Quick Pick Reviews #10

Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle // by Betty MacDonald (1957)

Genre: MG, Magical Realism

hello-mrs.-piggle-wiggleMy Thoughts: I love Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I love reading about her cures for unruly, unhappy, and unfortunate children. I just happened upon this book at a used book sale and picked it up for a bargain. This is the fourth book in the series and I don’t know if I’ve actually read this one before now. I don’t recall any of the stories.

I do think the stories in the first books are slightly better than these ones. There’s definitely a formula in MacDonald’s writing and I can imagine she was starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it came to writing this one. Still, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle at her worst is still worth the read!

It’s always fun to see the creativity for how Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle will solve the problem at hand. The final story is, I think, my favourite in the book. It ends with, not only the original child getting a change of attitude… but the whole family! [3.5 Stars]


The Land of Stories: Treasury of Classic Fairy Tales // by Chris Colfer (2016)

Genre: MG, Fairy Tales

treasury-classic-fairy-talesMy Thoughts: I’ve never read the Land of Stories series before. I’m guessing they’re books that retell fairy tales, which means they probably give their own spin to the original stories. One thing I’ve noticed with such books, they don’t mean much if you aren’t familiar with the original accounts. So, my guess is meant to remedy to that… By giving us the famous fairy tales and folk tales like: Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks, etc. (Each tale does mention whether it was based on the Grimm Brothers’ retelling or Hans Christian Andersen’s story or whatever.)

Most of the stories were exactly what I remember them to be, which was nice. However, there were a few little things that bothered me. I don’t understand why the author changed some strange details. Now, it’s possible that I don’t remember these details… like Rapunzel having a child during the time when she’s parted from the prince (before he finds her after he’s blinded). (What?! Why?! What is purpose of this baby?!) Or there are some little details that he got wrong, like when Snow White’s mother pricks her finger on a knitting needle. Does the author even know what a knitting needle is? No knitting needle I’ve ever seen is so sharp as to draw three drops of blood?

But those things weren’t major and overall I did enjoy the stories! [3.5 stars]


Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

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Photo Challenge #43 / After Dark

20180720ma_3925“Shadows on the Ground” / Theme: After Dark

A little about this photo…

When I saw these shadows, I ran to get my camera. I wanted to capture the patterns that were being cast on this concrete. I thought it’d work well to post just before Halloween!


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

5 Reasons Why I Shouldn’t Like Nancy Drew… But I Do!

20181025ma_5554**WARNING: I do not recommend reading this blog post if you’re actually in the target audience for Nancy Drew. (Although, do kids age 10-12 even read blog posts like this?)**

I’m going to do a little twist on my 5 Reasons posts. Let me say this first: I love Nancy Drew! I devoured these books when I was a pre-teen. I loved Nancy’s confidence and independence. I loved the friendship of Bess and George and how they’re always there for Nancy. I love Ned and how he was able to add that little bit of romance to the stories. And I loved the mysteries.

But…

I’ve been rereading some of those mysteries and I realize that… well, they are not the great literature I once thought they were. Reading them through the eyes of an adult… well, if they weren’t filled with nostalgia, I’d probably DNF pretty quickly.

But…

I will still recommend these books to young people. And I have actually recommended these books to young people. Why? Because there’s something in Nancy Drew that transcends the “badness” of the books. So, before I go on, let me tell you what I mean about badness…

1) Nancy Drew, meet Mary Sue

(This point even rhymes!)

If you don’t know what a Mary Sue is… she’s basically perfect in every way. Wait! Take out the basically. Mary Sues are perfect. No flaws. Period.

“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.”  This is from a parody of a Star Trek fanfic story. And it’s where we get the name Mary Sue. (This Mary Sue is so Mary Sue-ish that she manages to impress Spock with her flawless logic.)

But as you will see, the Mary Sue trope happened long before with another character. You got it: Nancy Drew.

Now, to be strictly true to the definition, a Mary Sue is also a character that wows canon characters that have come before her (or him, since a Mary Sue can also be male). Okay, so the Nancy Drew mysteries don’t quite do this. It’s not like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple or Father Brown pop in to be impressed by Nancy’s sleuthing skills. (This isn’t fan fic!) But Mr. Carson Drew is a good stand-in. He’s always described as the best lawyer in River Heights… which is somehow connected to him solving mysteries himself (I guess, legal mysteries?) And yes, Mr. Drew is certainly impressed with the skills of his 18-year-old daughter.

