Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns #6: Who Turned Off the Colours? – Matthew K. Manning

Illustrations – Joey Ellis

So, here we are at the end of this series. After my initial delight at the strange concept and the fun I had visiting a couple of other dimensions, I’m finishing the series disappointed.

Xander has somehow caught the virus that made his unicorn friends zombies. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for this to happen or why it happens at the same time to all of the people who have interacted with the unicorns, regardless of when they watched the magic show.

Xander and the other humans have different symptoms to the unicorns. Instead of vomiting rainbows, they lose all of their colours. Even their clothing turns grey. It’s up to Xander, Cradie, Blep and Ronk to figure out a way to restore colour to the humans.

I had a whole bunch of questions throughout the series that I was looking forward to having answered when I made it to the final book. I didn’t get a single question answered.

The lack of attention to detail in the series really bugs me now. It was always something I noticed but it began to impact on my enjoyment of the series in book five.

This time around the main problem I had related to the central plot. So, Xander has lost his colours.

In fact, his skin was grey, his hair was a darker grey. Even his clothing was grey!

Two pages later …

He was wearing a bright purple onesie, but he was too worried to be embarrassed.

Seven pages after that …

description

Xander’s onesie is purple, his bunny slippers (which are certainly cute) are pink and the inside of his mouth isn’t grey either! Kids notice inconsistencies like these. It makes me wonder if the publisher lost interest in this series as it progressed.

Until book five, whenever Ronk said, “Ronk!” the word was always green and in a different font; in the final two books it’s blue for some reason. Cradie and Blep have also previously had colours specific to them when they vomit rainbows. These are also blue in this book. Later in the book there are places where the text is entirely normal. I would have thought this was clever if it related to Xander but the unicorns didn’t lose their colours in this book.

At the end of this book there’s a glossary, barf words (these have been the same in each book), jokes and a character spotlight where you learn more about Xander.

Up next: Start figuring out next year’s 🦄 Unicorn Day! 🦄 read/s.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Rainbow-Barfing Unicorn virus hasn’t infected humans … until now! In this adventure, twelve-year-old Xander contracts the mysterious virus of the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns. The virus gives the unicorns their barfing abilities, but it’s having the opposite effect on Xander – it’s draining him of any colour at all! Xander’s fate lies in the hands – er, hooves – of Ronk, the most dimwitted of all Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns. This is not good. In fact, this is bad – really, really bad.

Plump-full of grotesquely delightful characters and fantastical realms, Xander and the Rainbow-Barfing Unicorns is so epic it’ll make you wanna puke.

Rowan Slone #1: A Life, Redefined – Tracy Hewitt Meyer

Spoilers Ahead!

I’m hesitant to say too much about this book. I was looking forward to reading it but I had some significant problems with its content. I don’t want to come across as mean because that’s not my intent, but I also don’t want to ignore the issues I found.

There are multiple 4 and 5 star reviews so I would encourage you to read those as well before deciding if this is the book for you or not. I know you have your own mind and I don’t expect what I have to say will influence you either way but just in case: I would hate for you to miss out on a book you may love simply because I didn’t.

Rowan has been living with the knowledge that she was responsible for her baby brother’s death for seven years now. She’s not alone in blaming herself; her entire family blames her too. Her father is controlling and abusive. Her mother is emotionally unavailable, spending the majority of her time locked in her bedroom.

Being in this house, surrounded by memories, guilt, and resentment – all those devastating things made it impossible to see the bright side of anything.

Rowan’s younger sister, Trina, has a reputation, her best friend, Jess, is dating a 25 year old, and her boss, Dan, is a creep. She has a crush on Mike but doesn’t think she’s good enough for him.

I requested this book because I saw that self harm was going to be addressed. This topic is one that a lot of people are ashamed to admit they struggle with. Reactions from people who learn someone self harms can range from disbelief to outright shaming, so I applaud anyone willing to tackle it. There are several instances of a character self harming in this book so if this is a potential trigger for you, please take care of yourself while reading.

The majority of the women in this book were either fat shamed, slut shamed or portrayed as victims. The men seemed to either be saviours or perpetrators. Most of the characters felt two dimensional and the descriptions were quite repetitive.

