Youpine: a new way to review

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I was recently introduced to a new website called Youpine, which I think is pretty neat.

Youpine is a review platform with a twist! Instead of giving a star rating, or writing a review, Youpine allows you to rate books and movies using sentiments, or emotive words, such as exciting, heartbreaking, awful, dark. You can leave up to eight sentiments per title, providing others with a concise description of that item. Whilst adding sentiments to each title, Youpine will also make suggestions of similar words to those you have entered. In the screenshot below, I have described The Hunger Games as fantastic, and Youpine has provided me with synonyms that might also suit the book. I like this feature, as it prompts me to think about words that might be better to describe what I’m feeling.

It is possible to search by title, sentiment or consensus on Youpine. So if you’re feeling like a romantic novel, a funny movie, or a book that has an upbeat tone, you can search for suggestions based on that.

Right now, Youpine is in its infancy, and it needs more people to join (it’s free!) and begin describing books. The more people adding their sentiments, the better the site will be, and the more accurate the sentiments and consensus for each title will become. Once Youpine gets greater numbers describing books, I think it will be quite a good resource for readers and movie lovers looking for suggestions and recommendations.

Apart from the need for more members, the site’s biggest downfall is how the titles are sourced. Most books I have searched for so far have not been in the Youpine database, probably because a lot of them are from smaller or independent publishers, and are not available through the source Youpine are currently using. Hopefully they will be able to source more titles soon. I would also really like to see an option for adding titles to Youpine by members (and authors promoting their books) to help fill the gaps.

Youpine will only get better with more people using it, so hop on over to Youpine and have a look for yourself! Please let me know your thoughts about this new platform in the comments.

 

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The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein

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The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein, e-book, 646 pages, published in 2016.

Nineteen year-old, artistic quilter, Ivy has scored a heavily fought for spot on the reality TV show, The Masterpiecers, where eight contestants battle against each other in various art-related tasks. The prize, one hundred thousand dollars, but more importantly, automatic entry to The Masterpiecers art school. For Ivy, this is an incredible opportunity, but she must leave behind her twin sister, Aster, to attend the competition in New York. Aster is in gaol after killing a man with her car, claiming it was self-defense, but not everything in her story adds up.

The story is told from the alternating views of the twins; Ivy as she arrives in New York and begins to compete on the show, and Aster, from the gaol, where she has been granted special privileges to watch her sister’s show. I am not a big fan of reality TV, so the premise of this book was a little hard for me to get on board with. I was nonplussed for the first section of the story, and dismayed by the first task the contestants had to complete; it was more torture than performance art. At that point I was actually thinking of giving the book up as not being my thing. However, it greatly improved from there. As the girls’ stories began to unfold, and discrepancies became obvious, the story became much more intriguing, and soon I was flying through the book to see what else would happen. There were a lot of questions that I wanted answers for, which spurred me on to keep reading.

The plot was quite complicated, with twists and mysteries, which made it interesting and exciting. It was also well written, and the characters were vividly described. However, I found the setting a little vexatious. I don’t much care for reality TV, nor do I follow the lives of celebrities, so I was a little out of my comfort zone. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the preparations, hair, makeup and manipulations that go on behind the scenes of that sort of show! Everyone seemed so vapid, just concerned with playing an angle and getting ahead no matter the cost to others. So the majority of the characters were rather dislikable.

I did like the twins, though Ivy and Aster were very different people. Ivy was talented, ambitious and organised, though I found her a little cold. Aster was less sophisticated, yet completely dedicated to Ivy. She worked two jobs to support them, while Ivy worked on her quilts. And while I think Ivy did love Aster, she didn’t seem to trust her. I think they had quite a complicated relationship, especially when it came to their mother. I’ve still got plenty of questions!

The Masterpiecers is the first book in the Masterful series. This explains why I still have so many questions, but I’m undecided as to whether I will read the second book. I really liked the fast pace, the subterfuge, the conflict, the mystery; these elements combined to make a great story, I’m just not sure that I liked the characters enough to continue the series.

The Masterpiecers is suitable for middle to upper high school students and beyond.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar by Lois Wickstrom

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Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar by Lois Wickstrom and illustrated by Francie Mion, picture e-book, 38 pages, published by Look Under Rocks/Gripper Products in 2017.

Loretta watches the masses of butterflies in the milkweed meadow near her home. When she goes to investigate, she finds tiny eggs stuck to the underside of the leaves. Over the following weeks, Loretta watches as an egg hatches, and a caterpillar grows, readying itself to become a butterfly.

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar is a wonderful blend of fact and fiction. The story follows Loretta as she witnesses the life-cycle of a caterpillar from egg through to Monarch Butterfly. The process is interesting, and has been well explained and illustrated throughout the story. I laughed when Loretta taped the leaf back to the plant! And I liked the way that the possible predators of the caterpillar were introduced.

