Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Ivy's Ever After

Ivy's Ever After by Dawn Lairamore

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that if there’s one book weakness I have, it’s fractured/retold fairy tales. So Ivy's Ever After looked right up my alley.

Ivy is the only child of the king of Ardendale (not to be confused with Arendelle of Frozen fame), and it’s her 14th birthday. While that may be a good thing for some girls, for Ivy it means that she’s about to be locked up in a tower. Ardendale is a kingdom on the edge of the dragon lands, and each area has a fragile peace held together by the so-called Dragon Treaty. And the treaty says that the princess of Ardendale must be imprisoned in the tower on her 14th birthday, guarded by a dragon, until a prince comes to kill the dragon and rescue her.

So despite Ivy's misgivings about the whole thing, she ends up in the tower, waiting for a prince and guarded by her dragon guard Eldridge. And while that sounds like a familiar tale, author Dawn Lairamore has a twist in store for readers. Because Ivy doesn't really want to be rescued, and Eldridge doesn't really want to be slain. In fact, he’s a peace-loving dragon who is quite unhappy about the situation. So when Ivy’s prince, Prince Romil shows up to rescue her, and it becomes clear that he’s really out to take over Ardendale, there’s only one thing a princess can do: escape. Now Ivy and Eldridge must embark on a quest to find Ivy’s fairy godmother and save the kingdom, before Prince Romil can achieve his plans.

As much as I love retold fairy tales, sometimes it’s nice to read a story that takes fairy tale elements and makes its own story, which is one of the thing that’s so nice about Ivy's Ever After. But in the end, it really is mostly a fluff book. Ivy’s characterization isn’t particularly deep, and most of the other characters pretty much are fueled by a single motivation. Although I loved the inventiveness of the quest that dragon and girl embark on, the plot really is definitely the focus on this one. Girls from 8-12 who love princess stories will definitely eat it up, and I enjoyed reading it, but it’s not particularly thought-provoking. This may make a good crossover book for boys as well, since the plot is not focused on romantic love, but more about the friendship that exists between Ivy and Eldridge.

However, despite the fluff aspect, it still is a good read, and a book that I enjoyed in the reading process. If you do like the book, make sure to also check out the sequel Ivy and the Meanstalk, which was also a fun, fluffy read.

Also, this is definitely a "don't judge a book by its cover" moment.  I'm not a fan of the artwork on the cover at all.

Shady Glade Rating: 6/10

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Sisters

Now that I'm trying to get back into the game, I think it's time for a Waiting on Wendesday post.  So today's pick is another one that's not so much "waiting" since the book was released yesterday.  But since I don't have it in my hands yet, I'm still excited about it...

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
About the Book (copy from "The companion to Raina Telgemeier's #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling and Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir, SMILE. 
Raina can't wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren't quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she's also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn't improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, something doesn't seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all. 
Raina uses her signature humor and charm in both present-day narrative and perfectly placed flashbacks to tell the story of her relationship with her sister, which unfolds during the course of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado."
I had the great pleasure in reading the companion to this book, Smile, in 2010 when it was nominated for the Cybils awards.  It was one of the group's favorites, so it isn't a surprise that it made it to the finalist stage.  So seriously, if you haven't read Smile yet, you need to.  (And also Drama, which was done by the same author, but is unrelated to both Smile and Sisters).

So one of the best things about Smile is that it isn't fiction, but rather based on the author's memoirs which just goes to prove that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.  And it's one of the things I loved so much about that book.  This book sounds like more of the same, so I'm super excited to read it.

Sisters was released yesterday on August 26, 2014.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: Doll Bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Here's a book that has just the perfect amount of creepy for the upcoming Halloween season.

Zach has two friends he’s known forever, Poppy and Alice. Their favorite thing to do after school is to hang out at Poppy’s house and play with action figures and dolls, creating a fantastical world of adventure and magic with their alter egos. But when Zach's toys get thrown away by Zach's dad (who thinks it’s time for Zach to grow up), Zach is so hurt by the episode that he decides it’s easier to just stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.