The first time I found out Jess’ hair colour was cherry red I pictured it in my mind; after the fourth time I was keen to learn something new about her. Similarly repetitive but more offensive descriptions followed Rowan’s mother and sister. If Rowan’s mother was ever mentioned without a fat shaming comment attached it didn’t stand out enough for me to remember. Rowan’s sister was slut shamed throughout the book and her redeeming qualities, which I’m certain she had because we all have at least one, are a mystery to me.

Rowan’s traumatic experiences may account for some of this but it felt like I was reading about a main character who was 13 or 14, not a few weeks away from 18.

I tend to gravitate to YA books that include social issues but sometimes so many are mentioned that it can feel like social issue soup. A lot of really important themes were mentioned but I don’t think it’s possible to do all of them justice in such a short book. The sensitivity I expected to accompany such issues wasn’t always apparent.

I don’t understand why Aidan’s true cause of death wouldn’t have been obvious during his autopsy. I also had trouble believing that Rowan would forget the anniversary of her brother’s death. I would like some resolution about Trina’s story – did anyone ever offer her any help or compassion? I don’t care what’s she’s done – the response to her attempting suicide should never have been “Did it matter at all if my sister didn’t make it?”. I expect some of my unanswered questions will be addressed in the sequel but I don’t think I will be continuing this series.

Content warnings include alcoholism, depression, domestic violence, fat shaming, mention of sexual assault, miscarriage, neglect, physical abuse, racism, self harm, slut shaming and suicide attempts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and BHC Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When the darkness is too great,
When the pain is too real,
There is nothing but sharp edges,
Razor slices,
To remind me that I am alive. 

Seven years ago, an innocent act by Rowan Slone turned her life into a nightmare. Since the age of ten she’s lived with the burden of her baby brother’s death. Now she is seventeen and all she wants to do is graduate high school, go to college, and escape the loveless family she has endured all these years – the same family that holds her responsible for his death. But no one holds her responsible more than herself. 

When long-time crush Mike Anderson invites her to the Prom, suddenly her future looks brighter. Rowan’s younger sister, Trina, however, is determined to ruin her new-found happiness, no matter the cost. And when Rowan discovers her mother’s long-held secret, she finds herself teetering on the edge of an abyss. 

Can Rowan find the strength to move toward the future or is she doomed to dwell in the past?

Dork Diaries #14: Spectacular Superstar – Rachel Renée Russell

I need to just CHILLAX and stop WHINING about how AWFUL my life is (when in reality I’m actually very lucky)!

Exactly. Nikki has a loving family, two incredibly supportive best friends, a crush (who’s a sweetheart) who likes her back, and her band is going on tour as the opening act for a boy band. Life’s pretty sweet, right?

Okay, so maybe not …

Nikki is essentially the queen of catastrophic thinking at this point. Everything is the end of the world … until it suddenly all works out. I decided while reading the last book that I was done with this series but caved when I saw my library had purchased this one. I’m really done now. There’s still no character development and the sweet dork I met in the beginning of the series now only irritates me each time she complains about her charmed life.

There are plenty of quizzes scattered through this book to help you figure out which of the boy band members is for you. I loved these types of quizzes growing up and imagine a lot of readers will be marking their answers in the book. I’m not exactly sure why you’d want a boy band member choosing your prom dress or the colour of your lip gloss, but each to their own, I guess.

This series has a really passionate fan base and if it had been published when I was growing up I probably would still be part of the hype. Unfortunately it’s not the series I initially loved, and hasn’t been for a few books now, so it’s time for Nikki and I to part ways. I mean it this time!

And OMG! I’ve been through SO much DRAMA, it feels like my HEAD is going to EXPLODE into a glittery shower of FIREWORKS!!

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nikki and her bandmates are looking forward to an AWESOME summer on tour as the opening act for the world famous Bad Boyz! Nikki is a little worried when her frenemy, MacKenzie Hollister, weasels her way on to the tour. But she has a total MELTDOWN when she learns that MacKenzie is her new roommate! Will Nikki survive her dream tour turning into a nightmare?!

