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Book Reviews

Five Reasons to Read Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

 

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley

I recently finished this fantastic graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, which is probably the longest graphic novel I’ve ever read too!  Though some elements were a little repetitive, the concept as a whole really inspired me, and I wanted to share five reasons why you simply must read this book:

  1. IT’S FANTASY!  Our protagonist, Katie, begins to consume magical mushrooms that allow her to fix mistakes of the past.  Set on creating a perfect world, Katie doesn’t notice that there is an unsettled shadow growing restless in the basement… I didn’t realise when I picked up the book that it would be of the fantasy genre (the cover is somewhat ambiguous).  House spirits and dark forces lurking?  I found it captivating!
  2. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE ADORABLE.  Although I haven’t read Scott Pilgrim (only seen the film, which is amazing), Seconds has the same flavour of weird and wonderful about it.  Every page is full of detail and colour, and I love the manga-esque style, particularly in Katie’s facial expressions.  Even the choice of layout and typeface really appealed to me.Seconds
  3. THE PROTAGONIST IS A STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN.  Katie runs her own business and knows how to stand up for herself, and her sass is the source of much humour.  It’s nice to read stories where the struggling female doesn’t need rescuing by a man!
  4. THE WRITING IS HILARIOUS.  Bryan Lee O’Malley seems to be some kind of comedy genius.  His characters are so funny.  There’s plenty of great little details, like Katie’s occasional sassy comments to the narrator of the story.
  5. IT MAKES YOU THINK.  Despite her strong nature, Katie becomes fixated on mending her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, leaving her own future and friendships on the verge of collapse.  It brings up the question of how far people are willing to go for love – is a relationship worth losing everything for?  How far would you go?

Want more info?  Check out Goodreads.

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Happy reading!

Emma

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April 21, 2017
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Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

25573977TITLE: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

AUTHOR: Katarina Bivald

GENRE: Adult, Fiction, Chick Lit

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Swedish tourist in Iowa must be in want of a man.

INFO | Goodreads

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Travelling to a small American town in Iowa to meet her pen pal, Swedish bookworm Sara is surprised to learn that Amy has recently passed away.  To honour Amy’s friendship with this shy tourist, the people of Broken Wheel decide to take Sara under their wing, hoping to keep her around for as long as possible – even if that means trying to set her up with one of the locals.  Set on repaying the town, Sara opens up a bookshop, determined to get the town reading…

I love that this was a book about books – that element of it was really fun.  There were references to dozens of books and authors I love, and Sara’s passion and enthusiasm for reading was so infectious.  Other than that, Sara’s personality fell a little flat for me.  I would also have liked to have heard more about Sara’s backstory too.  It felt like there was the potential to make her really interesting – for example, she is from Sweden (as is the author) and it might have been fun to learn a little of her culture or to have seen even a few words of Swedish.

Though Sara was a pretty plain protagonist, this did allow for the book to revolve around the town rather than one person.  I thought the locals of Broken Wheel had tons of personality – I loved George, a recovering alcoholic with a heart of gold, and Grace, the tough-as-nails bar owner, and I can understand why Sara didn’t want to leave.

The plot and ending were painfully obvious, but that does seem to be the case with most chick lits I’ve read – it is a safe read in that respect, and that isn’t necessarily a criticism.  My biggest problem however was the chemistry between Sara and Tom.  I just didn’t feel it at all.  Even scenes of intimacy seemed kind of awkward… I don’t know, I’ve read reviews where people really enjoyed their chemistry, but they seemed like a real unnatural, cringeworthy match to me.  Of course I still rooted for them, because I’m not a complete spoilsport!  Even so, in terms of relationships, I’d say I found the complications of Justin falling for an older woman – who, I won’t say – far more engaging than the core relationship of this novel.

TL;DR: The main romance is questionable, but the people of Broken Wheel more than make up for it.  Sara will make you remember why you fell in love with reading.

Star Rating: ★★★¾ (3.75/5)

Emma

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March 23, 2017
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Book Review: Stan and Nan by Sarah Lippett

26210515Title: Stan and Nan

Author: Sarah Lippett

Genre: Graphic Novel, Non-Fiction, Biography

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Stan and Nan is a graphic novel sharing the story of Sarah Lippett’s grandparents: her Nan, who she was very close to, and her Grandad, who she never met.  It is a story about love and the strength of family, inspired by the letters Sarah’s grandmother wrote to her about her late husband.

