Sunday, November 1, 2015

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine Book Review

Title: Trouble Is a Friend of Mine
Author: Stephanie Tromly
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0525428404

336 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

There are hi-jinks aplenty in this screwball mystery by Stephanie Tromly. Zoe is the new kid at school when she meets Digby, a weird, smart, completely impossible boy who drags her into an investigation of a missing girl. An investigation that may be linked to Digby's sister, who also went missing years before.

The dialog snaps, crackles, and pops as Zoe becomes Digby's somewhat willing accomplice in break-ins, drug deals, and fictional class assignments ... all in the name of finding the truth.

The action is over the top, from a mysterious cult next door to a Gatsby themed winter formal where nothing goes right. It reads like a television pilot that's been turned into a YA novel, because while one mystery is wrapped up, another is remains, sending up for a sequel. And there's nothing wrong with that if it's done well. Fortunately, Stephanie Tromly has created eccentric-yet-believable characters who you, like Zoe, couldn't resist following on another adventure.

I'd recommend Trouble Is a Friend of Mine to readers who enjoyed Dangerous by Shannon Hale or Save the Enemy by Arin Greenwood.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

I Remember You Book Review

Title: I Remember You
Author: Cathleen Davitt Bell
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0385754552

320 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Juliet is a good student who has never had a boyfriend before. So when hockey player Lucas tells her he remembers their first kiss, she's not sure what to make of him.

Cathleen Davitt Bell creates a premise where Lucas-from-the-future is trapped in the body of Lucas-of-the-present, sort of Peggy Sue Gets Married set in the 1990's. Juliet is left to wonder if Lucas is nuts or if this weird phenomenon is actually happening to him. And if it is, what can she do to help him?

It's a romance story with (very) light science fiction elements. The novel is told from Juliet's POV and it's mostly reactive. I think the tension and stakes would have amped up if was a dual POV of Juliet and Lucas.

Juliet is also dealing with friendship drama and figuring out if the future that Lucas predicts for her is really the future she wants. She's a smart character, but doesn't have much to do except wait for Lucas. She should be smarter than that.

The book is a quick read and best suited for hard-core romance readers.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Teens' Top Ten

It's that time of the year again!

Voting has opened up for Teens' Top Ten nominees! Get the vote out to teens!

Voting will close at the end of Teen Read Week, which is October 24th, so there's still time to catch up on the titles you haven't read yet.

Teens can vote here.

This year's nominees are:

  • Alsaid, Adi. Let’s Get Lost. Harlequin Teen.
  • Armentrout, Jennifer L. Don’t Look Back. Disney Hyperion.
  • Blackburne, Livia. Midnight Thief. Disney Hyperion.
  • Blake, Kendare. Mortal Gods. Tor Teen.
  • Clare, Cassandra. The Bane Chronicles. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry.
  • Cremer, Andrea. The Inventor’s Secret. Penguin Group/Philomel.
  • Dellaira, Ava.  Love Letters to the Dead. Macmillan/Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books.
  • Despain, Bree. Into the Dark: The Shadow Prince. Egmont.
  • Han, Jenny. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Simon & Schuster.
  • Howard, A.G. Unhinged. Abrams/Amulet Books.
  • Lu, Marie. The Young Elites. Penguin/G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Maas, Sarah J. Heir of Fire. Bloomsbury.
  • Matson, Morgan. Since You’ve Been Gone. Simon & Schuster.
  • Nielsen, Jennifer A. The Shadow Throne. Scholastic.
  • Novak, Ali. My Life with the Walter Boys. Sourcebooks.
  • Pearson, Mary E. The Kiss of Deception. Macmillan/ Henry Holt & Company.
  • Rutkoski, Marie. The Winner’s Curse. Macmillan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Scott, Victoria. Fire & Flood. Scholastic.
  • Shine, Joe. I Become Shadow. Soho Teen.
  • Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle. Penguin Group/Dutton Juvenile.
  • Smith, Jennifer E. The Geography of You and Me. Hachette/Poppy.
  • Stone, Juliana. Boys Like You. Sourcebooks.
  • Sundquist, Josh. We Should Hang Out Sometime. Little Brown & Company.
  • Talley, Robin. Lies We Tell Ourselves. Harlequin Teen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Night Film Audiobook Review

Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Narrated by: Jake Weber
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: August 20, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0307932655

Listening copy via local library

Marisha Pessl's debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, was a hot read a few years ago. I read it and thought it was intelligent and intricately plotted, but overall a meh from me in terms of being invested in the characters.

There was a lot of buzz about her second book, Night Film, and I decided I'd give it go, especially since the audiobook is narrated by Jake Weber. I've been a fan of his since American Gothic, so I was willing to spend a few hours listening to him.

