Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: The Forbidden Stone

The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy #1) by Tony Abbott

Wade Kaplan loves astronomy, something he learned from his Uncle Henry. When Wade, his stepbrother Darrell, and their two friends Becca and Lily get a strange email from Uncle Henry shortly before receiving word of the old man’s death, Wade is sure it has something to do with the star map Uncle Henry gave him for his birthday. Together the group of friends, although with Wade’s father, travel to Germany to attend Uncle Henry’s funeral, where they discover the strange email was in fact a code. The code leads to a clue which leads the kids to discover the mysterious Copernicus Legacy. Now they must race against time to find the other clue and protect this ancient secret before a sinister secret society gets to it first.

This book has all the hallmarks of a good adventure story, with international espionage, clues, secrets, codes, historical artifacts, and just enough wonder to push the book over the edge from realistic fiction to that speculative/science fiction “what if” sphere. This being the first book in a series, it does get bogged down a bit in the beginning through the introduction of the characters and the plot. That being said, it definitely does a good job of building the suspense through these introductions, which kept me going even though I felt a bit bored and confused at the beginning.

I may be posting a separate review of the additional books at another time, but I can confidently say that although my rating of this first book may be a little on the low side, the series definitely gets better the farther you go along. As of this post I’ve read all but the last (yet unpublished) volume, and I am eagerly awaiting its release in November of this year. I’m only awarding this one an “it was okay” rating, but I do still recommend it, especially as it gets better the farther the series goes on. This one also gets an Up All Night award leaf since the action kept me eagerly reading, especially near the end. Recommended especially for middle grade/teen readers that enjoy astronomy and/or spy stories.

Shady Glade Rating: 3 leaves and the Up All Night Award



Available at Amazon.com in Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, or Audiobook
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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Review: Princesses Comic #2

Disney Princess Comics #2 by Amy Mebberson and Geoffrey Golden

If you know me well, you know that I have a bit of a Disney obsession. Well, maybe more than a bit. My mom likes to say that my blood cells are probably Mickey shaped. And as a girly-girl at heart, there’s nothing I love more than the Disney Princesses. So when I found out about this new comic series that was being published, I knew it was a no brainer for me to try it. Sadly, I missed out on the first issue (it was sold out long before I got to the comic book store), but I was able to pick up this second volume on a birthday trip this year.

Unlike some serial comics, the Princess comics are done as a series of short stories with no correlation to each other, so it wasn’t a problem to pick up the second issue without reading the first at all. Each story is more of a behind-the-scenes type peek into the lives of the princesses, outside what the movies show of their stories. The balance of smaller 1 strip and large multi-strip stories is a good combination, and both types of strips have the perfect amount of humor. I particularly liked the story of Princess Jasmine dealing with her tiger Rajah at bedtime. Anyone who has ever owned a cat will understand that one.

And as much as I love the storytelling, I have to say that I love, love, love, the artwork. I am a big fan of Amy Mebberson from her Pocket Princesses fanfic comic on her Facebook page, and it is nice to see her Disney artwork in an official capacity. For those who haven’t seen her work before, I would describe this as a sort of Japanese “chibi” style, while still being very true to the actual Disney artwork. I will definitely look forward to collecting these comics!

Shady Glade Rating: 5 leaves and the Gold Leaf Award 



Available at Amazon.com in Kindle (hard copy sold out)
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Friday, September 02, 2016

Review: Wild Born

Wild Born (Spirit Animals #1) by Brandon Mull

In the fantasy world of Erdas, each child who comes of age must go through a special ceremony. The purpose of this ritual is to see if the child summons a spirit animal; a special animal with which you form a spiritual/mental bond with that grants additional strengths to both human and animal. It’s kind of like your own personal animal best friend. Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan all summon spirit animals. But not just any animals. The wolf, leopard, panda, and falcon who apper during their ceremony are special animals, great beasts; animals of legend who have been foretold to return to Erdas in its greatest need. Together the four must work together and learn how to use their spirit animals in battle before the sinister forces taking over Erdas one country at a time have a chance to succeed.

