Thursday, October 29, 2015

Down Unders: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

Normally NaomiRuth does the Down Under posts, but I had to review Shannon and Dean Hale's The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, which is a great chapter book, so she gave me permission to post my own Down Under review here.

Book Details:

  • Written by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
  • Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  • Published by Candlewick Press
  • This book is listed by the publisher for ages 5-8, but younger kids will enjoy it being read to them and older kids will enjoy the rollicking adventures, too.
  • It's Princess Magnolia's birthday and princesses from all over are coming to help her celebrate. But just when she's ready to open her presents the alarm sounds and she has to sneak away to become the Princess in Black to save her kingdom from monsters. Can Princess Magnolia keep her identity a secret, scare away the monsters, and still manage to enjoy her party?
Important Things to Know:
  • This is the second book in the Princess in Black series and it just came out a couple of weeks ago!
  • The first book, The Princess in Black came out in October of 2014 and is now also available in paperback.
  • The third book, The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde comes out in February of 2016, which is really not that far away, when you think about it.
  • You can check out the Princess in Black website for more information including a Q&A with the authors an activity kit and even book club questions!
  • You can find Shannon Hale on her website or tweeting wonderful things on her Twitter.
  • You can find Dean Hale on his Twitter as well.
  • You can find LeUyen Pham (and how to pronounce her name) on her website.
Why I Enjoyed This Book:
  • Anyone who's followed this blog knows that I am a very big Shannon Hale fan. And I loved the story behind her reasons for writing this series.
  • I love that Princess Magnolia is both a pink-loving, fancy-dress-and-glass-slipper-wearing princess and a masked avenger who can kick monsters all the way back to their own home and out of her kingdom. I like that it doesn't have to be an either/or. She doesn't have to be all rough and tough or all glitter and fluff. She can be both. I think that is such a great message. So often when girls in books are fighters, they lose their femininity and I appreciate that Magnolia can be both tough and dainty.
  • The pure silliness of the story will have kids of all ages giggling over the lengths Magnolia has to go to hide her secret identity.
  • I love that the princesses who come to Magnolia's party represent such a diverse group, not only ethnically, but also in other physical features as well.
  • I love Princess Sneezewort and I really hope she features more fully in future books.
You Can Find This Book At:
I received this advance reader copy via BookExpo America

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: October Edition

First! A reminder that our contest to win an ARC of Gregory Maguire's newest book After Alice is still going on! You know you want to win it, so go enter now!

I can't believe October's almost over! Someone posted on their Facebook wall that there are only 8 more Fridays until Christmas, so if you wanted to have a freak out, go check and you'll see this is true and makes Christmas seem much closer than I thought it was.

So what am I reading now in this lovely fall month? Check it out:

On my Nook - Fiction: I'm now reading The Red Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang. I love fairy tales and these collections are a lot of fun.

On my Nook - Non-Fiction: Still. Reading. The Madwoman in the Attic. But I'm almost done!Only about 100 pages left and I'd really like to wrap it up before the end of the month.

On my Phone: Still working my way through A Medicine for Melancholy by Ray Bradbury. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I've had less opportunities to read on my phone in the last 6 weeks or so.

In Print: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst. I am only a couple of chapters in, but I am absolutely in love with this world and these characters. I can't wait to read more!

In Audio in my Car: Continuing my Series of Unfortunate Events re-read, I'm on The Grim Grotto and more in love with the series than ever before. Also, Tim Curry's narration continues to be perfection.

What are you reading now? Anything interesting? Good? Bad?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Once Upon a Time - Dreamcatcher

5.5 "Dreamcatcher"

What an episode this week! We finally find out who Merlin is and there's plenty of action both in the present and in the flashbacks to move the story well forward. Emma Dark Swan manipulates Merida who begins to manipulate Rumple into being a hero. The crew of heroes sets out to try to uncover Emma's evil plan and Henry tries to win the approval of the lovely Violet. While in the flashback Emma manipulates Violet to manipulate Henry so his tear can set Merlin free.

