Miscellaneous

[Top Ten Tuesday] Ten Movies I Plan to Write Fic For

Trigger Warning: This post references certain problematic and/or potentially triggering literary/fandom tropes in a non-critical light. Continue reading “[Top Ten Tuesday] Ten Movies I Plan to Write Fic For”

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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.
Miscellaneous

Picture Books 2016 #2: Quirkiness, Crayons, and the Scientific Method

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.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

This was an adorable and genuinely funny story about a baby wolf who is adopted by a rabbit family. His elder sister is convinced he’s a threat, but she just can’t get her parents to believe that he’s going to “eat them all up”. The scene that brings the two siblings together, though, is the real gem.

…though you can read some uncomfortable subtext into the wolf’s bunny costume if you’re determined to take it as a metaphor for interracial adoption and find unfortunate implications here.


The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

The illustrations are utterly adorable and ridiculous, and so was the story. It fits perfectly in a world of children who love the quirky humor and art of shows like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls–and since those shows have such a huge periphery demographic, I think that alone implies that (young) adults will get a kick out of reading this with their kids, too.

Honestly, the whole thing is spectacular, and I love it.


This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary

Yeah, I don’t get the hype for this one.  It’s just a girl with an imagination. Straightforward and simple, and while I appreciate the bucking of gender stereotypes, that’s really all it had to offer.


The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

In the sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan gets a series of postcards from his various crayons. They’ve all being doing interesting and amusing things… and I just can’t be fucked to care about this anymore than I did about The Day the Crayons Quit.

It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and there’s some genuinely endearing bits here… but apparently I just don’t like anthropomorphic crayons. That’s a weird foible to have, I’ll readily admit, but it looks like that’s just the way things are working out. Alas. No more crayon books for me, please.


Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

I love this one! It’s definitely one of my best books of 2015! It uses the story of Dr. Mesmer to teach children about the scientific method and the placebo effect, and that’s fucking awesome.

I seriously cannot recommend this enough; I’ve never seen a better educational picture book. (…said with sincerest apologies to my beloved Magic School Bus series.)

Looking for a great book for the young reader in your life? Check out these and similar books below!
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Miscellaneous

Picture Books 2016 #1: Dr. Seuss, Interstellar Cinderella, and More

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.

I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems

Did I just take acid? What the fuck just happened to me? It starts out with the same kind of “let me sleep!” plot line that Goodnight, Already! had, but then this takes a distinct turn for the strange. The illustrations are great, and… I kind of want to just hand this to someone when they’re tripping and see what they make of it. (Is that a odd thought to have?)

…and that’s my roundabout way of saying this was super amusing in the weirdest way.

Otter in Space by Sam Garton

This is a children’s book that apparently ties into the author’s blog, I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter. I can only imagine this story is more endearing if you’re familiar with that, because as it stands alone… I’m not really affected either way. I’m not interested, amused, put off, or anything. I have genuinely zero opinions about this book and am only left with the sense that I’m missing some kind of context I need to actually enjoy it.

What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss

Honestly, the Seuss biography in the back, which included information on his various pets and how this manuscript came to be discovered and published, was more interesting than the book itself. But it’s probably a fun read for an animal lover or a child expecting to get a pet soon. It’s likely the perfect way, in fact, to get a child thinking seriously about what kind of pet they want (and from there, you can do some actual research into caring for their chosen animal before you go out and grab one, unlike the children in this story).

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood

Guys, I genuinely cannot gush about this enough. I don’t give out many five star ratings, but this easily snatches one up for itself.

The art is spectacular, and the concept is great. It’s like a punk-ish space fantasy (Is spacepunk a thing? Can we make it a thing?) with a feminist angle; here we have a fairy godmother godrobot who gives Cindy not a dress and a pumpkin carriage but a space suit and brand-new tools so she can fix her spaceship, stepsisters who are wicked instead of ugly, and a Cindy who she earns the prince’s attention not by being pretty and demure but by rescuing him with a timely spaceship repair. And, perhaps best of all, it bucks the notion that a fairytale’s “happily ever after” must be a wedding (or worse, babies) between a teenage girl and a generic Prince Charming. This whole damn thing is spectacular; this is how you do a feminist retelling of a fairytale. This is pure fucking gold.

