Tag Archives: first reads

My Grandfather’s Masbaha

14 Jan

Today’s book review is for My Grandfather’s Masbaha, written by Susan Daniel Fayad, illustrated by Avery Liell-Kok, self-published through Author House. I received a free paperback copy of this book through a First Reads giveaway on Goodreads, with the expectation that I would post an honest review.

My Grandfather's Masbaha book cover

My Grandfather’s Masbaha begins with a little boy, Adam, throwing a temper tantrum when his friends all go home and he’s left with nothing to do. As his hyperbole grows, his Jidoo (grandfather) starts to laugh. Then he pulls out a string of prayer beads known as a masbaha to help Adam count his blessings. At first he is reluctant to share his grandfather’s perspective, but by the end he is able to understand.

Like many self-published works, this book would have benefited from an extra round of editing. There were numerous typographical errors, however, it was the writing style itself which I felt could use refining. First of all, the descriptive language has a lot of redundancy–“more and more”, “redder and redder”, etc. These sorts of repetitions don’t add to the story, especially since there is still plenty of other descriptive language. Next, I found a lot of the dialogue to feel stunted and unnatural. In particular, I thought that the lack of contractions in the first couple of pages felt awkward–it made me think of Data in Star Trek. Finally, a lot of the dialogue tags were also poorly written. In an attempt to add variety to her language, the author sometimes made odd word choices such as “chimed Adam.” I think of bells as chiming, but not so much children.

The illustrations were servicable. They were a bit flat and amateurish, but they did accompany the story well. I just wish there had been more dimension to them. The black outline and flat color style just didn’t work for me. Jidoo was depicted with some pretty good facial expressions, but in contrast, Adam’s seemed lacking.

What I did like about the book was that it gives children exposure to Lebanese culture. I enjoyed learning more about the masbaha and how different people use it for different purposes. There is even a page at the end that provides more information about the masbaha. I also liked how the story focused on learning to recognize one’s blessings.

Overall the book had a nice concept, but the execution was lacking. With stronger editorial oversight, higher quality illustrations, and professional design, this could be a great book. As it stands, though, it was a mediocre book whose biggest appeal is unusual content. I’m giving it 2 stars. Kids will probably like the story alright and enjoy being exposed to a new culture, but I don’t think it’s worth the money to purchase it.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

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Midnight City

6 Nov

Today’s book review is for Midnight City, the first book in the Conquered Earth series by J. Barton Mitchell, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, through the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review. The second book in the series, The Severed Tower, is scheduled to be released later this month.

Midnight City is a science-fantasy novel set in a dystopian future where aliens have conquered earth. When the aliens invaded, they were able to subdue the human population through the use of a strong telepathic signal called the Tone. However, the signal only works on people once they’ve reached adulthood. The result is that children have organized themselves into a new society, doing what they can to survive until they finally succumb to the Tone. The story follows Holt Hawkins, a loner bounty hunter, whose only companion is his dog Max. But when Holt and his target, wanted treasure hunter Mira Toombs, discover a young girl in a crashed Assembly ship, his life is turned upside down. As the three companions make their way to Midnight City, they must evade feuding alien armies, deal with pirates, and escape mutants. Meanwhile the mysterious young girl, Zoey, starts to display amazing powers that just might be the key to defeating the Assembly once and for all. Holt must decide: is he going to continue to go it alone–or will he work with his newfound companions for something greater than mere survival?

Mitchell’s debut novel starts in the middle of action and never relents. It is a fast-paced and gripping story that I didn’t want to put down. The plot and pacing were both masterfully executed. And, yet, for as much action as there is, there are some wonderfully executed characters. Not only do they feel dynamic and real, but they also grow over the course of the story. It’s nice to see that sort of development in a work that is so heavy on plot and action.

I was especially drawn in by Mitchell’s world building. I loved the empty landscapes, the crumbling remnants of civilization, and the strange new settlements built by the surviving children. I liked the descriptions of the Assembly, cloaked in spindly-legged walkers, true forms always obscured. Even the descriptions of the Strange Lands, which are never visited in the course of this novel, still pop with life and energy. This world is broad and complete–especially the descriptions of the expansive cave metropolis known as Midnight City.

This is a compelling young adult read with elements of dystopia, science fiction, and fantasy. It explores themes of alien invasion, survival, friendship, social organization, and morality, among others. Although the descriptions of the aliens were reminiscent of War of the Worlds, the overall story is refreshingly original. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for being such a strong and engaging novel. I can’t wait to read the sequel.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Animal Motions

10 Oct

Today’s book review is for Animal Motions, written by Melissa Pilgrim, illustrated by Ira V. Graves, published by Indigo River Publishing. I received a copy of this book from the author, through the First Reads giveaway program on Goodreads, with the understanding that I would provide an honest review.

Animal Motions book cover

Animal Motions is a book designed to teach children an easy, low-impact movement routine, while at the same time encouraging them to use their imaginations. It was developed from a theater exercise that author, Melissa Pilgrim, used when she worked with kids at a theater in Chicago. Easy to execute in small spaces, children are asked to follow along with a boy named Eric as he pretends to be 17 different animals. By connecting each stretch and movement with animals, children will be able to easily remember how to perform each stretch and movement.

Pilgrim’s first person prose, told from the point of view of little boy Eric, does the job of leading children through the routine. However, sometimes the phrasing that she used felt a little awkward to me–particularly when considering her target audience. The first thing that threw me was the use of the word “mimicking;” while I have no problem with exposing children to new vocabulary, it seems that doing so in the context of a movement exercise might not be the optimal approach. Because the book was adapted from a theater exercise, the book was full of run-on sentences. They’re a natural part of spoken language, but on the page they can be distracting.

My biggest issue, though, was with Gates’s illustrations. Determining the quality of illustration, as with any art form, is a highly subjective matter. That said, I found the illustrations in this book really tacky. So tacky, in fact, that I had to re-read the book a few times to overcome the negative impression they gave me. They reminded me of the low-budget freebie books I got as a child in the 1980s. The cheesy expressions on the animals and the incredibly dated image of the family at the end were bad, but the worst part were the garish and excessive yellow highlights used throughout. There were some nice ideas behind the illustrations, but the execution left so much to be desired.

The book does, however, still have educational merit, which is why I ultimately gave it 3 out of 5 stars. As a picture book, I’d rate it lower–but I decided to instead evaluate it as an educational resource. And on that front, it does a great job. Parents and teachers who purchase the book are directed to the book’s website: animalmotions.com, where there are 6 free lesson plans available. The lesson plans are targeted to children ages 3-6 and cover subject areas of health & fitness, drama, and combined biology & geography. There is also a mini-poster that can be printed out for children to cover. It could be utilized in classrooms, camps, daycares or home-school environments.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.