Consider Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane – Nancy wins first prize for a flower arrangement. (Actually, this part of the plot is not necessary to the actual story!) Why does she have to WIN?

2) The Writing is Kind of… (Ahem) Bad

Yikes! I hate to say this, but the writing is actually quite bad. There is no subtext. No subtlety. And there are way too many adverbs. Here, I’ll give you an example:

Nancy did not reply immediately, but her chums noticed that she appeared to scan the woods searchingly.

“You don’t really think he might be hiding along this road, do you?” Bess demanded anxiously.

#7 – The Clue in the Diary (Chapter XIV, 1931 edition)

Talk about unnecessary adverbs: Searchingly? Really? How else would you scan the woods?? And Bess’s remark is already tinged with anxiety, you don’t need to tell us that!

3) Full of Coincidence

Nancy has more luck than a leprechaun. Clues just fall into her lap! Let’s go again with Book #10 – Password to Larkspur Lane. A homing pigeon JUST HAPPENS to fall into the yard at the Drews’ home. Nancy just happens to know that there’s a special organization that you call if a homing pigeon were ever to fall into your lap. She just happens to see Dr. Spire being “kidnapped”. Then Hannah Gruen just happens to have a fall going down the stairs so that they need to go to the doctor’s house to have her checked out. And while they’re there, Nancy just happens to take a phone call, which just happens to have a similar message to the message found on the homing pigeon. Need I go on?

That’s A LOT of coincidence. A little too much.

And here’s the thing that I love. The author knows this. I love how she (he, actually, since the ghostwriter on this book was Walter Karig) makes Nancy say: “This mystery just dropped into my lap.” 😉

4) Events Don’t Flow from One Book to the Next

In #16 – The Clue of the Tapping Heels, Nancy learns Morse code and tap dancing. But neither of these ever come into any of the other books… at least, not that I can remember.

It’s kind of like each book re-sets at the end. This is probably due to the many different writers who wrote under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Also, it means that the books can be read out of order. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing!)

However, the result of this is that there is no growth for Nancy or any of her pals from book to book.

(One slight exception to this rule may be the character Helen. She appears in the early books and her big change is the fact that she gets married. But she soon disappears from the books after this happens.)

5) Not Very Realistic

Nancy is 18 and she drives around in her convertible (or roadster, depending on when you read the books). She doesn’t have a job. She isn’t going to school.

And she’s ALWAYS 18! Meaning, she must solve at least one mystery a week for us to get to 52 books for the year. (And no, the series doesn’t stop at 52). Rarely do we ever (do we ever?) get holidays or winter or anything like that.

How is this even possible?!


Final Thoughts

So, yeah. There you have it. Five perfectly good reasons why I shouldn’t like Nancy Drew. And yet, I do. I love the Nancy Drew books in spite of these failings. (And even now, I love them for these failings.)

P.S. The photo that accompanies this blog post is of my first Nancy Drew book. #16! It was given to me by a friend for my eleventh birthday. It was my introduction to the world of Nancy Drew!

Review: Granted

GrantedBook: Granted (2018)
Author: John David Anderson
Genre: MG, Magical Realism (Fairies)
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of how wishes are granted. Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who’s on a mission. It’s her job to grant the wish of a girl, but she needs the coin that the girl wished upon. The problem is that the coin keeps getting out of her reach. With the help of a new-found friend, a dog named Sam, Ophelia’s determined to make sure the coin’s wish comes true.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how the fairies are named in this story world! They get their middle name first (from the flower from which they are born); their last name next (based on one of their characteristics/quirks); and their first name last (luck of the draw)!

2) Ophelia is a fun, feisty fairy. Even when she loses the power to fly, she doesn’t give up. I love that kind of gumption. 🙂

3) Sam is adorable. He’s the kind of sidekick who is so enthusiastic, but also kind of clueless. I like how he teams up with Ophelia.

4) The elusive coin is like another character in the book. There are a lot of great scenes involving the coin and Ophelia’s efforts to retrieve it. Love what happens near the end… An event that gives Ophelia a real wish-granting dilemma.

