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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater - There's A Sea Serpent in My Bathtub!


Pros: Fun and magical, beautiful illustrations
Cons: None

The Bottom Line: A very sweet book to read to your kids and one that I'm sure both of you will enjoy.

The other day at work (at Barnes & Noble, whoo!), the schedule had a minor hiccup in it and my managers popped up, “Hey Nicole, how would you feel about doing Storytime today?”

Uuuuuhhhh.... I pretty much flatlined, but seeing that neither of them were going to do it and our scheduled Storyteller was MIA, I gave in. The last time I read to kids was...actually I’m not sure. I thought maybe when I babysat but I don’t think that’s right. Probably when my little sister was still little. She’s 21 now. Either way, I picked out a few books, and one of them was facing out and it caught my eye, The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater. How often do you see kids books with sea serpents in them? So I grabbed it up and sat down to read to the small gaggle of gathered kids.

I’m glad I picked that one. It was really cute and the kids seemed to enjoy it more than the first book, How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?. The story is pretty simple. One day a little girl is about to take a bath and turns on the faucet when plop! A tiny sea serpent comes out with the water! She asks him where he came from and he explains that a tornado sucked him up, carried him around, and dropped him in a lake where a pipe sucked him up and plopped him into her bathtub. He needs to go back to the sea, and she agrees to take him, but the next few days bring rain. The sea serpent keeps on growing and soon, he’s so big, he has to go back before getting smooshed up in the house! Except when they both get to the beach, he doesn’t want to leave...

I’ll leave you to imagine whether or not the two friends stay together, but it’s a happy ending either way.

The book doesn’t rhyme or use words that are too simplistic, and instead has a lot of fun ideas and imagery. I’m not sure what the illustrator, Catia Chien, used, but it looks mostly like watercolors, something I always have high respect for because A.) they look fabulous and B.) I could never make watercolors look good. They’re colorful and creative, and really nudges your imagination when the sea serpent tells his new friend about how big he’ll get, what he saw while being carried by the tornado, and what he sees in the sea (“Fish shaped like violins!”). It was so cute, and I love the way Chien drew the serpent, with the little fins on his head and his sometimes goofy smile.

I had a lot of fun reading this aloud and the kids enjoyed it too, some looking a little “Ooh, aah” at the pictures and others simply smiling and staring as I showed the book around. I asked them little questions as we went, “Do you think there are fish shaped like violins in the ocean?” or “Would you want a sea serpent to fall into your bathtub?” I got answers from most of them, haha.

I thought the end was particularly cute, especially when the girl gives the sea serpent a little kiss on the head. I almost wanted to go, “Aaaaw!” Definitely recommend this to adults and children alike (c’mon adults, remember what it was like to be a kid!).

“If you had a sea serpent, would you give him a little kiss?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.” =D

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Song for Sienna" by Brian Crain

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain - No, Not the Candy Kind


Pros: Oooh Gretchen is out! And hey, no serial killers! (er, apart from Gretchen anyway)
Cons: I’m starting to not like Archie…at all. And I don’t buy Gretchen’s escape.

The Bottom Line: Ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? Yeah. Archie's got that. BAD. Makes for an interesting story.

Hmm. Apparently I forgot to write a review about the first book. Anywho, in case you're just tuning in, this is the second book in Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell series. Gretchen is female serial killer who has a Hannibal Lecter-like grip over detective Archie Sheridan. You could get away with reading this book first, but it would be better to read Heartsick first.

This time around, Archie is brought into a string of deaths that may or may not be connected with a government official and a journalist. While trying to decipher all the clues, Gretchen Lowell escapes and guess what? Surprise, surprise - she wants Archie. Will he be able to face her and solve the case? Or will stopping Gretchen once and for all be the last thing he ever does?

First off, Cain gets kudos for bringing all the elements of her story into use. For example, there's mention of a forest fire a few times early on in the story - later on that comes into play. Each character is distinctive, and I really like Henry. Susan has her moments, but she can get kind of annoying at times. Of course, I have no idea why she would be allowed around in some situations, but oh well, that's fiction for you, right?

The murder story is interesting, and even though it had its flaws, I was glad for something different. I mean, if there's a serial killer on the loose in every book, well that's a bit of a problem. Likewise, since most serial killers tend to kill women (as with the first one - and with the exception of Gretchen), I'm just not going to read that. It's too creepy. As a woman, the idea freaks me out, which is why if I read anything with murder mysteries, I tend to want them on the stupid/fun/cozy side. The realistic ones only succeed in giving me the heebie-jeebies.

The main line - Archie vs. Gretchen - is what everyone reads these books for. Gretchen is one messed up woman. I wouldn't classify her as crazy. That's just too easy. No, her brain is wired differently. She knows what she's doing. But she doesn't see things the way most people do. Like Mr. Lecter as she is so often compared to (even by moi). It's a really twisted up game of cat and mouse - like if Tom and Jerry weren't cartoons for kids and did real damage to each other. Yeah. Messed up like that. It's interesting, but I do have a few qualms about it. First of all, I don't buy Gretchen's escape. At all. One, you don't move someone that dangerous with just two guards. Two, do you know what kind of weapon you need to cut off head? Do you know how much time and effort that would take? Sorry, but that's just not feasible.

I'm also getting to the point where Archie needs to either kill Gretchen or die himself. Not that I don't like Archie, but whoa is that guy scrambled. Then again, I guess I can't say he didn't try...

