Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio Book Review

Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrations by Greg Pizzoli
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: August 23, 2016

We all know dragons are terrible, but this one is especially awful. He scribbles n books, steals candy from baby unicorns, burps in church. Seriously, who does that? The King, the knights, and the villagers search desperately for a solution to no avail. Sometimes the unlikeliest heroes are the ones who can do the greatest good.

It turns out that dragons are actually exactly like horrible bratty children. Obviously, there are some kids who may find themselves relating to dragon, although I hope for any parent, your kid's dragon days are few and far between. Fighting with dragon does no good and so the solution to dragon's problem takes a bit more compassion. The resolution did feel a bit rushed, but I doubt any child will care about this. Perfect for the preschooler who loves dragons and a propensity toward being occasionally naughty.

Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen Book Review

Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen 
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Looks will fool you. There is this little bitty, glass-wearing fish just minding his own business when an octopus snatches him up, intent on eating him. Poor little guy! But octopus is in for a rude surprise because this little fish has a defense mechanism that works just as good as any ink.

As a grown adult who reads way too many picture books, one would think that I was no longer surprised by twist endings, but I was pleasantly surprised. Such wonderful dark humor. At first I thought, really is the author really going there with this? It is the circle of life, but fish being eaten by predators always feels like something more appropriate for non-fiction. Allen knew what she was doing though. I am really attempting not to give anything away in this review, which is hard when a book is only thirty-two pages. My advice is to get this book from your local library or bookstore and see the twist for yourself.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black Book Review

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 13, 2015

Fairfold is a town that is used to faeries, having lived side by side with them for generations in relative harmony. Sure, the occasional tourist goes missing or winds up dead, but they obviously didn't know the fae rules. And if someone town goes missing? Well, obviously they did something wrong.

Hazel and her brother Ben have both been touched by the Fae. Ben was "blessed" by a fairy to love music, but this blessing quickly became a curse and now Ben avoids music at all costs. Ben's best friend Jack is a changeling who, when his mother found the changeling, not only demanded her real son back, but refused to give Jack back. "If his mother was willing to give him away, then I get to keep him." Hazel is a warrior, having spent many a day in the forest with Ben, before he quit playing music, hunting monsters and avenging the tourists who had been killed. That all changed when Hazel made a deal with the fae in exchange for her brother getting into a good music school. Things went bad though and so here they are, a cursed musician and a girl waiting for a fight.

Then strange things begin to happen. The sleeping boy in the woods, the boy with horns on his head that sleeps in a glass coffin, wakes up. No one knows who woke him, but the fairy King is angry. Then a creature, mad with grief, begins to attack the town. Townspeople want to blame Jack, but Hazel has quite a few secrets of her own and is beginning to put together the pieces of her magicked puzzle.

Sometimes it takes me awhile, but eventually I get to the books I want to read. When this book first came out I really wanted to buy it right away, sure that I would love it. I am glad I didn't. Although certainly this is the kind of book that I enjoy, there were a number of elements within that made me either cringe or want to stop reading. The only way I was able to power through was because I listened to it as an audio book. It wasn't that the writing itself was bad as I think Holly Black is a very good author, there were just a number of elements in this particular story that didn't do it for me.

The premise of the story, while compelling, had a lot of pacing problems. This was probably because, although it should have read like a plot-driven story, we were in the character's heads so much that it quickly became character-driven. This made the story maddeningly slow at times as we got to experience Ben falling in love with the know, while a monster is threatening to destroy the entire town. Hazel turns out to be a rather well-trained fighter (although she can't remember), but more time is spent with her fretting over this fact than her actually fighting. Which is sad. Why introduce this element if we only get to see her fight twice?

Speaking of those romances between Ben & the Horned Boy and Hazel & Jack. I know I am not a fan of romance in my books, I admit this readily, but I can recognize when it is done well. This was not. There was very little chemistry between these characters. Hazel's relationship with her brother felt somewhat more authentic although a bit annoying.