The only flaw I can possibly come up with is that a child will likely have to be familiar with the Disney (or Disney-esque) retelling to fully appreciate this. But, seriously, there’s no way to prevent a child from eventually hearing that (and I’d argue there shouldn’t be, since it’s a cultural cornerstone for better or worse), so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Waiting by Kevin Henkes

It’s a super simple story about toys sitting on a windowsill as the seasons–and years, presumably–pass them by. There’s not much to it, but it’s kind of cute and sweet.

Looking for a great book for the young reader in your life? Check out these and similar books below!
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Miscellaneous

2015 Wrap-Up: Resolutions, Challenge Results, & More!

2015 Bookish Resolutions

  1. Catch up on my ARCs. (And by extension, get my Netgalley up to 80%.)
  2. Focus on reading books that I own; I have so many that they’ve long since overflowed my shelves, so I’d like to read enough of them that I can feel comfortable passing those I no longer want on to other readers. Since I’m an eternal dork, I’m going to be calling this “Project Get Shit on Shelves”.
  3. Write a cumulative 250,000 words (including book reviews, blog posts, journal entries, and fiction).
  4. Read two hundred books.
  5. Stick to my planned posting schedule here at Amara’s Eden. I have specific things planned for specific days, and I’d like to stay on top of that for as long as possible. The whole year, ideally.
  6. Complete both Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015.
  7. Complete at least the lowest level of all reading challenges I’ve signed up for.
  8. Complete the transition from Goodreads to Leafmarks (i.e., finish transferring books, shelves, and reviews once and for all).
  9. Read (and watch?) more horror this year. Horror is far and away my favorite genre, but I don’t intake anywhere near as much of it as I’d like. I think I’d like to make 2015 the year I really delve into the genre!
  10. Read five books published in 2015. I’m always excited when the GR Choice Awards come around, except that always involves me staring at a screen full of books I’ve never heard of, let alone read. I’d like to try to keep up with some trends this year, I think. Maybe check out some 2015 Listopia lists for ideas?

So, How Did I Do?

  1. I utterly failed to catch up on my eARCs this year, though I did read a few. My Netgalley score right now is a truly dismal 20%.
  2. I completely abandoned the idea of “Project Get Shit on Shelves” within the first month of 2015. I read about twelve books that I own (out of fucking thousands), which is more than 2014 but still utterly pathetic.
  3. I think I write about 200,000 words in 2015, almost all of which was actually fiction. It wasn’t the 250k I wanted, but I’m satisfied nevertheless.
  4. I read only one hundred books in 2015 instead of the two hundred I wished.
  5. I utterly failed with Amara’s Eden during 2015. I abandoned my schedule altogether, and the blog went on hiatus for the majority of the year.
  6. I completed both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015, and I was super happy with everything I produced!
  7. I completed at least the lowest level of all my reading challenges in 2015!
  8. I still haven’t finished transitioning my database from Goodreads to Leafmarks. I may resume my efforts to do so in 2016.
  9. I didn’t find the time to get back into horror in 2015, though I did check out some horror movies as part of a Halloween binge. There were some great ones, but I’m still not satisfied with the quantity or quality of my horror intake!
  10. The only 2015 releases I read in 2015 were the Goodreads Choice Awards nominees for the picture book category. Technically, that means I hit this one, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

2016 Resolutions

  1. Get my Netgalley rating above 50%. 
  2. Read at least twenty books I own. 
  3. Read at least one hundred total books. 
  4. Complete at least the lowest level of all reading challenges I’ve signed up for. 
  5. Post at Amara’s Eden at least twice every month. 
  6. Write 750words every day (barring Internet outages). 
  7. Write a thousand words of fiction every day. 
  8. Complete both Camp NaNoWriMo 2015 sessions and NaNoWriMo 2015. 
  9. Write 400,000 total words. 
  10. Finish Sparrow.

