Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods

Information

Goodreads: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods
Series: Warren the 13th #2
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Published: March 21, 2017

Official Summary

This sequel to Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye begins soon after the first book’s conclusion.Twelve-year-old Warren has learned that his beloved hotel can walk, and now it’s ferrying guests around the countryside, transporting tourists to strange and foreign destinations. But when an unexpected detour brings everyone into the dark and sinister Malwoods, Warren finds himself separated from his hotel and his friends and racing after them on foot through a forest teeming with witches, snakes, talking trees, and mind-boggling riddles. Once again, you can expect stunning illustrations and gorgeous design from Will Staehle on every page along with plenty of nonstop action and adventure!

Review

I immensely enjoyed the first book in this series, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, and I was excited to join back up with the characters for another adventure in this sequel.

I am not among the alarmists who believe that print books will cease to be produced, but in an age where e-books and digital materials continue to grow in popularity, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would persuade people to buy a print book rather an e-version.  The Warren the 13th series is one answer to that question for me.  The books are not only about the story, but about the design, from the feel of the book in your hands (square! with a great heft to it) to the way the pages are laid out.  These book are ones you’ll want to take off the shelf and flip through, if not to reread, at least to look at.  They’re beautiful, and the design adds to the experience.

In this installment, Warren and company get stuck in the formidable Malwoods–home of some the world’s most powerful and frightening witches.  I really liked that the witch theme continued in this book, even as some new magical elements and creatures were introduced.  The book has the right balance of continuity and novelty.  Similarly, readers get to see all their old favorite characters, and a couple new ones are added to the mix, which I think may be a theme as the series continues.

The plot is fun and has a delightful number of surprises.  I was kept guessing about what was going to happen next.  While I generally expect the protagonists of middle grade novels to win, I like when I can’t quite figure out how they will achieve it.  As with the first book, I think this one does have space to be a bit more interactive for the readers than it is, but there are a couple riddles and one quick code that Warren has to figure out  as he journeys to save his beloved hotel.

This series is fun, unique, and beautifully illustrated.  I look forward to reading the next adventure Warren takes on.

4 stars Briana

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle

Warren the 13th

Information

Goodreads: Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye
Series: Warren the 13th #1
Source: Quirk Books
Published: November 2015

Official Summary

Warren the 13th is the lone bellhop, valet, waiter, groundskeeper, and errand boy of his family’s ancient hotel. It’s a strange, shadowy mansion full of crooked corridors and mysterious riddles—and it just might be home to a magical object known as the All-Seeing Eye. Can Warren decipher the clues and find the treasure before his sinister Aunt Annaconda (and a slew of greedy hotel guests) beats him to it?

This middle-grade adventure features gorgeous two-color illustrations on every page and a lavish two-column Victorian design that will pull young readers into a spooky and delightful mystery.

Review

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye is a creatively creepy middle grade novel that invites readers into the mysterious Warren Hotel–a business that once was prosperous but seems to have traded customers for monsters and ghosts.  Captivating red and black artwork draws readers into the story and invites them to help solve the story’s mysterious: Who is the silent, bandaged-wrapped guest? What’s lurking in the boiler room?  And what is the legendary All-Seeing Eye?

The book does imply several tropes common to middle grade novels: an evil stepmother aunt who makes Warren complete ridiculous chores,  a kindly chef who sneaks Warren treat, and other such characters. However, the story puts just enough twist on the tropes to make them seem interesting and new.  There’s also the fact that Warren the 13th is not a stereotypical protagonist–described as toad-like and hunched and perhaps liable to be mistaken for a monster himself. (Except that he has glamorous hair.)

The mysteries are not really interactive, which I was somewhat expecting based on the artistic nature of the novel and the jacket copy. Middle grade books with actual solvable puzzles and such are becoming a trend (and one I like).  However,  the story does provide readers with enough clues to solve the mysteries as Warren does, which is great.  There’s nothing worse than a mystery the reader isn’t given enough information to figure out, in my opinion.  The ending was also genuinely surprising to me, despite some foreshadowing.

Overall, Warren the 13th is just fun.  It has a creepy vibe, but it’s often more quirky than scary, particularly since many things are not what they initially seen.  It’s also a really beautiful. Even the trim size is unique, since the book is square.  I loved reading this and would love to continue on with the series to share in Warren’s and his friend’s adventures.

