Mom and Me Reviews: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth The ABC Storybook

First Line: “Sarah wants to be an actress.”

Summary: If you’ve seen the movie by the Jim Henson group (with David Bowie), then you know the storyline.

Basically, a teenage girl is left to babysit her little brother. She becomes annoyed by him as she is trying to read and rehearse lines from her play. She wishes that the “goblin king” would take her brother away, like the girl in the story she’s reading does. The Goblin King grants her wish, and Sarah has to solve a labyrinth within 13 hours to get her little brother back. As expected, the labyrinth is filled with magical tricks that make her journey even more difficult.

Ratings:

                Maggie: 9 out of 10

                Conor: Did not participate in this storytime

                Mama Lala: 7 out of 10

Their Thoughts: I like the movie, and the story! It gives you such an imagination. I like all of the magical characters. It’s an ABC book, but it reads like a storybook instead of a baby ABC book. The pictures are good. If you haven’t seen the movie, the story doesn’t make sense… it doesn’t “fill in the gaps”. It just didn’t “move me” enough to get a “10”.

My Thoughts: I appreciate that this book is both an abc book, AND a storybook. It helps to bridge the gap between my two kiddo’s wide age range (2 and 9). My kids have seen and, as they should, LOVE this movie. IF they hadn’t i’m not sure it would be clear what happens in this story. Some characters are introduced, but their presence isn’t explained. All in all, I’m grateful this has been made into a storybook, but I had higher hopes for it. The illustrations are magically marvelous, though.

Happy Reading our friends,

Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

What’s Ashley Reading?: Dark Tides

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

First line: The ramshackle warehouse was on the wrong side of the river, the south side, where the buildings jostled for space and the little boats unloaded pocket-size cargos for scant profit.

Summary: Twenty-two years have passed since the events at Foulmire. Alinor and Alys have established themselves in a warehouse along the Thames with a decent income from sailors and merchants. But on the same day two people happen into their lives that will change it once again. Sir James who has spent years in exile is looking for his child. And Rob’s widow from Venice arrives with their young son. The women try to deal with these changes the best they can.

On the other side of the ocean, in New England, Ned has traveled in the hopes of starting a new life where he is free and far from the reaches of the King he hates. But even with an ocean between his old and new life he finds that things are still the same. He has befriended the native people and learned much from them but he is looked down upon for this from his fellow Englishman. He is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know which side to choose.

My Thoughts: Once again Philippa Gregory writes a stunning book! I loved this just as much as the first one in the trilogy but for different reasons. The first part was very character driven and where the landscape plays an important role. This one is more plot driven but has strong characters and amazing locations. From the very beginning I was strongly invested in the story. At one point I had to put the book down because I was so frustrated with the characters.

I loved being back with Alinor even though she was not the main character anymore. This centered more on her brother, daughter and granddaughter. A new generation of the Reekie family in a new time. The picture of these poor women striving for a living along the Thames is perfectly done. And then we visit Venice in the second half of the story. I can picture the canals, gondolas, and beautiful buildings. I visited Venice years ago and loved the city on the water.

Ned’s life in New England reminded me so much of Gregory’s book, Virgin Earth, with her beautiful descriptions of the forests of America before the settlers cleared the lands. The plants, the people and wildness of the land comes alive in her telling. It is so hard to read about the past at times when you see all the injustices that were done. Settlers took advantage of the natives and treated them terribly.

FYI: This is book two in the Fairmile Trilogy.

Mom and Me Reviews: The Tempest

First line: “My noble master, Prospero, is a clever magician.”

Summary: This book retells William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest as a Children’s picture book. If you haven’t read Shakespeare’s play by the same name, here is a quick overview: Prospero, duke of Milan, is overthrown by his jealous brother, Antonio. Alonso and his brother Sebastian help Antonio accomplish this. Antonio puts Prospero and his daughter in a boat and casts them out to sea. The boat washes ashore an island where an evil witch and her son rule. He rescues the spirit (our narrator) from the witch, then uses him for his own gain. Years pass. One day a boat carrying the people who wronged Prospero passes by. Prospero calls on the spirit (our narrator) to seek revenge on them– not to kill but to scare, and possibly abandon on an island, the way his has been abandoned. The spirit and prospero try to manipulate the island’s inhabitants to a fate of their choosing.

Ratings: Maggie gives this picture book 6 out of 10 stars. Conor did not hear this story. Mama Lala also gives this picture book 6 out of 10 stars.

Their Thoughts: I shared this book with my oldest, Maggie. She is nine. She liked that “it was magical”, and “it was colorful”. She had trouble understanding the book also because “my age group doesn’t read those kinds of things.” She had trouble connecting with the book, she said.

My Thoughts: The illustrations are beautiful. This retelling, though shortened for the benefit of a younger reader, still seems out-of-range for most picture book readers. I’d say this one is more for the parents, than the children it was intended to be read to. That said, Ellinas did a decent job of shortening the story to important plot points, in an understandable language for children.

Happy Reading, our friends!

— Mama Lala, Maggie, & Conor

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Best of Me

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

First line: I’m not the sort of person who goes around feeling good about himself.

Summary: A collection of previously published essays and stories from David Sedaris. He covers everything from short stories, family drama and the loss of a sibling. His stories range from serious to hilarious.

My Thoughts: Several years ago I fell in love with David Sedaris and his work. I have read all his books, listened to his holiday collection multiple times, and spent hours waiting to see him at Watermark. Ninety percent of these stories were ones I had previously read but I was pleasantly surprised to find a few that I had not experienced yet.

