Cover Love

#coverlove :: Girl Power

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Welcome to #coverlove, a weekly round-up of the best book covers the literary world has to offer. This week’s theme was black and white and red all over.

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

Heroine Worship (Heroine Complex, #2) by Sarah Kuhn

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission.

All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever.

The Friendship Code (Girls Who Code, #1) by Stacia Deutsch

Loops, variables, input/output – Lucy can’t wait to get started with the new coding club at school. Finally, an after school activity that she’s really interested in. But Lucy’s excitement turns to disappointment when she’s put into a work group with girls she barely knows. All she wanted to do was make an app that she believes will help someone very special to her.

Suddenly, Lucy begins to get cryptic coding messages and needs some help translating them. She soon discovers that coding – and friendship – takes time, dedication, and some laughs!

A Kingdom Rises (Crown of Three, #3) by J.D. Rinehart

An ancient prophecy says that when three stars appear in the sky, triplets will take the throne and peace will come to the land. The stars have appeared, and the triplets are Gulph, Tarlan, and Elodie. But the prophecy appears to have failed.

Tarlan saw Gulph die during a final confrontation with their undead father. Gulph fell from a burning tower and there’s no way he could have survived…even with Gulph’s special abilities.

As for his sister, Elodie, Tarlan’s convinced that she’s a traitor who betrayed the rebellion and her family just so she could have the throne to herself.

With nothing left to believe in, Tarlan’s prepared to abandon both the cause and his pack of wild animals, and head north.

But appearances can be deceiving. And in a world of magic and deceit, mistaking lies for truth can be deadly.

Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

When thirteen-year-old Valor is sent to jail, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, is serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family, and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped the prison in centuries. Valor has a master plan and resources most people could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make some unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

You Throw Like a Girl by Rachele Alpine

Gabby’s summer vacation isn’t shaping up to be that great. Her dad was just deployed overseas, and Gabby is staying at her grandmother’s house with her mom and baby sister until he returns.

The one bright spot is that Gaby plans to sign up for the local softball league—her greatest love and a passion she shares with her Dad who was a pitcher in college. But when Gabby goes to sign up for the summer league, she discovers that there wasn’t enough interest to justify a girl’s team this year. And to top it off, a horrible miscommunication ends with Gabby signed up to participate in the Miss Popcorn Festival—the annual pageant that Gabby’s mom dominated when she was younger.

Besides not having any interest in the pageant life, Gabby made a promise to her dad that she would play softball for the summer. Since her pitching skills rival any boy her age, Gabby creates a master plan: disguise herself as a boy and sign up for the boy’s baseball team instead—and try to win the pageant to make Mom happy. Can Gabby juggle perfecting her pageant walk and perfecting her fastball? Or will this plan strike out?

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Cover Love

#coverlove: Black and White and Red All Over

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Welcome to #coverlove, a weekly round-up of the best book covers the literary world has to offer. This week’s theme was black and white and red all over.

Sorcery for Beginners: A Simple Help Guide to a Challenging & Arcane Art by Matt Harry

Five-hundred years ago, sorcery began to fade from the world. As technology prevailed, combustion engines and computers replaced enchanted plows and spell books. Real magicians were hunted almost to extinction. Science became the primary system of belief, and the secrets of spell-casting were forgotten. That is … until now.

Sorcery for Beginners is no fantasy or fairy tale. Written by arcane arts preservationist and elite mage Euphemia Whitmore (along with her ordinary civilian aide Matt Harry), this book is a how-to manual for returning magic to an uninspired world. It’s also the story of Owen Macready, a seemingly average 13-year-old who finds himself drawn into a centuries-long war when he uses sorcery to take on a school bully. Owen’s spell casting attracts the attention of a ruthless millionaire and a secret society of anti-magic mercenaries, all of whom wish to use Sorcery for Beginners to alter the course of world history forever.


Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicle, #2) by Jay Kristoff

In a land where three suns almost never set, a ruthless assassin continues her quest for vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending the men who destroyed her familia; in fact, she’s told directly that Consul Scaeva is off limits. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia’s suspicions about the Red Church’s true motives begin to grow.

When it’s announced that Scaeva will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end him. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between love and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.