4 stars

Bonus Story

Warren Friday the 13th

To celebrate Friday the 13th, Tania del Rio has written a bonus story about Warren that you can read free! Quirk Books has the story and activity book about Warren’s unlucky day available to download here.  Book #2 in the series, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, will be out in March 2017.

Briana

Wonder Women by Sam Maggs (ARC Review)

Wonder WomenInformation

Goodreads: Wonder Women
Series: None
Source: Quirk Books
Publication Date: October 4, 2016

Official Summary

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations

Review

Wonder Women is a delightfully informative yet informal look at amazing women in STEM. Maggs purposely tends toward less-known women (personally, I’d heard of about six), meaning the book isn’t just the same-old stories of Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart (though these women get mini bios at the end of each section).  Maggs explores the lives and accomplishments of 25 historical women in the fields of science, medicine, espionage, innovation, and adventure, and sprinkles in some interviews with women currently working in STEM to help inspire readers to go do all the science.

Maggs knows how to pick a good tale, so the content of the book is fascinating.  She chooses women whose lives were interesting both in and out of their careers and looks at everyone from a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight in the American Civil War to the woman who got rich from inventing a machine that could fold paper bags.  There’s also a good bit of diversity in terms of time periods and countries, which was nice since I was personally familiar with mostly the American and a few of the European women.

However, I found the Tumblr-style voice of the book off-putting, and while I initially assumed it might appeal to the intended audience, a quick glance of existing Goodreads reviews showed me either people who were also annoyed by it or people who simply didn’t mention it.  So far, Maggs’ quirky asides and casual tone, referring to Alice Ball as “100 percent your kind of gal” or Emmy Noether as a “total BAMF” seems not entirely to be a selling point.  Personally, I tried to just grin and bear it, but there were instances where the tone almost came across as flippant.  Referring blithely to someone’s accomplishments as “smart-person talk” which clearly the reader wouldn’t understand, to me, does more to diminish the accomplishment than praise it.

However, while I did find all of the women’s bios interesting, I disagree with Maggs that all of the women are role model material.  The worst-case offender in the book is one Brita Tott, a woman who spied and forged for personal gain–and was bad enough at it she kept getting caught.  Neither her morals nor her skills seem particularly admirable, but Maggs brushes this off because sexism: “Brita may have engaged in some not-so-worthy endeavors, but she was likely trying to survive amid brutal medieval misogyny.”  There were a couple other women who seemed generally disagreeable or not entirely ethical, which is fine–it’s still interesting–but it did bother me Maggs is offering them up as full-fledged heroes, rather than simply fascinating people.

Most of the women, however, are admirable, and Maggs will be successful riling readers up about the injustices they faced because of their sex.  Many of these women are unknown because they have been purposefully overlooked or had their accomplishments stolen by men.  Personally, I would love to have a little bibliography of Maggs’ sources so I could follow up on some of the stories she presents. (And, actually, there’s blank space left for a bibliography in the ARC, so the final version should have one; I just mean I want one for myself. Right now. Because this is all really captivating.)

Bottom line: There were definitely things that irritated me about this book. The voice is hard to get over and honestly makes me hesitant to read anything else by Maggs, even though the content and research is great. However, in this particular case, the pros really do outweigh the cons. I loved that Maggs picked truly lesser-known women and writes about them in an engaging way. Anyone interested in STEM, awesome women, or just fun stories will probably like something about Wonder Women.

*Please note that all quotes are from the ARC and may not be in the final version of the book.

UPDATE

Quirk Books has announced a pre-order campaign for Wonder Women. If you pre-order, you’ll get exclusive wallpapers for your phone, tablet, or computer and be entered for a grand prize for a signed original print. Check out the link for more details.

4 stars Briana

Kid Artists by David Stabler and Doogie Horner (ARC Review)

Kid AthletesInformation

Goodreads: Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends
Series: None
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Publication Date: August 9, 2016

Official Summary

The series that began with Kid Presidents and Kid Athletes has a new volume that chronicles the childhoods of 16 celebrated artists—everyone from Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh to Mary Cassat, Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and even Dr. Seuss! Readers will learn:

  • Georgia O’Keeffe was so enthralled by nature that she once ate dirt just to see what it tasted like.
  • Jackson Pollock lost the top of his right index finger in a childhood accident (and the severed tip was eaten by a rooster!).
  • Andy Warhol’s favorite childhood lunch was—what else?—a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup.

