Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Zepha The Monster Squid (Beast Quest, #7) by Adam Blade


When Tom defeated Epos the Winged Flame, he thought his Beast Quest was over.

He was wrong.

The Dark Wizard Malvel has returned. He has new beasts and a new plan to destroy the kingdom. Tom is determined to save Avantia and finish his quest. But that means facing Zepha the Monster Squid! The last time Tom fought an underwater monster, he barely survived.

Can he battle the evil beast and make it out alive?


Zepha the Monster Squid marks the beginning of the second Beast Quest sextet, The Golden Armor. It’s named such for a suit of–you guessed it!–golden armor introduced in the book, which apparently belongs to the “Master of the Beasts”. But alas, Tom’s nemesis, the wizard Malvel, steals the armor to prevent Tom from wearing it and imprisons Tom’s ally, the wizard Aduro. So of course Tom must set out to rescue Aduro and the armor with only his friend Elenna, his horse, and their companion wolf to help him.

Apparently, there is literally no one else in Avantia willing to fight Malvel. Just these two preteens. Because reasons.

Anyway, they soon discover that Malvel has created six new Beasts, each tasked with protecting one piece of the armor…. which seems like a dumbass thing to do when the guy you’re up against is the new “Master of the Beasts”.

So Tom, Elenna, Storm, and Silver set out to fight the first Beast, Zepha, who is patrolling the oceans of Avantia and starving the coastal people…. which seems odd, since those waters are where Sepron, whose one and only task is to protect Avantia, lives.

In any case, we again get to read about Tom being a super special hero, insisting upon doing everything on his own (leaving me to wonder what exactly is the point of having Elenna around), and ultimately being saved by Sepron, who can only attack Zepha in defense of a citizen of Avantia…. but saving them from starvation doesn’t count, apparently?

What I’m getting at, ultimately, is that Zepha the Monster Squid is not a good fantasy story. The villain’s actions are rather nonsensical and obviously happen for no reason other than to keep the story going. Tom’s a Gary Stu. Elenna’s a useless Load. (Is that better or worse than being a Damsel in Distress, I wonder?) Sepron’s role in the plot makes no sense, as he’s neutered for no reason other than to give Tom something to do. It’s lame fantasy all around.

At this point in the series, I’m just going to say skip it. If your kid wants to read some fantasy chapter books, go for the Deltora Quest series instead. It’s much better than this lazy writing.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems


The best thing about Mo Willem’s That Is Not a Good Idea! is its style; it’s reminiscent of the dialogue cards of silent movies, and I found that to be a rather charming element. As for the plot, it sets up your standard “don’t go with strangers” moral only to subvert it with a plot twist that an adult will see coming from a mile away, given how common it is. And I can’t say I’m fond of seeing another book that punishes carnivores for daring to eat.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book by Laura Krauss Melmed

Moishe’s Miracle author Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrator Elizabeth Schlossberg celebrate Hanukkah in joyful action rhymes, lyrical poems, and exuberant scenes of family life. From dancing candles to delicious traditional foods to the story of the Macabbees, they capture the warm sights, sounds, and tastes of this wintertime family festival.


Eight Winter Nights is kind of a weird book, and not in a way that I like. The art style’s rather interesting–it kind of reminds me of The Toys Who Saved Christmas–but the book itself is a bit of a let-down. The eight days of Hanukkah are breezed through in a series of short, rather unengaging poems.

But I think my biggest issue with the book is what’s missing.Melmed launches straight into the festivities of Hanukkah, not wasting a single moment on explaining what exactly Hanukkah is (until one gets to the short nonfiction section at the end of the book).

It’s clear from the way the book approaches the holiday that this isn’t a book for children who aren’t yet familiar with what Hanukkah is. This is not a book that’s going to help a child understand the holiday their Jewish friends are celebrating around Christmastime. This is not a book that’s going to help introduce Hanukkah to a child joining a Jewish family, whether through adoption or fostering or stepparenting. It’s strictly a book for children who are already familiar with what the holiday.

I’m a bit disappointed by that, honestly. Alas.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner


In Mr. Wuffles, the titular housecat finds a fully-functional miniscule spaceship–complete with extraterrestrial lifeforms inside–among his toys. With the kitty eager to play with his new, most intriguing toy, the aliens must band together with the other unwelcome guests in the household–the ants and the ladybugs–to escape the cat’s clutches.