Here is the truth of the matter though, the reason this character-driven story didn't work for me. I don't like Hazel. Hazel, the girl who kisses guys for some kind of high. Hazel who makes bad deals with fairies after being told not to her entire life. Hazel who has some serious communications issues with the people in her life. Hazel who continues to put herself and her friends in danger over and over. Hazel who, once discovering she is a trained knight of the fae at night, does nothing but winge about this fact. Hazel whose trust issues flip-flop back and forth depending on how hot the guy is. I could not relate to this girl or anyone else in the story for that matter. She was just another romantic lead, caught up in a story that was too big for her.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak Book Review

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: August 16, 2016

As trees sway in the cool breeze, blue jays head south, and leaves change their colors, everyone knows--autumn is on its way!

Although you wouldn't know it around here in NC, fall began on September 21. Temperatures in NC today are expected to be 88 degrees, which is just ridiculous when you are the kind of person who loves cold weather. This book made me yearn for the blustery days with a scarf and campfires. Living in an apartment complex, I miss watching the squirrels forage for nuts in our front yard as they did when I was a kid. Eagerly, I stare at the trees and wonder if I see a bit of a change in color, or is it my imagination. 

I know this book is supposed to be an introduction for young readers about the changing of a particular season, but I read it in an almost nostalgic way, hoping for the things outlined in its pages. Also, because I think we are still at a place where we need to point this out and praise it, the main character of this story is dark skinned. In a world where diverse books are still fighting for traction, it is important that the authors and publishers know that this is appreciated and we need more of it. 

Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone Book Review

Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone
Illustrations by Jen Hill
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 3, 2016

World War II is in full force across the seas. It's 1943, President Roosevelt is in office, and Diana's father, Harry Hopkins, is his chief advisor. And Diana wants to be part of the war effort. After some well-intentioned missteps (her quarantine sign on her father's office door was not well-received), the President requests her help with his newest plan for the country's survival: Victory Gardens!

I don't know why it never occurred to me that the White House had a victory garden, in fact it makes perfect sense, but it is just a nugget of information that I either learned and forgot or never learned at all. This book is a lovely example of fictionalized informational books for a younger audience. It carefully explains the realities of war in a way that young children will be able to understand and possibly even identify with. The author includes some interesting info in the backmatter as well, for readers who are intrigued. Jen Hill's illustrations are beautiful and engaging, pulling in design elements from the 1940s, while also satisfying a modern audience. 

Superhero Instruction Manual by Kristy Dempsey Book Review

Superhero Instruction Manual by Kristy Dempsey
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 17, 2016

Becoming a hero requires a lot of planning. First you much select a secret identity, choose a superpower, pick a sidekick. There are just so many aspects to becoming a superhero and sometimes one needs a little help to get off the ground.

A wonderful book for all the aspiring superheros out there. There were so many funny moments throughout like when the boy chooses the dog as his sidekick over his sister. In the end though, it is his sister who teaches him to be a true superhero. This book was also a prime example of how picture books should be a marriage between illustration and text. The illustrations are so bright and engaging and tell a story on their own, although the text is certainly needed to make the story complete. This one has a lot of read-aloud potential for classrooms and storytimes.

The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O'Reilly Book Review

The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O'Reilly 
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release Date: October 1, 2016

Trina and her father move a lot. Her dad likes to restore old houses and their newest project is the toughest one yet. Goldenrod is no longer golden. The empty house has been severely neglected and is barely habitable. The porch is caving in, the toilet flushes randomly, and worse yet, Trina thinks it may be haunted. Then, in a secret tower room Trina finds a dollhouse with one little doll. A doll that talks. Augustine has been asleep a long time and is ready for adventure and her prince, but there are some things that may be too big for a little doll. As Trina tries to adjust to her new life in a small town, she learns all about Goldrenrod's secrets, the truth behind her absent mother, and the love she has for her absentminded father.

