Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Published: 3rd June 2002Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Walker Books
Illustrator: Patrick Benson
Pages: 25
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★  – 2 Stars

This is the story of three baby owls who wake up one night in their hole in the tree to find that their mother has gone, so they sit on the branch and wait, wondering when she will return. At last she does, and they all bounce up and down with joy, welcoming her home.

Can a picture book be boring? This might be a close contender to a boring picture book. I will give credit because the illustrations are reasonably pretty, and I will give a notable mention that it is, in its own way, educational and sweet if you look hard enough. But it’s also boring.

From tricking me by picking up its cute cover, the story is about owl babies who are waiting for their mother to come back. Essentially, nothing happens in the story. The three owl babies cry out for their mother, they each do an action, rinse and repeat. You do learn through the story what owlets eat, how the mother owls swoop silently and hunt, but that’s picked up through the story, so unless you’re trying to get something from this book like I was, you probably won’t think too much of it. But there is no real story except for the owl babies to wait for their mother.

As I say, the illustrations are cute, they are detailed, coloured beautifully, but there is no story to engage with. I can’t imagine how this would hold a child’s attention unless you expanded on it with your own explanations, even then I can’t think what would hold a kid’s appeal.

You can purchase Owl Babies via the following

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Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Published: 15th April 2014 (print)/15th April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 355/8 hours 22 minutes
Narrator:  Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

I didn’t really like this book but I am not going to tear it apart because I was more confused than anything. Confused why it’s so loved, confused why people love Peter, and confused because it was a strange book where nothing happens.

The premise is reasonable, but the execution was unsatisfactory. I understood the sister dynamic that Han was aiming for, the loss of a big sister when she moves, the little sister relationship and the adoration of the cute boy next door, but something was missing. There was family charm and Han explains the relationship well, I just never felt it.

The narrative was boring and I struggled to make myself finish it. The fact I was on a 17 hour flight with little else to do is the only reason I kept going. With the only plot point this forced romance and a small mystery about the letters, it wasn’t much to hold onto into terms of depth and interest.

I am seriously going to have to watch this movie now because I did not get the adorable Peter vibe from this book. I got the Peter is a tool and he is annoying and cannot fathom why people think he is a sweet, charming person? This relationship between them is fake, and even when Lara Jean convinces herself she likes him for real, it still felt fake. I did not believe for a minute they actually liked each other like that. They may have become friends, may have got to know each other better and like who they were, but there was no romance. The triangle was unrealistic and the whole thing felt unbelievable. And Peter remained unlikable.

With no character growth I felt nobody learnt anything, and I seriously cannot mention the anticlimactic ending enough because the point of this novel is that ending and it fails. It doesn’t even sit like an open ended, audience decides thing, it just ends.

I actually had an ending in mind based on how Han had constructed this which would have been a great ending to a lacklustre book, but it never happened. I actually felt betrayed that this perfect ending was practically laid out before us which never eventuates. It would have made everything worthwhile if that had happened, but alas, it ended on a strange cliff-hanger (if that’s what we can call it), for book number two. I don’t really think I will be running out to read it, but if I find myself on another 17 hour flight with nothing to do I might pick it up.

You can purchase To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before via the following

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Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

Published: 1st March1996Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Puffin Books
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  ★  – 5 Stars

You thought you knew the story of the “The Three Little Pigs”… You thought wrong.
 
In this hysterical and clever fracture fairy tale picture book that twists point of view and perspective, young readers will finally hear the other side of the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

I love this book. I remember someone reading this book perhaps in person, perhaps on a TV show and as it was read and as I listened I fell in love. It was short and simple but what it did was show me for the very first time someone could mess with the traditional storytelling of these nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

As a kid I didn’t know it could be done and yet here it was in book form telling me that what I knew was not indeed what really happened to the three little pigs. I then marched down to Dymocks with my mother and made them order it in so I could have a copy. Since then I have enjoyed reading retellings of fairytales and nursery rhymes and it all stemmed from this little book.

Scieszka has created a hilarious story and it makes you look at other stories and ponder whether they really are as innocent as they seem. It is very fun and clever and a delight to read over and over again. Alexander T Wolf is a victim of circumstance and being framed when all he was after was some sugar for his cake. His innocence is explained through misfortune and bad timing and seeing his insistence and justification that what he does wasn’t really his fault connects the original story to this fractured one. The story goes an extra step further and you see what happens afterwards, but as a retelling it is one that is creative and clever and has charm and humour that you can’t help but love.

The illustrations are unique with an old timey feel. The characters are realistic but with a certain creative flair to them. Smith has portrayed a world where these fairytales exist, there’s one colour scheme and the style of the creatures keeps it in the fairytale realm. It feels like it happened long ago, which you get from the style of the old newspapers as well.

This really is a fantastic book. As I say, it got me hooked on fractured fairytales and retellings and the humour and tone of the narrative is delightful.

You can purchase The True Story of the Three Little Pigs via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

It’s Hard to Love A Tiger by Anna Pignataro

Published: 1st June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Pages: 24
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I wish I had a tiger, a tiger from the zoo. 

A tiger of my own to love-a tiger just like you. 

A funny rhyming story about a little girl and a troublesome (but lovable) tiger.

Once more I have picked up a picture book because the front cover was too cute to ignore. I wasn’t disappointed either because this is a fun story told through rhyme, coupled with creative illustrations. Pignataro’s illustrations are a mixture of drawn and painted, and vary from full page detail to simple images on white.

I loved the poetic verse the story is written in. It flows wonderfully if you read it as a whole, and nothing is lost if the story is read at a slower pace either, each stanza matches the picture which is spread across a double page. Pignataro’s rhymes are clever and make sense in context, nothing too fanciful happens to make a rhyme work which makes the reading flow naturally and seamlessly. The formatting of the words also play into how you read the story and it helps with tone and pacing, especially when reading it aloud.

It’s one of those wonderfully absurd books that never explain why the young girl has the tiger, just that loving a tiger is hard because of all the mischief they get up to. I loved how the girl treats the tiger. Her complaints start just because he growls when you put a ribbon in his hair, and he takes up all the room on the bed. But then it gets more fun as he also is bad at ballet, and slurps when he eats, and huffs and pouts when he’s in the naughty chair.

I had not read any of Pignataro’s books before this but I may just have to track down some more because this one was just all kinds of adorable.

You can purchase I Wish I Had A Tiger via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | Dymocks

QBD | Amazon Aust | Amazon

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