The Never King by James Abbott

Xavir Argentum is rotting in gaol. Sentenced to life in the squalor of Hell’s Keep, punishment for an atrocity he didn’t commit, the once legendary commander is all but forgotten. His elite band of warriors are dead – and the kingdom he was poised to inherit is oppressed by the tyrant who framed him. For half a decade now, Xavir has ruled nothing but a prison gang. Yet vengeance comes to those who wait. When a former spymaster infiltrates the Keep, bearing news of his old enemy’s treachery, plans are forged. A few are compelled to restore peace – an exiled queen, an outcast witch, and an unlikely alliance of rogues and heroes. But peace and vengeance make poor companions. And first, Xavir must make his escape…


Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell

After seven grueling years of captivity in the Garden—a burlesque troupe of slave girls—sixteen-year-old Rose finds an opportunity to escape during a performance for the emperor. But the hostage she randomly chose from the crowd to aid her isn’t one of the emperor’s men—not anymore. He’s the former heir to the throne, who is now leading a rebellion against it.

Rayce is a wanted man and dangerously charismatic, the worst person for Rose to get involved with, no matter what his smile promises. But he assumes Rose’s attempt to take him hostage is part of a plot to crush the rebellion, so he takes her ashis hostage. Now Rose must prove where her loyalties lie, and she offers Rayce a deal—if he helps her rescue the other girls, she’ll tell him all the Garden’s secrets.

Except the one secret she’s kept for seven years that she’ll to take to her grave if she must.


The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.


Reckless: The Petrified Flesh by Cornelia Funke

Ever since Jacob Reckless was a child, he has been escaping to a hidden world through a portal in his father’s abandoned study. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. He’s also made many enemies and allies — most important, Fox, a beautiful shape-shifting vixen whom Jacob cares for more than he lets on.

But life in this other world is about to change. Tragedy strikes when Jacob’s younger brother, Will, follows him through the portal. Brutally attacked, Will is infected with a curse that is quickly transforming him into a Goyl — a ruthless killing machine, with skin made of stone.

Jacob is prepared to fight to save his brother, but in a land built on trickery and lies, Jacob will need all the wit, courage, and reckless spirit he can summon to reverse the dark spell — before it’s too late.

Got a favorite cover you’d like to share? Tweet it to me @aftanith or drop me a link in the comments below!

 

Cover Love

#coverlove: Feeling Blue

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Welcome to #coverlove, a weekly round-up of the best book covers the literary world has to offer. This week’s theme was feeling blue.

The Witch and the Vampire King (Immortal Love Series, #2) by Anna Santos

Jessica is a young and powerful witch on a desperate mission to find her soul-mate—a hot vampire king who haunts her dreams with steamy memories of their blissful past life. The problem is that he could already be dead. To complicate matters further, a psychotic vampire is after her. He wants the grimoire she stole.

For protection, she can only rely on her best friend’s family. When she arrives at Affinity, she is brought closer to her goal. But encountering the man of her dreams is only half the battle. Convincing him that she is his reincarnated love may prove to be next to impossible.

Some memories should remain hidden. If unlocked, death will claim Jessica before her enemy. Although, her survival won’t matter if she faces a rejection that will shatter her very soul.


Penelope March Is Melting by Jeffrey Michael Ruby

Something sinister has come to Glacier Cove, an icy-cold town that sits on top of an iceberg . Nothing bad ever happens here. Until now. And it’s up to Penelope March to stop it.

Mmm-hmm, that Penelope—the bookworm who lives in the ramshackle house with her brother, Miles. The girl with the mom who—poof!—disappeared. The one everyone ignores . . . except strange Coral Wanamaker, a tiny thing with raven-black hair and a black coat.

When Penelope meets someone who seems to know secrets not only about Glacier Cove but about Penelope herself, she and Miles are pulled into an ancient mystery. Together, they’ll face the coldest, cruelest enemy ever known. Looks like the girl who only reads about adventures is going to start living one.

Magic cookies! Volcanoes! Penguins! Sea monsters! And a girl hero with the strength and imagination to spring into action.



The November Girl by Lydia Kang

I am Anda, and the lake is my mother. I am the November storms that terrify sailors and sink ships. With their deaths, I keep my little island on Lake Superior alive.

Hector has come here to hide from his family until he turns eighteen. Isle Royale is shut down for the winter, and there’s no one here but me. And now him.

Hector is running from the violence in his life, but violence runs through my veins. I should send him away, to keep him safe. But I’m half human, too, and Hector makes me want to listen to my foolish, half-human heart. And if I do, I can’t protect him from the storms coming for us.


The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.


Moon Princess by Barbara Laban

Sienna is unhappy. Her mother has disappeared and she feels alone in Shanghai. Her only friend is Rufus–a sarcastic invisible dog with a VERY clear idea of how things should be done.

When their mean housekeeper starts acting suspiciously, Sienna decides to investigate. She follows a trail of clues that leads her to a new friend, Feng, who also has an invisible animal friend and has lost a family member. Together they embark on a hunt through China that leads them to new friends, even more invisible animals, and a mysterious moonlit temple where Sienna’s mother and Feng’s brother were last seen.