A new book with a classic feel too it, this left me with all the feels I would get from The Secret Garden or The Root Cellar. Although the story is modern and certainly mentions computers and phones, by setting this in a place where there isn't good cell phone reception or high speed internet, it made the story feel timeless. Trina is a great character who is trying to find who she is within the chaos of constant moving. She wants to find home and belonging, both of which begin to happen as she falls more in love with Goldenrod and the little doll Augustine. Yet, there are also ominous things as well.

As mentioned earlier, Goldenrod may be haunted. And even if it isn't, it doesn't matter because the whole town thinks it is. For year, the people have been sneaking into Goldrenrod and daring one another to spend the night. When they couldn't they owed money to the Dare Club and took one item from the house. Which would explain why random objects like a dining table or a rocking chair keep appearing in their driveway. It is also why Trina has such a hard time making friends.

The story keeps along at a nice pace, slowing down for brief periods that often felt like catching your breath before diving back in. My one and only criticism was the subplot concerning Trina's mother, which I felt was a bit predictable although certainly an important part of the store.

A solid middle grade novel that will appeal to those who like many different genres, but particularly those who like creepy old houses and dolls that talk.

An ARC of this book was provided to me by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell Book Review

Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 2, 2016

All of Gwen's life, she and her mother have moved from place to place, never calling one place home. Her mother believes they are being hunted by monsters. Gwen just wants to be normal. Now these delusions have brought them to London and Gwen is going to have to start over again. Her only salvation is her best friend Olivia who has agreed to come with her for the summer and help her acclimate. Gwen is thankful, but also a bit sad because it means Olivia will eventually leave and is sure to discover how crazy her mom really is.

Then one night, after dousing the strange oil lamps in their new home, Olivia and Gwen are kidnapped by shadow creatures. Gwen realizes rather suddenly that her mother was never crazy. They are both taken far away, to a place of fairy tales and stories. Neverland. Here, good and evil lose their meaning just like memories, slipping between her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember who she is, she must also face the characters from stories who blur the lines of right and wrong.

Since 2008 when the copyright ran out for Peter Pan and it became public domain, authors have been trying to rework and rewrite the story of the boy who doesn't grow up. Most, in my opinion, have been mediocre attemps as the authors completely ignore the originally source material, trying to reboot the story as if the first didn't exist. So far Peter Pan has been a servant of the Deviltree who sacrifices children to it, a thief, a pirate caught up on a quest, a dark elf, a changeling, and murderer. Peter has, in essence, become the villain and Hook is now the romantic pirate that is secretly good. The television show, Once Upon a Time is thriving on this role reversal.

Although this book certainly attempts to rework the story complete with role reversals, what I loved about it was that it did not forget its source material. One of the main issues with Neverland in the original book is that Neverland makes you forget. Peter Pan has the memory of a gnat and the children forget about their parents for a long time. None of the Lost Boys even remembers their parents. Wendy, John, and Michael were gone so long that their parents hair had begun to turn gray. When Gwen arrives in Neverland she completely forgets about Olivia. Completely. It takes days before she even recalls her home and her friend and begins to worry. And Olivia? She remembers nothing, which tells us that there must be something special about Gwen.

Hook is, of course, the roguish pirate love interest and although it was not surprising, I liked him all the same. I liked that this twisted world had forced him to become hardened and cautious. He gives Gwen very little leeway in the beginning and as you learn more about this world, you see why. As I have always loved Peter Pan, I am a bit sad that he is often the villain now, but within this story it worked well.

Downside of the book was it's predictable nature and the strange chapter openers. Throughout the book were these one paragraph chapter openers that were meant to give us the backstory of one of the main characters and I found them to be confusing in the beginning and boring throughout. I wanted to like them, but felt like they did nothing to add to that character or the story that one paragraph towards the end would have accomplished.

On the whole though, I enjoyed a new twist o a classic story and am looking forward to a second installment.