Friday the 13th, Camp Crystal Lake #3: The Carnival – Eric Morse

Spoilers Ahead!

I’ve been waiting and waiting and Friday the 13th is finally here again!

You know what that means! It’s time to spend some quality time with Jason.

Except Jason’s a no show. Apparently he’s still enjoying his slaycation in hell because he doesn’t even make a cameo in this book.

His mask is still at Camp Crystal Lake though, ready for the next set of victims to arrive.

During the first two books we got to know the Boone family. Billy and his friends participated in Camp Crystal Lake’s Mother’s Day massacre. Then Kelly, Billy’s sister, decided it was her turn to experience all of the bloody fun she missed out on the year before. No Boone’s were harmed in the making of this book, although that may just be because there aren’t any left.

Vince Fantana’s Travelling Fun House and Carnival has come to Crystal Lake for the weekend of “the July Fourth blowout”. That probably should have been my first clue that I wasn’t going to enjoy this book as much as the first two in the series. A Crystal Lake massacre that occurs on a day other than Friday the 13th? Sacrilege!

I’m not sure what bright spark thought it was a good idea to set up a carnival on the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake, where the land is most likely still squishy with the blood of the most recent massacre. It’s a good thing sleazeball Vince surrounds his carnival with an electric fence, because that’s not a recipe for disaster or anything.

Some of the carnies who may not live to tell the tale are:

Mitch Deevers – Mitch is in his late 20’s and is the creepy chief mechanic for the carnival. He has tattoos of snakes and the names of all of his conquests on his arms.

Stump – Mitch’s rottweiler. Mitch chopped off his dog’s tail for some reason; hence the name.

Helen, AKA, Madame Xaviera – the carnival’s fortune teller.

Selena Tokar – Helen’s 17 year old daughter.

Molly Meecham – the carnival nurse and the freak show’s “Fat Lady”.

I also wouldn’t place bets on Stu, Karl, Big Joe, Peg O’Neill or Moe the clown living long enough to enjoy the midnight fireworks. I definitely wasn’t a fan of one of the carnies being referred to as a ”midget”.

Attending the carnival on this fateful night are a small group from Holloway, Massachusetts, which is only 30 miles from Crystal Lake. I mention its proximity as it’s close enough for them to have heard all about Camp Crystal Lake on the grapevine. They should know better than to tempt fate.

Our main character, who you will definitely not want to be a final girl, is Maxi (Maxine, but don’t call her that) Wagner. An only child with a troubled home life, Maxi is a shoplifter, hitchhiker and was caught smoking dope at school, which is why she’s a year older than the rest of her class. She’s angry and mean, and I’m not entirely sure why she still has any friends, given the way she treats them. She’s not a virgin so, if Horror 101 has taught us anything, she probably won’t survive.

Maxi is 17, tall, thin and beautiful, with “long legs that seemed to go all the way up to her head.” Of course, every time I imagine this potential victim running away from the killer I see this in my head:

Wendy (Wens) Denberg is 16, short and not pretty. That’s almost all that I know about her.

KC (Katherine Carter) is 16 and is sweet and polite. She’s a virgin and considers ‘sleazeball’ a swear word so you’d think she’d be safe, but going to the carnival was initially her idea so her virginity may not save her.

Greg Dillon is a senior from Hawthorn. His parents died in a car accident the day after his 13th birthday so in theory it would be cruel to kill him off. However, he has a huge crush on Maxi so his judgement is not the best. That may be his downfall.

All of these potential corpses have been attending summer school. Graham Newton, who’s 26 and British, goes to the carnival with the three girls. He’s their summer school English teacher. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Also ripe for the picking are Bernard LeBlatt (12), Nick Harris (13) and the Barfield family – James, Mrs (the poor woman doesn’t have a first name) and their three year old son, Bobby.

Liberties really are being taken with this series now. It’s Friday the 13th adjacent at best. While it was still an okay read I was disappointed overall. It takes a while for the action to begin. Early on we have our first casualty, a bug, but then we have to wait until 45% before the human carnage commences. RIP, little bug. Oh, and a rodent dies as well.