Are the disappearances linked to a priceless statue of the famous moon princess? And can they discover the dangerous truth?


The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer, who is bound for the ice fields of Greenland. There he hopes to summon a mystical creature from the depths of the ancient glaciers, a creature said to be so powerful that whoever controls it can control the world. Unfortunately, Bauer isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The North Witch has laid claim to the mythical beast, too, and Emmeline—along with a scrappy stowaway named Thing—may be the only one with the power to save the world as we know it. Can Emmeline face one of the greatest legends of all time—and live to tell the tale?

Got a favorite cover you’d like to share? Tweet it to me @aftanith or drop me a link in the comments below!

Picture Books

Picture Books 2017 #1: Too School for Cool

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This is a simple little story with a refreshing stroke of creativity. In the story, a little boy on his way to his grandmother’s birthday party badgers his parents with the age-old car trip question: “Are we there yet?” And as he grows increasingly bored, his mind starts to wander… and before he knows it, he and his parents are off on a crazy trip through time and space. The book itself gets in on the act, with the story flipping over entirely, so that the reader must turn his or her upside-down to go on. There’s everything from cowboys and pirates to dinosaurs and flying cars–all the stuff kids in the target audience are expected to like at that age. And there’s even a cute little moral (delivered via pun!) at the end.

It’s not going to be the most riveting read for any adults who pick it up, but children still in the picture book range might just get a kick out of it.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Here we have another of those picture books devoted to celebrating books themselves. In the story, the titular “child of books” comes crashing in on a wave of words (excerpts from works like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels) and takes another child off on a journey through the world of literature and imagination. They climb mountains, search for treasure, escape monsters, and more, and it’s all meant to impress upon the reader the value of imagination (and of reading to stoke one’s imagination).

Honestly, this is a book that’s more likely to be appreciated by adult readers than children.

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle

This is an interactive, wordless picture book about a little girl (the titular Flora) who’s trying to dance with a pair of peacocks who just aren’t having it… until they realize they’ve hurt her feelings. According to the interior book flap, the moral is intended to be, “…that no matter the challenges, true friends will always find a way to dance together,” but it could definitely be taken as a bit of a subtle anti-bullying story if that’s what your looking for.

As with the previous Flora book I read, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. I just don’t think I’m the wordless picture book type, myself, and so I think this is the last Flora book I’ll be picking up. They just don’t have much appeal for an adult reader; the art is nice, but that’s about it.

Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton

This is another in the Otter series of children’s books, and unlike the last Otter book I tried, I found this one to be a very charming, adorable standalone. The reader needs no background knowledge of the author’s blog (I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter) to follow the story; there’s no missing context here whatsoever. All we’ve got is an adorable story about an otter who, upon learning about the existence of a place called “school”, decides to play classroom with her toys. It’s a really cute little read perfect for a child who’s getting close to the age of going to school for the first time. I actually recommend it!

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

In this story, an elementary school called Frederick Douglas Elementary (which is a real school, by the way) is anthropomorphized. It’s actually a very interesting idea! Adam Rex supplies the reader with a unique twist on the concept of a “first day of school” book, as here we get to see the first day of school from the perspective of the school itself. And oddly enough, it’s actually a fairly touching story; the school has to deal with the reality that most of the children hate being there (at least at first), and its emotional journey in coming to terms with that fact quite nicely parallels a young child’s coming to terms with being a student.

It’s really surprising, sweet, and charming, and I definitely recommend it to any children who might be struggling with the fact that they have to go to school now (or children who will soon be going to school for the first time).

Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #6: Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

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I’m Not. by Pam Smallcomb

In I’m Not., we have a couple of caricatured “child” dinosaurs. In the first half of the story, the unnamed main character bemoans the fact that her friend Evelyn is wonderful at so many things, while the main character herself isn’t good at any of them.

The second half, however, switches it up. Evelyn takes the stage to talk about what she isn’t good at, and all of the things she mentions happen to be things the main character does well.

It’s a nice little story about envy and individuality that adults will likely find it as cute as their kids find it funny.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

An imaginative little boy makes up (or does he?) a cowboy story to share with his class when it’s his turn to tell everyone what he did during summer vacation.

I have to say, any “what’d you do this summer” assignment is automatically better if you can pretend you actually did something fun. It’d certainly be better than my old “I stayed at home and did nothing because my family was poor.” There was never much worth sharing about that one, believe me.

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

This is the first book in a picture series known as Dog Loves, and it’s a brief story about an anthropomorphic dog who loves books so much that he opens up a book store.

Unfortunately, none of his potential patrons seem to share his interest in books, and his store is empty a lot of the time… But that’s okay, because he’ll just pass his time reading!

This is a good choice for a young bibliophile and/or library lover.

Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

We’re back with the same book-loving dog from the previous book, and this time, he’s having some insomnia troubles. Counting sheep isn’t helping him get to sleep, so he tries counting other animals while using his books as inspiration.

This is definitely another book for book lovers, even though the focus is on teaching a child to count.

A Dog Is A Dog by Stephen Shaskan

This one’s a pattern book teaching kids various animals by telling them that “a dog is a dog unless it’s an X”  (and an X is an X unless it’s a Y,  and a Y is a Y unless it’s a Z, and so on).

The illustrations are quite silly and cute, and the book is actually more baby-appropriately amusing than informational; it’s also quite short (only getting through four animals, including the dog, before it’s over), so it’s definitely baby/toddler fare. It’s pretty adorable, though.

Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #5: This One’s For Boo

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The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom 

In The Best Place to Read, an unnamed little boy is excited to read a new book, but he can’t find a good place to read it. Eventually, he decides reading in his mother’s lap is the way to go. It’s a bit Goldie Locks-esque, without the being chased by bears at the end.

It’s a good read for a young child in whom you’re trying to foster a love of reading, but definitely not a good for one who you’re trying to encourage to read independently.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko

This cute little picture book the story of the holiday season a child experiences in a mixed-religion Christian/Jewish household, in which the father is a Christian and the mother is a Jew. It’s another good seasonal diversity story to go along with the other Hanukkah and Kwanzaa picture books I’ve read and reviewed in the past.

I am still, however, looking for one that introduces the idea of Christmas as a secular, cultural holiday instead of a religious one; there are plenty of secular Christmas stories, but all of the ones that I’ve come across simply neglect to mention that the holiday is actually religious for some people; I’d love to find one that handles that issue with some respect and maturity.

I will say, however, that the backlash to this book that’s present on the Goodreads page is truly sickening. Wait until the separatists over there find out that it’s not just the Jews besmirching their beloved “CHRISTmas”. We sinful atheist heathens are merrily violating their traditions, too!

All You Need for a Beach by Alice Schertle

So I’m going to be honest here: this art is fucking hideous. That’s totally a personal thing, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s quite nice, so I’m not trying to claim some objective criticism here. But, yeah, I hate the way this book is illustrated. It’s horrible.

The story itself, though, is a short little tale goes through all the things you need for a beach, from trillions of grains of sand to an ocean blue–but most importantly, you. There’s not much to it, but it might be a fun beach read for a toddler.

Beach Day by Karen Roosa

And here we have another rhyming book and another beach book. Personally, I think it’s far superior to All You Need for a Beach, and its illustrations are much easier on the eyes. The story essentially just runs through all the various features of a beach and activities that go on at one, but there’s nothing objectionable to its simplicity, and it would be another reasonable book to give your young child during a trip to the beach.

Honestly, reading this was almost a little nostalgic, considering I haven’t had an enjoyable family trip to the beach since I was very young.

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen

I knew this would make me cry, and I totally did. The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye is a very pretty picture book about an old cat saying goodbye before she goes off to die in private, as cats are often inclined to do, and as I recently lost my own kitty, there was never any chance of me getting out of this one without tears.

Miscellaneous

Picture Books 2016 #4: A Blast from the Past

This review contains spoilers for various picture books.

Full disclosure: I actually read these in the final days of 2015. But they’re being reviewed in 2016, so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to put them under the umbrella of 2016 regardless.

Imogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming

Imogene Tripp is a little girl who loves history. So when she turns her attention to her town’s neglected Historical Society, an old building that the major plans to have gotten down, this determined junior historian is determined to fight. There are historical quotes and references throughout the book (all of which are explained with brief biographies at the end, which is awesome), and there are several moments of genuine amusement. But more importantly, Imogene is an appealing female character with ambition and determination, and I would love to read more about her.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Across four centuries, four different families make the same recipe, using different techniques and technology but sharing the same great and the same familial love. I am, however, deeply uncomfortable with the inclusion of a slave family. On principle, I approve of the inclusion, but in execution, I really don’t; the fact that the family are slaves is so glossed over that a child might not even pick up on it, and there’s no sense of the oppression and even potential inherent in the slave family’s experience with the desert. Instead, a child would be forgiven for failing to realize that anything is off at all, since the book definitely doesn’t bother pointing anything “uncomfortable” out. It’s all rose-colored glasses here, folks, and it kind of destroyed any chance I had of genuinely enjoying what might have otherwise been a fun, diverse story.

