New Picture Books - July

 What are book reviews without some added color, as in picture books! I will admit, I haven't been all that impressed by what I have seen as of late. Not saying that there aren't good things coming out, but a lot of it just feels like rehashes of the same thing. Take this first example below. Now, I love me some Elephant & Piggie and for the most part these stories are morality tales, which would make sense as to why Willems would go the whole Bully route. But really, despite my obsession with Mo Willems, this is my least favorite book in the series. It isn't as funny or fun as the other ones and that makes me sad. On the other hand, the Unicorn book is great. I highly suggest picking it up. Colorful, funny, and a nice lesson about judging others without knowing them.

The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer Book Review

The Reluctant Assassin: W.A.R.P. Book 1 by Eoin Colfer

Riley has the serious misfortune to be the apprentice of the one time illusionist turned assassin Albert Garrick. But let's make no mistake, Albert Garrick is nothing more than a cold, calculating, and cunning serial killer. After numerous escape attempts in which Garrick always finds him, Riley has all but given up hope. Garrick drags Riley along to commit his first assassination, but an unwilling Riley has no idea that their intended victim is a time traveling scientist and Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London.

Meanwhile, in modern London, Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI junior agent has been given the task of watching an empty metal egg in a basement, "just in case something happens". Chevron is rather shocked when a scared Riley and a very dead scientist appear and the boy keeps babbling on about someone called Garrick who is going to track them down and kill them. Chevron follows her training, but something far worse than death has followed Riley out of the wormhole.

How do you make a serial killer scarier than they already are? Well, first you create a back story, slowly revealing the horrible things they have done and all the things they have learned. Albert Garrick has trained in every fighting style he could find in Victorian London and beyond. He has the practiced patience of a criminal mastermind. There is no mercy in his cruel heart and the only soft spot he has is for poor Riley. And then we add the wormhole. Garrick mind melds with one of the agents as he is traveling through and suddenly he knows everything about the 21st century, at least everything the agent knew. This includes security procedures, codes, passwords, everything. Then he discovers that his body has also undergone a transformation and he is to change his cells and body at will. So here we are, a Victorian serial killer with all the knowledge of an FBI agent and a body that can literally do anything. Shudder.

Riley's character was fun and interesting, but he was really just a foil for Garrick and spent most of the book saying, "Garrick is coming," over and over again. Chevy Savano was a strong female lead but her character always felt out of place for me. I just never fully bought the whole junior FBI agent sent to London on a super secret mission dealing with time travel/witness protection. It wasn't that Chevy wasn't capable, it was that I didn't believe the scenario and so her character just didn't hold as much weight for me.

I thought the book was interesting and I love when characters from the past come to our future, it's always fun to see how they react to 21st century devices and such. However, the real star of the show was Garrick, and it made me feel a little icky to really be in the head of a serial killer. Obviously, I am not the type who watches shows like Dexter and Criminal Minds. I definitely think there is a crowd out there for this book, I'm just not it.

The Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple Book Review

The Hostage Prince: The Seelie Wars Book 1 by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Snail, a midwife's apprentice, and a rather poor one at that, is used to bad luck. Aspen, a Seelie Prince kept as hostage in the Unseelie Court, is also no stranger to misfortune. When his father threatens war, Aspen knows he must escape or his life is forfeit. However, being a Prince comes with a certain amount of responsibility, and he cannot stop himself from rescuing a gaggle of midwifes from the dungeon. Thus, Aspen and Snail become two rather unlikely companions. Not all is at it seems though and they quickly learn that they may well have jumped out of one fire right into another.

I really enjoyed this written by the ever fabulous Jane Yolen and her son, Adam Stemple. I have always been rather curious about how one writes a book with another person. There are certainly some wonderful writing duos out there, but how do two people share the same vision for a book? That aside, this was a wonderful book. Snail is headstrong and clumsy, traits that set her apart from her fellow servants and draw the unwanted attention of the royals. Aspen, unlike the Unseelie Princes finds that he is, for a royal, rather kind-hearted. However, it is second nature for him to look down his nose at Snail and he often wonders why he doesn't hit, hurt, abuse, verbally accost, or even kill this girl who talks to him so familiarly. It is a battle of wills between this duo.

The story itself is rather plot driven, which means that it did take a little time for the story to really ramp up. Two-thirds of the way through is when I really became interested, not that there hadn't been interesting and entertaining things beforehand, but it wasn't until Aspen and Snail were really on the road that their relationship began to grow and I found Aspen to be more bearable. There had always been this hint at how nice Aspen could be, if only he weren't a royal, but it was nice when he finally began to act nice, not out of obligation as a Prince, but because he wanted to.

The twist in the end wasn't like The Thief or even The False Prince, but it was enough to give me pause and I like middle graders will eat it up. On the whole, I think The Hostage Prince is a nice addition to the fantasy genre and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Dinotopia by James Gurney Book Review

Dinotopia by James Gurney
20th Anniversary Edition

While perusing the shelves of a library, James Gurney comes across a sketchbook diary of a forgotten explorer. Inside Arthur Denison, and his son William, account for their adventures on a lost island. An island in which humans and sentient dinosaurs live together harmoniously. It speaks of wonderful cities, a unique culture and way of life, a dinosaur alphabet, festivals, and danger.

Published in 1992, Dinotopia has thrilled readers young and old. It is Atlantis, Narnia, and Oz all rolled into one. It has been published in 18 languages, sold over two million copies, won a Hugo award, was the inspiration for a television mini-series, an animated film, and several video games. It spawned numerous sequels from art versions like the original to novels and children's series. In 2002 the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History had a Dinotopia exhibit using the dinosaurs featured in the book.

Are we getting the picture yet? This book has been out for two decades and the real question is, if you haven't read this yet, why haven't you? The illustrations that accompany the journalistic quality of the novel are awe inspiring. The story itself is a fabulous fantasy adventure that paints the picture of a wholly unique and wonderful world that any child would love to imagine themselves a part of. I know that my siblings and I used to lay on the floor and stare at the pictures, sometimes reading the words and sometimes just taking in the beauty of James Gurney's art.