My Dad at the Zoo by Coralie Saudo Book Review

My Dad at the Zoo by Coralie Saudo
Illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
Release Date: May 10, 2016

In a case of role reversal, one kid and his dad go to the zoo, but it is the dad who becomes a wild, pushy, childish hellion. First he drags his son out of bed, begging for a day at the zoo. He loses his hat while there, which must be the eight time this has happened and just isn't funny anymore. There's the playing around with the piranhas, obviously something that is dangerous and should never be done. And no zoo trip would be complete without a stop in the souvenir shop. That goes as well as you think it would.

The premise of this book is cute and one that I would have quite enjoyed as a kid. Especially since we went to the zoo often. The idea of the parent doing all the things that a kid would do and the kid getting frustrated by his dad's antics is a concept that I think really tickles a lot of kid's funny bones. It is also a subtle way of highlighting what good and bad behavior looks like. I've been seeing a lot of these French import books lately and I love them because they are certainly different from the normal picture book fair in tone and illustrations. I wasn't exactly a fan of this particular illustration style, but I appreciated how different it was and did enjoy how lively each page was. Sometimes it is fun to laugh at our parents and this one gives kids permission to do just that.

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon Book Review

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon
Publisher: Pavilion Children's Books
Release Date: October 16, 2014

A group of children find a sloth snoring away in a tree in their garden. Not knowing what it is, they set out to find out. While the two older children dream up increasingly outrageous possibilities, from an astronaut to a pirate, to a space creature, the youngest little girl investigates books and a globe and discovers what it really is and where it lives. But how can the children help the sloth to get home if it won't wake up?

So I have a soft spot for Sloth books, even ones written two years ago. Which is why I picked this book up at the library with glee. To be sure, this book is a completely absurd mystery, but it is one that provides some light facts and some weird imaginings. I am partial to the sloth astronaut spread. The illustrations are the true standout in this book though. I don't know if it is my favorite sloth picture book, but it was certainly entertaining. 

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke Book Review

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Goblin is a happy little Goblin, living in his cozy, rat-infested dungeon with his only friend, Skeleton. Together they play with the treasure in the dungeon and talk. Until one day a band of adventurers bursts in and steals the treasure and Goblin's best friend. So Goblin sets out on a quest to get his friend back. On the way he meets all kinds of other monsters and a lot of villagers with pitchforks. Not deterred, Goblin saves his friend and runs of the adventurers who almost ruined his life.

This is a picture book for geeks and geeks-in-training. With a Dungeons & Dragons feel mixed with Where the Wild Things Are, this story has all the making of a great adventure story squeezed down into a picture book format. The illustrations are wonderful, with a lot going on in the pictures that isn't even mentioned in the text. Pay close attention to the kidnapped maiden in the blue dress. The mark of a really good picture book to me though, as an adult, is one in which I would actually like to read it again. Obviously, twenty times would be a bit much, but this is definitely one I wouldn't mind being on a nightly rotation.

Papillon by A.N. Kang Book Review and Free Book Giveaway

Papillon: The Very Fluffy Kitty by A.N. Kang
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: September 6, 2016

Papillon is one very fluffy kitty. So fluffy that he is literally lighter than air. His owner tries to weigh him down, the best efforts consisting of ridiculous costumes that Papillon doesn't like at all. Yet, he would do anything for one of those ridiculous costumes when he finds himself out in the world and far from home. How will he make his way home when all he can do is float?

Perhaps it is because I am a cat person, but this book is absolutely adorable and I desperately wanted to give Papillon a good pet. Also, as someone who, once a year "tortures" their cat by putting her in costumes, I thought it perfectly captured the love/hate relationship that cats often have with their owners. The whimsical illustrations that accompanied the text reminded me of one of those Pixar shorts and I could see this story animated. And someone really should make an extremely fluffy and soft stuffed animal to go with this. Kids will fall in love with the story, the illustrations, and Papillon.

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A. N. Kang ( was born in a little town in South Korea, with endless rice fields around her house. She grew up entertaining herself with picture books, and drew constantly. After moving to the United States as a teenager, she graduated from art school and began to design jewelry, greeting cards, and holiday installations all over New York City. She now lives and works in New Jersey with her sassy cat, Papillon. This is Kang’s debut.