Every scribble, sketch, and sticky situation comes to life in these kid-friendly and relatable stories, all with Doogie Horner’s trademark full-color illustrations. Kid Artists is a delight for budding artists and eager readers alike

Review

Kid Artists introduces readers to a number of famous artists as children, telling compelling stories about how they practiced their art or where they learned to love it. A variety of artists from different background and styles ensures there’s an artist who will appeal to everyone.

Interestingly, the book does seem to assume some knowledge of the artists in question, even though it’s quite likely this could be many young readers’ first introduction to a few of the figures.  Some of the mini bios do a nice job of alluding to what the artists are known for, while not getting too bogged down in details: Georgia O’Keefe is known for her flowers or Jean-Michel Basquiat is known for his graffiti-style art.  However, the only real allusion to Jackson Pollack’s style is a cute cartoon of him looking thoughtfully at the wall of a mud-splattered pig sty.  Yoko Ono’s entry has one line at the end explaining she became known for Conceptual art; otherwise, the entry emphasizes her pacifism.  Basically, the discussion of their actual art is a little uneven, and I think could use just a few more revisions to give everyone a similar level of detail.

The book is also a bit more random than Kid Athletes in the sense that not all the stories seem to have an immediately clear connection with the artists’ later work (though arguably one’s entire life would influence one’s art).  Kid Athletes seemed to have a bit more material to work with in the way of forming neat story arcs: “This kid was discouraged from playing sports for whatever reason but tried his best/practiced a lot/found a mentor and became a successful athlete later.”  Kid Artists has some stories like that, but it also has some entries that seem to be just about strange things that happened to the artists in their childhoods.  They’re still really engaging stories, however, and I think there is a good mix of stories that are about artists overcoming challenges related directly to art, artists overcoming other challenges like sickness, and artists who were pretty much like ordinary kids except they loved to draw.

The artwork, as with Kid Athletes, is charming and cartoony and just a bit clever.  There’s an image of Charles Schulz sitting in a little booth selling art for 5 cents and an image of Andy Warhol’s mother offering him a choice of various different canned soups for lunch.  Most of these clever nods will probably speak mainly to readers already familiar with the artists, but that’s not unimaginable for the book; I assume, while this will be an intro to artists for some readers, other children will pick this up because they’re already interested in artists and have read lots about them before.  And the pictures are still good illustrations for the stories, even if the reader doesn’t get the little joke.

Kid Artists is a quick, fun read that will show readers great artists started out just as kids and that working hard for what you want can really pay off.

4 stars Briana

Kid Athletes by David Stabler and Doogie Horner (ARC Review)

Kid AthletesInformation

Goodreads: Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends
Series: None
Source: Armchair BEA giveaway
Publication Date: November 17, 2015

Official Summary

Forget the gold medals, the championships, and the undefeated seasons. When all-star athletes were growing up, they had regular-kid problems just like you. Baseball legend Babe Ruth was such a troublemaker, his family sent him to reform school. Race car champion Danica Patrick fended off bullies who told her “girls can’t drive. And football superstar Peyton Manning was forced to dance the tango in his school play. Kid Athletes tells all of their stories and more with full-color cartoon illustrations on every page. Other subjects include Billie Jean King, Jackie Robinson, Yao Ming, Gabby Douglas, Tiger Woods, Julie Krone, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Bobby Orr, Lionel Messi, and more!

Review

Kid Athletes is a fun yet informative book about some of the country’s favorite athletes as children. Stories range from how they overcame discrimination to how they dealt with family problems or someone’s lack of belief in their skill. Some stories are inherently more inspiring than others (Jackie Robinson choosing baseball over becoming a gang member vs. Peyton Manning being embarrassed to dance the tango in a school performance), but all the stories paint the athletes in a relatable light and show readers that anything is possible with perseverance—and a few lucky breaks.

Each story is written in a conversational tone and illustrated with quirky cartoons: Peyton Manning trying to hide the VHS of his infamous tango, Babe Didrikson Zaharias relaxing in a river full of alligators, a mouse telling Babe Ruth that he likes his tie. This is nonfiction at its most engaging. Additionally, the book does a nice job incorporating diversity. Sports ranging from football to horse racing are covered, while the featured athletes include both men and women, historical and current players, etc.

Children’s nonfiction is not a genre I typically read. It was not something I even read much as a child. However, this book is entertaining and highly readable, and I felt I learned a lot from it. Now I only wish I were young enough to start pursuing my own legendary career in athletics. Recommended for sports fans.