Of course, that wouldn't be any fun if that was the end of the book. Despite the rift in their relationship, Alice and Poppy show up at Zach's house late one night with a doll. A creepy old china doll that Poppy's mom normally keeps locked up in the china cupboard. Poppy claims that’s she’s being haunted by the doll, a doll whose china body was supposedly made from the bones of a dead girl. With Poppy's urging, the three friends set out on a nighttime clandestine trip to discover the truth of the doll's creation, and hopefully bring the girl's spirit to its final rest.

From the cover you would think this is pure ghost story, but it’s really not. It's more about Zach's journey from childhood to being a teenager, and trying to navigate how his friendships are changing because of him growing up. There's also a great deal about Zach trying to process the relationship with his father, and especially dealing with the expectations his father has about how grown up he should be.

Of course, there's a ghost story aspect to it too. The history of the doll and the gruesome creation (that may or may not have actually happened) add a dash of creep factor and mystery to the otherwise (relatively) normal adventure of the friend’s journey and relationships. The haunting is more of the "is or isn't it" kind, so throughout the book you're never really quite sure if the doll is haunted or everything is just a strange set of coincidences. It adds the perfect prickling at your neck atmosphere to what would otherwise be a quite serious story line, while being safe enough that it should not scare younger readers.

Part mystery, part coming of age, part quest/adventure, part haunting (or not), Doll Bones is a great story for younger readers who enjoy more complex stories than straight fluff series books. Oh, and the creepy illustrations are a perfect addition to the story too.

Now, if you're in the mood for a story about a really haunted doll/dollhouse, you should also check out my review of Sweet Miss Honeywell’s Revenge.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Prince Tennyson

Prince Tennyson by Jenni James

The first thing you need to know about Prince Tennyson is that it’s an inspirational book about a 10-year-old’s search for God. So if that kind of thing isn’t your thing, this book isn’t for you. The other thing is that it will make you cry. Really. I totally mean that completely and 100%.

This is the story of a broken family and their search for healing, told through the eyes of ten-year-old Chelsea . Chelsea, her mom, and her brother and sister have just moved in with their grandmother in Phoenix after Chelsea’s mom suffers a mental breakdown. The breakdown is due to the death of Chelsea’s father, nicknamed Prince Tennyson, who died a year ago in military service in the Iraq war. Not only is Chelsea dealing with the issues of adjusting to a new school, new friends, and a new house, she is watching her mother become emotionally weaker and weaker as she struggles to deal with the aftermath of her husband’s death.

The turmoil in her life leads Chelsea on a quest to find the answer to one question: Is God real? And although her grandmother assures her He is, her mother is not. As Chelsea struggles to find her own answers, she seeks out church, the bible, asks her new friends, anything that can show her God is real. Because if heaven is not real, she’s afraid she will never get to see her dad again.

This is one of those books that’s kind of hard to explain for me. It’s not really plot driven much, which is weird for my usual taste, because I tend to like plot over characters in the books I pick up. But there’s something about Chelsea’s innocence and genuineness that kept me reading. I got to the point where I absolutely could not pick this book down.

I have to say first that it has been a long time since I have cried over a book. The last one I remember for sure is Where the Red Fern Grows. There might have been some other ones in there over the years, but I didn't even cry after the bloodbath in the later Harry Potter books. (Movies, on the other hand, will get me every time; I even cry for Hallmark commercials). So when I saw from other reviews that this would make you cry, I was skeptical. And I made it through most of the book without crying, that’s for sure. But the last 20% of the book or so had me sobbing in a way I haven’t cried for a book before (except for reading scriptures). Unfortunately I don’t want to go into too much detail about why, because it will completely spoil the ending. The emotional release I got from that crying, however did cause me to be extremely emotionally satisfied with the conclusion.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that at times Chelsea’s narration seemed a little juvenile for a 10-year-old. On the other hand, I don’t hang around with many 10-year-olds on a day to day basis, so if they were writing in a journal, maybe that is what it would sound like. I just noticed that it was a very different toned voice from the other middle grade books I've read recently.

I’m assuming if you've made it thus far into the review that you must be religious at least to some extent, so I think what really resonated with me as far as Chelsea’s story is that I think everyone who is religious has been through this journey at some point. We've all had to discover if whatever we are placing our faith in is real or not. And although this is a "kid’s book", it was thought-provoking for me as a young adult as well.