5) It’s interesting how the same family (a brother and sister) keeps popping up in the story. At first I thought this was a little too coincidental, but once I understood where it was going, I really liked this continuity. It was a storyline that added a nice, poignant touch to the book.

6) The cover of this book is what drew me to this story. I love it!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This book took a long time to start! The plot really doesn’t start until after Chapter 10… And even then, it meanders all over the place.

2) This book has a little more bathroom humour than I like. I can handle about one such joke. More than that and I start rolling my eyes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book about how fairy wishes are granted! Even though it had a slow start, it was fun to follow Ophelia and Sam on their adventure with that elusive coin! 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Challenge #42 / Transportation

20180926ma_5009“Coming in for a Landing” / Theme: Transportation

A little about this photo…

That’s the Manhattan skyline, framed by the trees. This shot was taken from Queens, near LaGuardia Airport. And yes, that’s an airplane coming in for a landing. (I just love how the tail of the plane just peeking out from the leaves of the trees!)


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

When a Book Disappoints

(I have seriously gone back and forth on whether or not to post this… I don’t like to be negative on my blog. I originally wrote this back in July. And since you’re seeing it, I guess I decided it needed to be posted.)

Oh, where to start?

I really wanted to like this book. I went in with NO expectations, other than my experiences with the other four books. I expected more of the same. (And no, my disappointment has nothing to do with Skye. I will explain later, as that does involve spoilers, and I am determined not to have spoilers at this point in the blog post.)

I kind of feel obligated to review this book since I love the other books in the series. Seriously, if you like The Penderwicks, feel free to NOT read this book. You may save yourself some heartache and headache.

The Penderwicks at Last // by Jeanne Birdsall

Genre: MG, Contemporary

**Warning: There will be SPOILERS for this book below.**

penderwicks5

First, let’s be positive. I love the cover for this book! It’s beautiful. It has fireflies. It has a dog. And it has two girls and a hawk and a moon. (I’m trying to pad the positives here.)

Also, I was looking forward to Lydia as a character, because I figured it had to be Lydia’s book. She’s the fifth Penderwick daughter. It’s the fifth book. And her introduction IS delightful. She dances through life. So, yes, Lydia is fine. And so is the other girl in the book (Alice). I like their friendship. These are all good things.

But, I’m sad to say, that’s where it stops…

Disappointment #1

The books up to this point have all been about a group of four sisters. By this book, all four sisters have grown up, even Batty. They’ve joined the ranks of Mr. Penderwick, and Iantha, and Aunt Claire. They don’t do funny things anymore. (Well, not really. Jane’s still a little zany.) They don’t swap homework. Or hide in the back of Dad’s car with Hound. Or kick soccer balls into forbidden gardens. Or sneak into fields inhabited by bulls. Yes, I missed the four girls!

Disappointment #2

Lydia and Alice are fine as characters, but they don’t quite measure up to those who have gone before. They are not super-interesting. And to top it all, there’s no real conflict between the two. Everybody just assumes they’re going to be friends and then they are. I would love to have seen them as “enemies” for a few chapters that turn into friends. Instead, they seem to just play a lot. I believe this is where Birdsall missed a great opportunity to save this book.

Disappointment #3

Let’s talk about Mrs. Tifton. Okay, I will say the one thing I DID like was that Mrs. Tifton actually likes Lydia and that Lydia is not afraid of her. However, I was expecting some cathartic moment where between Mrs. T and the Penderwick girls. All we got was veils. (And I don’t understand their dislike for veils? That was not properly set up.) And a little closure between Mrs. T and Alec would have been nice. I would have loved to have Lydia discover the human being inside this woman, who also happens to be Jeffrey’s mother. I felt there was a lost opportunity to redeem this character. I wanted Mrs. Tifton redeemed! (Or as least as much as she could be redeemed.)

Disappointment #4

The “opening secret” of the book is not really a secret. Apparently the marketing department didn’t get the memo, because the secret isn’t so secret; it’s inside on the jacket flap. And by secret, I mean that Rosalind wants to have her wedding at Arundel. It gets such a build-up in the first chapter that I was expecting a bomb to be dropped. Nope.  If you can’t have secrets that aren’t real secrets, then why bother?

Disappointment #5

There are too many characters in this book. This whole book seemed like a curtain call. We bring out every character that has been in the books before. (Except Harry the Tomato Man. I don’t think he was in the book, was he?) Basically every character gets a moment to take a bow and that’s it.