I highly recommend this one to fans of picture books (and cats!); the plot’s creative, the illustrations are adorable, and there’s a pretty awesome twist ending. I look forward to reading more of Wiesner’s work.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal


! (aka, Exclamation Point) is a really cute story from Amy Krouse Rosenthal about finding one’s “purpose”, so to speak.
In the story, the titular exclamation point feels out of place with his period friends until he meets a question mark who helps him discover what makes him special.
It’s a really charming and inventive take on the typical “be yourself” moral. I highly recommend it to picture book readers, and I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author in the future. Anyone who can make a story about punctuation interesting is an author worth giving a chance!


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

In Flora and the Flamingo, an interactive, wordless picture book by Molly Idle, a little girl dances with a flamingo.

To properly express my opinion of the book, I think it’s best to first present the following blurb:

In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!

I didn’t get all that from this, frankly. Obviously, it’s just a matter of me not connecting emotionally with the book, but to me, a few pages of a little girl dancing with a bird doesn’t exactly capture “the trials and joys of friendship”; yes, it’s obviously a theme, but I just don’t get the same sense of emotional depth from it as the blurb writer apparently did.

Either way, Flora and the Flamingo was a reasonably cute story, but for me, it definitely didn’t live up to the glowing praise of the blurb. A person more invested in friendship-themed stories, however, may experience greater emotional impact and overall satisfaction that I did.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Tam Lin: An Old Ballad by Jane Yolen


“Do not go down to Carterhaugh…”

When the worlds of humankind and the Faery Folk sit side by side–with moonlight and mist the only door between–young Jennet MacKenzie defies her parents’ warning and embarks on a quest to win back the forbidden Carterhaugh, her ancestral home. One evening at the dilapidated mansion Jennet comes upon a blood-red rose amid the twining thorns. When she plucks it, it summons forth Tam Lin, a handsome captive of the Faery Queen. With courage and spirit, Jennet challenges the power of the Queen to save the life of Tam Lin and to win back the home that is rightfully hers.


Tam Lin was a rather enchanting read, especially as far as picture books go. Having never read or heard the story of Tam Lin before reading this adaptation (and having never heard of it before I stumbled across it), I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.

I always find mythology and folklore endlessly intriguing, but my knowledge is fairly limited; I can tell you a lot about the Greco-Roman pantheon, a reasonable amount about some of the more well-known aspects of ancient Egyptian mythology, and some bits and pieces of African and Japanese folklore, but I know damn near nothing about the myth and folklore–hell, even the culture–of northern Europe. So reading Tam Lin was particularly fascinating for exploring the mythology of the Fair Folk and offering some glimpses at Scottish culture.

Beyond that, there’s one aspect of Tam Lin that I find particularly refreshing: it’s the female character’s bravery who saves the day (not to mention the lives of both herself and the titular love interest). And since it’s a ballad from the 1500’s or earlier, I’m perfectly willing to forgive the instalove between Jennet and Tam Lin… especially since it’s fairly possible, at least in Jane Yolen’s version, to make the case that Jennet didn’t actually feel anything besides pity and determination when it came to her apparent love interest.

In any case, reading Tam Lin has definitely given me an itch for further exploration into faerie mythology, and I definitely recommend this adaptation to anyone interested in checking out the tale.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Shrek the Third: The Movie Storybook by Alice Cameron


Let me start by saying that I only watched Shrek the Third once, I found it to be quite disappointing after the sheer awesomeness of both Shrek and Shrek 2, and I don’t remember much about the plot. (And after the disappointment of Shrek the Third, I never watched Shrek Forever After.) So if there are inaccuracies or altered plot points in this book, I’m definitely not equipped to spot them.

On the other hand, reading this was enough to at least get me thinking about giving Shrek the Third another try. I very much appreciate getting to see the various fairy tale princesses–Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etcetera–drop the damsel in distress bit in favor of some butt-kicking with the help of the definitely-not-conventionally-attractive Ugly Stepsister (not to mention Julie Andrews’ queen!)

I’m still definitely not a big fan of where the Shrek canon went as a whole, from what happened to Charming after 2 to the introduction of King Arthur… but perhaps I’ll give it another watch soon.

In any case, Shrek the Third: The Movie Storybook seems to be a reasonably comprehensive–as far as I can recall–retelling of the film. Fans of the Shrek franchise should enjoy it, though, as usual, I recommend watching the movie first.


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] The Rescuers Down Under


The Rescuers Down Under is a ninety-six page picture book adaptation of the film of the same name. As far as my memory of the film extends (and I will take this opportunity to admit that it has been at least a decade since the last time I watched it), it’s a quite comprehensive retelling of the plot. Fans of Disney and the Rescuers films should enjoy reading this, though I definitely recommend watching both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under before reading this.


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