Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem Peli

Laughing EyesLaughing Eyes

by Haya Magner, Miri Leshem-Peli (Illustrator)
Kindle Edition, 27 pg.
Tzameret Books Ltd, 2017

Read: January 8, 2018

I . . . I don’t know what to say here. This is a collection of poems for young children — they are clearly earnest, carefully composed, and intended to uplift the spirits of young readers.

And I just didn’t get it, at least most of it. Seriously, I don’t know why, but I didn’t understand most of these poems. As this is a book intended for 2-7 year olds, that bothers me. I’m hoping, hoping it’s a cultural thing and that readers from Israel get what she’s saying.

The illustrations, though? Leshem Peli’s artwork is warm, inviting and eye-catching. It’s exactly what these kind of books should be full of.

I feel pretty bad about this, but I just didn’t like the book. Hopefully most of Magner’s audience are smarter than me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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2 Stars

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My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

2017 Best Children’s/Picture Books

I’m not sure why people started sending me Children’s/Picture books. I’m fine with it, don’t get me wrong, I honestly enjoy them — I just don’t understand why people started sending them to me. But I’ll gladly read any sent my way. There was enough diversity in the one’s I received this year that I wanted to highlight those I enjoyed the most. If people are putting out material like this, I think it gives hopes that little kids will be turned on to books the way I was as a toddler.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Snobbity SnowmanSnobbity Snowman

by Maria Bardyukova, Quiet Riley, Jr.
My original post

Fun art work. Some fantastic use of language (especially when read aloud). A nice little story with a good moral. Ticks off every box.
4 Stars

Henry and the Hidden TreasureHenry and the Hidden Treasure

by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen (Illustrator)
My original post

Was honestly tempted to put this on my 2018 Best Fiction list — I really loved this one, and wish I knew a kid to buy it for. Great imagination that will likely inspire someone else’s.
4 Stars

The Day My Fart Followed Me To HockeyThe Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey

by Sam Lawrence & Ben Jackson, Danko Herrera (Illustrator)
My original post

Anthropomorphic flatulence — what little kid isn’t going to pay attention to this? Adorable art, cute story.
3 Stars

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova & Quiet Riley, Jr.

Snobbity SnowmanSnobbity Snowman

by Maria Bardyukova, Quiet Riley, Jr.
Kindle Edition, 34 pg.
2017

Read: December 20, 2017


That cover tells you almost everything you need to know. Great cover.

Snobbity is not your typical Snowman — he’s got himself an attitude (although that might be more about what he’s made from, not anything wrong with him) and shortly after we meet him, things get rough for him. But there’s a lesson to be learned and as he does, things pick up for Snobbity. It’s pretty straightforward, with a nice twist toward the end.

One thing that ran through my head while reading this: this book would be so much fun to read to a kid. It starts the way pretty much every snowman story has to (the construction), then the language gets fun, then the story turns to sentimental/the lesson. Up and down and back up again, with a good movement forward. It’s something for for the grown up reader to sink their teeth into and entertain the audience.

The art is dynamic, it moves — right through the story, and helping the reader along — it’s goofy while heartfelt. Almost as much fun as the text. It’s just what the pre-reader/early reader will respond to.

This is a lot of fun with a good amount of hope — highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest opinions — I think the authors, this was fun.

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4 Stars

Elephant Wind by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager

Elephant WindElephant Wind

by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
Train 4 Safety Press, 2017
Read: December 12, 2017


So the day care is having a field trip to a science fair and the local tornado siren goes off, the teacher rushes the kids to the shelter and then starts answering questions for the frightened kids. She calms them, tells them what’s going on and how they (and their parents) can stay safe in the middle of a tornado. It’s a great way to respond to a time like this and a great way to lure in the readers so they will absorb the same lessons.

Now, I’m not convinced that you’re going to get kids living in an area that has the tornado shelters and sirens, etc. that are that old and not have some clue about what’s going on (sure, maybe a couple of people who’ve just moved into the area, but not that many) — but this book isn’t trying to go for accuracy, it’s trying to teach something. Like, say, about tornado shelters and sirens to kids so they know what they are before being taken to a shelter by their day care teacher. Basically, sure, it’s a plot problem, but this book doesn’t care about things like that.

Storywise, it’s just different enough from Tummy Rumble Quake (well, this was actually published first, I guess, but I read them in this order. Still, technically, Tummy Rumble Quake is just different enough from this), which is a pretty tricky thing to pull off, but will keep some kids from tuning out — it’s not just a case of “here we go again.” The ways to stay safe are clear, and will help minimize the fearfulness of the situation.

Again, on behalf of parents with little musical ability, some tips on how to sing this mnemonic song (a tune suggestion, perhaps), would be very helpful and welcome. The inclusion of the song is a great idea.

Sager’s art did the job — good use of colors and details, without overwhelming the reader and distracting them from the text. The tornado-elephant mashup pictures were an inspired choice — one suggested by the text, no doubt, but the execution was spot-on.

A wonderful idea and I’m pretty sure a great help for those in areas where this is a lesson to be taught. I’d encourage parents and others to grab this one, too.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3 Stars

Tummy Rumble Quake by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager

Tummy Rumble QuakeTummy Rumble Quake

by Heather L. Beal, Jubayda Sager (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
Train 4 Safety Press, 2017
Read: December 12, 2017


So the class (or whatever you call them) at this day care center is prepping for something called the Great ShakeOut (apparently a real thing — I’m glad to hear that it exists), which is an Earthquake Preparedness activity. As part of that, they learn a bit about what causes earthquakes, what to do during one to say safe, and get some questions answered about the safety of others.

So you get a little bit of a narrative — just enough to give the kids something to hang on to — and you run it through some basic lessons that are given in a way to help the reader (or person being read to) remember and learn from them. I don’t know if seismologists would use the comparison to a rumbling tummy, but how many of them write children’s books? It’s a comparison that’ll stick.

My main — really, only — gripe with this is the song. There’s no way to know how to sing this — I’m sure it’s best set to a familiar tune, but I have no idea what would work. I’d want to sing this to any kids I read this to/with — and I have so little musical ability that there’s no way I could even begin to guess what it should sound like. It’s a great idea, and just the kind of thing that’d help cement the lessons in the mind of the target audience. But without a tune, it’s just a little rhyme that isn’t nearly as effective.

Sager’s art does the job — the colors are great and eye-catching. It’s clearly drawn on a computer, but retains a hand-drawn feel. I can’t say I was dazzled by it, but I can also say that I’ve seen worse. I can’t imagine many children in the target audience wouldn’t find the illustrations suitable and effective (but probably not in those words).

This book is such a great idea — really. I like the concept, I think the execution is good, too. This is the kind of thing that’ll implant itself in little brains and stay there for years. Parents, teachers, librarians, grandparents, and so on would really do well to pick this up and put it in front of young eyes.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3 Stars

Something had to give…

Yeah, nothing for a couple of days here — just how I want to follow-up one of the best weeks I’ve had traffic/share/etc.-wise. I’ve got a couple of posts ready to go for Friday, and I’ve finished 5 books already this week, so it’s not like I’m hurting for material. Just hurting on time and energy.

There’s a good reason for this — and I’ll talk about it sometime. In the meantime, come back Friday.