And there were too many dogs. Way too many dogs. I like the idea of the three-legged dog, but by the time I met him, I didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him from the other dogs in the books. And believe me when I say that none of these dogs were Hound. Although, Birdsall could have done that with Hitch. The problem was that Hitch just got lost in the crowd.

Disappointment #6

The boyfriends/fiancés were duds.

Okay, let’s start with Fiancé #1: Tommy Geiger. So I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Geiger. And in fact, I’m okay with the fact that we don’t really get to see him in this book. On the other hand, I have always liked Nick Geiger (because we actually get to know Nick in the books), and I was super sad when he’s thrown away as just another character in this book. (Oh, and he’s already married with a couple of kids.) Result: Tommy’s okay. I’m glad he is marrying Rosalind. But still, Fiancé #1 was a bit of a dud.

Fiancé #2: Some Czec student named Dusek. And yes, that pretty much sums him up. We haven’t ever met him before. We hardly even meet him in this book. And we’re supposed to suddenly feel happy when Skye announces that there’s going to be a double wedding? (Believe me, I just about threw the book in the trash at this point. But it’s a library book, and I would never do that to a library book.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. My dislike has nothing to do with Jeffrey. I went in to this book with the expectation that Skye and Jeffrey would never get together. (I realized this when I did my recent re-read of the series. Everything points to Batty ending up with Jeffrey. Don’t believe me? Read the books. The hints are there.) So, Dusek, that’s not why I don’t like you. I don’t like you because you don’t belong in this book. Seriously. Go back to California and study. I actually would have been happier if Skye had suddenly realized that she was in love with Nick Geiger or even Cagney (assuming that neither were already married off.) Or, leave Skye single at this point. Fiancé #2 was a literary disaster.

Disappointment #7

And then there’s Jeffrey. For some reason he doesn’t recognize Batty when he sees her. What? Isn’t he her mentore? Even this love story doesn’t work.

Maybe there’s just too many love stories going on that have nothing to do with our two main characters: Lydia and Alice. Remember them?

Disappointment #8

What’s with the goats in this book? Or is it sheep? I can’t remember. Actually, goats would have been a good choice as they like to headbutt people. That could have worked into the plot.

And then we had the parts where the girls are reading to the goat. Frankly, this was a little boring.

(Remember in the first book when Skye and Jane have to escape Mrs. Tifton by climbing out a window down a rope ladder? Remember when Jeffrey rescues Batty from the bull? Remember when Batty runs into the woods and gets lost? Where are these events in this book?)

Disappointment #9

I feel that Alice’s brother, Jack, was another missed-opportunity. He wasn’t physically at Arundel so we don’t really get to know him. What we do know is that he has a Canadian cousin and he likes eating pancakes and waffles. Why didn’t Birdsall have Jack and his Canadian cousin at Arundel? Let there be a war between the girls (Lydia and Alice) and boys (Jack and Cousin)! That would have given us some CONFLICT. Or Jack could have been staying with a friend in a nearby town. Which means they could have sneaked over to play tricks on the girls.

Okay, so Jack does make an appearance. In the hedge with Lydia. This is obviously supposed to be a call-back to the first book, but it happens in the wrong place in the book, to the wrong people in the book. Because we hardly know Jack!

Disappointment #10

The MOPS. When I got to the chapter about the MOPS, I was happy. Finally, something I know about these books. Except, it wasn’t a real MOPS. There was no dire situation that they had to figure out. They’re all adults now. Having a MOPS didn’t make sense. Even the parents know they’re having a MOPS (although they’re not invited). Sorry, the MOPS fell completely flat and had lost all its charm.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 2 Stars (out of 5) – I really wish this review was different. It kind of makes me furious that they would even publish this book. The more I think about this book, the more I shake my head. Why did this thing (yes, thing) get published? How in the world did Jeanne Birdsall’s editor NOT see that this wasn’t a good book? How?!

Your Turn

Have you read this book? Do you agree with me? And if not, let me know what you did like about it. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who are giving this book five stars on Goodreads.)

