November 27, 2020

Review: 30 Great Myths About Jane Austen

30 Great Myths About Jane Austen

By Claudia L. Johnson and Clara Tuite
Available now from Wiley-Blackwell
Review copy

I appreciated that the introduction to 30 Great Myths About Jane Austen defined what a great myth is, because I was not sure. Myths are accepted beliefs about Austen, true or false, and great myths are those that affect how readers approach her work.

Each selected myth is covered in a short essay about five pages long. While both Claudia L. Johnson and Clara Tuite are professors and write in an academic style (complete with thorough citations), the briefness of each part keeps this work approachable for the non-academic who is interested in learning more about Jane Austen.

I did find that there was some repetition between parts. Expect that famous first line of Pride & Prejudice to come up multiple times. Usually, these quotes that come up repeatedly are analyzed in a different way each time. This could be a result of the book having two authors, or another example of how complicated it can be to glean meaning from a playful sentence.

30 Great Myths About Jane Austen is filled not only with literary analysis, but facts from the latest scholarship about Jane Austen's life. I've studied Austen in an academic setting, but that was ten years ago. There's still new research being done into her life and work. Although one factoid I found interesting was from a much older article. Did you know Austen mention more than a hundred named servants (Lady Balfour, "The Servants in Jane Austen," 1929).

To me, 30 Great Myths About Jane Austen was an interesting read, although a bit slight since the book only has room to provide introductions to the 30 topics. Its true value, I think, is that it is an introduction to a world of deeper research. But even if a reader goes no farther than these 30 essays, I think they'll know more about Austen and her fiction than when they started.

November 23, 2020

Review: The Magical Unicorn Activity Book

The Magical Unicorn Activity BookBy Glenda Horne
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

Unicorns are having a moment, and The Magical Unicorn Activity Book is a great choice for any young unicorn fan bored at home. (Can I say that author Glenda Horne has the perfect name for writing about unicorns?) This is a thick book with heavy paper and a wide range of activities.

In The Magical Unicorn Activity Book, there are images to color, paths to follow, dots to connect, shadows to match, crosswords to fill in, and more. Most of the activities are on the simpler side, since the age range of this book is four to eight, but some might cause an eight-year-old to stretch themself.

What I don't like is that there are several activities that require cutting and pasting. These can't be easily done on the go, and they destroy the activity on the opposite side of the page. I didn't like these sorts of activities as a kid, and I still think they're lower in appeal than the others included in the book.

The included stickers, however, are a great bonus. They're super cute, and there's some nice bigger ones as well as plenty of small ones.

The Magical Unicorn Activity Book includes several styles of unicorns, from very cartoony to looking more like a realistic horse with a horn. None of the designs copy My Little Pony, but I think young MLP fans would enjoy this book.

November 19, 2020

Review: My Video Game Ate My Homework

My Video Game Ate My HomeworkBy Dustin Hansen
Available now from DC Comics
Review copy

Dustin Hansen wrote and illustrated My Video Game Ate My Homework, a graphic novel from the DC Kids line meant to appeal to younger readers (about 8 to 12 years old). Hansen draws on his own experience to write protagonist Dewey Jenkins' dyslexia. I think his trouble with reading will ring true with reluctant readers, even if dyslexia isn't the cause of their difficulties.

My Video Game Ate My Homework is not long, and there isn't much text per page. The dialogue tends to be fairly short and direct. The pictures do a good job of helping to tell the story in combination with the text. I particularly love one shot of small spider monsters descending the stairs toward our heroes, where a larger spider can be seen lurking beneath the stairs.

In My Video Game Ate My Homework, Dewey is desperate to get a good grade on his science project to pass his class. He's a smart kid, but his troubles with reading make it difficult for him to do well on day-to-day assignments. Of course, he also wants the first-place prize of an early release VR platform. But his best friend Ferg (the principal's son) accidentally breaks the machine when he finds it in his dad's office. Soon Dewey, his sister Beatrice, her best friend Kat, and Ferg are journeying through the levels of the VR game to rescue Dewey's science project from the malfunctioning machine.

The plot in My Video Game Ate My Homework progresses like a game, with power-up items received and more dangerous monsters on each level and limited lives. The familiarity of this progression will help out readers who are better at games than reading.

I liked the gender balance of the cast, although all the characters are pretty thinly sketched given that it is a short book with lots of action. I disliked that Kat was given lots of good fighting equipment but died quickly in all the fights. The other fighter, Ferg, was given more to do. There are a few nice sibling moments between Dewey and Beatrice.

I don't think My Video Game Ate My Homework will keep more advanced readers occupied long, but I think it is an excellent choice for beginning readers and readers who struggle with denser texts. It is a fun, appealing read that isn't dumbed down but is approachable due to its structure and format. The art is bright and fun, too.