It's a good yarn if you like murder mysteries that aren't ridiculous/cozy/fun. It's dark, bloody, and with the appropriate number of decomposing corpses here and there.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein - Indeed She Is


Pros: A solid science fiction read
Cons: Not for everyone – a lot of telling/info dumping

The Bottom Line: If you feel like reading some Robert A. Heinlein, this isn't really a bad place to start, but you have to know what you're getting into beforehand.

As a part of the Book Club run by Calico Reaction, April's book was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein. I was all for it (and yeah, so my review is a tad bit late), and eager to do a bit more Heinlein. I'd already read Starship Troopers, so something else might be interesting.

To be sure, it was. Mannie lives on Luna (the moon) where originally Earth sent convicts (sort of like England with Australia). But over time, it's grown into its own little nation, but the Authority is still screwing everyone over. It's about time for a revolution. At first, Mannie isn't on board, but as the idea grows, it may be possible. With the help of a professor, an energetic young woman, a man from Earth, and a computer that's become self-aware, pulling off their revolution might just work and Luna will once and for all be free.

This s one of those SF books that you read and think, "Tee hee, the 80s" because there are clearly a few things that Heinlein didn't think ahead on. Mostly because it's hard to think so far ahead. I can't specifically remember what some of those instances were, but there were a few and it doesn't really matter anyway because, hey, it's Heinlein and you ought to know better.

What may turn people off at the onset of this book is that it's in first person and Mannie doesn't speak English in the way we do. There are a lot of articles missing, and initially I thought I'd gotten a bad copy of the book and whoever was in charge or proofreading should have been fired. Then I realized what was going on. Mannie has some Russian in/around him, so that's how I managed to cope. I started to read it and use a Russian accent in my head. Okay, so I was going off movies instead of actual Russian, but I found that it helped a great deal and after a while began to read quite fluidly. (And anyone who thinks it's too hard, try to decipher some of the tod's speech in The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams).

While I did enjoy the book, it did take some time to get into. It moves slowly at first, and it wasn't hard for me to put the book down. It maintained my curiosity though, so it wasn't too terribly hard to pick back up after things got interesting. However, at a certain point, there's no true action and instead we're pretty much being told the story by Mannie. Not as it's happening, but as it has already happened, which means no "showing" and a whole lot of info dumping. A lot of things in this book are the very same things most writers, agents, and editors today will tell you not to do because it turns off readers, plain and simple.

There are ideas in this book I found quite interesting, I liked how Heinlein displayed the role of women on Luna (there aren't many, so they pretty much have the run of the place in a way, and messing with a woman is an offense punishable by death), though I didn't quite understand line marriages. But that's sort of unimportant in the big scheme of things.

Bottom line, did I enjoy the book? Yes. Would I recommend it? Sure. But you need to either be familiar with Heinlein's work and/or style first otherwise you might be confused or turned off and possibly put the book down after a handful of pages.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Obsession" by Sky Ferreira

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren - How Many Secrets Can One Lifetime Hold?


Pros: A book you can't put down.
Cons: I've got nothin'.

The Bottom Line: More secrets for the world to share. They can even teach us something if we're willing to open up...

Back in 2004, a man named Frank Warren started the PostSecret project, a community art project that took in postcards from people of all backgrounds. These postcards, sent anonymously, all contained someone’s secret. It is now 2007 and Warren has received thousands and thousands of postcards all carrying secrets. What started as a famous blog and an art exhibit has transformed into four fascinating books, the original PostSecret, My Secret, The Secret Lives of Men and Women, and this book, A Lifetime of Secrets.

The central theme to this particular collection of secrets goes from the cradle to the grave. Secrets people have carried about their childhood, school, moving into parents, marriage, old age, death, and all that can happen in between. The secrets aren’t just notes on everyday postcards. They’re creative, unique, and utilize all sorts of mediums to tell their secret, from paper clippings and watercolors to yarn and staples, from personal photos and study notes to x-rays and crayons. Each secret is a piece of art in itself, and each one is poignant that may strike a chord somewhere inside you or make you giggle with a memory or simply feel for whomever wrote that secret, either in joy or in sorrow.

It’s a truly fascinating read and I read this right after finishing My Secret. I finished both in about an hour, but your time may be faster or slower. It depends on how much you want to examine and admire the postcards themselves or zero in on the secret you’ve just read. Here are a few, though it’s really best to go find the book at a library or bookstore so you can actually see the scribbled or scripted handwriting or pasted letters onto a sheet of paper or designer cardstock. The presentation adds 20 times more punch to the secret. Some I can’t even write because you need the photo or background to understand the rest of the secret, and some secrets are too deep even for someone to write down anonymously.

I wish my dad was still alive…so he could scare away the boys.

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My mom had an affair with the first boy I ever kissed and I don’t know who I’m more embarrassed for—me, him or her. ???

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I steal spoons from restaurants.

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I stopped wearing panties to the office weeks ago. Work has never felt so refreshing!

I’d love to list more, but they’re all just so interesting. I’ll probably read this book a few more times before I have to return it to the library, and by then I hope the other PostSecret books are back so I can get my hands on them. You never know what secret you’ll get from someone, be that person a 10-year-old by admission or someone working to beat cancer or someone ready to let go of the rest of the world. There’s even a secret from someone who heard about PostSecret.com and slipped their own secret inside a book at the bookstore. I’d thought of mailing in my own little secret, but I think perhaps I’ll leave mine inside this book instead (or maybe one at the book store) as an extra bonus secret to whomever takes the book home next.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

Notes from the playlist: "Airplanes" by B.o.B (featuring Hayley Williams)

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