Reading Challenges


2015 I Love Library Books Reading Challenge

So, How Did I Do? actual # / goal #

  1. 2015 Mount TBR Reading Challenge | 13 books / 12 books
  2. I Love Picture Books 2015 Reading Challenge | 39 books / 30 books
  3. You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge 2015 | 100 books / 100 books
  4. Hardcore Rereading Challenge | 12 books / 12 books
  5. What An Animal Reading Challenge 2015 | 30 books / 13 books
  6. 2015 Snagged @ the Library Reading Challenge | 75 books / 50 books
  7. 2015 Netgalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge | 10 books / 10 books
  8. 2015 I Love Library Books Reading Challenge | 75 books / 50 books

End of Year Reading Survey 2015

Number of Books I Read: 100
Number of Rereads: 12
Genre I Read the Most From: Middle Grade
Best Book of the Year: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Biggest Disappointment: Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl, #1) by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens
Most Surprising: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Recommended: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Best New Series: Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions, #1) by Lemony Snicket
Best Sequel: Power to the Purple (The Ultra Violets, #2) by Sophie Bell
Favorite New Author: Cleveland Amory
Best Book Outside My Comfort Zone: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Thrilling: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Likely to Reread: The Wizard’s Apprentice (The Keepers, #2) by Jackie French Koller
Favorite Cover: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Memorable Character: Polar Bear, The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Most Beautifully Written: The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
Most Thought-Provoking: Zora and Me by Victoria Bond
I Can’t Believe I Waited This Long!: Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl, #1) by Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens
Shortest Book: Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Edward Field
Longest Book: Sweet Miss Honeywell’s Revenge by Kathryn Reiss
Most Shocking Book: The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship: Cleveland Amory and Polar Bear, The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory
Favorite Book from an Author I’ve Read Previously: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Favorite Book Someone Recommended: Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood
Most Vivid Setting: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Most Fun Read: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
Most Tear-Jerking: The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen
Hidden Gem of the Year: The Wizard’s Apprentice (The Keepers, #2) by Jackie French Koller
Most Infuriating: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
Favorite Review of 2015: Claudia and Mean Janine (The Baby-sitters Club, #7) by Ann M. Martin
Favorite Non-Review Post of 2015: My Short Story Experience
Best Event or Meme: Cover Characteristic
Best Moment of 2015: Finally posting again at Amara’s Eden after my long hiatus!
Most Challenging Thing About Blogging or Reading in 2015: Trying to stop procrastinating and to balance reading/blogging with my other hobbies.
Most Popular Post of 2015: The Haunted Playground by Shaun Tan
Most Neglected Post of 2015: I’m back!
Best Discovery: Kindle App for Android (It’s so much better than my shitty Kindle. I can actually bear to read ebooks now!)
Completed Goals and Challenges: See above!
#1 Priority Book(s) of 2016: Zombies: More Recent Dead by Paula Guran, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014 by Paula Guran, & The Best Horror of the Year Volume 6 by Ellen Datlow
Most Anticipated Non-Debut: The Tiara on the Terrace (Young and Yang, #2) by Kristen Kittscher
Most Anticipated Debut: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary


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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Play Dead (A Dog and His Girl Mysteries, #1) by Jane B. Mason & Sarah Hines Stephens

Play Dead was downloaded free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Unfortunately, I’m inclined to say this is another of those cases where the cover is quite a bit better than the book itself. I wanted to love this story, based on how utterly adorable both the cover and the concept are… but I only kind of tolerated it instead.