November 15, 2020

Review: What Can I Draw Today? Daily Drawing Prompts for Young Artists

What Can I Draw Today?By Andrea Mulder-Slater
Available now from Rockridge Press
Review copy

What Can I Draw Today? Daily Drawing Prompts for Young Artists contains a variety of drawing prompts printed on blank pages (except for finish this line prompts). Sometimes two prompts share a page. Sometimes an inspirational quote is added to a prompt. Each type of prompt (concrete, abstract, sensory, get thinking, finish a line) is color coded. If you prefer one kind of prompt, it is easy to flip to each of those.

Personally, I think having fewer prompts so that all of them could have a full page would be best. The half-pages are somewhat cramped, allowing for less free-flowing ideas. The paper is a nice bright white, but fairly thin. Designs do show through to the reverse page. I think the book is best for pencil and colored pencil, but crayons work well, too.

I think the prompts are suited to the full age range recommended on the cover. Eight-year-olds might prefer the concrete prompts (such as "a row of crooked, colorful houses"), but twelve-year-olds will be challenged by more advanced prompts like "design a set of musical instruments for a band of punk rock giraffes" or drawing what a cake that represents the sunset might look like. There are lots of fun starting points to help kids develop creativity and start drawing their own creations.

I think What Can I Draw Today? is a fun choice to keep kids busy. It is a little more free-flowing than a coloring or activity book, but still offers some structure so they aren't left adrift. It might be fun to pair with a sketchbook as a gift, for when the kids what to draw their own ideas with no guidance.

November 11, 2020

Review: Bet Your Life

Bet Your Life Second in the Jess Tennant mysteries
By Jane Casey
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

When I finished How to Fall, I was eager to find out what happened next in Port Sentinel. By the time Bet Your Life came out, I'd forgotten what happened in the first book but picked up the second anyway since I remembered liking the first. Then it sat on my shelf for ages.

In the first book, Jess Tennant sought out the truth of what happened to her cousin Freya. In Bet Your Life, the stakes are far less personal. Local cad Seb Dawson is attacked and left in a coma, and Jess searches for the truth because Seb's younger sister asks her to - even though all signs point to Seb getting what he deserved.

Meanwhile, in Jess's romantic life, she's hung up on Will even though they broke up (which I didn't remember why), and she might be interested in Ryan. Meanwhile, Will's shady father keeps involving himself because he wants them to stay broken up. (Will's father, of course, also being one of Jess's mother's exes and the guy who is supposed to investigate the attack on Seb.)

I find this series very readable but forgettable. They're disposable mysteries about the dark underbelly of a small town full of rich people.

There is a third and final book in the Jess Tennant series, Hide and Seek. I might pick it up if I see it on sale one day, but I'm not seeking it out.

November 7, 2020

Review: On the Train Activity Book

On the Train Activity BookBy Steve Martin
Illustrated by Putri Febriana
Available now from Ivy Kids
Review copy

If you know a kid who likes locomotives or other moving vehicles, this is a great choice of activity book. It's packed full of a range of activities suitable for early elementary school kids. The paper is thick and the pages are colorful, unlike cheaper options.

I like that information is integrated with the activities in fun ways. Some activities only require a little imagination. Others require some English grammar or simple math knowledge. Most of them help develop problem-solving skills.

There is definitely a variation in skill level among the activities, from spot the difference to pattern recognition to logic puzzles. I think that would make the On the Train Activity Book a good choice for siblings who could share or work together. A younger child also might get more than one year's use out of the book as they work up to the harder activities.

Overall, I recommend this activity book, especially since so many children do like trains. It has quite a lot of appeal and will keep them busy for a while.

November 3, 2020

Review: Crush and Color: Keanu Reeves

Crush and Color: Keanu ReevesIllustrated by Maurizio Campidelli
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

I was unfamiliar with the Crush and Color coloring book series, but I have bought similar books before. I really enjoy Keanu Reeves films and he seems like an all-around decent person, so I assumed Crush and Color: Keanu Reeves: Colorful Fantasies with a Mysterious Hero would have several scenes that appealed to me.

The framing of the book is fairly silly, with short, two-sentence fantasies about each coloring picture appearing on the facing page. But it's all in good fun. From surfing to ironing to walking puppies to being a rock star, this Keanu does it all.

Maurizio Campidelli's art fills each page almost to the edge. The backgrounds are filled with details that help flesh out the scenes. Some have lots small areas, others bigger spaces to color. I do find the way Keanu's face is way more detailed than the rest of the image somewhat off-putting.

If I have one real gripe about Crush and Color: Keanu Reeves, it is that every page offers the same Keau Reeves - long hair, stubble, a few wrinkles. As the intro states, he's been acting since the 80's. That's four decades of Keanu to color! I think that some variety would've been nice.

Overall, this is a nice coloring book suitable for crayons or colored pencils. It would make a cute gag gift for the Keanu Reeves fan in your life.


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