Category Archives: Book Review

Octopus Alone (Picture Book)

Author/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan

My rating: 5 of 5

Octopus enjoys watching life in the ocean unfold around her, other sea creatures having fun. But sometimes it all just gets to be too much, and she needs to be alone. One day, she swims away until she finds somewhere quiet and alone where she can play by herself in the quiet . . . but after a while, she’s ready to return to her friends back home.

As in her Little Owl books, in Octopus Alone, Srinivasan does a delightful job of blending story with education about nature. We are shown a charming variety of sea creatures doing what sea creatures do, all drawn in the author’s usual gorgeous and distinguished style. And this would be a good children’s book just for that. But we get something more, as well–we get a main character with an established, distinct personality. One that tends to go against a lot of social expectations, no less. In point of fact, we get a picture book with an introverted main character, one that wrestles with that fine balance between needing relationships and needing to be alone sometimes. As an introvert myself, reading this in a children’s book is just brilliant. Whether it’s helping introverted kids understand themselves or helping extroverted kids understand that some people need more space and quiet than they do, this book is something that is just helpful and timely. Highly recommended, for the art, for the animals, for the story, and for the social aid that this book clearly is.

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White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion (Graphic Novel)

Authors: Tamora Pierce & Timothy Liebe

Illustrators: Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio, & Ronaldo Adriano Silva

Status: Complete (1 volume, 6 issues)

My rating: 3 of 5

Former FBI agent Angela’s life has gone off the rails a bit since her Uncle Hector’s death and her partner’s murder. Now she’s out to get some answers–and maybe a little justice–in a slightly less traditional manner than has been her wont in the past. You see, she’s mysteriously received Hector’s amulets, and after touching them, she’s become filled with all sorts of power and abilities she never had before. In short, she’s now a superhuman, a “costume” as they’re known around town, quickly becoming known as White Tiger . . . or at least, that’s what she wants to be called. Everyone seems to keep getting her confused with other costumes! But with the help of some friends, it looks like Angela may just be on the right track to setting things right in her ‘hood.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know Marvel comics are really not my thing, but . . . seeing Tamora Pierce’s name on the cover was definitely enough to get my attention. Who knew she even wrote for them at all?! But yeah, badass heroine types are something she’s a bit of an expert at writing, so I had to give it a try. White Tiger gets definite points for exactly that–a strong female lead who manages to be both competent and yet human. She has struggles, needs relationships, gets frustrated, and that’s exactly what makes her such a likeable lead. Extra points to the authors for bringing in lots of diversity, some real humanity, and a welcome sprinkling of humor in the midst of all the action. What brings the rating on this to only a “liked it” for me is the ways that it falls more in line with your traditional comic book. There are a lot of action scenes that are honestly hard to follow and not especially interesting–seriously, the random personal interactions are way more fun to read. Secondly, this story is so very woven into the Marvel ‘verse that there are a ton of characters and events thrown in that I just don’t know anything about, so a lot of the connections here were just lost on me. What I’m trying to say is that, were I actually into the Marvel scene, this would probably have me fangirling with a 5 of 5 rating; it really is good for a graphic novel of this sort . . . it’s just a bit too much of a traditional comic to really be my thing.

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Ghost in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah has made the difficult choice to work for Wona–the company he had believed responsible for his girlfriend Sue’s death as well as the deaths of several other individuals–in order to find those truly responsible and hopefully see justice done. But that choice has come with a cost as most of his friends in the Dream State now see him as having betrayed them . . . which he kind of deserves, actually. He’s trying to fight for the greater good and hope they come around eventually. Of course, working for Wona has its perks, too. Cushy living conditions and great pay IRL, position and privilege in-game–it’s not all bad. But things continue to get more complicated as players in the Dream State find themselves attacked by seemingly untraceable random attackers . . . especially when one of these Screamers, as they quickly become known, shows up wearing the face of Noah’s friend Chloe’s brother, one of several beta-testers who had previously disappeared. Now it’s up to Noah to bring together a functional team and figure out what’s going on and who is behind it all.

