Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Picture Book Review: The Queen of the Frogs

The Queen of the Frogs
Davide Cali and Marco Soma
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017
Genre: Picture Book
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

**I received this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
It is available to purchase on March 20, 2017.

In The Queen of the Frogs, a normal, every day frog finds a crown and becomes queen.  But what does that mean?  What does a queen do?  Well her fellow frogs have many ideas about what it means to be queen and so she follows them all and things change for their little community.

The pictures in this book are whimsical and depict the frogs in little outfits, including old fashioned swimming suits, plaid pants, and sweater vests.  The story is also fun as we see the frogs fawning over their new queen in different ways.  The big issue I have with the story is that at the end, they are watching a couple on a bridge (wait, what bridge?).  Apparently the couple used to argue on the bridge (we've seen them before?) but now they are very happy together.  These last two pages threw the entire thing for me because it seemed unnecessary.  I was actually pretty surprised to even see anymore pages because the story seemed to have ended.

So overall I'd say it's a cute read and the pictures are very beautiful, but it's not a must-own for me.  For now, we'll pass on this one, or borrow from the library.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Musings: The Old Lady Who Read YA

Monday Musings is a weekly post in which I talk about whatever I would like to talk about.  Often it's book related.  Sometimes it's not.

I'm 35 years old.  Wait... yes that's correct.  I'm seriously always losing track of exactly how old I am.  No joke.  I just had to think it through to see if I am 35 or 36.  Is it because my birthday is at the end of the year, so I'm subconsciously subtracting the 1981 from the current year, even though my birthday is still 10 months away?  Maybe.  But I digress.

We're here to discuss the Old Lady Who Read YA.  That's me.  Although I really don't consider myself old--at all.  More often than not, I'm struck by the fact that I am an a adult.  And not a just-turn-21-adult, but like a real adult.  I'm even a mom.  I'm in charge of a classroom full of children.  This is all very strange to me.  Who in their right mind would allow someone so young to be so independent?  Oh yeah... I'm 35.

Many people think that means I should be reading "adult" books.  Which I do sometimes--mostly when my husband has teased me enough and I feel the need to prove to him that I can and do read books that are written for teenagers or middle schoolers. When I'm asked what I'm reading, I can see that look that tells me they don't appreciate the greatness of MG and YA reads.  And I also find myself not always able to join in books with other adult readers because I haven't read anything they have recently.

But here's the secret folks:  Middle Grade and YA books are so much better than most adult books.  Seriously!  I mean think about the character development.  Pre-teens and Teens are naturally going through so much change and development that it's almost impossible not to have great character development happening.  I'm not saying that it's easy to write MG and YA books, but that there is so much growth potential.  And as much as I love character development, I also want my book to move along.  The plot has to go somewhere.  Good MG and YA has both strong character development and a plot that pulls you in and makes you stay up all night to see what happens next!

Then there's nostalgia.  I already mentioned above that I don't feel old (well maybe physically sometimes).  I'm not sure if that why I like YA or if it's because I read MG and YA that I feel that way.  Who knows.

Why do you read YA or MG?  Do you go back and forth?  Does it make you feel younger?  Older?

Next week's musing: Half-stars in ratings

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Musings: ARCs

Monday Musings is a weekly post in which I talk about whatever I would like to talk about.  Often it's book related.  Sometimes it's not.

People seem to have very strong views about ARCs.  If you're not sure what this means, it stands for "Advanced Reader Copy" and it means that this copy was an advanced release, given out for review purposes before the publishing date.

I have not received any hard copies of ARCs myself.  I don't attend book conferences (I can't afford it and the ones I could "swing" happen during the school year) and I'm not big enough for authors and publishers to reach out to me and offer them.  No big deal.  I'm not blogging to get ARCs.  If I was, I would have quit  by now!

I have, however used NetGalley to get e-ARCs or digital copies of the book, so I got to read a few books before they were published.  Again, my blog isn't popular enough to get flagged for the really popular books.  No biggie.  I found a couple of books that I later bought for my classroom!