Play Dead, the first book in Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines Stephens’ A Dog and His Girl Mysteries, is a mystery story told in alternating POVs, swapping at varying intervals between the titular dog, Dodge, and his titular girl, Cassie. There are some cute, funny moments throughout, most of which revolve around the dog (there’s a bit about dogs using fire hydrants as what’s essentially a community bulletin board where they leave each other notes), and I have to give it props for being what I’m fairly sure is the first chapter book (the cover makes it look like an MG novel, but it’s definitely more along the lines of elementary grade fare) I’ve read that acknowledges that youngsters nowadays have phones.

On the other hand, it had two major elements that I was certainly not happy to see. Most frustratingly, we have the same old tired mean girl tropes trotting by one by one here in the form of a girl named Summer and her “posse”, who all have “matching haircuts, phony smiles, and lunches that they’d barely eat”. I’m genuinely inclined to wonder at this point why all all these kidlit and MG authors are recycling the same tired tropes with no regard to how they don’t actually reflect reality–or if I’m supposed to believe believe that every one of them actually lived through childhoods beleaguered by roving gangs of catty, pretty girls. I’m certainly inclined to think it’s the former, and I’ve gotta say it irks, to put it mildly.

Mean Girls was funny. Pretending that Mean Girls is an accurate reflection of female relationships is not.

But that’s not the biggest problem I had with this. I can handle a mean girl or two. You have to be able to handle that stereotype if you want to read books like these simply because it’s so frustratingly common. No, what really pissed me off about this one is that I couldn’t stand Cassie; she’s a complete at utter brat, an opinion was solidified when she decides that the only reasonable response to Summer’s snide comments toward the new girl is to throw her lunch on her. Is that supposed to be funny? Because it’s just utterly not.

Cassie, meanwhile, seems downright offended when she’s the one who gets in trouble instead of Summer–you know, the girl she attacked. As she puts it, “As a member of the faculty, [the lunch aide, Ms. Croswell] automatically assumed the person screaming was the one who had been wronged.” …all of which perfectly exemplifies how Cassie is not, as the narrative would have you believe, some kind of underdog sticking up for the other students; Cassie’s a bully. At a later point in the story, she refers to Summer as a “freaky Barbie puppet” and her friends team up to pull a prank on her that’s every bit as mean and unnecessary as anything Summer and her friends pull. And I’m supposed to be rooting for this kid? No, thank you.

So my verdict on that front is a very simple, “no more mean girl plots, please and thank you.” Seriously. I showed up for dogs and for mysteries; I neither want nor need any of this cartoonish cattiness. Are realistic relationships–both positive and negative–between fictional girls and antagonists who are more than cardboard cutouts of a stereotype really so much to ask for?

But the point of this story was the mystery, so let me get to that. The best thing I can say about it is that most of it is a perfectly reasonable, relatively enjoyable mystery. The worst thing I can say about it is that the plot twist was ludicrous. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it involves a trope that is utterly nonsensical and doesn’t work in a mystery–not even one for children–with these kinds of stakes. I simply cannot stretch my suspension of disbelief far enough to do anything but laugh about the ending to the Play Dead mystery. It is straight-up silly.

If you have a small child who is absolutely, super-duper addicted to reading kidlit mysteries or in possession of an overwhelming need to read about a sleuthing dog, Play Dead might be what you’re looking for. But if you’re just looking to introduce your kid to a solid mystery series of chapter books, I’d definitely suggest the A to Z Mysteries series instead.

As for me, I think I’ll eventually get around to giving the sequel a chance. But if there’s no improvement there–particularly on the front of Summer and co., since I’ve certainly forgiven much sillier plot twists that this one in the past (I’m looking at you, Who Cloned the President?)–I think I’m out. Plenty of other stuff to read.