The most detailed death scenes seemed to be reserved for minor characters and I only learned of the demise of some of the main characters after the fact. The mask has retained its magical powers from the first two books; tattoos are also magic in this book.

The killer was a huge letdown for me. They couldn’t even take credit for a good portion of the kills. Instead the rides, which are essentially possessed by the invisible evil vapour that’s supposedly wafting up from the ground, and the electric fence are responsible for the most interesting ones.

From the a woman most likely wouldn’t have written this about a 17 year old schoolgirl files: “Naked, she was sitting on the edge of her bed, pressing a cold can of beer against her forehead.” When said 17 year old schoolgirl is in a bad mood it automatically means she must be getting her period. Naturally! There couldn’t be any other reason.

I’m hoping my next Friday the 13th read will be worth the wait.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Four teenagers looking for fun and thrills to break up the boredom of summer school get more than they had bargained for when they visit a traveling carnival that has pitched its tents at the old Crystal Lake campgrounds.

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Missing Adults – Scott Bryan Wilson

Illustrations – Bob Solanovicz

It’s Nancy Drew’s first day at Bayport High School, having moved from River Heights, and who should she bump into in the school library but Frank and Joe, A.K.A, The Hardy Boys.

With these three young sleuths in the one place you know a mystery is on its way.

Your first clue that something isn’t quite right with the adults in this town are the classic cartoon hypnotised spiral eyes Coach Strohm is sporting.

Nancy, Frank and Joe decide there’s a mystery to solve when they figure out all of the adults are MIA. What I found even more interesting was the Mystery of the Teenagers Voluntarily Attending School Without Adult Supervision. Surprisingly they all returned to school the following day even though the town’s entire adult population are still missing. This is briefly addressed

but I still don’t buy it. Even the skeleton in the science classroom had enough sense to leave the building before the students arrived for school on Day 2. Oh, wait. I guess a skeleton that wanders off is pretty mysterious too.

By the third day our resident detective kids have finally decided to ditch school to investigate. Joe feels bad about his truancy even though there are still no adults there to notice his absence.

Throughout the story Nancy spouts random facts about random things that no one else seems to care about, such as the type of driver’s licence and addendum required to allow someone with a learner’s permit to legally drive a bus. Nancy also goes undercover in Vansant; they’re Bayport’s rival school. This leads to one of those good ol’ ‘put on your disguise in the phone box’ sequences, not that anyone in Vansant knows who she is.

Nancy is a bit of a contradiction in this story; she seems to be smart yet she doesn’t know how to use the stove. Meanwhile Frank and Joe spent their spare time fighting one another.

While I already knew Nancy, I wasn’t acquainted with anyone from Bayport High so I was initially very appreciative of the early introduction to the usual suspects via a sneak peek at their yearbook photos. It turns out I didn’t need to use these as cheat sheets but still thought it was a good way to quickly introduce a number of characters.

After the mystery is solved there are some bonus activities for kids: a crossword, join the dots, spot the differences, find a word, memory test and colouring page.

I’d be interested in learning what kids who read this graphic novel think of it, specifically whether they want to read more about Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. Although I haven’t read a lot of Nancy Drew books (okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve read one, but I have watched the latest movie too), her personality in this graphic novel didn’t line up with what I expected, particularly when she had a dummy spit.

Their portrayal in this graphic novel doesn’t make me want to learn anything more about Frank and Joe Hardy but because Nancy’s personality didn’t ring true to me perhaps I’d find Frank and Joe more likeable if I read some of their books.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Dynamite Entertainment and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel. I had high hopes but unfortunately it wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Eating candy nonstop and watching TV all day sounds great … until you actually do it, as the kids of Bayport High find out when all the adults vanish, and the world’s greatest (high school) detectives – the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew – have to team up to solve the mystery!

Whether it’s going under cover, sneaking out at night, chasing weird buses, or following a strange smell, they know it’ll take all their wits and smarts to get their parents and teachers back … that is, if Joe and Frank don’t kill each other first.

Oh, and there’s also the matter of the skeleton that can walk. And a major feud with a rival high school. And a koala-in-a-diaper costume. And lawlessness in the hallways. And an unrequited crush …

Beyonders Volume 1 – Paul Jenkins

Illustrations – Wesley St. Claire

Spoilers Ahead!