This book is a real credit to the graphic novel genre.  Anyone – whether they knew their grandparents or not – will have heard stories about them.  Stories are so important, and are a great part of keeping someone’s memory alive.  This is what Stan and Nan is all about, especially as much of the story is told from the perspective of Sarah Lippett’s relatives.  Putting their story into a book must have been a really difficult experience for Sarah, as the love she had for her Gran is very apparent in their conversations, and really very moving.Stan and Nan

The subject matter made it quite a tough book to read at times.  I have a very good relationship with my Gran, and much of Sarah’s interactions with her Gran were very familiar.  A particularly funny and heart-warming moment for me was when her Gran offered her Custard Creams even though she was a vegan; this happened again later and it was just as funny!

The illustrations are quite rough at times, but that’s really just Lippett’s style.  As this book is so personal to the author, I feel the drawings just add a layer of authenticity and they don’t feel lazy at all.  Anyway, there are times when Lippett shows off her abilities and attention-to-detail with some full-page drawings, and I personally feel the whole book fits together really nicely.

Star Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Emma

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January 22, 2017
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Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

12600138Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

It’s the year 2044 and the world now lives in a virtual simulation known as the OASIS – people work there, attend virtual schools and socialise within the sim.  When the creator, James Halliday, announces that there is an easter egg hidden in the game and the player who finds it will win his entire fortune, the OASIS erupts with activity as every player around the world scrambles to find it.  But when four years pass, with no sign of the egg, only the dedicated egg hunters (known as gunters) and a large corporation seeking control of the OASIS are left still searching.  That is, until gunter Wade Watts discovers the first part of the puzzle.

Usually I review a book almost immediately after reading, but with Ready Player One it was different.  It took me several days to really digest what I’d read, until I was ready to put pen to paper.  I think in part this is due to Ready Player One being very much a story within a story.  It did take a great deal of focus to imagine the ever-changing landscapes of the OASIS.  I sure had to do my homework with this one – a few times I had to Google the 80s film and video game references so that I could better picture the scene unfolding in my mind.  My nerd trivia knowledge was definitely challenged!  It was an exceedingly ambitious novel, and I think Cline has done a tremendous job.

I was really kept on my toes for the entirety of the book; it never seemed to be clear cut who would win Halliday’s egg.  With the scoreboards constantly evolving, it certainly wasn’t a given that Wade would find the egg first.  But that wasn’t a problem.  The Sixers were so unlikable – Sorrento was in fact the perfect video game or television villain, really – that I quickly came to root for all of the gunters.  I didn’t care who won as long as it wasn’t IOI.

As a narrator, Wade was great fun, and I often found myself laughing at his sharp wit.  On the other hand though, he did seem far too immature for his age at times – perhaps a lifetime in a virtual sim does that to a person.  This also extended to emotional maturity too.  I don’t know if it was the style of writing, or a character flaw of Wade, but I felt like I never really saw much emotional vulnerability from him.  When he was scared or hurting, I felt it was brushed over so quickly that I never got to see him deal with those feelings and grow as a character.  Again, maybe the nature of the OASIS is responsible for this behaviour.  Anyway, I completely forgive him this character flaw, as his intelligence and sense of humour made the book what it is, and gave him a distinctive personality among the other gunters.

The funny thing is that in a sense, by having the plot circulate around pop culture references, Cline is doing exactly what Halliday did in the book – creating a world where the reader has no choice but to wade through these interests to locate the egg.  I really enjoyed that journey too – many references I understood, and I’ve never read a piece of fiction so grounded in the real world before.  It just reinforced how uncanny the whole thing was.  In my younger years I used to use IMVU, a virual instant messaging website, and especially with increasingly high quality video gaming graphics and advancements in technology, it isn’t too difficult to picture the world Cline has invented.  I think if this book doesn’t make you want to turn off your computer/phone and go outside then you’ve missed a really fundamental part of the story.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

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Want to read more book reviews?  Check out the book review archive.

Happy reading!

Emma

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December 15, 2016
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Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

17573559TITLE: Roomies

AUTHORS: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

GENRE: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Coming-of-Age

“Live in the present. Take care of the relationships in front of you now. Most friendships have a natural life, and when they’ve lived that out, you’ll know.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


review

Roomies is narrated by two girls from different states, who will soon be thrown together in the same dorm room at university.  Lauren is from a bustling family, juggling several jobs alongside her duties at home, but has mixed feelings about leaving it all behind.  EB has a strained relationship with her mother and a boyfriend she isn’t all that interested in, and is looking forward to starting a new life.  Given the opportunity to email each other before they share a dorm room, the girls grow close as life around them begins to change – mostly for the better, but at times, for the worse.

