as impressed as I hoped to be by this title. ***

Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox
A lot of this novel is done quite well, the characters are pretty much universally interesting, whether I loved them (Rose), despised them (Sandy), or was just all-around annoyed by them (Laura), and the world is, of course, amazingly creative.  What the novel doesn't do well, though, completely kept me from appreciating the story.  The plot is ridiculously complicated.  I listened to this on audio, and had to also check out the book and read and reread several passages before I had even the slimmest grasp on what was going on.  The ending, when the origin of the world is all explained, seemed to throw into doubt and confusion much of what Knox spends two books painstakingly perfecting.  The more I think about it, the less this part of the plot makes any sense at all (i.e. if what happens at the end is really the explanation of how everything was created, then everything that happened in the first book and the first 3/4th of this book logically should have been different).  Lots of tropes here, from the protagonist that the author tells you is super special and will SAVE THE WORLD (even though she's clearly the most generic character in the story), to a character who **SLIGHT SPOILER** is dead, totally dead, no doubt about it, until the very end when it's all oh wait not really.  The MOST problematic thing about this book, though, is there are some very disturbing relational and sexual (even incestuous) undercurrents that are never acknowledged in any way as being decidedly creepy. I know this "review" is super vague and confusing, but that's how I felt reading the book so maybe that's the most appropriate way I could have written about Dreamquake. **

Mustache Baby Meets His Match by Bridget Heos and Joy Ang
Cute enough but the humor is so rooted in silly stereotypes. **1/2

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle and Cale Atkinson
I'm usually not one for rhyming texts, but this one mostly works for me. Such a fun idea with great descriptions of all manner of mystical creature. The colorful, imaginative illustrations are phenomenal. ****1/2

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Stanton took a very tired plot in a creative new direction. Not sure if the moral is "your friends can help you fulfill your dreams" or "EVERYONE longs to be different and unique (not just you)" or maybe even both, but I quite liked it. The illustrations are charming. ****

Arctic White by Danna Smith and Lee White
The text is not as enchanting as it probably should be given the subject, but the idea is great and the illustrations have a lovely nature-based magic. ***1/2

Cockatoo, Too by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Darling illustrations and a fun idea, but the wordplay is quite convoluted and I fear would be confusing to the target audience. ***

Ballet Cat Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea
Not so sure the "message" stands up to scrutiny, but it's undeniably funny. ***1/2

Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small
Quite a lot of text for a picture book in this day and age, and the message is eye-rollingly heavy-handed, but the story surprised me and the illustrations are delightful. ****

Be a Friend by Salina Yoon
Precious story and it's fun to have a mime picture book. (though I think some explanations would be necessary for most children reading the story).

Dear Yeti by James Kwan
It's simple and doesn't necessarily do anything new or surprising, but it's such a charming tale about taking risks and making friends. ****

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo
Very sweet, a a bit saccharine for my tastes (especially with the recurring asides on "what friends do"), but it's certainly darling in every possible way (just try not to squeal at the little elephant).

Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler
The book has some clever ideas, but there isn't really enough of a story here. **1/2

Frankencrayon by Michael Hall
Glad this one had a page that stated the morals of the book because I was a bit confused at exactly what Hall was getting at.  Still, the story is great fun: surprising and imaginative. Another crayons gone rogue story, like the super successful "Day the crayons..." books, but this one worked much better for me.  And not *only* because I love all things Frankenstein. ****

President Squid by Aaron Reynolds and Sara Varon
Obvious, but fun and appropriate to the season. ***

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek
A slight story, but as lovely an ode to spring as I've ever seen. The illustrations are colorful and happy (and make me SO ready to be all done with snow for the year!) ****

Girl & Gorilla: Out and About by Rick Walton and Joe Berger
Weird in a this-plot-and-actually-even-these-sentences-do-not-make-sense way instead of a purposefully imaginative way (which is what I think the author was going for? maybe?)  I do like the use of colors. **

Sweet Pea & Friends: The SheepOver by John Churchman and Jennifer Churchman
Just because you have cute farm animals and a camera does not mean you should write a picture book.  Especially not one with a disco ball and crazily abundant photoshop. *


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty
Pax by Sara Pennypacker

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & The Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Mosquitoland by David Arnold

**REREAD** Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick


A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley


  1. Reading is such a personal experience, so it makes sense that not every book is going to resonate with every reader. I appreciate your honest thoughts, as a reader it's really helpful to hear what bloggers didn't love, as well as what they did!

  2. As Jane wrote, I don't think you have to like every book that others like, it's definitely okay. I liked Echo just fine, but there are others I've loved, so each of us is different. I did love Peddles, although it really is a bit silly, and Arctic White is marvelous. Lots to love in your list, & especially thanks for sharing Cuckoo Song. New to me, so I'll keep it on my list!

  3. JEALOUS of the picture books you read!
    Interesting to hear your point of view on Echo. So many people love it; I'll have to read/listen to it and see what I think.

    Happy reading this week :)

  4. ...better than Agatha Christie? That book was already set up to fail. Tsk.

  5. Oh no to Echo! I appreciate your honest review very much. I've heard of a few people who haven't liked it, but most people I know have loved it. I've been eagerly anticipating where I fall. That is reason enough to want to read it! :) I appreciated your thoughts and will let you know what I think!

  6. You have some of my recent favourites in terms of picture books including Be a Friend and Dance! Dance! Underpants. I liked Echo - I can see how some would love it and that it wouldn't appeal to all. I think some books are absolutely meant for certain readers.

  7. I'm scheduled to read Sorcery and Cecilia soonest - too bad that you didn't enjoy Echo. :(

  8. I had similar feelings about Echo. I enjoyed the idea of it and the writing, but the manipulation annoyed me. I understood why the author made certain choices, but it didn't work as well for me as for many others. I have Frankencrayon and am looking forward to reading it.


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