If you like the sound of this book, here are some others I think you might enjoy!
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Miscellaneous

[Series Review] Flower Girl World by Lynelle Woolley

Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure was downloaded free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lynelle Wooley’s Flower Girl World is a series of two chapter books for young children, and the theme is exactly what you’d expect from the title. It’s about a group of little girls who serve as flower girls in a wedding and decide to form a club for their not-quite-a-hobby. The series is fairly cute and I enjoy the art (it looks like something that would be at home in one of those casual Time Management games, like Diner Dash or Delicious or–more relevant here–Diner Dash’s spin-off series, Wedding Dash), though I can’t say I’m aware of any demographic of girls particularly interested in the idea of flower girls. I certainly didn’t have any such interests when I was that age, though I imagine this series might have changed that, had it been around back in the mid-nineties!

I’m going to say that Rosie and the Wedding Day Rescue, the first book in the series, is definitely the weaker of the two. I picked up my copy for free from Amazon during a promotional period (I keep up with Kindle freebies over at /r/FreeEBOOKS), but I didn’t get around to reading it until now. It’s short and it’s cute, though it’s not exactly the most fascinating or logical thing I’ve ever read.

It’s really exactly what you’d expect it to be. Three cute little girls (making up your typical white/blonde, white/brunette, and ambiguously brown/brunette trio) are invited to be flower girls at a wedding, and they get to pick out their clothes, deal with insecurity, and solve all the bride’s problems along the way. Because of the low page count, though, there isn’t much time devoted to any of these issues, and I’d say the “helping the bride” bits suffered the worst for that; but then, I always find these kinds “the kids save the day” plots kind of ridiculous–but I’m sure a kid within the age of the target audience will get a kick out it no matter what I think.

Iris and the Aloha Wedding Adventure was more fun. While the first book revolved around the brunette tomboy, Rosie, Aloha Wedding Adventure shifts focus over to the blonde, Iris, and gives her a new friend when she travels to Hawaii to be in another wedding. Unlike Wedding Day Rescue, which revolved around the typical “kids save the day” course of events with some wedding trappings as flair, the wedding here served as a set-up for something I find much more interesting.

Iris’ new friend, Hana, is a mixed-ethnicity girl of Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian descent, and her Tutu–her grandmother–introduces the reader to some Hawaiian mythology in the form of the Menehune. It really helped to make the Hawaiian theme seem less like empty trappings thrown on for the sake of exotic flavor and more like actual cultural diversity, and I loved it. Had I read this as a kindergartner, I don’t doubt that I would’ve adored it.

At the moment, the Flower Girl World website has no information about any upcoming books in the series, but if any more do come out, I definitely hope Woolley keeps going in the direction she took with Aloha Wedding Adventure. As for me, if I spot any more FGW books on Netgalley in the future, I’m definitely going to give them a chance. I’d love to see this series go further with the cultural exploration and get into different wedding traditions around the world.

If you like the sound of these books, check out the rest of the Flower Girl World line!
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Miscellaneous

Picture Books 2015: Part Two

This review contains spoilers.

All books reviewed below were downloaded free from either Netgalley or Edelweiss in exchanged for an honest review.
Made in China: A Story of Adoption by Vanita Oelschlager
This is a sweet, rhyming story about a Chinese-born, adopted little girl with a white older sister who teases her about being “made in China”, just like the label reads on so many American products. Concerned, the girl approaches her (also white) father, who tells her the story of her birth mother and her adoption while reassuring her of his love. It’s another beautifully illustrated picture book focusing on a specific type of a parent-child relationship from the author of A Tale of Two Daddies and A Tale of Two Mommies. I recommend all three to anyone looking for pro-diversity children’s book.

Baby Santa by M. Maitland DeLand
I read and reviewed Baby Santa and the Gift of Giving, another book in this series, last year, but somehow I failed to snatch up the other Baby Santa books available at Netgalley! I’m fixing that this year, and Baby Santa, this first book in DeLand’s series, is much the same as the most recent. It’s another quick little story about Santa’s and Mrs. Claus’s young child, Baby Santa; while Gift of Giving had, as its title implies, a charity theme, Baby Santa introduces its main character and, as so many children’s books do, lets him save the day–but only after he’s put it in peril. If you’re looking for a Christmas story, this is a perfectly reasonable choice.