I feel the need to start off by saying that I picked this book up in the adult fiction section and I really don’t think it belonged there.  It was nice to reminisce about being a teenager again, but I do think it has far more to offer teen/YA readers – it is a coming-of-age story through and through, about finding out who you are and the importance of family and friends (new and old), whilst also addressing sensitive topics like sex and cheating.

Of the two girls, I really related to Lauren in particular, and her great, loud family.  I found her chapters a little more captivating, and thought the supporting cast of her life – Keyon, his father, her wacky siblings and parents – really made it for me.  Lauren’s romantic interest was Keyon, and their story dealt with the subject of race, as well as the complications (and joys) of going from friendship to something more.  I wasn’t blown away by their romance though, and even less so by EB’s romance with Mark.  Retrospectively, I think it would have been far more effective to have just one of the girls in a relationship so it felt a bit more special.  As it stands, I didn’t really care if either couple broke up once they started university.

Saying that, I did find both narrators could become a little synonymous at times (I’d have to pause and remind myself whose narrative I was reading), but it did mean the humour was consistent throughout the entire novel – in fact, I laughed out loud more than a couple of times.  I really enjoyed how the girls portrayed themselves in the emails – omitting some pieces of information, choosing others instead.  It was an excellent example of how online methods of communication can bring together two complete strangers and allow them to be friends, and also how the restrictions of email can lead to sometimes unforgivable miscommunication.  I found that aspect quite thought-provoking.

All in all, I recommend the book to those preparing to leave for college or university, or those just wanting to relive that anxiety-ridden summer before leaving home for the first time.  The book isn’t perfect – but it still made me laugh, and tackled a surprisingly wide array of topics.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

Want to read more book reviews?  Check the archive here!

Emma

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November 14, 2016
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Book Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah CrossanTitle: One

Author: Sarah Crossan

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

‘Deep down everyone wants to be a star and normal is the road to nothingness.’

INFO | Goodreads

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review

Conjoined twins Grace and Tippi share everything together – they can’t imagine it any other way.  But when their health becomes at risk, being apart might be the only thing that can keep them together.

Beautifully moving, One is a truly epic piece of contemporary fiction.  Told from Grace’s perspective, the book offers a wonderfully realistic insight into what life is like for conjoined twins.  The best thing about the story is how the one thing everyone thinks is the worst thing – being conjoined – is really the girls’ smallest concern.  They have much bigger problems – school, relationships, their dysfunctional family.  It really challenged my assumptions in this way.  That isn’t to say the girls don’t have issues of their own to face – the hardest decision of all must be made by Grace and Tippi, a decision that put me on the edge of my seat for much of the book.

I liked that Tippi and Grace, although always together, had very distinctive personalities.  Grace is quieter and bookish, whereas Tippi is much more outspoken.  The yin and yang of the twins’ personalities actually reminded me a lot of Jacqueline Wilson’s Double Act, which I remember finding fascinating as a young reader.  It is immediately clear that Sarah Crossan has done a lot of careful research to be able to approach the topic with such sensitivity – she certainly does it justice.  In fact, she states at the end of the novel that her characters were based on two real life sisters.

What really makes One stand out is its unconventional format.  The words run down the page like verse, making every word more significant and powerful and making the one page that diverts from this rule completely devastating… there’ll be no spoilers here though!

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Emma

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July 31, 2016
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Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars ReviewTitle: The Girl of Ink and Stars

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Fiction, Teen, Fantasy, Adventure

“All things have a cycle…a habit of returning the way they came. Seasons, water, lives, perhaps even trees. You don’t always need a map to find your path back.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


review

When the tyrannical Governor’s young daughter goes missing, Isabella feels it is her responsibility to bring her back.  Disguising herself, she manages to join the Governor’s search party, navigating the group through the Forbidden Territories with her cartography skills passed down to her by her father.  But Lupe’s disappearance isn’t the only concern – a darkness is sweeping across the island, one that can be traced back a thousand years, to a fire demon who is finally stirring from his slumber.