Shady Glade Rating: 9/10

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (The Olympians)

Aphrodite: Goddess of Love (Olympians) by George O'Connor

When I was growing up, we studied ancient civilizations for our 6th grade social studies class. Well, my 5th grade year, I was in a 5/6 combination class, so I got a “sneak peek” at a lot of the things the 6th graders learned. And I was entranced by their social studies lessons. But most of all, when they got to Ancient Greece, I fell in love with Greek myths. And that’s a love I've continued to this day. 

So when I first heard about George O'Connor Olympians graphic novel series a few years ago, I was really excited. Two of my favorite things, myths and graphic novels, it couldn't possibly go wrong. I've had the pleasure of reading two of previous books in the series, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess and Hades: Lord of the Dead and enjoyed them both. O'Connor has a way of including both well-known and obscure points of the myths he chooses to highlight for his books, and is excellent at exploring the personalities behind each Greek god or goddess.

So when I saw that the newest version of the series was about Aphrodite, I knew I had to read it. Aphrodite has long been my favorite goddess, but other than the story about what led to the Trojan war, and the famous “born on sea foam” creation story, you don’t seem to hear much about her. I had high expectations for this book, and I certainly wasn't disappointed.

There were three things I really enjoyed about this book. First of all, with a graphic novel, the artwork plays such an important part in the characterization and story line. I was surprised that O'Connor chose to make Aphrodite an exotic beauty with long darker hair, instead of the blond haired/blue eyed character you usually see in illustrations. It’s different, but really effective. It sets Aphrodite off as being different from the other Olympians, which really plays well into her creation story line.

Secondly, I really have to admire the way that O'Connor chooses the stories that he includes in his books. They are well researched, and as I mentioned before, he includes several less well known stories in his plot. And although each vignette is technically its own story, he weaves them together in a way that feels like a fluid continuous plot. He also fleshes out the reasons behind the characters’ actions, giving the gods and goddesses an element of humanity. In that regard, I especially liked the conversation Aphrodite has about her motivations for participating in the To the Fairest competition between her, Athena, and Hera that will lead up to the Trojan War.

The third thing I really like about this series is something that makes this book perfect for all ages. O'Connor includes extensive notes, broken down page by page, at the back of the book. This is great for those who aren't as familiar with Greek myths, since the notes shed lights on other myths that influence the stories in the book, as well as explaining some subtle nuances that aren't always obvious in a graphic novel format.

I have to say that Aphrodite: Goddess of Love has definitely been my favorite volume of the Olympians series that I've read so far, and I definitely look forward to reading more books in this series in the future.

Shady Glade Rating: 8/10

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Updates on things

Well, things are finally settling down here, so I suppose it's time to give everyone an update.

I am slowly adjusting to life in Mississippi.  We finally made the move okay, although it was SUPER crazy to get everything done.  I never want to move 2200 miles across country again.  Ugh.

Once we got here, it was a little while to settle down a bit, and then it was of course time to find a job.  Which, I've decided that I HATE job hunting!  But, I have finally been successful, and hope to hear more on that front soon.

So in the meantime, I haven't been doing too much reading since I'm getting adjusted to the much, much smaller library they have out here, and the fact that 95% of my book collection is still in storage in California.  Wah.  Thank goodness for Kindle books!

The other thing keeping me from reading has been the return of my other hobby:
Yes, cross stitch has been warring with my reading time again.  Or maybe just blogging time.  I get around the reading rule a bit by listening to audiobooks while I'm stitching, haha.  I am thinking about starting a stitching exclusive blog too, since I have all this free time, you know?  (yeah right).  But we'll see what happens with that later.

In other news, health issues are still around (stupid thyroid) and getting used to being hot all the time in addition to Mississippi humidity is interesting.  But I'm starting to learn to manage the symptoms better, and find I'm not as tired all the time as much as I used to be, so we're making progress.

So I hope to be getting back into the reviewing thing soon and getting things back to normal.  I don't know with my (hopefully) new work schedule how often I'll be able to post, but I at least want it to look like I'm not entirely missing!