It seems that the one thing the darkness does is latch onto the part of someone that feels powerless and offers them an easy fix, a quick way to save themselves and the people they love. This blinds people like Rumple and Emma to the truth that true power is in light and love, not in magic and deception. The question will be whether Emma's conflicting roles as Savior and Dark One will allow her to fight back against the darkness that's overtaken her. In the flashbacks she has fought against it, but she's also fallen back on the false power of the dark magic every time things get a little hard. She excuses it because she's doing it for "good" reasons, but relying on power and magic rather than truth and inner strength will always cause unintended fallout.

Regina's reminder at the end of the episode was pointed - the ends do not and cannot justify the means. Just as Cora killed Daniel because she thought it was the best thing for Regina, so too Emma has started hurting people and justifying it by her good intentions and the end result she hopes to achieve. She might not be Regina, or Rumple for that matter, but she's falling into the same traps - the choice of power over the vulnerability that comes with true love.

Though, I must admit that my first reaction when Emma told Regina, no offense but I'm not you, was that she was right - Regina has better fashion sense, more flair, and much better snark.

Sidenote: how much did I love Regina's outfit in the flashbacks?

Another question raised tonight is who the Dark One was that Merlin faced and who his lost love was. Merlin isn't exactly what I was expecting and I'm really curious as to what happened to him between the release and the return to Storeybrooke. I'm also really wondering what happened that made Emma so angry at everyone and why she thought bringing them all back to Storybrooke was the answer.

I really liked the way the magic was both light and dark when Emma set Merlin free - her two natures fighting together. So what tipped things to the dark?

And of course, the main conceit of this episode - the dreamcatchers. I love the call back to Neal, of course, but also the idea that these can catch, not only dreams, but memories. And that makes Emma's shed of dreamcatchers extremely creepy. As well as raising questions as to why she's so upset when she goes in there. She's very ... gloomy as the Dark One. Seeing her smile with Henry was nice and, honestly, much more creepy than when she's Eeyore-ing it up everywhere. Maybe it's because she's having to fight against her role as Savior and her unfinished Operation. Mongoose

I'm so frustrated with Arthur's continued deception in Storybrooke. Gah! They need to find out the truth!

The Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater got a good chuckle out of me.

Oh, and another question - how did Merida get into Regina's office or, for that matter, know to look in Regina's office for the book. She seems to know an awful lot about Storybrooke (like where to look for Rumple's treasured possessions). Where did she get this knowledge? I suppose Emma could have given her a quick lesson, but it all seems a little too convenient.

Another question I had was about the protection spell on Emma's house. If it was just the door handle that was protected, couldn't they have just gone through a window or something? It seems like a pretty weak spell that can be beaten by a scarf. Regina would have set a much more effective protection spell if she didn't want people getting into her house.

I loved Violet's reaction to the soda: "It's like a carnival in a can!" But I was a little bit annoyed at the completely different reaction her father had. Though I do guess that, since he doesn't remember what happened before, he's forming an entirely new impression of Henry. Though I kind of liked the idea that she wasn't as into him as he was into her - it seemed a little less cliche. But the twist of Emma having coerced her into it? Very interesting. And, really, much more Once Upon a Time-ish.

Some really good character and plot development tonight. I'm really curious to see where the Merida storyline goes and to find out what else happened in Camelot to tip Emma over the edge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Little Lit and GIVEAWAY!: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Ada is a neighbor and friend of Alice. On the day of Alice's adventures, Ada escapes her governess and the confines of her house along with her new, squalling baby brother. On her way to deliver a jar of marmalade to Alice's family, Ada finds herself falling into the same rabbit hole as Alice and wandering around Wonderland, finding herself free, for once, of her back brace and with her limp much less noticeable. As Ada strives to enter the beautiful garden she sees through the keyhole and runs into the white rabbit, the Cheshire cat, the duchess, and other Wonderland creatures, Alice's older sister, Lydia finds herself caught up with the travelling companions of Charles Darwin including a freed slave boy named Siam. As the stories criss and cross and intertwine around each other, Ada, Lydia, and Siam find themselves changed by their encounters.
Available for sale October 27, 2015
Or, if you'd like a chance to win my advanced reader copy, simply enter using the Rafflecopter form at the end of the blog post. You've got 2 weeks, so spread the word!