As with the first two Dream State books, I found Ghost in the Game to be a treat to read. Keene continues to impress with his world building, giving us a sweeping, imaginative view of the Dream State world in its many iterations. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that his way of presenting the world and the way the characters interact with it in-game are not only one of his greatest strengths as an author, but it’s also some of the best I’ve read, period. It manages to be immersive, easily understood, and captivating. I really enjoyed that in this volume we move away somewhat from the revenge theme, getting into more mystery, adventure, and relationship building/repair. There’s definitely some intriguing plot going on, which is fun to read, and it’s nice to get more interpersonal development in this volume as well, especially with where Back in the Game left us. I’m still not sure about Noah’s way of looking at the whole situation, but after three volumes, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that he and I just think really differently about stuff . . . and it’s actually kind of neat to have a character that is developed enough that I can draw that kind of conclusion about him. I also quite enjoyed getting to see more of the characters IRL in this volume; combining both in-game and IRL character interactions seems to add a lot to the character development and really flesh Noah’s group out as individuals. I should mention, we get left with a bit of a cliffie, or at least with lots of room for plot development in future volumes, which I am looking forward to. I would recommend Ghost in the Game, particularly for gamers, cyberpunk fans, and LitRPG fans in particular.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.

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The Kissing Hand (Picture Book)

Author: Audrey Penn

Illustrators:  Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak 

My rating: 4 of 5

A young raccoon faces his first day of school with trepidation. That is, until his mother shows him a secret trick to help him be brave and remember that she loves him.

I found myself reading this adorable picture book with my niece, and I must say that it’s charming. The pictures are a delightful watercolor with a nice color blend, and the use of anthropomorphism is nicely balanced, if a bit weird to read as an adult. Don’t think about the details too much. I also liked that the writing is accessible to young readers but is also a bit more complex than the typical “see spot run” sort of thing that we see so much of. Most of all, I liked how the story presents children with a real, workable idea to help them handle difficult situations with courage rather than hiding the fact that tough things are a part of life. All in all, definitely recommended, especially for kids ages 4-6 or thereabouts.

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Happily

Author: Chauncey Rogers

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Laure hates Éclatant; she can’t wait to get away, just as soon as she can manage to come by (read “steal”) enough money to afford the journey. Seriously, the royalty here are either mad or idiots. Just look at this latest debacle–the prince dances with a girl at a masked party, falls madly in love, the girl disappears, and the prince can’t seem to remember her name or any defining features. But rather than do the reasonable thing and take the girl’s disappearance to mean that she’s just not that into the prince, the king issues a decree: the girl left behind a glass shoe, and whatever girl can be found to fit the shoe will be legally declared to be the girl the prince fell in love with at the party (whether she actually is or not) and will wed the prince. Pure absurdity! But . . . there may be a way Laure can use this to her advantage, if her newly-found concern for her mark-cum-traveling-companion Luc doesn’t get in the way.

What a delightful take on the classic Cinderella story this is! Rather than getting Cinderella’s view at all, we are presented with quite a different, er, well, heroine seems to be stretching it a bit, but she grows into the role rather. Laure is sassy, crabby–and open about it. She’s a girl who once knew a happy home but who lost it long ago, and it shows in the way she’s isolated herself from all close connections, living on her wits and making do as best she can. It’s actually quite vicariously liberating to read from the perspective of such an openly ornery character; she’s rather a delight. Moreover, it’s great to see the way that she grows and changes as a person through her time with Luc and the events that unfold; there’s some huge character development going on there. And the writing itself is just lovely–comfortable to read, humorous, vibrant, and rich. I was very impressed with the story, would certainly recommend it, and am looking forward to trying some of the author’s other books.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Happily from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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Giant Days, vol. 3 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar/Lettering: Jim Campbell

My rating: 4.5 of 5

School politics and a mysterious individual who won’t show his (her?) face manipulating the players behind the scenes. Relationship drama on multiple fronts. Camping trips! Old friends stopping in to visit. The wonky world Susan’s brain enters after too many days with nearly no sleep. Find all that and more in the third volume of Giant Days!

As with the first two volumes, volume 3 of Giant Days delivers quite the charming, quirky slice-of-life drama as it looks into the daily lives of Susan, Daisy, Esther and their friends Ed and McGraw. It consistently follows the first two volumes in the delightfully odd look at college life, the relatable and fabulous characters, and the wonderful art that so characterize the series as a whole. I enjoyed especially that the first chapter is an Ed-centric one, giving us a closer look into his life, as well as McGraw’s. Also, although it was totally random, I loved the “Night World” visuals when Susan, and later Esther, get to that point where reality warps due to lack of sleep–the trippiness of the art there is really fantastic. And, while much of the story in this volume is pretty episodic, with the characters kind of scattered at points, the last chapter where the three girls go on a camping trip together loops us back to the beginning, to that wonderful connection and relationship that these three have. This volume managed to be relatable, full of feels, and also laugh-inducingly funny, sometimes within the same page. Recommended. (Warnings for a major cliffie at the end, though!)

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Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

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