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

I don’t have much to say about this one other than to gush about how cute it is. It’s a child-appropriate dramatization of the true story behind Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, and it’s utterly adorable. Read it.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

I can’t not read this as a gender story (and I’m 100% sure I’m not supposed to not read it as a gender story), and in the context of it being a social justice book… I can’t pretend I agree with its message. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the most “progressive” gender book for young kids that I’ve ever seen (as of November 2015, when I read this book; see above for a brief explanation of this discrepancy) is still clinging to the idea of labels even as its entire point revolves around questioning their legitimacy. And there’s a point to be made there, of course (if your label makes you feel better, who am I to stop you from claiming it), but it’s far from the only point to be made and, in my opinion, far from the best. In my ideal world, the Red crayon who didn’t fit the expectations of a red creation would’ve shed the concept of labels entirely (along with its literal crayon label), not announced a new one for itself. And as a metaphor for transgenderness, crayons are far from the best way to go; crayons really do have color, while gender is an imaginary and often oppressive social construct. It’s not equal at all. The story, then, would work much better as a metaphor for something more concrete.

So, yeah, I’m disappointed by this one. Wish I would’ve enjoyed it, but the author and I clearly have very different ideas about gender and the legitimacy of such social labels. Oh well.

Note: For a vaguely similar opinion of this that comes down on the positive side of the stars instead of my own less-than-impressed side, I recommend checking out Carmen‘s review over on Goodreads.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
The illustrations here are utterly gorgeous! The story itself is devoted to what happens when you plant seeds–both literal seeds in a garden and figurative seeds of thought and emotion–but I’ll be honest; I’m interested in reading the author’s other books on the sheer beauty of his illustrations alone!

Miscellaneous

Picture Books 2016 #3: It’s All About Animals

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian
What we have here is a social justice book, and while there are a lot of subtly interesting details here, I don’t think this one is going to make my favorites list.

The story introduces us to two non-gender-specific worms, which I think is by far the book’s biggest strength (but I’ll get back to that in a minute). As the title tells you, our two worm characters are in love, and they decide to get married. Their buggy little friends proceed to parade a barrage of wedding paraphernalia past them–things they must think outside the box to use, considering they’re, you know, worms instead of people–until finally they get to the sticky issue the book actually intends to tackle: which of these worms is the bride and which of is the groom.

The verdict, of course (it being a social justice book), is that they each can be both; one worm takes the dress and the top hat, while the other takes the veil and the tux, and that’s that–except for one more interesting little exchange.

“Wait!” says the Cricket. “This isn’t how it’s always been done.”
“Then we’ll just change how it’s done,” says the worm.

So yeah, that’s our message here. It’s a story about changing the way marriage works so that marriage can work for everyone (except for the polyamorous among us, as I’ll constantly remind everyone until that particular prejudice starts to go away). And that’s certainly something that’s been done before, and not just in the immediate lead-up to or fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent verdict to permit same-sex marriage.

But as I suggested before, there’s something this book has going for it that the others don’t. This book has non-gender-specific worms.
You wouldn’t think that was a big deal, but it is. Removing gender from the equation does two extremely important things:

  1. It allows the book to apply to all kinds of (monogamous) marriage equally. Male/male couples can share the gender roles, female/female couples can share the gender roles, and our “traditional” male/female couples can share the gender roles.
  2. It removes gender from the equation in a way that few books dare. We know nothing about the gender of these worms. Are they both men? Are they both women? Insofar as a worm can be, is one or both of them transgender? Agender? Or do they have some other kind of gender expression entirely? For the purposes of this book, it doesn’t remotely matter.

Now, I’ll readily admit that I see what I personally consider to be a flaw in the story–something that makes it not quite as progressive as it would like to be. And that’s the use of the bride’s veil and dress as a counterpoint to the groom’s top hat and tuxedo. While this is a story about gender not mattering anymore when it comes to marriage, this is also a story in which traditional gender roles are visibly given to the characters.

Sure, it’s nice that they agree to share the clothes, but those clothes can’t be divorced from traditional marriage, not in a story that specifically points out that, “This isn’t how it’s always been done.” By acknowledging the difference between the new way and the old way, you are forced to acknowledge what the old way entails–and, extrapolating from that, what those clothes must mean.

If it’s a compromise for one worm to take the hat and dress and the other to take the tux and the veil, all they’re really doing is splitting up the division of the gender roles. And that’s not what I want from a social justice book. What I want from a social justice book is the rejection of those roles entirely; this book is so close to that with its genderless worms, but the reminder of “the man in the relationship” and “the woman in the relationship” reinforces that those things exist, and the story doesn’t so much as reject them as redistribute them. And in doing so, it endorses them.

What I wanted to see was for the worms to say no. I wanted to see them say that “those things aren’t for us”. I wanted them to include those predescribed roles under the umbrella of “changing how it’s done”. Throw those gendered notions in the trash where they belong.