What I Liked:
  • I really enjoyed Ada's adventures. It was interesting seeing her follow Alice, sometimes only a few steps behind.
  • Yet at the same time, it was a completely different journey from Alice's. In some of the same situations (such as the mad tea party), Ada acts completely differently with interesting and entertaining results.
  • As usual, Maguire picks up the flavor of the source material, so that Ada's adventures feel very much like they take place in the same world as Alice's did.
What I Would Have Liked:
  • I would have liked more of Ada and less of the others, particularly of Lydia. Though it became interesting (to some extent), I found myself skimming more quickly through those parts to get back to Ada.
  • I would have liked less commentary. I almost didn't even read the book because the first few pages were so heavy and convoluted that I didn't want to keep going. I always feel that Maguire is at his best when delving into the fantasy aspect. It's when he waxes political or philosophical that he loses me.
  • I would have liked a different ending. In fact, I'm still just a bit confused. I feel like in his attempt to make the story less "dream-like" as the original Alice is, Maguire tipped the other direction and left me  with just a bit of a sour taste.
  • I really enjoyed parts of it, and really didn't enjoy others.
  • Those who liked the more political/historical aspects of Maguire's other books (such as in the Oz books, particularly the later ones), will most likely thoroughly enjoy this one as well.
  • Those looking for a more fantasy based romp will probably be disappointed.
For more information you can check out Gregory Maguire's website or author page on GoodReads.

I received this book as an advance reader copy at BookExpo America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

10 Things I Loved About Blood of the Queen by Amalia Dillin

If you haven't read Honor Among Orcs you should go check out my review and interview, and then read the book and then read this book because this series is awesomesauce.
Arianna escaped the horrors of her father's house and survived the treacherous journey over the mountain and all of the dangers she faced with the orcs and elves who wanted to kill or control her. But her new husband, Bolthorn, is now worried about his missing brother and Arianna feels completely inadequate for the responsibilities that will fall on her shoulders as Gythja - leader with her husband of the Hrimthursar clan. Add to that the new powers she doesn't quite understand and a baby on the way and Arianna is facing a lot of uncertainty. Can she and Bolthorn rescue his brother and cousin without losing themselves in the process? And can Arianna face her past and break free of the hold her father still has on her?

This book is available today so go buy it!
Check out more about Amalia at her blog or on GoodReads, follow her on Twitter, or like her page on Facebook.
You can also check out our other posts related to Amalia's books.

Now check out the 10 things I loved about Blood of the Queen. I've avoided spoilers of this book, but it is a sequel, so if you haven't read the first book, just be aware I'll most likely be spoiling that one to some extent :)