 

Review: Nerd Camp

camp-nerd.jpgBook: Nerd Camp (2011)
Author: Elissa Brent Weissman
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Gabe is a nerd and proud of it… that is, until he meets his new stepbrother, Zack. Now, in order to seem cool, he has to hide that part of him, including the fact that his sleepaway camp is really a nerd camp! So when he writes home, Gabe only highlights the things that don’t make him sound quite so nerdy. How’s Zack to know, right?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love how each chapter ends with Gabe’s list of “Things I Can Tell Zack” and “Things I Can’t Tell Zack”. These lists are all prefaced showing how Gabe is using the scientific method… “Problem: Am I a nerd who only has nerdy adventures? Hypothesis: No. Proof: (See list.)”

2) I like the friendship Gabe develops with the two boys at camp: Nikhil and Wesley. It was cute how the boys figure out an algorithm to predict when Color War will break (based on when it broke in past years). Yes, despite Gabe’s efforts not to be nerdy, he is indeed very nerdy!

3) Which brings me to Color War itself. This was a fun addition to the story. It brings in some activities that don’t involve a classroom full of nerds learning about rocket science. Like the Scavenger Hunt.

4) There’s a nice little celebrity cameo (from one of the nerdiest shows on the planet) that happens near the end. I won’t spoil it. It’s kind of fun, even if it’s unlikely.

5) The letters are a nice way to show how Gabe interacts differently with the different people back home… with his friends from school, his mom and dad, and of course with Zack.

6) The ending wraps things up quite nicely. I wasn’t really surprised as I figured the story would eventually lead to what does happen. (I won’t spoil it.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The scenes with the lice! My head was itching the entire time!! Yuck.

2) The midnight canoe trip was a little disconcerting to my adult soul. It’s crazy how Gabe talks about Swallows and Amazons (one of my favourite books that contains a similar event!), but then, unlike how the Walkers and Blacketts get into big trouble with the grownups, Gabe doesn’t seem to learn any lesson from this dangerous activity. I didn’t really like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun look into the struggles of being nerdy; worrying what others will think about it. As a nerd myself (I’m more of a history nerd), I definitely empathized with Gabe!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Challenge #41 / Symmetry

20180927ma_5024“Brooklyn Bridge” / Theme: Symmetry

A little about this photo…

I absolutely LOVE the the Brooklyn Bridge and it’s definitely on my list of recommended sites for anybody going to New York City. I don’t often get to come here when I get into the City, but we had a day to dedicate to a bit of a history tour of Lower Manhattan. And this just happened to be our first stop. (I have two similar photos. One with the street lamp and a different angle without the lamp. The little rebel in me decided to go with this one, even though it technically goes against the definition of symmetry!)


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

ARC Review: Earthrise

earthriseEarthrise // by James Gladstone
Release Date: October 15, 2018
Genre: Picture Book, Non-Fiction (Space)

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: This is the story behind the photograph of the earth taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts back in 1968; and how such a photo led to a different view of our world.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I love that the illustrations evoke the 1960s. They are wonderfully done!

2) I love photography, so I found this story particularly interesting. It’s a little behind-the-scenes “snapshot” at how one of the most famous photographs of all time came to be.

3) The story juxtaposes a tumultuous time (1968) with a photograph that is anything but tumultuous. It’s simple and beautiful and serene.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I feel like this could be made for older children with a little more text. Maybe explaining a few things. History-wise. This was the year that Martin Luther King was shot. And Robert Kennedy. And a war in Vietnam. They didn’t have to go into extreme detail, but maybe at least mention MLK.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A wonderfully illustrated book about this moment in history. I’d recommend for 1st through 3rd grade. Maybe Kindergarten?

Question for Those Who Love Harry Potter

Disclaimer: I don’t make it too much of a secret that I am not a huge fan of the series. I don’t hate it. I just don’t love it. And I’ve only read the first three books (almost 20 years ago!)

Which leads me to my question:

It’s about Harry’s uncle and aunt. (You can throw in the cousin, too, if you want.)

How much page-time do they actually get in the books?

From my memories of the first books is that they are pretty much just mentioned. We may even briefly meet them. We basically learn how awful they are (you know, Harry sleep under the stairs). But after that, they don’t actually physically appear in the books.

Is this correct? Do they get some serious page-time, and I’m just not remembering this? Like chapters? Huge dialogue sections? Perhaps this happens in Book 4 or beyond?

Please let me know in the comments! Thanks!