So, yeah, I didn’t quite get what I wanted from this book. What it offers is good, definitely, but it’s not quite what I wanted. But more to the point, perhaps, is that I also wonder if children will understand what the metaphor here is. By the time a child is old enough to read this, they’re also old enough to have caught on to the notion of gender. So I fear children will only be able to interpret this as just another “gay marriage acceptance” book and completely miss the gender nuance involved.

But I don’t know for sure. I’m not a kid. (Feel free to let me know in the comments if yours caught on, though!)

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
This book is a lot lighter in subject matter than the previous, but I enjoyed it just as well. The theme of this one is perspective. As the interior blurb states,

In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see.

Now, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it a “glorious celebration” of anything, but it’s quite an interesting little book nonetheless. The illustrations are very cute, and the point is obvious right from the onset; the minute you and/or your child see what the cat looks like to the dog (especially as compared to what the cat looked like to the child, as portrayed on the previous page), you’ll both know what’s going on. I love the illustrations here, especially in how varied they are from page to page (or perspective to perspective, as it were), and the note that the story ends on is actually fascinating if your kid picks up on it, transforming the story from a tale about perspective to one about self-perception, as well, and how that can be so vastly different from the way we really are–and the way everyone else sees us, too.

Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso
As the author’s note on the final page explains,

Ida, Always is a fictional story inspired by the real pair of polar bears, Ida and Gus, who lived together in New York City’s Central Park Zoo.

Spoiler alert: both of the bears that served as inspiration for the story have died within the past five or so years. And further spoiler alert: that’s what the book is about. Ida died in 2011, leaving Gus to live two years further without her companionship.

Obviously, the book anthropomorphizes the relationship between the two bears and turns it into a very touching story of living one’s final days to the fullest and mourning the loss of one’s friend. It’s very sweet and a total tearjerker, and while I don’t entirely get on board with the message (which implicitly endorses the idea of an afterlife and explicitly endorses the idea of the dead “still being there”), it’s a sweet story for people who do.

It’s not my kind of coping with death book, and I personally wouldn’t give it to a child purely because of the “living on” message, but most people have no such qualms, and for those individuals, I say: definitely consider this one if you’re looking for a book on dealing with loss. This one goes above and beyond most others I’ve read, as it specifically involves the process of not just mourning but dying. If you’ve got a kid dealing with a loved one who’s received a terminal diagnosis, this is probably just what you need.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
See, I kind of love this book. I really want to love this book. But there’s this one little detail I just can’t get behind.

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? We’ve got all the things I love here. We’ve got a fantasy world. We’ve got adventurers. We’ve got great illustrations. We’ve even got an adorable and misunderstood goblin protagonist. It’s funny, it’s cute, and it takes the fantasy tropes (especially RPG tropes) we all know and love, and it turns them on their heads.

But… there’s this thing. There’s this thing I noticed on the last couple of pages that I somehow managed to overlook when it showed up earlier as a minor detail.

Because on the last two pages, there’s this girl. There’s this buxom blonde maiden stereotype hanging out with a room full of goblins, monsters, and skeletons (and, yes of course she’s the only traditionally attractive one of the bunch), and when I spotted her, all I could think was , “where’d this chick come from”? So I went back. Obviously, I’d missed her somehow. Obviously, she wasn’t just your traditional hero’s reward arm candy in this book about the adventurers being the bad guys.

Except, no, it’s actually quite a bit worse than that. Because, yeah, she did show up on a previous page.

She was tied up in the adventurers’ loot. And I just don’t know what in the fuck I’m supposed to get out of that.

See, here’s the thing. My immediate assumption is that this is supposed to be an attempt at taking down the “love interest as hero’s reward” notion. Except, you know, no? That’s not what this story is doing at all; instead of taking down that exceptionally misogynistic trope, this story actually uses it.

The roles are reversed, sure, but it’s still there. Instead of Mario rescuing Princess Peach from whoever kidnapped her this week, or Link rescuing Zelda, we have a creature that would normally be cast as the “villain” rescuing the fair maiden from the nominal heroes. On the one hand, it’s partially a clever condemnation of trope; it seems to at least try to point out the heroine’s role as one of the “spoils” by literally tying her up in the adventurers pile of victory spoils, but it goes horribly wrong after that. The only indication we have of her willingness to be with the goblins in the end is that she’s no longer bound and is smiling instead of scowling.

But if it’s supposed to be calling out the objectifying trope of “to the hero goes the heroine/spoils,” it’s failing miserably. It can’t condemn the very same thing that it’s doing. It doesn’t matter if the woman was bound and clearly miserable in the company of the adventurers and later subservient and smiling in the presence of the goblins; that’s the way it always plays out, and swapping the traditional identities of the heroes and villains doesn’t do anything to change that.