  1. The worldbuilding - Amalia does a great job crafting this complex, political world with four different races without it feeling overwhelming or info-dumping. I like the way she weaves in all the little details about cultures and customs throughout the story.
  2. Arianna - I like the way everything isn't all perfect because Arianna escapes her father and finds the love of her life. She's still an individual with a lot of baggage and issues to deal with along with personal strengths that help drive her forward. She's well-rounded and enjoyable to watch grow.
  3. Bolthorn - It was nice getting to learn a bit more about him, even if the focus was on Arianna. I love the way he loves Arianna and sees the best in her. But he's well-rounded as well with his own flaws and struggles to work through and deal with.
  4. Their relationship - Although there is a lot of other stuff going on, Arianna and Bolthorn's relationship is still a central piece of the drama. Their relationship is impacted and impacts the larger political upheavals taking place. In addition, they're a couple dealing with the shift into being a partnership and the work of being a couple with ups and downs, disagreements, and trying to figure out how to deal together with all of the things they face. It's nice to see the couple after the traditional fairy tale ending.
  5. Isolfur - I really loved getting to know more about the water horse. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil anything, but I found this aspect of the story quite fascinating.
  6. Isabel and Rodric - It was so interesting seeing this piece of Arianna's past and the things that are revealed through these two people who mean so much to her.
  7. The magic - I was really interested in the way the magic was explored further with its own rules and with Arianna's struggle to understand how things work and what the cost is.
  8. More information about Sinmarra - I like the way that this was built from the previous book and I'm excited to see where it goes in the next one. I know that's super vague, but spoilers!
  9. The cliffhanger - oh the cliffhanger. Okay, so the book is complete and the quest they set out on was completed in its way, but so many questions. So many many questions and I need to know the answers!
  10. So much potential - I don't think a third book has been confirmed officially but there has to be another one. There has to be because I need to know what happens! And, the way it ended it's pretty much confirming that there is more to this story. I want so much more of this world.
Update: I forgot to mention that I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. That had no bearing on my review - I really loved it this much :)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Once Upon a Time - The Broken Kingdom

5.4 "The Broken Kingdom"

This week we had a flashback with a flashback, giving us the backstory on the slimeball who calls himself King Arthur. David and Snow fight and then plot to reveal the truth and Lancelot gets thrown in the dungeon where we find with relief that Merida wasn't just a one-shot plot device. Meanwhile, Hook's doing his best to free Emma from the dark voices in her head. It's too bad it only worked temporarily. Can she actually use Merida to turn Rumplestiltskin into a hero so she can pull the sword from the stone? (and there's a sentence you would only see in relation to Once Upon a Time)

I haven't liked Arthur since the first time he rode onto the screen and I haven't been too shy about it either, but now there's proof that he's an obsessive jerk face who ignores his wife and kingdom in the pursuit of power. Hm. Sounds like other people who haven't done well in the long run on this show.

Major themes of lies and truth this season. Almost every character has lied to another character - for varying reasons, some more altruistic, some evil. But the unifying theme is that no matter the purpose for the lie, it doesn't end well.

It was nice to see that Lancelot wasn't really the villain he's been made out to be. I would have hated to have to see him as the villain after coming to like him before. And I am relieved that Merida is back, mostly because it felt really lame to have her just pop in for that one episode. It seemed pointless. I'm curious to see where they take her storyline now.

A couple of other thoughts:

Excellent casting on the kid versions of the characters again. Really well done on Arthur.

Aw.. all the dreamcatchers in Emma's room - a nice touch and also a connection to Emma's past and one of the other people who loved her sacrificially and unconditionally.

Why did that curse viney thing go after Lancelot and not Guinevere? Sexist curse :P

I loved Emma and Hook's reaction to Henry's revelation about the girl. Emma's all, say what? and Hook's just smiling and nodding like, nice going, lad.

Regina wins best line again when talking about Snow and David: "Those two can outlive a cockroach."

Better episode than last week. Curious to see where it goes next week.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Once Upon a Time - Siege Perilous

5.3 "Siege Perilous"

In tonight's episode, the dwarfs get sassy, Belle finally gets a little more screen time, and David has an identity crisis while Dark Emma tries to have lunch with Hook. In flashback Camelot we learn that Arthur is as sneaky as I've been suspecting and that, once again, because their memories have been wiped we can have the same story line take place twice without the characters knowing it, which makes for some amazingly dull television.

Now normally I would be all over a David-centric episode. I love David Charming! I like that he's struggling with feeling useless and helpless. But the story line was not particularly inspiring. He goes on a quest. He fails. He is tricked by Arthur. He gets to sit at the Round Table. Whoop.

Also, as he was fighting the knights on the bridge, this is all I could think about:


I have been suspicious of Arthur since we first met him. He has a very smirky face and I just didn't trust him. At all. But I put my suspicions aside because so much other stuff was going on. But I was right. I just don't know if he's really acting for the best of his people or if he has some sort of ulterior motive. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he made his man POISON himself. Because that's something normal people ask their most loyal servants to do.