Jake lives with his Uncle Paul and Aunt Karen in Alaska. He has a flatulent Welsh Corgi with one eye called Shadwell. After spending most of his time breaking codes and researching conspiracy theories, Jake learns that all of the conspiracies are true.

Right around the same time, he learns that everything he thought was true about his life is actually a lie. Enter Nadine from the Beyonders, his soon to be insta love with the blue lips.

Nadine tells him about the Beyonders and the Order, an “ancient society bent on preserving a power structure that keeps us subservient”, otherwise known as the Illuminati.

It turns out that Jake is the only one in the world who can crack a super important, super old code and does so overnight, despite it having thwarted people for centuries before him.

He also learns how high the stakes are. Sort of.

“The stakes are too high.”

“What are the stakes, exactly?”

“Higher than you can imagine.”

Jake spends a fair amount of time talking about how confusing and complicated the situation is.

Between all of the complicated stuff and the miraculous way everything comes together, including a very specific prophecy (so specific that Nadine’s blue lips are mentioned), there’s also an abundance of sandwiches, references to the dog’s flatulence and Leonardo da Vinci.

Personally, I had trouble taking Nadine seriously. I couldn’t see past her collagen overdosed lips.

I also had some unanswered questions, which I don’t expect to be answered in future Volumes. For example, if Shadwell was specifically placed in the animal shelter for Jake, how did the Beyonders know he’d choose that particular dog?

I was initially intrigued by the mystery within the mystery component of this graphic novel. There’s symbols to decipher as you make your way through the story in the form of a treasure hunt.

Before I’d even begun reading the story I spent at least half an hour diligently copying the various letters and symbols onto a piece of paper so I could decipher the code. I applaud anyone who actually follows through with this though. I gave up transcribing the symbols on page 33. There’s a symbol on every panel and some of them aren’t overly clear (is that supposed to be an O or a zero?).

Had I fallen in love with the story I probably would have persevered in the hopes of winning something related to the Beyonders but it turns out I couldn’t even cheat properly! After I decided I wasn’t playing to win I figured I’d at least go to the AfterShock website to see what the answer was, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe the specific website address is included in the code. Maybe I couldn’t see it for looking. Maybe someone at AfterShock forgot to include the answer on the graphic novel’s page. Who knows?!

I loved Indiana Jones and have been obsessed with The X-Files for more than half of my life so this should have been the graphic novel for me. Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me. All of the pieces fit together too easily for the main character and, although my ‘I’ll believe pretty much anything if it makes the story more fun’ threshold is fairly high (or low, depending on how you look at it), I didn’t believe.

Thank you to NetGalley, AfterShock Comics and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A young boy obsessed with crop circles and cryptography finds his boring life turned upside-down when he discovers that all of his conspiracy theories are true, sending him on the ultimate treasure hunt for an ancient secret spanning thousands of years.

What is the connection between a lost mountaineer, an indecipherable manuscript, and the lost library of Alexandria?

How is this connected to a one-eyed, flatulent Welsh Corgi and endless plates of corned beef sandwiches?

Find out in … Beyonders! And uncover the secret of the actual treasure hunt woven into its pages!

Lollipop Kids Volume 1: Things That Go Bump in the Night – Adam Glass & Aidan Glass

Illustrations – Diego Yapur

Colours – D.C. Alonso

Nick is 14 and has dyslexia. His older sister Mia, who is almost 18, didn’t come home last night and she wasn’t at school today.

Concerned, Nick looks for her in Central Park where she usually hangs out with her friends but she’s not there either.

He does find the Big Bad Wolf though. Or perhaps I should say the Big Bad Wolf finds him.

Fortunately for Nick, the Lollipop Kids are there too. They’re a group of kids who have inherited a massive responsibility: to protect the city from the monsters that have been imprisoned within Central Park. It turns out that Nick is also a Lollipop Kid.

I loved the concept and I adored that the story was co-created by a father and son. Unfortunately, while this graphic novel had potential, it ultimately fell flat for me.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters and even though I’ve just finished reading, I only remember a couple of their names. Because the artwork was so dark most of the time I didn’t get much of a sense of anyone’s emotions.