Aesthetically, you couldn’t ask for more from this book.  My edition had colour maps on the inside pages, and every single page of the story itself was illustrated with ink drawings.  It really brought home the cartography element, something that I thought was original and fascinating to read about.

I also enjoyed the mythological elements of the story, and liked that for much of the book it is unclear whether or not the stories Isabella has heard about as a child have any truth to them.  I would have liked to have seen even more of the fantasy elements come to life – the Tibicena were really exciting, but the scenes with Yote seemed quite brief despite such a build up.

There were a few things lacking for me, unfortunately.  Isabella’s narration comes across as very young, and I’m not sure who would read this book and relate to her voice – I know thirteen year olds who would find her too immature.  Also, I wasn’t really convinced by her friendship with Lupe.  Considering they were best friends, I didn’t feel any real connection between them, and spent a lot of time arguing instead and being annoyed with one another.

I also felt for similar reasons like it wasn’t clear whether anything was going on between Pablo and Isabella – I sensed that she viewed him as more than just a friend.  Was there a spark between them, or just a brother-sister thing?  I was quite disappointed in the end that nothing was developed either way.  However, I appreciate that the book is not a romance – it was nice to see qualities such as friendship, family and inner strength taking priority, and in that sense it carries a good message to younger readers.

Overall though, it was a nice little read.  I’d certainly read a sequel if ever there was one, but I disagree with Goodreads defining this as part of the ‘Young Adult’ genre, despite some themes of violence, and the ending which is quite dark.  So, I wouldn’t know who exactly to recommend it to, but if you’re a fan of myths and magic, there might be something for you in this short fantasy novel.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆ (3/5)

Emma

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June 30, 2016
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Book Review: ZOO by Otsuichi

Zoo by OtsuichiTitle: ZOO

Author: Otsuichi

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Horror

Source: Net Galley (I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review)

“Love and death are not different things, they are the front and back of the same thing.”

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


Review

ZOO is a translated collection of short horror stories by Japanese writer Otsuichi.  Don’t be fooled by the bright and cheery front cover – many of the stories focus on death, and will shock you, or at the very least get you thinking.

Otsuichi adopts a minimalist writing style throughout the collection.  Sometimes this works better than other times, but mostly I enjoyed using my imagination to fill in the gaps – this works particularly well with horror I think.  The stories range in length from half a dozen chapters to just a couple of pages, but they all have one thing in common: they all challenged my preconceptions of the horror genre.  There is a brilliant quote in the afterword by Amelia Beamer that sums this up well:

“So here’s what I know about horror: it’s a genre without rules.”

That’s definitely what it felt like reading through ZOO.  Otsuichi was making up his own rules, with such interesting results.

Most of the stories in the collection are very well written, and most of them have a twist or two!  One of the first stories is ‘In A Falling Plane’, about two passengers haggling over the price of a euthanasia drug while their plane is being hijacked.  I particularly enjoyed the slither of humour with the rolling can that keeps tripping up those who try to tackle the gunman.  That’s an element of the collection that I feel is very unique – most stories have an injection of humour into them, which makes for an interesting contrast alongside some quite gruesome themes.

My favourite story was ‘Song Of the Sunny Spot’.  I would say it is more science fiction than horror, and is about a synthetic being who is created to care for a dying man.  As time goes on, the android develops through experience, aned begins to understand what death really means.  It was an exceptionally good and thought-provoking short story, and I didn’t see the twist coming at all!

Following on from this great story is another favourite of mine, ‘Kazari and Yoki’.  It is a sad tale of twins who are not equally loved by their mother, which ends in tragedy – though not how you would expect.  This was a gritty story of abuse in the home and though it can’t be considered horror in the traditional sense, it is still a chilling tale of inequality.

The collection is not for the faint-hearted.  Some stories made me flinch, others I simply had to tell someone about, as they were just too awful to keep to myself.  It isn’t a perfect short story collection, and there were a few stories that I skimmed through, and one that I didn’t finish.  Nevertheless, ZOO definitely stands out, and I recommend it to any horror fans out there who want to tackle something a little different.

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)

Thank you so much to The Geek Undergraduate for recommending this one to me!

Emma

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June 28, 2016
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Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and FuryTitle: A Court of Mist and Fury

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

I was a survivor, and I was strong.
I would not be weak, or helpless again.
I would not, could not be broken.