Seriously, I would have adored this story if I didn’t notice it. It’s so good in every other way. It’s an adorable exploration of the cliches of one of my two favorite genres, and I thought right up until the end that it was going to be something of a new favorite for me.

But there’s this objectified stereotype played 100% straight right at the end, and I cannot get on board.

A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins
This picture book is delightfully defiant of its readers’ expectations. You’ve got two elements here: a hungry lion and an assortment of animals already stated to be dwindling. So what’s happening in the story? Is the hungry lion really eating the other animals? I’m honestly not going to spoil it for you; the surprise is what matters here.

A Hungry Lion is the best of this bunch by far, and even as an adult, I think the book’s a lot of fun. I definitely recommend it!

Miscellaneous

Free Fiction

Free eBooks

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks”. It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of March 2013, Project Gutenberg claimed over 42,000 items in its collection.

Wherever possible, the releases are available in plain text, but other formats are included, such as HTML, PDF, EPUB, MOBI, and Plucker. Most releases are in the English language, but many non-English works are also available. There are multiple affiliated projects that are providing additional content, including regional and language-specific works. Project Gutenberg is also closely affiliated with Distributed Proofreaders, an Internet-based community for proofreading scanned texts. (Wikipedia)

Popular books on the Project Gutenberg website include Pride and PrejudiceAlice’s Adventures in WonderlandWuthering HeightsDraculaPeter Pan, and A Tale of Two Cities, as well as other, less well-known works. The top 100 ebooks on Project Gutenberg can be viewed here. Fun fact: Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented the ebook in 1971.

eBooks at Goodreads

Goodreads (owned by Amazon) is the #1 most popular book-centric social networking site. In their downloadable ebook section, one can find public domain books as well as books and book excerpts that authors have made available for download.

Reddit

Reddit has several subreddits devoted to free (legal!) ebooks. For anyone unfamiliar with Reddit, you do not need to have an account to view this sub or to download any of the books. Some links go to Amazon, while others go to Smashwords, author’s websites, etcetera; no books are hosted at the subreddit itself, and illegal books are not permitted.

Check out:

  1. /r/freeEBOOKS
  2. /r/bookdownloads
  3. /r/KindleFreebies
  4. /r/FreeNookBooks

Free Audiobooks and Fiction Podcasts

Escape Pod

Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast from Escape Artists, Inc. As of 12/4/2013, there are 424 short stories and counting; a complete list of episodes can be viewed here.

PodCastle

PodCastle is a fantasy podcast from Escape Artists, Inc. As of 12/4/2013, there are 135 short stories and counting; a complete list of episodes can be viewed here.

Pseudopod

Pseudopod is a horror podcast from Escape Artists, Inc. As of 12/4/2013, there are 362 short stories and counting; a complete list of episodes can be viewed here.

The NoSleep Podcast

The Nosleep Podcast is an award-winning anthology series of original horror stories, with rich atmospheric music to enhance the frightening tales.

The NoSleep Podcast is the podcast that accompanies the /r/nosleep subreddit (see “Amateur Fiction” below). Only the first two “seasons” of this podcast are free. After the final episode of “Season 2”, the podcast was split into a free and premium version. The free version can be found through the link above, while the premium version can be purchased at the podcast’s website.

Disclaimer: I do not pay for the “premium” version, nor could I afford to do so if I wanted to. Frankly, I disagree with the podcaster’s decision to put the majority of what used to be a completely free podcast behind a paywall. But more importantly, the podcaster makes repeated and thinly-veiled attempts to shame listeners into financially “supporting” the podcast that I find utterly reprehensible and very insulting, as the language he uses is incredibly demeaning to those of us whose lack of wealth restricts us to free entertainment.

Free Short Stories

Classic Horror Short Stories: The Greatest Horror Story Collection

CHSS, as the site refers to itself, is a website that hosts short horror stories in the public domain. Authors whose stories are hosted on the site include Ambrose Bierce, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and more.

Free Amateur Fiction

FictionPress

FanFiction.net‘s sister site, FictionPress.com, contains over 1 million original stories, poems, and plays. The site has a similar format and rules to FanFiction.net, except that no fan fiction is allowed. Currently, there are more poems than stories. (Wikipedia)

FictionPress is a site for hobbyist, amateur, and future professional writers to post their original fiction (as opposed to FF.net, which is for fanfiction).

/r/nosleep

/r/nosleep is a subreddit devoted to horror fiction. While some claims to be fact and most is obviously fictional, the primary gimmick of the sub is that all stories are to be treated as “true”; discussion of /r/nosleep’s authors and stories that acknowledges what is and is not fiction can be found at /r/NoSleepOOC (aka, NoSleep Out of Character). Be sure to read the NoSleep FAQ.