During this Volume you learn some of the history of the Lollipop Kids, including how they managed to get that name, in a series of info dumps. There are some twists along the way, including a cliffhanger ending, but I don’t think I’ll be reading Volume 2.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Aftershock Comics and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When immigrants came to the new world they didn’t only bring their hopes and dreams, they also brought their monsters.

Years ago, early setters locked these monsters away in a secret prison deep in the woods of New Amsterdam so that they never would return to the Old World. Those woods have become Central Park and now the monsters have escaped! Nick, 14, finds out that he’s a “legacy” to a secret society that for the last 400 years has kept these monsters in check – he and a ragtag group of kids just like him have to put the monsters back before they get out of the park and destroy the city. 

The Blue Day Book Illustrated Edition: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up – Bradley Trevor Greive

Illustrations – Claire Keane

I was so excited about this one for a couple of reasons. Obviously the cover was a big one because it’s gorgeous! I loved the elephant and wanted to give it a massive hug; I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the illustrations. Then there was the fact that ‘The Blue Day Book’ and I have history. After much thought I deleted three rambling paragraphs outlining my history with the original. You’re welcome!

Let’s just say I had high expectations for this new edition and it guts me to say that I’m disappointed. The text from the original book seems to be intact but there are also additions; when I read the original I didn’t think it was broken and I still prefer it. Because I loved the cover illustration of this edition so much I assumed I’d fall in love with every illustration but that wasn’t the case.

I really appreciated the introduction to this illustrated edition. I gained some insight into how ‘The Blue Day Book’ came to be in the first place and learned some of the journey of its creator in the years since its publication. I understood why there was one central elephant rather than a zoo of creatures telling the visual story.

No one is immune from painful life experiences. This book acknowledges those and then makes a point about perspective. The author notes in the introduction “but when I really took stock of my life I realized it actually wasn’t that bad”. While I’m a fan of looking at your circumstances from different perspectives and trying to make the best out of bad situations, there are things in life that really are that bad and all the perspective in the world won’t change that.

Twenty years ago I probably would have flung the original book at anyone who had pretty much any crappy life event but I’d be hesitant to do the same now as I know the impact platitudes can have when you’re not in a good place.

My favourite quote is from the introduction, which reads in part

so often it’s the little things that matter most. It’s the endless little setbacks that finally break us, the fleeting gestures of kindness and moments of levity that lift our spirits, and the small personal victories that spur us on to far greater endeavors.

While I’d happily share the photographs in the original book with kids, I wouldn’t put the illustrated edition in their hands. My sensitivity may be showing here but I really didn’t like the wording and illustrations that accompanied the pages that allude to suicide. I also wasn’t a fan of the drunk elephant with bloodshot eyes that’s trashed the bar and don’t get me started on the “pathetic, sniveling victim” page.

I spent more than half of this book glad I wasn’t reading it when I was having a bad day.

Then when the positivity began to trickle in it started with becoming rich and famous before announcing that “best of all, there’s romance.” Thankfully it moved on to positives I can get behind like getting outside and going for a walk but by then the book had lost me. I really hope I’m an exception and look forward to reading reviews written by people who adore this edition.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The Blue Day Book Illustrated Edition is a marvelous relaunch of the original collection that conveys inspirational and poignant text, now brilliantly paired with illustrations of a wonderfully expressive elephant. Not only are the words designed to lift the spirits of anyone who’s got the blues, the whimsical illustrations create a beautiful, visual story for readers to follow along. No one who has lips will be able to read it without smiling; it’s guaranteed.

Nineteen years after its first printing, Bradley Trevor Greive’s global bestseller The Blue Day Book has become a modern classic and is still bringing smiles to readers around the world. And because we all still have bad days now and then, the time is right for an illustrated edition of this uniquely funny, compassionate book that inspired an entire genre of uplifting gift books.

This special edition features stunning new illustrations created by Claire Keane, the artist and animator who created the art for Disney’s Frozen. Still included, of course, are the original, warm, supportive messages and humorous insights guaranteed to raise the spirits of anyone feeling down and blue.

