Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Fish Finelli; Seagulls Don't Eat Pickles

Title: Fish Finelli; Book One: Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles
Author: E.S. Farber
Genre: Children’s Chapter Book 

About the Book (taken from Goodreads): When bully Bryce Billings bets Fish Finelli that he can't find Captain Kidd's legendary long-lost treasure, Fish and his friends embark on a quest to find real-life pirate treasure. Between sneaking into the library to track down Captain Kidd's map, stowing away on a boat, and trespassing on an island, Fish and his friends have their work cut out for them. But will Fish actually be able to find Captain Kidd's booty and win the bet? Appropriate for both boys and girls, this first book in the Fish Finelli series will inspire readers to use their imaginations, learn about the world around them, and appreciate the bonds of friendship.

My Review:
Great book for kids who like facts, not fantasy and enjoy reading low anxiety adventure stories. With so many dark and creepy middle grade books out there, Fish Finnelli is a refreshing summer-fun mystery full of humor and light thrills. 

Packed with fun facts, fourth grade humor, and pirate treasure (what more could you want?) this is a great “read-to” for six and seven year olds, while kids ages eight and up will be reading it to themselves. Due to the simplicity of the plot however, I would say fourth grade is the limit as this book will come across as highly implausible to older kids.

The writing is clean and simple and Farber mostly uses dialogue to keep the story rolling. Fish, Roger, and T.J. sound like real boys, but there is no gross humor just “goose poop,” silly puns, secret codes, and acronyms. Scientific facts break up the narrative throughout and though mostly helpful and amusing, at times they become wearisome and gum up the pace of the story.

Overall: Love the factoids in the margins, the illustrations, and the laugh out loud boy humor. The plot is pretty simple and the characters one-dimensional, so I would draw the line at fourth grade; younger kids will be laughing while older ones will be rolling their eyes. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Title: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Author: Karen Foxlee
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy, modern day fairy tale 

About the book (Taken from Goodreads): Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.

My Review:
In a word: enchanting. This brilliantly told, magical modern day fairy tale had me from beginning to end. I instantly fell in love with Foxlee’s writing style and her quirky characters. I love fairy tales retold and this is a charming spin on a very old classic– the Snow Queen. 
Ophelia’s curiosity, asthma, self-doubt, and scientific mind make her a quirky, hilarious, and endearing character. She doesn’t want to believe in magic, even when the evidence is all around her. She’s quite sure she is neither brave nor clever, but keeps proving herself wrong at every turn.

“Wizards, she thought, when she gained her composure. What good were they if they couldn't tell you how to do stuff, if they were always talking in riddles and saying they knew everything before it even happened? It wasn't very helpful.

If she were a wizard, she'd write reports for people. She'd make sure everything was very clear. She'd write, Looking for a magical sword? No problem. Go to the fifth floor, turn left, open a large wooden chest, et cetera, et cetera. She'd have check boxes. Found your magical sword? Place X here. (Pg. 190)”

Overall: Five Stars. This story was spun with pure magic.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Scarlet by A.C Gaughen

Title: Scarlet 
Author: A.C. Gaughen 
Genera: YA, folk tale retelling, romance

The Blurb (taken from Goodreads): Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

My Review:
This story is written in first person, and I’ll admit it took me a few pages to get used to the voice, but it quickly fades into such an integral part of the main character that the book would not be what it is without it: “I don’t like that Rob thinks he’s better than us, and I don’t like how women get nothing for their own selves.” 
The best thing about this book is the fact you love who you are supposed to love and absolutely hate who you are supposed to hate. The Hood’s little band (Robin, Much, John, and Scar) are incredibly likable. Feeling the love? You’ll really feel the hate! It’s all too easy to utterly despise the Sherif of Nottinghamshire and recoil from the oh so evil and creepy Thief Taker! 

Two small Disappointments:

1. Clich├ęd Romance: the YA love triangle (Oh what? Two boys like her! Oooh lets watch her struggle in self-deprecating romantic agony: wanting, wanting, can’t having, can’t having– Oh then the clutching. Clutch … clutch...).

2. The “Oh I’m not pretty, but wait … I so am!” Enough said. 

Overall: Four Stars. Rollicking plot (forgot to mention that above) intense and utterly excellent characters, great style and voice. If I hadn’t had to roll my eyes so much I would give it five stars, but just the same a fun book and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy/ Paranormal

About the Book (taken from Goodreads): A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photos. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sends sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

My Review:
Like most people, I was drawn to this book because of its delightfully creepy cover and the old photographs scattered throughout. It is important to note here, that these are vintage photographs taken from personal collections; they were not digitally created for this book. 
The set up for this story is as brilliant as it is intriguing! Riggs builds up anticipation with ease, combining the mysterious photos with the terrifying paranormal tales of his grandfather in WWII. His writing is also truly excellent; the voice never falters and the descriptions never lose their edge. 
I will say however, that once Jacob (the main character) begins to unveil the truth, the story loses much of its pace and tension. While the mystery thickens, it pulls you in with a gripping force, but as soon as the secrets begin to unravel, the plot goes slack. Inside the Home for Peculiar Children, the characters fell flat; much of their behavior and conversation sounds forced and the actions stilted. For quite some time there are few truly terrifying moments and all too many long explanations. The pace picks up again, but for reasons I can’t quite explain, the story never really pulled me back in. 

Overall: Three Stars. For me, the build up was more than the story. The anticipation of something so wickedly creepy and bizarre is so great, that once the answers are unveiled, it is as if the entire plot has deflated.

However, I must point out again, that the writing style is excellent. When true literary writers are hard to find (especially among the YA paranormal genre), Riggs is far ahead of the game. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Covers Up on Amazon!

This is Edwin Riddle reporting that the SSDB's new books covers (made by yours truly) are up and running on amazon. In celebration, all books in the series are 99 cents. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review: Igraine the Brave

Title: Igraine the Brave
Author: Cornelia Funke
Genre: Medieval Fantasy/ Magic

About the Book... 
The Pimpernel Castle is home to a family of three magicians, a whole lot of mice, a talking cat, and one wanna-be knight: Igraine. Igraine comes from a long line of great magicians, including her exceptionally talented parents, but she doesn’t care a wit about magic, she wants to be a knight!
When a second-rate wizard who goes by the name Osmund the Greedy shows up with and his dastardly Knight, Rowan the Heartless (AKA the Iron Hedgehog), the castle is thought to be in danger. However, it isn’t until some misspoken magic turns Igraine’s parents into pigs, that Igraine must take on a quest to save her parents, her home, and the magical books kept safe inside the castle walls. 

My Review. . . 
Unfortunately, right from the first page the writing seemed a little off. Not quite what I expected from the expert storyteller that Cornelia Funke is. Although the book is a nice mix of endearing characters, adventure, and medieval magic, the narrative weighs down the action and somehow removes all tension from the plot. At no point does your pulse quicken or, for even a moment, you fear any of the main characters might be in real danger. 
I don’t see this as entirely negative, although the age of the protagonist (Igraine) is twelve, I feel the book may be more suited for 8 to10 year olds. This would be an excellence book for advanced readers. It will expose them to a higher vocabulary, but without the darker, scarier side of upper middle grade fantasy. 
Overall: Three Stars. The book is fun and although adventurous, there are no truly “scary bits.” It is definitely G rated and in truth a very “cute” adventure, but likely to come across as rather boring to older readers.