I went into this one with pretty high expectations, mostly because I just love Brandon Mull. On the other hand, I’m always a bit worried with these multi-author series that Scholastic does (39 Clues and Infinity Ring being two other examples) just because I’m worried about continuity between character traits, world settings, plots, etc. I’m happy to say that Mull does a good job introducing the series. For a book that’s much shorter than many introductory middle grade fantasy books, there’s a nice balance between character introduction and the initial conflict of the series’ overall plot. Readers really only get glimpses of settings and characters other than the main four characters, but I felt it was enough to keep me satisfied, expecting that further explorations will occur in later books in the series. While there may not be a lot of substance literarily to this series, I think the kid appeal is definitely there, especially for kids who like books with animal characters. I plan on continuing with the rest of the series, which is always a good indication it hasn’t lost my interest so far.

Shady Glade Rating: 4 leaves


Available at Amazon.com in Hardcover, Kindle, or Audiobook
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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Continuing Thoughts on Audiobooks

Continuing my thoughts on audiobooks from a few days ago, which you can read here if you haven’t already. I mentioned in that post how I love that audiobooks can bring books alive and make them so much more real. A lot of this is credited to the narrator (and I suppose the director) for how well they tell the story itself. Well, a narrator can also kill a book too, which I’ll highlight in a few examples. These are books that aren’t necessarily bad books, but in my opinion the audiobook was not worth listening to.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, read by Gerard Doyle

I will start off by saying Gerard Doyle has narrated A LOT of audiobooks, and there’s been some that I’ve enjoyed a lot more than Eragon et al, so I don’t entirely blame the narrator for this one. Eragon was always a good example of how I often dislike books that have gotten a lot of hype. I had tried to read it several times, but just hadn’t gotten that into it. So I decided to try the audio, since a lot of times that can get me over the hump. The narration ended up making all of the characters seem rather whiny and weak, and although I slogged all the way through the first book, I did not get any farther in the series. And I have to say that Doyle’s voice for the dragon Sapphira was always completely ridiculous to me.


The Looking Glass Wars and Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor, read by Gerard Doyle

Another fail by Gerard Doyle, although I didn’t realize it until I started writing this post. The Looking Glass Wars, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, was a book that should have been right up my alley. The synopsis made it sound amazing. And yet listening to it wasn’t so amazing. The urgency of the war was just never there for me. But I enjoyed it enough to try the sequel. Again, not wowed, but now I wanted to find out what happened. So when the third book came out, I simply read it rather than listening to it. And suddenly, the world and characters and plot and motivations became so much more real to me. I ate the book up. To this day I’m still not sure if the third book was so much better than the other two, or if it was the lackluster narration of the first two books that made me not like them so much.


The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, read by Graeme Malcolm

I think I may be the only person in the entire world who didn’t love this book. It had all the hallmarks of a story I would have loved: a brave mouse knight, a princess in peril, etc. And yet it was rather forgettable to me. I listened to it several years ago and to this day I can remember that I didn’t like it, but not why I didn’t like it. One of the marks of a good audiobook is that it impresses the story into your mind. It’s something you can remember and reflect on. And this one just didn’t do it for me.


The Dispossessed series by Page Morgan, read by Katharine McEwan

I would be remiss if I only included male narrators in this post, so here’s a female narrator I didn’t care for. Although the narration itself didn’t bug me so much, the accents of the individual characters, especially the French characters, was ridiculous to the point of being distracting. Some narrators are more successful than other at creating distinct voices for each character, and let’s just say these books don’t do male characters well at all.