However, I haven't read an ARC in ages.  It's been about a year.  Why?  Because there is too much pressure and I needed to back off the pressure.  Pressure? To read?  What?  Yes, pressure.  Because when you accept an ARC, there is the expectation that you will read and review it before publication.  This truly seems fair since you're getting a book for free, right? So there's a deadline and my life gets a little too hectic to have too many deadlines (I have enough deadlines for work!).  Plus, I just wanted to read all these other books that were already out.  What about those? I was missing out on those!  So I gave up on my pursuit of ARCs.  I'm considering going back to Netgalley, but trying to be more selective and only choosing books that have far publishing dates, so that I can read them and review them in time.

What are your thoughts on ARCs?  Do you love them?  Have you ever tried NetGalley or Edelweiss?  Or have you sworn them off?  

Next week's musing: The greatness of MG and YA

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Excitement!

I am super excited about two books that just arrived!  I spent some very precious reading time re-reading the first books in the series for both of these.  Now I have them both in my hands and I can't read fast enough!

Unfortunately I haven't' finished reading them yet!  I haven't even started...  I'm actually still reading Glass Sword again before I can start King's Cage.  I think I'll go straight to King's Cage because I will NOT be able to stop myself.  Then I'll jump back into The Dark Days Pact.  

The difficult decisions!  

I love books. Just saying.

Have you read either of these series?  What do you think?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday Musings: My Three Wishes

Monday Musings is a weekly post in which I talk about whatever I would like to talk about.  Often it's book related.  Sometimes it's not.

Not necessarily book related, but my wishes might be book related!  Also, these are all purely selfish and fantastical.  There are no noble wishes here.

1) I wish I had Hermione's time turner--for real.  I mean I know we all say we want more time to do things and that we would like to be in two places at once, but realize how difficult it would be and how it could completely mess up the space-time-continuum or whatever.  I, however, would like to have time each night after my daughter has gone to sleep to do the following: read a book (one entire book, or if it's super long, then half), plan the most awesome lessons, grade and give detailed feedback on all 120 students, work on my blog, write/work on writing, catch up on any and all TV shows that I would like to watch, play a crossword, sleep.  I want to do all of this every night.  No biggie.

2) The ability to eat it all.  And not gain massive amount of weight.  Enough said.

3)  My simplest wish: To always have warm, fresh out of the dryer towels when I'm finished showering.  I don't want towel warmers.  I want that fresh and fully feeling every time I step out of the shower.

What are your 3 indulgent wishes?

Next week's musing: ARCS

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Review: Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon

Camo Girl
Kekla Magoon
Aladdin, 2012
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Diverse Reads, Middle Grade, Being Yourself
Rating: 4 out of 5

Ella has been friend with Z forever.  He was there for her when she needed it the most and pulled her out of her darkness.  Even though being friends with Z is difficult, especially as he sinks more and more into his own dark world, Ella can't leave him behind.  So she endures.  They are a pair--a pair who get made fun of on a regular basis.  Ella gets made fun of because she is the only black girl at her school and her face is covered with patches of different colors.  Z is made of fun because he acts weird--very weird.  When a new boy arrives at school, Ella is ecstatic because he too is black.  She's finally going to have someone who is like her! Only now it seems like she has to make choice between Z, the friend who was always there for her and desperately needs her now, or Bailey, the friend who likes, really likes her. 

There were parts of Camo Girl that were difficult to read because my heart was just breaking.  It broke so much for Ella.  She is a lucky girl.  Although her father recently died from cancer, she lives with a grandmother who encourages her to stand up and be the strong girl she sees, and a mother who loves her so very much.  She has a friend in Z like none other--but she knows that something isn't right with him now.  And Ella's other friend has abandoned her because Z is too weird and all the other kids know it too, but she's trying so hard to help him, to keep things normal for him and for her.  Then, when she does try to do something without Z, it breaks both of them because Ella doesn't know how to explain it to him so he will understand--if he can understand.

Through all of this, Ella is trying so hard to accept who she is, but she can't.  She does her best to go through her day without looking the mirror.  She doesn't want to see herself and be reminded of the way she looks.  Every day she is reminded by the bullies in her school who call her "Camo Girl" and trip her while she walks by.  Every day she remembers what Z did for her on the day her father died and she cannot abandon him--not like everyone else has.

