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Middle Grade

27

Nov
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Book Review: Mr. & Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

On 27, Nov 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

 

Mr and Mrs Bunny

From GoodRead: In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of unforgettable characters. There’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others.

This is the funniest book I have read in ages. Maybe ever. The characters are ridiculous. The plot is ridiculous. The whole premise is just plain silly. I tend to have a dry, dark sense of humor and there are definitely dry and darkly humorous moments, but the sheer silliness of the book (and a few wink, wink kind of moments) totally bowled me over.

While this is clearly fantasy and you have to believe that animals can talk and interact with humans, there are all these little moments when you realize Horvath has been almost literal about applying the fantasy story to the real world. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny buy a house that comes with a SmartCar. I assumed it was a rabbit-sized car, but it turns out it’s an honest-to-goodness, human-sized SmartCar. They have to have Madeleine drive it because, as rabbits, they are too small. And for some reason these moments are some of the funniest moments of the book.

I did find myself wondering if the intended age range for this book would get the jokes and I’m still not exactly sure. I think there is plenty of humor and adventure in this book for younger readers that, even if they don’t get all the jokes, they will still love the book. Plus with multiple readings they will pick up more and more and this is most certainly the type of book you read over and over. I also think it’s really for the quirkier reader. I actually think this would make the perfect read aloud because, like the movie Shrek, there are several layers of humor and story going on which make it interesting and funny for adults and kids alike.

 

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03

Oct
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Unfinished Books and Tides by Betsy Cornwell

On 03, Oct 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Tides

From GoodReads: When high-school senior Noah Gallagher and his adopted teenage sister, Lo, go to live with their grandmother in her island cottage for the summer, they don’t expect much in the way of adventure. Noah has landed a marine biology internship, and Lo wants to draw and paint, perhaps even to vanquish her struggles with bulimia. But then things take a dramatic turn for them both when Noah mistakenly tries to save a mysterious girl from drowning. This dreamlike, suspenseful story—deftly told from multiple points of view—dives deeply into selkie folklore while examining the fluid nature of love and family.

I am the kind of person who can pretty much find any book enjoyable. Well, at least any YA book. It’s very, very rare that I put a book down and leave it unfinished, even the ones I don’t enjoy. Case in point, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl really irritated me, but I finished it. I promptly wanted my time back, but I finished it.

I know as a librarian I can’t read all the books in a collection or read all the new books that come out, but it’s still important to read a selection. I also know that not everyone shares my ability to like most books and that it’s important to find the right book for the right person.

For that reason I don’t like to give negative reviews. What I like about a book is so subjective. And many of the faults I find with it may not be things that even register with another reader. Or topics that are triggers for some may not be at all with others.  On the other hand, because we can’t all read everything, it’s important to give an honest assessment of the books you read. That way another librarian reading your review (or another reader for that matter) can use it to gauge whether a book is right for them or their collection.

All of this is a roundabout way for me to get at the most recent book I started reading, Tides. I put it down and returned it to the library without finishing it. And guess what? The world didn’t end! I thought it might, but it didn’t.

The premise sounded really interesting and I love when books incorporate mythology/legends into them, so I thought it would be a sure thing. While I think plenty of people could like this book, I didn’t. I think first and foremost there was just way way too much going on in this story.

*(kind of) SPOILER ALERT* The grandmother is gay and there’s a whole backstory there with an older selkie, Maebh. One of the grandkids has an eating disorder. Noah, the other grandchild, has a summer internship. Noah meets a selkie, Mara, and there’s a romance budding there. There are sibling relationship issues and baggage. There’s parental baggage. And then there’s more. It just kept building up. Problem was, the book is a little under 300 pages. There just wasn’t enough time to really explore anything.This in turn made the pacing feel off and too rushed. I couldn’t feel the attraction between Mara and Noah. Relationships and stories felt very rushed or they really dragged.

All of this was compounded scads of narrators. Noah, Lo, the grandmother, Mara, Maebh (the older selkie), and Ronan (Mara’s brother) all narrate. And I think later on at least one or two other narrators get thrown into the mix. As soon as you got something of one person’s story, it was off to another. Noah met Mara and was thinking about her and suddenly we’re on to Lo and the grandmother and Maebh. Then back to Noah where it picks up weeks later where it felt difficult to pick up the threads of his story and his feelings.

My final thought about it was that it felt (and looks) very middle grade, but some of the issues are way more YA. There wasn’t any sex, at least not that I got to by about halfway through, or even any questionable language. Still the eating disorder and the grandmother’s plot felt older to me while other plots felt younger and more simplistic. I would hesitate to offer it to either group just because it felt so hit-or-miss for me.

I really tried to get into the book, but I just couldn’t. Maybe someone with a higher tolerance for this kind of busy book and more of an interest in selkies could love it, but that person wasn’t me.

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26

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

On 26, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

WonderstruckFrom GoodReads:

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories–Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures–weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.

I am ready to go live in a museum. Actually I have been ready since I read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (what kid wasn’t ready after that book), but Wonderstruck made me remember that desire. In Wonderstruck, Ben’s mother has recently died and while poking through some of her things he finds a few clues to who his father may have been. Using the clues, Ben runs away to New York City. He ends up at the natural history museum where he is befriended by one of the curators sons who hides him in an old storeroom that just so happens to be connected to his mysterious father. Toward the end of the story Ben visits a miniature model of the city that was originally an exhibit at the World’s Fair.

So, I’m not the biggest fan of the mixed graphic novel and written novel mediums, but Selznick’s stories are so good that it ends up not mattering. There is just something so cozy about the story and it’s settings. It might have to do with the scenes or the model of the city Ben visits, but I fell in love with this book. Plus Ben is such a neat kid. He’s got pluck and courage and curiosity. Just an all around great story about family and living in museums. :)

As a post script, I highly suggest reading the Author’s Note at the back where Selznick talks about how he got the inspiration for this story, it is so interesting. I could also see it being pretty inspiring for aspiring writers because his inspiration came from something serendipitous and mundane (he was given a behind the scenes tour of the NYC Natural History Museum and happened to catch a documentary on deaf culture and how the move from silent films to talkies impacted it).

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12

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Akata Witch

From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

I have to admit I am a sucker for books written by Nigerian authors and/or set in Nigeria and that is the reason I picked up Akata Witch. I suppose if I had to booktalk this in a few seconds I would call it a Harry Potter read alike. But I feel kind of like I’m copping out comparing this book to Harry Potter.

It definitely shares a number of similarities. The four kids are wizards and witches. Sunny, the main character, was unaware of her abilities/ties to the magical community. There is a lot of learning about the power within yourself and your own inner strengths. There is also some good friendship material. It even kind of dragged in the same way I felt the first Harry Potter book did toward the beginning. But for some reason I just preferred these kids and this magical community to the Harry Potter one. Probably because I’m a sucker for Nigerian books.

All that aside this was a fun read. The story was pretty compelling and exciting. I loved that it felt very grounded in Nigerian culture and especially its traditional magic. I cannot speak to how closely it mirrors Nigerian magic, but it certainly feels authentic. Really this is what made Akata Witch stand out to me more than any other wizarding book (I’m looking at you again, Harry Potter). The depth of the culture really made the story more vibrant. And there was the added conflict of Sunny and Sasha feeling torn between being American and Nigerian. That just made the book feel more mature to me than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Sunny is a likable girl and she’s a pretty quick study so I never felt like shouting at her to stop being so naive or dense (I had that experience with a number of other books I read this summer). The other kids are fun too and possess enough sass and cheek to make them interesting, believable, but not exasperating.

All in all a fun book.

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