There is further information about the annual Monarch butterfly migration, how to obtain milkweed seeds and how to determine the sex of Monarch butterflies. This extra section was quite interesting and informative.

Loretta’s Pet Caterpillar is a lovely way to introduce children to the butterfly lifecycle, and is suitable for primary aged children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Where is Heaven Anyway? by Dunnett Albert

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Where is Heaven Anyway? A Hattie the Hummingbird Story by Dunnett Albert and illustrated by Catherine Wilder, picture e-book, 16 pages, published by Henley Publishing in 2016.

Little Hattie the Hummingbird is sad because her friend Auggie the Frog has gone away. Hattie’s mum helps her to understand that Auggie has gone to heaven, but that he will still be with Hattie, in the world around her, in her heart and in her dreams.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is a lovely rhyming story that explains the concept of heaven using language and ideas appropriate for a younger audience. It is heartwarming and tender, reminding us that our loved ones will always be in our hearts and memories, even when they can no longer be with us physically. This book is a great way to start a conversation about death and what happens afterwards, so I recommend reading it with the child/children to help them understand (and to answer their questions!).

Where is Heaven Anyway? contains truly beautiful watercolour illustrations. They are full of colour and life, yet retain a softness that suits the gentle nature of the story.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is suitable for primary school children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison, e-book, 574 pages, published in 2018.

Twins, Sarah and Jon have travelled to Wales to spend the summer with their maternal grandparents, whom they have only met once before. They’ve barely landed in Wales when they begin to encounter some odd things; was that a werewolf they hit on the road? Things only get stranger at their grandparents’ farm, where there’s a creepy handy-man with a wooden leg, a magical book, and Sarah is sure those garden gnomes waved to her. They are giving a swift introduction to the magical world, learning much about themselves, and how they fit into that world, along the way. Sarah and Jon are excited to enter the ancient castle, TwoSpells, which is actually an humungous magical library, where one can enter the books and view the story from within. It also acts as a refuge for magical folk, where the “regulars” cannot go. Unfortunately the library is experiencing some rather frightening disturbances, and an illness is also affecting the magical populace. Sarah and Jon must help to save the library and all those who are sick.

This book is Awesome! TwoSpells had me hooked from the first chapter; that’s where the action started, and it just kept coming. It was a rollercoaster ride of magical creatures, book characters and a villain intent on controlling not just the world, but all worlds and realities. I could hardly put it down, I just had to read the next chapter, and then the next!

The battle at the library was wonderfully told. It was detailed and energetic; the highlight of the story. The diversity of creatures, magical, historical and mythical that emerged during the battle was incredible. Many of them were terrifying, but all came to life, rampaging about, creating a swirling mess of the library. I love the idea of being able to enter books, but the possibility of unleashing something big and dangerous was somewhat alarming!

All of the characters were strongly developed and described. I really felt like I got to know Sarah and Jon, and their grandparents. Grandpa was such a funny old man, but completely loveable. His relationship with Grandma was lovely, and I enjoyed their interactions. Their banter, and Grandpa’s propensity for “nicking” stuff, made me laugh. I loved when he fooled the security system at the exit of TwoSpells. Grandma standing up to the Golems was also quite funny.

I liked Sarah better than Jon; he was a bit too happy about slaying dragons and swinging swords. I preferred Sarah’s more cautious approach to their new-found magical identities. She was more likely to think before acting, and was very compassionate towards others, even those that were very different to her. I liked the relationship she began to form with Liam, one of the Junior Guardians at TwoSpells. While Liam, and his brother, Seth, were more minor characters, they were both very likeable.

The handy-man at the farm, Clyde, was an interesting character; he seemed pretty shifty, but also had kindness behind his exterior grumpiness. He had a strange back-story, and I’m still wondering what happened to his dog. I liked his gruffness, in the same way that I liked the abruptness of the Golems. Though the Golems were all made the same, the ones in charge of security about Sarah and Jon, were developing their own personalities nicely.

TwoSpells ended with many of my questions unanswered, and the fate of several characters unknown. I really hope that means there will be a follow-up book! I want to know about so many things! There are still lots of connections to be fulfilled, and I feel that there must be another great adventure coming.

TwoSpells is suitable for upper primary and high school students. I recommend it for fans of fantasy and action. Read it, it’s fantastic!

 

*I received this book as a digital book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? by Kate McLelland

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Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? by Kate McLelland, hardback picture book, published by Hodder’s Children’s Books in 2016.

Pip is a little blackbird who sets out to discover what it is that blackbirds do. He visits with different birds, trying out the things they are good at until he finds something he is good at.

I rather liked this picture book about finding oneself. Pip met a lot of other birds on his journey, learning a little about each one. All of the birds were interesting and good at various things. I liked that Pip attempted each thing enthusiastically, such as digging a nest, waddling and pecking at seeds, even if he wasn’t very good at it. And he kept trying, despite disappointments. Perseverance and the willingness to try new things are great qualities to encourage in our children, and Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? demonstrates this nicely for younger children.