I could dig up more examples of audiobooks that fell short of my expectations, but if you’ve read the blog awhile, you know I don’t like talking a lot about things I didn’t like. I’d rather spend time on positive opinions. So I think I’ll leave the list off there. Now, by all means, feel free to try these audiobooks for yourself. I think audiobooks can be even more subjective than the books themselves, because the listener usually invests a lot more in the story than a reader would (or at least I do). So perhaps the things that bug me won’t bug you at all. Each book definitely has its own advantages, and each reader to his own of course!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Thoughts on Audiobooks

I’ve been thinking a lot about audiobooks lately. I don’t mention it a lot on the blog, but a lot of my “reading” these days is done via audiobook. I find it’s the perfect way to combine my hobby of reading with another of my hobbies, cross stitch. But that’s a discussion for my other blog.

I love that audiobooks in general have been gaining so much more attention lately, even among teens, which is awesome. Programs like Sync Audiobooks (hosted every summer) and the prevalence of digital audiobooks through sites like audible.com are bringing so much more awareness to readers. Which is awesome, because of course that means more audiobooks are being made every day.

For me, audiobooks are a good way to “read” a book while I’m busy doing something else. They are also lifesavers on long drives and car trips. A lot of what I listen to are books that are new to me. But I also love hearing my favorite books come alive too. Perhaps my love of audiobooks harkens back to when I used to be read to every night before bed by my parents. I love closing my eyes (except when driving on those long car trips of course) and getting lost in the story.

So in case you’ve never tried audiobooks, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale

I cannot highly recommend these enough. Besides the fact that the books are awesome all on their own, Jim Dale’s narration does an amazing job of bringing the books to life. He gives each character a distinct voice, which is a nice contrast to his somewhat dry narration style. Some narrators have voices that are very similar to each other, or don’t distinguish very well between sexes, two of my biggest narrator pet peeves. No problems with that here. The really nice thing is that Dale is consistent with each character voice from book to book too, which is amazing considering they were recorded years apart as the individual books were coming out. Fun fact, I don’t think I ever actually have read Goblet of Fire or Half Blood Prince. Both books I finished by listening to them on summer car trips.


The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, read by Nathaniel Parker

So I had read the first 2 Artemis Fowl books and enjoyed them, although I wouldn’t say they made it on a favorites list by any means. Then my brother borrowed the audiobook for the 1st book from the library, and it changed everything for me. Nathaniel Parker made Artemis Fowl for me. Something about his narration captured Artemis’ personality so crystal for me, I was able to understand him as a character so much more. Holly also became much more real of a character and friend, and less of an intimidating presence, which was definitely something that had a large influence on the series later on. Needless to say, I’ve listened to all of the books now, and they’re definitely books I fall back into listening to from time to time.


Fairest by Gail Carson Levine, read by Full Cast Audio

In picking my favorite audiobooks, just about everything done by Full Cast Audio would make the full list. Seriously, they are amazing recordings. Rather than being read by a single person, the book is read by, well, a full cast. So a different person for each character. This gives the books another dimension; makes them feel almost like watching a play instead of listening to a single person relate a story. I’ve listened to so many of their recordings now that I frequently recognize actors from one story to another, which gives a whole different dimension to the characters of the stories (as a weird and unintentional side effect). As I said, I love Full Cast Audio’s productions and would recommend many, many of them, but for the sake of keeping this post manageable size, I would choose Fairest as one of my favorite. I loved this book, both because of its standalone qualities and also because it was a prequel of sorts to one of my favorite books of all time, Ella Enchanted. But in addition to the amazing full cast reading, this book has music. Lots of it. Music plays a big part in the story line, and the studio put the author’s songs to actual music, so you get to hear the main character actually sing her parts. The result is nothing short of fantastic. Sadly, I don't think Full Cast is doing much these days, and a lot of their books have been re-recorded by other narrators, but I'd definitely get this version if you can.


Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, read by Words Take Wing Repertory Company

Okay, this one is a cheat in several ways. If you’ve read my review of this book on the blog here, you’ll know that this is one of my all-time favorite books. So it was probably a no brainer I was going to love it for that reason. Secondly, this was done by the Words Take Wing division of Listening Library, which was the precursor to Full Cast Audio, which we’ve already covered the fact that I adore their productions. This is a great book to read, and also a great one to listen to. There’s something about hearing the story being read that highlights the hilarity of the plot and characters, which is one of the most charming devices Wrede uses in this story.