This book is about acceptance, not so much acceptance of others, although that is here.  It's about accepting oneself and accepting the truth.  It takes a lot of Ella to accept the truth about Z and take the steps needed to help him--but will it be too late?

I definitely recommend Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon.  It's in my classroom library and has already flown off the shelf!  Definitely a great read for middle schoolers as they try to find themselves in this world and accept who they are.  It's a clean read that deals with real life issues kids face in a realistic and authentic way.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

S. Jae-Jones
St. Martin's Press, 2017
Genre: YA/NA, Fantasy
Rating 3 out of 5

*Thank you to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Liesl has spent her life in the shadow of her beautiful sister and talented brother, listening to the reveling in the stories her grandmother tells her of the Goblin King.  Now, at 19, she has left that fantasy world behind and resigned herself to the life of a spinster--until her beautiful sister is taken by the Goblin King.  Now Liesl must go to the Underworld and return her sister to the world above, but her Goblin King won't make that task easy for her.  In her quest, Liesl, who has spent most of her life believing she is less than, begins to discover who she is and what talents she possesses.  She also begins to see the Goblin King as more than just her Goblin King--which could be detrimental if she plans to return to the world above.

Some spoilers are included below.

I struggled with Wintersong.  Most of it I really enjoyed--especially the first half.  Liesl spends much of the first half of the book looking for her sister Kathe, finding her in the Underworld, and then figuring out a way to escape with her.  The Goblin King is constantly making this difficult for her, but Liesl is determined to rescue her sister--she must do so.  The pace of the first half of the book was fairly quick.

I had a hard time really liking Liesl in the beginning.  She never chose herself.  She was always looking at herself as less-than and therefore her needs and desire were less-than. Her entire focus is on taking care of others--but not herself.  In order to make sure others are taken care of, she must deny herself.  But by the second half of the book, she embraces her desires, her wants, her needs.  Unfortunately, I still didn't like her that much.  But I was still rooting for her.

The writing itself is beautiful.  Despite the fact that you're in a fantasy world, it's easy to picture yourself there and to see what Liesl sees.  You can understand much of what she's feeling and the pain.  SPOILER ALERT!:  When the Goblin King refuses Liesl's advances, I felt for her so much that I thought I was going to cry.  Liesl doesn't understand--and neither did I completely--and she is hurt in so many ways that this is just one more thing he has done to her.  Every time he refuses her, I felt her hurt.

One thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the romance between Liesl and the Goblin King.  It was haphazard, confusing, and off and on.  Her desire for him was intense within romance scenes, but then it would fade out and I couldn't tell if she wanted him because she wanted him, or if she wanted him because he broke her down--which she spoke of often.  That's what really pulled me out of the romance.  Every time they had intense romantic scenes, they were described in very rough and animalistic ways, which isn't a big deal to me.  It was the afterward that brought me out of the story. Liesl spoke about how he broke her down.  There were many references to his breaking her.  In most cases I would not be okay with it, but knowing the rest of the story, maybe I can accept this?  But can I?

The pacing is where I really wasn't happy.  Like I said at the beginning, the first half of the book was well-paced.  We're with Liesl and her sister when the Goblin King first appears in their fringes, we're with her as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her sister has been taken, when she has to fight her way to the Underworld.  We're with her when she finally arrives and must navigate the confusing parties and goblin lore as she tries desperately to save her sister.  Then she becomes the Goblin QUeen and everything just slows down.  Not much happens besides the romance scene and playing music.  I'm also not much of a musical person so a lot of what Liesl talks about in the way of composing sonatas was lost on me.  It something I had to get through in order to get to the next part of the story where something else happened.

Overall, I enjoyed Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones.  It could have been paced a little quicker in the second half, but it was still good.  If you're looking at this for younger readers, there is some pretty heavy sex scenes, a lot of talk about death (he is the king of the Underworld after all), and other themes that don't sit very well for younger audiences.  I would say readers should be at the very least in high school--not a middle grade book.