The illustrations are very appealing. All of the birds were beautiful and so expressive; I especially liked the owl. And Pip was pretty cute!

My pre-schoolers enjoyed reading this book with me. I was happy that the text was decently sized, making it easier for my boys to try reading it themselves too (beginner readers).

Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? is suitable for early childhood, pre-school and lower primary school children. It is a nice book to read aloud.

 

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, hardback novel, 218 pages, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2010.

When Michael’s mother dies, his future is placed into the hands of a distant and unknown guardian, Sir Stephen. Along with his sister, Sir Stephen lives in a large house, Hawton Mere, stood by itself in the middle of some marshes, far from everything and everyone. Michael is invited to stay with them over the Christmas period, which he is very reluctant to do. Upon his arrival it is immediately apparent that there is something not quite right in the house, and that Sir Stephen is also rather odd and foreboding.

The Dead of Winter is a ghost story in the tradition of gothic fiction from Victorian times. It contained similar elements to a few other ghostly mysteries I have read. In particular, the bleak, wintry landscape of the boggy marshes surrounding Hawton Mere reminded me of the novel The Woman in Black, though The Dead of Winter is aimed at a younger audience.

I found this to be an average read, with solid writing and strong characters. The plot was easy to follow, but wasn’t as scary as I expected, and I had a fair idea of what was happening at the house well before it was revealed. Maybe I’m just getting older and harder to scare! Still, it was entertainment for a couple of nights, and I did genuinely feel for Michael. He was an appealing character, as was Jerwood, Hodges and Mrs Guston. The description of Sir Stephen was well done, easily conjuring the image of a nerve-wracked man, old before his time.

The Dead of Winter is suitable for upper primary and high school students.

Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray and Jim Field

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Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray and illustrated by Jim Field, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Press in 2015.

The cat insists that the frog sits on a log. Why? Because frogs must sit on logs. The cat goes on to explain that cats sit on mats, hares on chairs, mules on stools…. and on and on.

This wonderfully silly rhyming story is accompanied by cute and funny illustrations. Some of the animals get to sit on some rather uncomfortable items, including irons, forks and poles! My favourite picture is the wizard with his lizard playing the flute with the newt, and the magnifying glass that allows us to see the fleas sitting on peas. The frog can be found in each picture too.

Frog on a Log? is a great read-aloud book which my pre-schoolers love. It is funny, entertaining and can be read again and again. My boys like all the rhyming and it has encouraged them to think of other words that rhyme. We loved the ending!

I highly recommend Frog on a Log? for pre-school and lower primary school students.

 

*Frog on a Log? has also been published under the title Oi Frog!

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini

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The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini, hard-back picture book, published by Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd in 2013.

Norman Qwerty’s imagination is highly active. Amazing and wonderful ideas fill his head and are just waiting to burst forth. However, he feels that he is different to others, and that no-one else has thoughts like his, making him feel alone.

A simple story with clear text, The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty told the tale of an ordinary man capable of extraordinary ideas.

The story itself was pretty basic, and I didn’t think that much of it, however, the illustrations were delightful. Done mostly in grayscale, with a hint of colour here and there, they were detailed and interesting. Each page held something new to investigate. I loved that the people were wearing hats that were locked to keep all their new and outrageous ideas in, but that sometimes the ideas still escaped. Most extraordinary of all, was that everyone had different ideas, some ordinary, some strange and some incredible, but all interesting.

I read this book with my two preschoolers, who were both intrigued by the pictures. They pored over the pages spotting new things and pointing out anything that interested them. They were both very taken with the robot bird in Mr Qwerty’s hat. My favourite invention was the hovering light with eyes. We spent quite a lot of time just looking at the pictures.

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty is suitable for preschoolers and lower primary school children. I think it worked best as a read-aloud book, where we could discuss the illustrations thoroughly together.

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Funny Farm by Mark Teague

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Funny Farm by Mark Teague, hard-back picture book, published by Orchard Books in 2009.

Edward visits Hawthorne Farm for the first time. His uncle, aunt and cousin show him how to help about the farm, by collecting eggs, feeding the pigs, painting the barn, and herding the sheep. The fact that Edward and his family are dogs running a farm is only the first of many odd things at Hawthorne Farm!

Funny Farm is a simple story of a day on the farm, just that the farm is a little different to most. The text was clear and easy to read, with just one sentence per scene; great for younger children. Each page was full of colourful and detailed illustrations full of interesting and unusual things.

My preschoolers thought Funny Farm was pretty good. They liked all the strange things, such as the pigs playing on the swings, the bugs ploughing their own small field, and the sheep brushing their teeth at the water trough. They laughed quite a lot when Edward got chased by the rooster and when he fell into the pig’s food trough! They are keen to read this book again.

Funny Farm is suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

 

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