Leave Me Alone!

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Leave Me Alone!.jpgTitle: Leave Me Alone!
Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
ISBN: 9781626724419
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishings Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

Once there was an old woman.
She lived in a small village in a small house . . .
… with a very big family.

The nameless old woman is simply looking for some peace and quiet in order to finish her knitting for her family before winter arrives. Asserting herself with a shouted “Leave me alone!”  she retreats to the forest, to the mountain, and to some literally out of this world locations in search of solitude. Vocabulary is slightly advanced for this audience (I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but pre-reading is a must) but the illustrations convey the meanings. Each locale has its own color scheme, which separates them from each other, but the double page spreads provide reference to how far the woman has gone in her search. Something totally unique and sure to spark conversation. How far and where do you go to be alone? Perfect pairing with Let Me Finish by Minh Lê.

Ned the Knitting Pirate

Ned the Knitting Pirate.jpgTitle: Ned the Knitting Pirate
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Leslie Lammle
ISBN: 9781596438903
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

We’re pirates, we’re pirates, out sailing the sea
So scruffy and scrappy and happy are we.
We’re tougher than gristle and barnacle grit.
We heave, and we ho, and we swab, and we . . .

KNIT! Or at least that’s what Ned does. The other pirates, especially the captain, aren’t so enthusiastic about Ned’s hobby, and orders the needles to be stowed. But Ned’s knitting might be the only things that saves the Rusty Heap from becoming an ocean beast’s feast. Jaunty, rollicking rhymes can be sang as a sea shanty, although the uneven numbering scheme makes a sometimes rough transition from the narration to the song the pirate’s sing, which gets repeated but not verbatim. Readers get an advanced glimpse of the threatening sea monster (resembling if Slimer from Ghostbusters had been crossed with an octopus and a mermaid’s tail) on the title page, along with a fully clothed mermaid (she wears a shirt instead of a bikini top) who seems to be its caretaker. It’s little details like that, along with the anthropomorphic critters scattered throughout the ship and the ever-growing knitting project which matches Ned’s knit, tri-cornered hat, that add whimsy to the story. Keep in your trunk for a new spin on Talk Like a Pirate Day in September.

Two Roaring Press Books about knitting in the same year (the other one being Leave Me Alone, being reviewed tomorrow)! Is this one of those weird trends that pop up on occasion?

Cat Knit

Cat Knit.jpgTitle: Cat Knit
Author/Illustrator: Jacob Grant
ISBN: 9781250051509
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan, c2016.

Cat and Girl had always been good friends.
One day, Girl brought home a colorful new guest.
His name was Yarn.

Purple-furred Cat at first enjoys Yarn’s company, but then Girl “wanted to play with Yarn” and Yarn changes from a round red ball to a sweater for Cat. Cat does not appreciate this change, but when cold weather arrives he learns to accept his friend Yarn’s new form. Cat’s antics mimic the behavior of real cats, and his eyes show all his emotion as he glances with first mild interest, then joy, then anger, and finally reluctant acceptance at Yarn’s appearance and reappearance, although children unfamiliar with the concept of knitting and yarn crafts might need some explanation of exactly what happened. The last laugh is that Cat might have more to get used to than he originally thought. Girl was smart to buy a cat and sofa that matched in color, and digitally colored charcoal and crayon illustrations have a retro feel, with the focus placed solely on Cat.

Preaching to the Chickens

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Preaching to the Chickens.jpgTitle: Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
Author: Jabari Asim
Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
ISBN: 9780399168567
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016.

Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.
John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed.

Before John Lewis became a civil rights activist, a protester, and a congressman, he was a boy on a farm in Pike County, Alabama. Caring for about sixty chickens, he got up early every day to feed them, water them, line their nests with straw, and preach to them. He cared for those chickens, even going so far as to naming them, and that concern for poultry would eventually translate to people he helped and professions he held. A gentle story that extols the attributes of practice, persistence, hard work and faith, the watercolors provide a hazy backdrop for the words to lay on, which would perfectly suit the reading on a porch swing looking across a foggy farmstead similar to John’s home at a steamy summer sunset. Slow down and invoke the attributes of a time where feeding the chickens was a right, a responsibility, and a privilege.

Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

Under Her Skin

Under Her Skin.jpgTitle: Under Her Skin
Series: Blank Canvas #1
Author: Adriana Anders
ISBN: 9781492633846
Pages: 344 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc. c2017

“Old hag in need of live-in helper to abuse. Nothing kinky.”
Uma read the ad again.
Jesus. Was she really going to do this?
Yes. Yes, she was. She’d come all the way back to Virginia for the hope its free clinic offered, and if this was the only job she could get while she was in town, she should consider herself lucky to have found it. Especially, she thought with a wry smile, since it’s one for which I’m so qualified. (1)

Uma had fled a relationship with a possessive prosecuting attorney, one that has led scars scattered across her body in the form of a multitude of tattoos. Hearing of a clinic that provides free laser surgery to abuse victims, Uma bravely returns to that state of suffering, securing a job as an elderly woman’s live-in aid. Next door lives ex-con Ivan, who takes in strays and strives to avoid his own past with metal work and martial arts. Uma is just as set at not getting involved as Ivan is to learn more about his secretive and reclusive new neighbor. But Uma is right to worry that their paths might collide and cause trouble for both of them.

Long time readers of this blog know that I rarely read adult titles. This year is my attempt to change that and expand my exposure to other genres. So a new romance title it is, even though I rarely if ever read romance. I personally find them predictable, but people could say that about most genres. Murders get solved, bad guys get captured, worlds get saved, and good triumphs over evil. But sometimes you can appreciate a little predictability, and I know that’s one reason I return and reread favorites over and over, so I can find my favorite parts and live through them again. Maybe that’s the draw of romance, is that you see people find love, and who can fault someone for doing that?

Ivan’s character might be a tough ex-con, but he’s learned methods to control his anger, for the most part. His overprotective demeanor towards Uma and the animals makes sense when you learn of his past. Uma’s self-sufficient spirit and continuing dismay over the position she’s found her in is also understandable: she doesn’t want help, doesn’t want pity, and wants to resume her life with as little fanfare and notice as possible. But she suffers, just like any abuse victim would, and her thoughts and struggles to deal with the nightmares, the physical scars, the skittishness around men, her dire financial situation, and more makes for a very sympathetic character.

The loves scenes were steamy. Ivan takes it slow, and you HAVE to give him props, because Uma’s situation is everything but predictable. They are inventive in the beginning, and it was refreshing to see they are both willing and able to adapt to the needs of their partner. Uma is a strong woman underneath all the hesitancy and uncertainty, and Ivan is able to recognize that, coax it out of her, and allows her to receive and take the lead as needed. Towards the end, someone comments to Uma “Now don’t go running over there all pissed off that he’s taking your ability to choose away and all that crap, ’cause he’s not. He’s giving you a choice. Another option.” (336) I think what I liked about this book is that there was no “will they or won’t they.” The attraction is evident from the very first meeting, they are both drawn to each other, and the pull for readers is the journey, and seeing how they get together, not whether or not they do. Obviously with any romance the main couple ends up together, but this one doesn’t have misunderstandings and blow up arguments engineered to keep them apart. The final hurdle between them allows not only the loose ends to be tied up, but for Uma and Ivan to stay in character. Uma wants to ensure that her wishes are heard, respected, and adhered to, something she never got in her previous relationship, while Ivan needs to reassure Uma that he can do that and reassure himself that he’s not going to regress back to the man he used to be. Overall, I think everyone involved, including readers, walk away satisfied.

Red Hat

Red Hat.jpgTitle: Red Hat
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
ISBN: 9781442442320
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2013.

Pictures and unconscious inflections tell the story of a group of animals who see an opportunity to claim a hat, and seize it (both the opportunity and the hat). Little does the baby bear, the leader of the group, realize that his plan and the hat are slowly unraveling. With contributions from rabbits,  a raccoon and what looks like a porcupine, the baby bear is soon left with only long piece of yarn. Returning it proves problematic, but the original child seems unfazed, and final page shows that everyone gets their own knitted article of clothing. While reading aloud in a group setting might prove challenging, sharing in a more intimate setting the expressive illustrations, especially with a child who has their own prized piece of needlework, will certainly elicit giggles, but it should really have been turned into an animated short.

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