Friday, August 23, 2019

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper, 2017

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The invitation was delivered by bees. It wasn’t addressed to anyone at all, but Ben knew it was for him. It would lead him to an old, shambolic museum, full of strange and bewitching creatures. A peculiar world of hidden mysteries and curious family secrets . . . and some really dangerous magic.

Filled with her own wonderful illustrations, The Hippo at the End of the Hall is Helen Cooper's debut novel.

(400 pages)

I have a love-hate relationship with whimsical, quirky books like this one. On one hand, I love the idea of them. On the other, the execution often falls a bit flat and either feels like the author is trying too hard to stand out or it's just predictable.

I feel like The Hippo at the End of the Hall manages to rise above the most forgettable of this type of book. It's not going on my list of favorites, and part of me kind of thinks the story is a bit boring/contrived, but I actually got really sucked in while I was reading it and enough genuinely bizarre things happened that I could never really predict where everything was going (even if I had an idea of the overarching destination).

I think this is the sort of book that kids maybe five years younger than me would really enjoy. It's an interesting premise and fun with lots of animals, etc.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles, 2019

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If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.

(304 pages)

I'll be honest: I read this book way too long ago to remember the details. All I do remember is that it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, and that the sexual identity stuff isn't very explicit but isn't something I would personally choose to have in a book for middle school kids. To each their own, though.

I do like the angle of a childhood romance where one side of the potential couple isn't actually interested but feels like she should be. I feel like there are so many stories about childhood sweethearts, which I don't complain about too hard because it's one of my favorite tropes, but the flip side of this where the guy thinks they're childhood sweethearts destined for more while the girl . . . well, doesn't? It's an interesting twist.

The animal angle is also fun, I always love animals in books. The parental fighting and the financial issues aren't as exciting to read about, but I guess they could be someone else's cup of tea more than they are mine.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord, 2019

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On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They're supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.

The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.
But things don't go as planned. On the first day of school, she's paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can't stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he's obsessed with animals. Jack doesn't fit in, and Emma's worried he'll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she's meant to have?

(192 pages)

I read this book at the start of the summer before heading off to start my internship, and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. I think right out of the gate it’s a bad sign that I’m having such a hard time remembering the book, because I usually have a good memory for the books that I read. This may just be the cause it’s for such a younger audience than I fit into, so it didn’t match my interests well enough to stick in my mind.

But to be honest, from what I do remember I actually really enjoyed this book. I was homeschooled myself for most of my childhood, and I still remember my nerves when I started school in high school. I connected to Emma quite a bit when I was reading the book, her nervousness and honest attempts at fitting in and finding her way in a new environment rang very true to me.

I’m not always the biggest fan of school drama stories, or stories about kids who are mean to their new friends because they’re worried about being “cool,” but it was done pretty well and realistically here and I didn’t cringe too much.

All in all, this is a nice but ultimately fairly forgettable book. It’s pretty innocuous as far as I can remember, though, so if you or any kids in your life are interested in reading it I’d say go ahead and check it out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Cómo Te Llamas? by Kristen Llamas, 2019

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Artist Kristin Llamas (her real name) has been drawing adorably odd portraits of llamas for years. Inspired by a name and her affection for these delightfully expressive animals, she creates detailed, personality-rich portraits in her realistic and humorous black-and-white style. The results are charming and funny, raising the question, which llama are you? Some mornings are Claire mornings. Allyn, we know just how you feel.... This smile of a gift book collects 60 of Llamas's most amusing and endearing portraits, pairing them with biographical quips and jewel-tone color washes to capture these llamas' quirky inner lives, and our own.
(160 pages)

I wasn't exactly sure what this would be when I was offered the chance to review it, but it looked so cute I grabbed at the opportunity.

And I'm glad I did, though I'm still not entirely sure what I just read. Every page has a different sketch of a llama, and each sketch is rendered in super cute detail with a funny caption giving the sketched llama a name and a small description. It's fun, but so random. I mean like really, really random.

After I read through the whole thing I passed it to my younger brother on a roadtrip. He flipped through it and looked a bit nonplussed. I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate this book.

So yeah. It's a good (small) coffee table book, I think, but also just kind of strange. And all the llamas start to look similar after you've looked at dozens of them.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2018

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Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage!

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it's up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis... But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.
(368 pages)

When I was briefly home at the start of the summer my younger brother pressed a copy of this book on me and told me to read it on the road. I, with a million books on my TBR list, thanked him hurriedly and shoved it in my suitcase, and it wasn't until after he'd asked me a couple times if I'd read it yet that I finally got around to picking it up. We have a really similar taste in books, so I should have listened to him sooner.

Because this is such a cute book, and so fun. The central premise is super fun and quirky, with its secret agent rabbits that protect the queen of England from attacks by the evil rats that try to steal a piece of her soul by exposing a piece of her private life to the world.

The social commentary is not exactly subtle, with its pretty overt criticism of the people who walk around staring at their phones instead of noticing the world around them and the soul-sucking power of social media and the paparazzi that invades people's privacy. It's a message I largely agree with, and delivered in such a cute format that it's not too painful to swallow. I thought it was actually an interesting angle for a book about bunny espionage to take.

All in all, it was a fun little book that didn't take long to get through but was super entertaining and fun to read while I was in it. I'm glad my younger brother foisted it on me, and if anything this has taught me to pay attention to his recommendations more.