children's, Fiction, halloween, holiday

Halloween Story Time Books

If you’re looking for some great Halloween story time books to pick up from the Library before the big day, here are some favorites in my house.

Little Goblins Ten, written by Pamela Jane and illustrated by Jane Manning, has been a nightly read for my toddler all of October. The rhyme and rhythm are infectious and the illustrations are fun. This is perfect for ages 2-5.

This Is the House That Monsters Built, written by Steve Metzger and illustrated by Jared Lee, is a progressively building story similar to the tale of This Is the House That Jack Built with both vivid illustrations and word choices. It is a great read for ages 3-6.

Monster Academy, written Jane Yolen & Helen E.Y. Stemple and illustrated by John McKinley, is a loosely rhyming book that is geared toward early elementary and has delightful illustrations. Best for ages 4-7.

Fiction, middle grade fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Middle grade fiction with strong female characters and cyber security education

The Web Paige Chronicles (available on Amazon and direct from the publisher) by Emilio Iasiello is a delightful and refreshing mix of an endearing female hero, a family with realistically supportive relationships, and the harsh difficulties of being a teen and preteen today. The chapters are set up to make it easily accessible to the 4th and 5th grade crowd, but the material is deep and engaging enough for older middle schoolers.

The main character Web Paige solves a series of problems for strangers and friends alike, all related to cyber bullying, cyber stalking, or just plain poor cyber security. This is a great way to introduce how to be safe online with children. And the characters easily have the staying power to make this the first in a series of Web Paige Chronicles books.

I’d highly recommend this for late elementary through early high schoolers both for personal reading or in the classroom. The layout lends itself easily to create an engaging lesson in handling online predators and related issues.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, and Instagram. The hard copy has been donated to a little free library.

Fiction, speculative fiction

Creative & Jarring: The Biggerers

Amy Lilwall‘s novel, The Biggerers, is built on an extremely creative premise (the keeping of “clonables” should you need a body part). The story does tackle some of the best and worst of humanity, which can make for interesting story telling.

However, the writing is too sparse – an attribute I’m seeing as fashionable these days, but which I do not enjoy. In my opinion, this story is a bit difficult to become entranced by, unless you are one who truly loves speculative fiction. I’m giving it it 4 stars because I think it could be enjoyable if that is a style of fiction you enjoy, even if I didn’t.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, and Instagram. The hard copy has been donated to a little free library.

Fiction, Non-Fiction

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper by Heather Corbally Bryant from Ardent Writer Press is a genuine genre-twisting novel. While technically, “creative non-fiction,” there’s a bit of history, screenwriting, crime fiction, spy novel, journalism, and literary fiction. Bryant’s eloquent, efficient, and effective hand feels like the necessary tool to tell the story of her grandmother, Irene Corbally Kuhn.

Bryant writes the character of her grandmother as a high-witted woman of the 1920-40s Shanghai Bund. The dialogue between Irene, her husband, and the close knit group of Western journalists in a transitioning Shanghai sound straight out of early 20th century film. It’s not until the end (don’t worry, no spoilers) where we see long passages of actual letters sent by the characters within the story that we see she stayed ever so true to their distinctly fluent style.

Students of modern Chinese history will appreciate the historical accuracy of this very personal tale of love, international intrigue, and loss in an esoteric time and place in China. The story is determinedly and appropriately written from the vantage points of an elite group of western journalists in a part of China that catered to creating a western dream in an Asian country. Due to this specific perspective of the characters, a reader will not find an awareness outside of the western life of the international concession present in the text. This element can be a bit jarring and possibly could have been avoided with a few fictional digressions into the lives of the Chinese that in the existing text briefly enter view.

But the tale is a beautiful ode to her grandmother told based on the correspondences she received and other historical records. Wrestling with a fast paced job, a husband that is loved and loving but visibly complicated, and starting a family, Irene approaches them all with journalistic eye.

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper is a moving read for fans of historical fiction focused on the Anglo-American and European experience in Asia or those with an interest stories of strong women working within the times they were handed.

Fiction

Einstein’s Beach House and other well-told stories

Einstein’s Beach House” is a collection of short stories by Jacob M. Appel. This is the second work I’ve reviewed for Appel. The first was a novel, “Millard Salter’s Last Day” which I reviewed for this site in December 2017. Now having read two of his works, I can say Appel is definitely in the running for becoming one of my favorite authors. One of the most endearing qualities of his writing appears to be taking the morbid, depressingly confusing, or otherwise awful experiences in human life and making them some of the most mundane background elements of the stories he tells.

Appel’s style takes an even hand between events and dialogue throughout. But each story is heavy with internal musings. The short stories in this volume display the same expert hand at bringing a reader into the narrators mind as in the Millard novel. The difference here is that Appel draws you in, let’s you feel comfortable there and then delivers with adroit brevity an entire novel of experiences in 1-2 ending sentences. These closing lines don’t leave you with questions as to how this life or lives come to fruition or end. They are complete endings in and of themselves. Some are more open ended than others but they still provide the necessary closure to allow a reader to feel comfortable having read the whole story.

I received my copy through a LibrayThing giveaway and have donated it to a little free library. This review is also available on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Instagram @reviewsbymarie.

Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Italian American YA (yes, that is a thing)

The YA novel, Beyond the Wicked Willow, by M.J. Rocissono and illustrated by Joe Rocissono is a story that traverses modern day United States and historical Italy. Curses and witching are connecting the two. It brings together times from late BC, AD1200s, and 2012. The story is full of detailed Italian lore and appropriate for both adults and children from about age 10+.

I picture an Italian-American teen, who has had experience with great grandparents or grandparents mentioning some of the old superstitions or traditions from Italy, finding real joy in this book. That said, it is an ideal read for anyone who enjoys historical YA and a surprisingly good read for an independently published piece.

Fiction

So much promise falls flat

To start with…I wanted to love Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. The amount of acclaim placed on this book implied that there was largely no way I wouldn’t. Moreover, I appreciate stories with some gimmicky elements. The gimmick in Asymmetry includes three ostensibly disparate stories connected at an unexpected moment in the storyline and in tone. It accomplishes this while also including the female anti-hero. That it manages to accomplish all this in a relatively stylistic fashion merits it four out of five stars. However, it is more of a “take it or leave it” read. Halliday’s style is too bare to entrance a reader and also at the detriment of drawing the Alice character fully as an anti-hero.

I finished this novel in March, but thought with time I would grow to appreciate its finer points. I did not and for that I’m forced to mark it as a worthy read, but not a necessary one.