It was great to rediscover some of his early stories that I had forgotten about. I laughed just as hard this time around as I did the first time. Even though Sedaris is considered a humorist he also brings a lot of heart to his work. The way he talks about his family makes one appreciate my own family. Everyone has quirks and life can be crazy but we all love each other and will be there for one another.

I think that this was exactly what I needed at the end of 2020. Focusing has been difficult this year. A book of short stories and essays are perfect for my attention span lately. And the laughs help as well! Thank you Mr. Sedaris!

FYI: All stories are previously published.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Leia, Princess of Alderaan

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray and Haruichi

First Line: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Summary: Leia, the princess of Alderaan, is learning how to lead and one day take over the role of Queen. She needs to prove herself. But she is worried that she will not be able to live up to her parents expectations. And recently she has noticed her parents paying less attention to her. Are they disappointed? Or has she done something to upset them? She decides that she is going to take matters into her own hands with the hopes of earning their approval.

My Thoughts: I’ve read this story before but I had read the novel when it first came out and this is manga. This is my first venture into manga. If you have never read or even heard of manga I will give you a quick summary. Manga is a Japanese comic or graphic novel. They are usually printed in black and white. But the most challenging bit (for me at least) is reading from right to left. It took me a while to get used to the format and focus on following the story properly. I really enjoyed it!

I liked the artwork, the story was still great and it was a new adventure. If you want to try something different and are a fan of Star Wars I would highly recommend picking this up!

FYI: This is the same plot as the novel by the same name.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem

First line: Plants have long been underestimated.

Summary: Walker and Alec Holland are twin brothers who are nothing alike but are still inseparable. Walker loves to be the center of attention while Alec is more quiet and reserved. Their last summer before college is spent in a rural town with their cousins. While Walker makes friends and parties, Alec spends his time working on a science experiment that starts to affect the swamp outside of town.

My Thoughts: This is a DC Comics reimagining of the origin story of Swamp Thing. Author Maggie Stiefvater works with illustrator, Morgan Beem to create a new beginning for one of their classic villains. I liked how they included science and information about plants into the story. It does a little teaching while also entertaining. I wasn’t completely sold on the art work but near the end as the swamp and its creatures started to appear I came to like it more. I am not familiar with the character Swamp Thing but I did enjoy this. It is a fast story from one of my favorite YA authors.

I got to watch an interview with the author, illustrator and moderator (Laini Taylor – another fantastic YA author) via Watermarks Books. It was great to listen to them talk about their work and how they developed the book. If you would like to see their conversation it can be found on Watermark’s Facebook page.

FYI: This is a graphic novel.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Invisible Girl

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

First line: I duck down and pull my hoodie close around my face.

Summary: Owen Pick, a college teacher, has just lost his job after a student accuses him of inappropriate actions. He doesn’t remember the incident and he tries to be very professional in all things. When he goes looking for advice he finds “incel” forums. Through the chatrooms he meets other men who have had similar experiences but are much more radical in their beliefs.

The Fours family live across the street from Owen. He has always seemed a little odd. When a teenage girl goes missing in their area they believe that it may have something to do with the creepy single man who lives on their street. And maybe he has something to do with the other sexual assaults happening in the area too?

My Thoughts: This is the first book by Lisa Jewell that I was not really impressed with. I liked it. It kept me reading till the end but it just didn’t have the same magic. I would almost say that it is mix of thriller and chick lit. It had more of a drama feel rather than suspense.

I liked the characters but most of them fell flat. I think they needed more developing. Everything seemed so obvious. I kept hoping for something shocking. Even at the end. But the last chapter was exactly what I expected. I felt very let down by this book.

FYI: Not as good as her previous book, The Family Upstairs.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Goodnight Beautiful

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

First line: The door opens, and I look up as a man with ruddy cheeks and a crew cut walks into the restaurant, shaking rain from his baseball cap.

Summary: Newlyweds, Annie and Sam, have moved from New York City to Sam’s hometown to be closer to his ailing mother. He finds the perfect location for his psychiatric office in the extra room of an old house. Even though the owner seems to be a little strange he doesn’t let this bother him. Then one night after Sam leaves his office he goes missing. There is no sign of him. As Annie and the police look for Sam they discover thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Did Sam run away? Or is someone else behind his disappearance?

My Thoughts: Though I have never read Misery (but I plan to) I know the basic story line. This was very reminiscent of what I know of the story. Molloy fills her story with lots of twists and turns. Every few chapters something new is revealed. I really enjoyed how fast paced everything was. I would find myself trying to find time to listen to it whenever I could.

The one part of the audio book that I wasn’t too sold on was the voices. At the beginning I thought they did not find actors that fit the characters. And then as reveals happen it makes more sense. So it starts as misleading and then makes sense but also seems to hint at something to come. It helps and hinders the story.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Death In Her Hands

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Summary: Vesta, a seventy-two year old lady, is walking her dog through the woods when she finds a note about Magda. She is dead. But there is no body. Vesta is intrigued by the note. She is sure that she is smart enough to figure out who killed Magda.

My Thoughts: I immediately wanted to read this with the description and the cover. It seemed like something I would absolutely love. As soon as I started it I was confused and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was just intriguing enough to keep reading but I never knew what was truly going on.

Vesta is a solitary old woman who decides to solve a mystery. She knows no one in the area so she just makes up names and characteristics of the suspects. Everything plays out in her head. And over time things start to change. Her remembrances change. Her views on reality change. I just do not know what I just read. It did keep me reading until the end but I was disappointed in its ending.

FYI: It was a 3 star book until the ending.