I could go on a lot more about these and other favorites, but to keep this shorter, I’ll just highlight two more books that I didn’t expect to love at all, but listening to the audiobook completely changed my mind.


The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, read by Elizabeth Jasicki

I had tried several times to pick up Fforde’s Thursday Next series, never with much success. Probably because I kept getting distracted by other books. So when I saw this audiobook at the library, I decided to give it a try, since it was supposed to be his attempt at a “young adult” series. To my surprise, I quite enjoyed the book, and I think it was mostly because the narration made the main character Jennifer Strange so endearing to me. I was completely lost in Jennifer’s world, and I fell in love with many of the characters, causing me to actually shed tears at the end. If I hadn’t picked this up, I certainly wouldn’t have ever picked up the second book in the series, Song of the Quarkbeast, which I loved just as much.


Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers, read by

This is another book I really task the narration with my falling in love with it. The narrator became Theodosia for me. I could believe that an 11-year-old was telling this story. Although I had seen this book around from time to time, for some reason it hadn’t really appealed to me that much enough for me to actually give it a try. But needing something to keep me entertained on a long commute, I gave the audiobook a listen. And I’m so glad I did. Listening to it definitely opened up the whole world of this story, where the setting of ancient Egyptian curses and prophecies is almost a character of its own. I’ve already done a full review of this book here, so I’ll let you go read that if you want more specifics.

Well, hopefully that’s a few suggestions to get you started if you’ve never been brave enough to try them. I’ve got a few other audiobook discussions I’d like to have rolling around in my head, but I’ll save those for another post.

Until then, happy reading (or listening!)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua

Did you know the basis of the first computer program was invented back in 1842? When I think of the beginnings of the computer, the newish scene in Spaceship Earth featuring a lady in 70s go-go boots surrounded by enormous beeping white machines comes to mind. So when I happened upon this book in a library exploration trip I was very intrigued to find out more about the very beginning of the computer, which apparently happened way earlier than I thought it did. The beginnings of the computer involved the collaboration of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage working on an invention called the Difference Engine. Sadly, Countess Lovelace died young and the Difference Engine was never actually built.

But in the grand way that fiction allows us, this book explores the idea of “what if”. What if Lovelace and Babbage had actually completed the Difference Engine, and then used its marvelous computing abilities to go on strange adventures? This book not only gives an accurate historical biography of Lovelace and Babbage and their collaboration, but also features a section where in an alternate universe the duo complete their engine and use it’s awesome power to have all sorts of adventures and mishaps (mostly mishaps).

Those who are particularly interested in the history behind Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, and the Difference Engine will be delighted by the sheer amount of research that must have gone into this book. There are extensive footnotes explaining and expounding on the historical events and people featured, as well as a very large appendix containing a vast amount of primary resources. But it’s not just about the history. The adventurous side of the book is quite fun too, and has a very steampunk-esque feel to it. This is where the author’s characterization of Lovelace and Babbage really has the chance to shine, such as when both receive Queen Victoria for a demonstration of the Difference Engine.

I have to say I quite enjoyed the art style of this one. It has a very whimsical feel to it, especially in the “adventures” section of the book, but it is also right at home in the very historical part one as well. The expressions and emotions I thought were particularly well done. Overall, this is a great recommendation for both the historical and alternate reality sections, which lends itself to the graphic novel format quite well. This one is definitely recommended.

Shady Glade Rating: 4 leaves


Available at Amazon.com in Hardcover, Paperback, or Kindle
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Monday, August 22, 2016

Pokemon Indigo League Read Them All Thon

Here's the new challenge I hinted at last week.  I've joined the Pokemon Indigo League Read Them All Thon hosted by Read at Midnight.  The challenge started on August 14th and runs through September 4th, so I'm coming a little late to the party, but better late than never, right?