Though many of the authors who write at NoSleep are “professionals”, having published or self-published novels or short fiction outside of the sub, many of the authors are amateurs who dabble in the craft of writing for fun and in an effort to entertain. As such, I’m including NoSleep under the “Amatuer Fiction” heading; my apologies if you strongly disagree.

Trigger warnings are included on the more extreme stories, though they can be turned off if you find they’re spoiling twist endings for you–provided you aren’t using Reddit Enhancement Suite, unfortunately. Examples of these trigger warnings include “sexual violence”, “graphic violence”, etcetera. The subreddit contains no frightening or startling images that I have found, so there’s nothing to fear on that front.

NoSleep has monthly writing contests, and the archive of winners can be found here; it should be a good way to sample the sub, if you’re not sold on it. Alternately, NoSleep also has a podcast available; the link can be found in the “Free Audiobooks and Fiction Podcasts” section above.

Giveaways

Goodreads First Reads

First Reads is Goodreads’ giveaway section, a place for authors and publishers to raffle off copies of their books to readers. All books in this section are physical copies, and so one must list a shipping address in order to participate. As such, anyone interested in participating in the First Reads program will want to be aware of the potential risks; there have been issues in the past with authors attempting to use the First Read programs to get access to the addresses of their critics.

BookLikes Giveaways

BookLikes is a competitor to Goodreads that has been growing in popularity thanks to Goodreads’ controversial policy decisions (and its acquisition by Amazon) during 2013. It has its own giveaway section that has two huge advantages over the First Reads program:

  1. eBooks are offered, so anyone uncomfortable with providing authors/publishers with their shipping address can still participate (to a certain extent).
  2. As BookLikes is a far less populous site than Goodreads, one has a much higher chance of winning a BookLikes giveaway than a Goodreads giveaway.

Fanfiction

Fanfiction.net

FanFiction.Net (often abbreviated as FF.net or FFN) is an automated fan fiction archive site. It was founded in 1998 by Los Angeles computer programmer Xing Li, who also runs the site. As of 2010, FanFiction.Net is the largest and most popular fan fiction website in the world. It has nearly 2.2 million registered users and hosts stories in over 30 languages. (Wikipedia)

If you want to get started reading or writing fanfiction, this is the place to start. A lot of what you’ll find here is absolute crap, but there are some gems here and there. The most popular categories are Harry Potter (683k stories), Naruto (361k stories), Twilight (216k stories), Inuyasha (112k stories), Glee (105k stories), Hetalia: Axis Powers (103k stories), Supernatural (95.6k stories), Bleach (77.7k), Pokémon (72k stories), and Kingdom Hearts (71.2k stories).

Fanfiction.net uses this rating system. While they claim to ban content rated MA (Adult/Explicit/18+), it’s not a particularly well-enforced rule.

Archive of Our Own

We’re a fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks, like fanfiction, fanart, fan videos, and podfic. We currently have 15273 fandoms, 328080 registered users, and 1138056 works.

While the site is in beta, you can get an invitation from another user or from our automated invite queue. All fans and fanworks are welcome!

The Archive of Our Own is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works.

Archive of Our Own, also known as AO3, is a fanfiction archive alternative to fanfiction.net. It’s technically still in beta, so you’ll need to join the waiting list or receive an invitation to join, but you can browse the site without having an account if you don’t want one or are currently waiting for one. The various fandoms present on the site can be browsed here. There’s also original fiction on AO3, which can be found here.

Ratings found at AO3 include General, Teen+, Mature, Explicit, and Unrated. Warnings include Graphic Depictions of Violence, Major Character Death, Rape/Non-Con, Underage, and No Warnings Apply; there is also the option for authors to neglect warnings, represented by the label “Chose Not to Use Archive Warnings”.

And Nonfiction

University of California Press eBook Collection

This is a catalogue of books published by the University of California Press. There are currently 770 books available to the general Internet; these can be browsed here. (To have access to the entire collection, one must be a UC staff/faculty member or a student.)

University of Chicago Press

The University of Chicago Press offers a free ebook every month, which can be downloaded here. An email address is required to “request” a copy (as far as I can tell, there is no approval process–it’s simply an extra click), and the download link for the book is sent to the address you supply. There are several different download options; the default is via Adobe Digital Editions.

Getty Publications Virtual Library

This is a trove of at least two hundred art books from the Getty Museum.

Do you know of a legal source for free fiction that I didn’t mention? Please feel free to let me know about it in the comments below! This comment section should not be used to promote individual books. Such comments will be removed as spam.