But YAY! Lancelot. I forgot about him and I liked him.

Let's see - oh, I would totally pay to see an all female tournament on this show. That would be awesomesauce.

I really do love that Belle has had more screen time. Here's hoping she continues to play a bigger role.

Dark Emma is not doing it for me. I was excited to see her get to play the sinister side, but it's not coming across sinister so much as, um, how to say this tactfully - bad acting. I don't know. It's just not working. It's too dead and almost old Emma, but not, but not really evil feeling. Just blah.

However, I am very excited to see Gold back in two different roles. Excited to see how, and if he can be, crafted into a hero. That seems like an awfully risky, long, and complicated plan. But most villains choose plans that are like that, so I guess Emma has learned one of the great villain trademarks.

And why no Henry? *sigh*

So. It was an episode. Next week I'll be on vacation, so the post may go up late, just an FYI. Ciao!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Little Lit: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Steve's life is a bit topsy turvy right now. The new baby isn't doing well and has been in and out of the hospital, which means his parents are tired and distracted. His little sister Nicole doesn't really understand what's going on, and now Steve is having strange dreams of someone saying they can help fix the baby if he'll only say yes to helping them. But can he trust the dreams? Do the creatures really have the baby's best interest at heart? If Steve helps them will it really help his family or could he be hurting the very people he's trying to protect?
The book just came out this week!
You can learn more about Kenneth Oppel on his website or GoodReads or follow him on Twitter.
You can learn more about Jon Klassen on his tumblr or GoodReads or follow him on Twitter.
I had the chance to meet these two at Book Expo America this year where they so kindly autographed my Advance Reader Copy of this book. They were so much fun and such lovely authors to meet. NaomiRuth brought Wombly the Wombat and the two of them were absolutely hilarious as they tried to figure out what he was. I love being able to meet authors!

Now on to my mini review of the book. There are some spoilers here. I usually try to keep my reviews spoiler free, but really can't manage that in this case, so be forewarned.

What I Liked:

  • I loved the illustrations. I just adore Klassen's style - it's so stark and simple and striking and beautiful. I particularly liked the way the chapters were demarcated by adding wasps - so chapter 1 had 1 wasp, chapter 4 had 4, etc.
  • I liked that Steve struggled with anxiety and obsessive compulsions. It was so great to read about a kid dealing with these things in the middle of the larger issues going on with his family. And it wasn't magically solved at the end. though he makes progress in understanding himself and finding some ways to help live with and work through some of his struggles.
  • I liked that the family was cohesive. Even with all the stress of things going on, there was a complete family unit who loved and cared for each other even in the middle of the strain when they aren't always nice to each other, you could tell they all still loved each other.
  • I loved the message it sent that physical and mental perfection are not and should not be our goal. Our deficiencies, problems, struggles - the things that make us different - are what make us us.
What I Would Have Liked:
  • I would have liked to get a little better sense of how old Steve was. He seemed younger to me at the beginning, but as the story went on I realized he was most likely older than I had originally thought. Unless I missed it, I wish there had been some sort of indication as to his grade or age.
  • One of the things that made me uncomfortable was the knife left by the mysterious knife sharpener. I understand that it was part of the sort of mystical aspect of the book, but I wasn't sure I liked the message it sent of making it the weapon Steve literally wields to try to destroy the creatures.
  • Again, I realize that they were mystical creatures, but if anybody had a fear of wasps, this would certainly not allay their fears in any way and I can see some kids being really affected, particularly by the ending with the swarms attacking and nearly killing Steve. So this isn't so much an I-didn't-like-it thing as a it-might-be-too-much-for-some-kids thing.
  • It's a beautiful and touching story with gorgeous illustrations. Except for the intensity of the wasp swarms at the end, the message overall was a moving one about the importance of embracing our flaws and caring for our family in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Once Upon a Time - The Price

5.2 "The Price"