Quiet – Tomie dePaola

As far as I can tell this is my first Tomie dePaola read. It’s a nice book but it didn’t really grab me. A grandfather is walking in the park with his grandchildren and points out how busy all of the animals are. He encourages his grandchildren to sit on the park bench with him and appreciate being quiet and still because

“To be quiet and still is a special thing.”

The illustrations are fairly simple and sweet, with plenty of animals to look at. Although I like the message of this book I don’t know how much the target audience would actually appreciate it, especially without some further explanation from the adult reading it to them. While this author appears to be quite prolific and popular I don’t think their books are for me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Tomie dePaola reminds us that mindfulness – being quiet, still, and present with one another – is a very special thing.

Everything is in such a hurry, busy as busy can be. The birds are flying so fast, the dragonfly is zooming over the water – even the trees are waving their leaves.

So what if we sit here, you next to me … and we can just be?

Northwoods Mystery #1: Enchantment Lake – Margi Preus

Francie hasn’t been back to the lake in seven years, ever since the Accident when she was ten. Now she’s back, courtesy of a frantic phone call from her aunt Astrid, who informs her that

“Someone is frying two grilled auks.”

Once she arrives at the lake her two ‘quirky’ aunts, Astrid and Jeannette, fill her in.

“Frenchy,” Astrid said, her eyes dancing, “there’s a mystery here. And we think you’re the only one who can solve it.”

Okay, girls. What mystery?

“It’s about the road!” Astrid chirped. “We don’t know that,” Jeannette snapped.

Well, that clears that up. Thanks, girls. Because Francie played a detective on a kid’s TV show all of the locals seem to think this qualifies her to solve their very own murder mystery, with locals dying as a result of “strange accidents”. Francie disagrees but starts investigating anyway.

While the mystery is finally solved, the mystery of whether anything sinister was involved in her father’s death is not solved, nor is the mystery of who her mother is or even how Francie got her nickname. Her nickname on the island was French Fry but everyone seems to have given her a nickname for that nickname, so the locals call her Frenchy.

I had been looking forward to this series, mostly because of the amazing cover and the promise of quirky aunts. I still love the cover but was so disappointed by the aunts; simply calling someone quirky doesn’t make it so. I barely managed to scrounge up the makings of a personality between any of the characters and while the aunts had a lot more than anyone else, I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly what it was that was supposed to make them quirky.

I found the mystery fairly boring and had trouble getting past the fact that so many people on the island believed Francie was a detective working in New York; she grew up on the island so wouldn’t the majority of the people she speaks to know she’s only 17?

When she has a chance to find out something about her mother, who she knows absolutely nothing about, she lets the chance slide on by without attempting to follow up. She keeps thinking that she’s a lousy detective, seeming to also forget that she’s not one!

I really struggled to even finish reading this book and am not keen on reading the sequel, although I will at some point because the publisher was kind enough to provide a copy to me. I really hope the sequel wows me.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A disturbing call from her great aunts Astrid and Jeannette sends seventeen-year-old Francie far from her new home in New York into a tangle of mysteries. Ditching an audition in a Manhattan theater, Francie travels to a remote lake in the northwoods where her aunts’ neighbours are “dropping like flies” from strange accidents. But are they accidents?

On the shores of Enchantment Lake in the woods of northern Minnesota, something ominous is afoot, and as Francie begins to investigate, the mysteries multiply: a poisoned hotdish, a puzzling confession, eerie noises in the bog, and a legendary treasure that is said to be under enchantment – or is that under Enchantment, as in under the lake? At the centre of everything is a suddenly booming business in cabin sales and a road not everyone wants built.

To a somewhat reluctant northwoods Nancy Drew, the intrigue proves irresistible, especially when it draws her closer to the mysteries at the heart of her own life: What happened to her father? Who and where is her mother? Who is she, and where does her heart lie – in the bustle of New York City or the deep woods of Minnesota? With its gripping story, romantic spirit, and a sly dash of modern-day trouble (evil realtors and other invasive species), Enchantment Lake will fascinate readers, providing precisely the charm that Margi Preus’s readers have come to expect.