Baby Santa’s Worldwide Christmas Adventure by M. Maitland DeLand
Baby Santa saves the again in this second Baby Santa book; this time, Santa’s sleigh is in the repair shop when it needs to be heading off toward rooftops, and it’s Baby Santa’s encouragement that gives Santa and his elves a plan. With the day saved, the father-son duo head out to deliver presents all over the world in various vehicles, from race cars and motorcycles to kayaks and blimps. If your small child enjoyed the first book, he or she will enjoy this one.

Baby Santa and the Lost Letters by M. Maitland DeLand
Once again, Christmas is in peril. A whole bunch of letters to Santa are missing from his mailbox, and this time, Baby Santa gets help from not only Santa and the elves, but Prancer and Prancer’s network of animal friends around the globe. I’m not gonna lie, that’s a fairly cute element that I can’t say I was expecting. Thinking about myself as I was when I fit the demographic for this series, Baby Santa and the Lost Letters definitely would have been my favorite of the series.

Baby Santa and the Missing Reindeer by M. Maitland DeLand
I’m going to say this is the weakest of the Baby Santa series; it opens with its issue already in progress–Santa’s team of fun-seeking reindeer have scattered off, and they need to be back in time for Christmas. So Baby Santa, whose whole family is unexpected change in this installment into ethnic Africans (from ethnic Europeans), and while I enjoy a children’s book that presents a Santa Claus altered from the common variant displayed on the majority of America’s Christmas products, I’m a bit thrown by the switch (especially since the change is reverted for the next book, Gift of Giving).

In any case, the story follows Baby Santa on his journey around the globe and presents us with the rather disturbing image of a reindeer dancing on his hind legs in The Nutcracker–costume included, in case you’re wondering–while another is seen playing professional, Christmas-themed American football. All in all, it’s kind of a weird experience, and I’d say that in terms of plot, it’s a bit weaker than the others in the series, which all had more build-up and involvement from the other characters before diving into the ’round-the-world sleigh ride. But if your kid enjoys the Baby Santa series, I’m sure they’ll enjoy this one, too.

Magic Words: From the Ancient Oral Tradition of the Inuit by Edward Field
Magic Words is a short poem about Inuit mythology–a little too short for my tastes, actually. But the illustrations are beautiful, and if you’re trying to spark or nurture your child’s interest in Native American cultures and mythologies (specifically Inuit or in general), this might be a great choice for you.


Does an Owl Wear Eyeglasses by Harriet Ziefert
Does An Owl Wear Eyeglasses? is a nonfiction book that teaches kids about eyes and eyesight by asking the titular question for various species. I think that aspect of it is undeniably well-done, but I have to admit that I’m a bit put off by “dear parents” letter preceding the book. I found it rather condescending, in all honesty. But it doesn’t detract from the value kids will get from the book!

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg
A Storm Called Katrina is about a musical little boy and his family as they survive and ensure the hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath, even adopting a little dog presumably stayed by the storm. It’s a bittersweet family story that will serve very well for today’s young children; though the target audience is now much too young to have experienced the disaster themselves, many will surely have relatives who were affected, and A Storm Called Katrina is a great way to begin introducing a child to the reality of the storm–and natural disasters in general.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland
How the Meteorite Got to the Museum is a picture book with a repeating element, a la The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly. I think there’s a bit of a disconnect between the target audience’s age and the reading level of some of the diction, so this is probably better read to a child than by a child (unless that child is particularly intuitive four-year-old capable of discerning definition from context or inordinately fond of consulting their dictionary). It’s not a bad story or an unenjoyable book by any means, but it might also require its child audience to have some preexisting knowledge of what exactly a meteorite is, because that’s not really covered here. Pair it with Magic School Bus’ space episode, though, and I think you’ve got a solid, fun educational experience for your kid(s).

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