Tonight's episode did a good job of moving the story along and opening up many of the mysteries to be solved this season. Emma "The Dark One" Swan swoops around being cryptic and then revealing just enough to keep everyone confused while Regina tries to step up and become the savior Storybrooke needs to survive. The dwarfs jump into the fray with some decent action and an evil spirit tries to suck out Robin Hood's soul while the Camelot transfers settle into their new home in the 21st century. Meanwhile in Camelot flashbacks Regina takes dancing lessons from Charming and wardrobe advice from Snow, proving she really has changed and Emma tries to "conceal, don't feel, put on a show" because "one wrong move and everyone will know" she's the Dark One.

I know that Regina was only trying to protect Emma and keep things on track, but I really have to wonder if denying Emma the chance to embrace her role as the savior ended up causing her to embrace her darkness. What would have happened if she'd acted as the savior? How would that have affected her magic.

Also, concerning the magic - I guess as the Dark One, she can only use "dark" magic? Because the glowy thing she did to Robin certainly looked more light than dark. You'd think that the purpose of the magic would affect the effect of using the magic. *sigh*

I thought it was an interesting point that Emma knows everyone's weaknesses and strengths and so, therefore, would be an even more dangerous and formidable opponent. She's fought alongside them, so she knows exactly where they are most vulnerable. It's a good thing they've had so many issues to deal with and have started to learn how to stand against any kind of evil.

Something I was thinking about when they all linked hands with Regina to repel the demon - every single time someone goes off and tries to solve a problem alone, everything gets worse. Exponentially worse. It isn't until they work together that they're able to prevail. And it seems like this message is finally getting through to them. It was so great in both Camelot and in Storybrooke to see people supporting and believing in Regina. It's amazing how things have changed. And just because Regina isn't THE savior from her own curse, it doesn't mean she can't be A savior and she's made some good strides in that direction. I like this role reversal thing.

And this week's Dark Swan was definitely more entertaining and creepy than last week's dead fish Dark Swan. Some really great moments - especially with her and Killian - where the smiley, creepy, off thing worked out nicely. And some moments where I was rolling my eyes. She doesn't seem to quite have settled into her role yet for me.

I was trying to figure out Killian's plan and then felt utterly stupid for not realizing he was going for True Love's Kiss. I think Belle made a really significant point when she said "A curse isn't a curse when the person wants it."
It's so true. Rumple, when he was in love with his power over all else, couldn't be saved. As long as Emma sees herself as the Dark One rather than as the Savior she can't be saved. Like Snow said, if they win, Emma loses. Emma has to want to change, even a little bit. It will be interesting to see what else happened at Camelot to bring things to where they are now.

In regards to the "price" for Robin - Emma doesn't tell Regina that something might be required or that Regina would be the one responsible for the price, so it certainly doesn't seem fair to blame Regina for using magic without paying the price. Emma accuses Regina of always blaming someone else and it's often true. Even in this episode Regina berates the unconscious Rumple for "making" her the way she is. But no one forced Regina to make the choices she did. But Emma isn't any better. She's blamed a lot of people for things that were her choice. Even now she's blaming Regina and the rest of the town for making her be the Dark One. Taking responsibility for your actions is key to moving forward and moving in the right direction.

A couple of random thoughts:

I'm so happy the dwarfs are bigger parts of the action in this season. But poor poor Dopey :(

Is there some sort of magical Sam's Club on the other side of town? How do they get food. I mean, I wouldn't think that they'd have much luck getting deliveries what with so many curses and people unable to come and go freely and all of the other things that have happened. I've never thought about it, but seeing all those cases of water made me ponder.

How adorable is Henry. I'm so glad he gets some actual life storyline stuff - something other than running around behind people's backs because no one trusts him. How cute is he bragging to Violet about saving everyone. I love it.

That little music montage scene at the dance was the perfect light moment we needed in the middle of all the insanity. And then the music had to get all ominous and someone had to try to kill Regina *sigh*

Super excited to see where all of this leads!

What did you think about the episode? I'd love to know!