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository | Amazon


_review

A Court of Mist and Fury is the second part of Feyre’s story.  Her wedding to Tamlin is approaching but she struggles with the memories of being Under The Mountain, and feels suffocated by the Spring Court.  Swept away by Rhysand to uphold the bargain that saved her life, she must survive the mysterious Night Court, and learn not only how to control the new powers she has gained as a Fae, but how to stop the nightmares in her head of those awful months with Amarantha.  Meanwhile, a terrible war is stirring, and Feyre’s new powers may just be the key to stop it…

As I read this book, I had decided already in my head that it was an instant five stars without question.  It had reduced me to tears after all, and surely a book that can create such an emotive response is a good book?  I was flying the Team Rhysand flag high, right up until the final chapters.  You see, nearing the end of the book, I began to feel that I was flying the Team Rhysand flag not through choice, but because Tamlin’s character had been utterly destroyed by the author, and I had been pushed into a position where it was wrong to want to root for Tamlin.  Is this an example of a poor plot?  Or was it done intentionally?  I can’t decide.  Feyre’s integration into the Night Court changes her entire outlook – she learns things about both Tamlin and Rhysand that shock her, and I wonder if her changing allegiance is less a reflection of Tamlin’s behaviour and more a reflection of Feyre’s perspective changing.  The story is told in first person, after all – we are receiving her biased account of the story.  Or perhaps this is just me trying to justify bad writing?  Who knows…

I also can’t help but make comparisons to the first book, which in my eyes was a near-perfect piece of YA Fantasy.  The writing was a little sloppy in book two compared to A Court of Thorns and Roses.  It was repetitive too in its use of language – too much purring and growling. Speaking of which, there was an awful lot of sex in the book and sexual innuendos (more erotica than anything else at times).  I know the Fae seem like quite sexual creatures, but a lot of the word count did go into these themes, when maybe more development was needed elsewhere.

Clearly, I could write an essay of criticisms for this book, yet… I still loved it.  Loved it despite all those flaws.  I just love the world and the lore.  Feyre is feisty and strong, hungry to be active and fight for herself; she is a truly badass heroine.  Brought back to life by the high lords at the end of the first book, she possesses a unique kind of magic that has so much potential, and it is exciting to see her attempts to wield that power. I think visually the magic would work really well on film, so I’m really hoping they adapt the series at some point.

I also thoroughly (and maybe reluctantly, too) enjoyed learning about Rhysand and his backstory.  I did feel however that his character was mostly boosted by the presence of his four friends, who added some comic relief to the story too.  The moments of banter among the members of the Night Court are some of the best moments of the book for me, as I loved the chemistry of the group and found myself laughing along at their mischief.  However, I did find that I was often more engaged by what was happening between Mor and Cassian and Azriel (and their confusing love triangle) and Amren’s ancient power than I actually was by the protagonists.

If I’m being honest with myself, I really don’t know if this book is even worth the 4 stars I am going to award it.  However, there are some interesting chapters – the Weaver and the Bone Carver were particularly excellent – and clearly there was enough in the book to keep me reading like a maniac whenever I could to get the book finished.  I know a lot of fans will be upset with the book, but that certainly won’t stop me from waiting eagerly to read the third installment (out in 2017).

Star Rating: ★★★★ (4/4)

Emma

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June 16, 2016
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Book Review | Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Title: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea

Author: Ben Clanton

Genre: Fiction, Children’s Book, Graphic Novel

Source: Net Galley (I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review)

Publication Date: October 2016

INFO | Goodreads

BUY | The Book Depository


_review

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is a fun graphic novel aimed at children. It includes three stories following Narwhal and his new jellyfish friend, and a fact page for each character.

Narwhal is a carefree spirit who balances out the reluctance and scepticism of Jelly. He teaches Jelly to step out of his comfort zone and also shows him how to use his imagination.

My favourite of the three stories was Narwhal and the Best Book Ever!, in which Jelly quizzes Narwhal on why he is reading a book with blank pages. Narwhal explains that it is an imagination book and you have to pretend. I absolutely love the premise of this, and the story continues with Narwhal helping Jelly to conjure up some interesting scenes. I really think this would generate some interesting conversations between adult and child if read together.

The drawings are simple but really quite adorable, and would appeal to adults as well as children. This is a smart little book that gets the balance right between factual and fun, and as a twenty-something year old I can honestly say I had a very enjoyable ten minutes reading it.

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (5/5)

Emma

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May 18, 2016
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