This challenge is inspired by the recent popularity of a game I'm sure you've heard of called Pokemon Go.  But also, it's inspired by the Indigo League that Ash had to work through in the beginning of the Pokemon cartoon.  Which is what I rushed home to watch after school when I was younger, so it is near and dear to my heart.  :)

For those not familiar with the situation, Ash had to battle 8 different elemental Pokemon gyms, earning a badge from each one, to try and help on his quest to be a Pokemon Master.  So for this challenge instead of battling Pokemon, we'll be reading books.  

Here's what my list looks like so far, with badge descriptions borrowed from the challenge organizer (in italics):

Pewter Gym: The First Book In A Series 
This Rock-type gym is the first gym Ash and the Pokemon player ever encounters. Finish this challenge to win a Boulder Badge. 

I will be reading The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz, first in the Descendants series.

Cerulean Gym: A Book That Might Make You Cry 
This Water-type gym has a badge that looks like a droplet of your tear, so read a book that will rip your heart out. Finish this challenge to win a Cascade Badge

I'll admit, I struggled with this one. Books don't make me cry as much as movies do for some reason (I even cried at the end of Batman V. Superman. I am SUCH a sap!). So I turned to the trusty Goodreads looking for a book that was on my TBR that had notes it made someone cry and ended up with Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Vermillion Gym: A Book With Thunderous Hype 
Vermillion City is the home to Lt. Surge and his many Electric-type Pokemon. For this challenge, read a book that’s been hyped all over bestseller’s list and the internet. Finish this challenge to win a Thunder Badge

So I'm ashamed to admit I have not actually read the Percy Jackson books yet. So I figured this was as good a time as any to rectify that. I will be starting with The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (bonus: double qualification of "thunderous"!)

Celadon Gym: A Book That Focuses on Diversity 
Celadon Gym is one of my favourites, because of it’s colourful Grass-type aesthetics. Read a diverse book and you will earn yourself a Rainbow Badge

For this one I will be reading Drama by Raina Telgemeier. I've been looking for an excuse to pick up this book for ages.

Fuschia Gym: A Book With A Great Romance 
I’ve always been confused by the fact that a Poison-type gym has a heart-shaped badge. Can someone explain please. Read a book that features romance prominently and earn a Soul Badge

I don't normally read a lot of romance, but I've found myself reading more lately. I just borrowed a Kindle book from Lendle that fits this category, so I will be reading Bride of Pretense by Amanda Tru and Cami Wesley

Saffron Gym: A Book With Fantasy/Supenatural Elements 
Saffron City is where all the Psychic-types hang out, so for this challenge, read a bool with fantasy, magical realism, or paranormal elements. Finish this challenge to win a Marsh Badge

I've just recently started the Spirit Animals series, so for this one I will do the second book in the series, Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

Cinnabar Gym: A Book With A Red Cover 
Cinnabar Island is famous for red earth and Fire-type Pokemon. For this challenge, read a book with a red cover. Complete this challenge to win a Volcano Badge

This one could have also qualified for the Thunderous Hype challenge, but I just picked up Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, which features a very red cover.

Viridian Gym: A Book With Post-Apocalyptic Setting 
The final gym is home to a Team Rocket Leader (OK, if it’s been out 10+ years you can’t cry spoilers) and Ground-type Pokemon. For this challenge, read a book featuring a ruined, post-apocalyptic Earth. Finish this to win yourself an Earth Badge

I don't read a lot of dystopian, so I struggled with this one. But I think I will be going with Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.


So that's my plan so far. I suppose it's possible this list might change as I go along, but that's my plan so far.  Who knows if I will make it to the end, but I'm going to try!

In addition to earning badges, you have the option of doing the extra fun of evolving a pokemon.  You earn CP points to evolve your pokemon by finishing books.  I'm starting with Eevee, because it's been my favorite Pokemon forever.  So cute!

Not really a smart choice from a point perspective, but I figure my chances of being in the top points wise are pretty limited, so I'm just doing it for fun.

If you'd like to join the challenge yourself, make sure you check out Read At Midnight's post for all the details.  Happy reading!