Night Film centers on a disgraced reporter, Scott McGrath, who's obsessed with finding out what happened the night the daughter of a famous director committed suicide. The director is Stanislas Cordova, a provocateur as much as an auteur, whose controversial horror films are only shown at underground screenings. The daughter is 24 year old Ashley, a former piano prodigy with a troubled past.

The story plods on a bit as Scott's investigation forces him to team up with a quirky coat-check girl and a small-time drug dealer, but there are enough tantalizing clues and mysterious signs to keep me engaged. And there are some real moments of flat-out terror.

Jake Weber does an outstanding job narrating, imbuing a world-weary reporter's cynicism with charm, moral outrage, and regret. He does a good job with the supporting characters as well, and I'm willing to forgive his Jamaican accent because that's a mercifully short scene.

I'd recommend it for listeners who have the patience to let psychological thriller push against the border of horror.

Night Film Book Trailer:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

We Should Hang Out Sometime Book Review

Title: We Should Hang Out Sometime
Author: Josh Sundquist
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 23, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316251020

336 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Josh Sundquist is a Paralympian, motivational speaker, and YouTuber who's not so good with the ladies. This biography tells the tale of all the girls he's loved before (or at least crushed on) and what went horribly wrong.

It's a quick, funny read about a guy who thinks having a girlfriend means a pretty girl likes him and he doesn't have to, you know, talk to her or actually have to work at a relationship. It takes a long time, a pseduo-scientific study, and some honest friends to set him straight.

This book shows how clueless guys really are about girls, and the big reveal is that girls are human beings with their own inner lives and don't exist to make boys feel special. Josh is not entitled to a girlfriend just because he's a nice guy.

I'd recommend this to readers who enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines by John Green or Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford.

We Should Hang Out Sometime Book Trailer:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Exquisite Corpse Book Review

Title: Exquisite Corpse
Author: Penelope Bagieu
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1626720824

128 pp.

ARC provided via NetGalley

Fun fact: "Exquisite Corpse" was a game invented by Surrealists where a piece (of art, of literature) was constructed by each participant adding to what the earlier participant had created.
This French import by graphic novelist Penelope Bagieu plays with that conceit in Exquisite Corpse. Zoe is a "booth babe" with a ne'er-do-well boyfriend and no real direction in life. Then she has a chance encounter with famous author, Thomas Rocher.

Except she doesn't recognize Thomas as a famous author. And she certainly doesn't know that Thomas is supposed to be dead. All she knows is that she's met a lonely, kind of weird guy who treats her so much better than she's used to. But when she finds out the truth, everything about their relationship changes.

I absolutely loved the illustrations. Zoe is adorable. Color choices in each panel perfectly reflect mood and character.

The story, however, was a disappointing in the end. I don't want to give away the twist, but it was a "been there, done that" moment for me. I was waiting for another twist to elevate to something special, but no, that was it.

If you're looking for a quick read with great art, then give Exquisite Corpse a try. If you're looking for a story that's a little meatier, then look elsewhere.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mort(e) Book Review

Title: Mort(e)
Author: Robert Repino
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1616954277

368 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

"I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords." 
Kent Brockman

Mort(e) by Robert Repino was an ARC I picked up at last summer's ALA Annual Conference and I finally found the time to read it.

I was intrigued by its animal apocalypse premise: superintelligent ants bring sentience to animals, who rise against humans in "the war with no name." A neutered housecat, Sebastian, becomes a soldier and possibly a messiah.

You don't expect something like that to be especially realistic, and the science given to explain how the ants brought about the war is nonsensical. The author would have better served his readers by making this a Great Unknown. (Not particularly spoilery: the ants put hormones in the water to mutate the animals. And yet it doesn't affect the humans. If you're going to put something in the water, why not poison all the humans and be done with it? The answer is spoilery, but basically it's because otherwise there wouldn't be a novel.)

But you either go with it, or you stop reading. I kept reading.

And it wasn't just the WFT moments that kept me reading. It was because of Sebastian, an ordinary housecat, who protects his family from intruders, enjoys a sunny square on the carpet, and becomes best friends with the neighbor's dog, Sheba.

When the war starts, Sebastian and Sheba are separated, and Sebastian is determined to find her, at all costs. His first moment of sentience was curling up with Sheba and promising her to protect her. That promise is what keeps him going through the war. When the war's over, Sebastian is recruited to head an investigation about a new biochemical weapon the last of the humans have developed. Sebastian figures his position might help him find Sheba.

I found Sebastian's journey, his loneliness, his tenacious hope to be heartbreakingly compelling. Would I have been as compelled if I weren't a cat person? I don't know. 

Mort(e) isn't going to be for everyone. But I would recommend it to readers willing to try something ambitious, a novel that aspires to blend together a parable about humanity's relation to nature, science fiction dystopia, and a criminal investigation story.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Time Machine Audiobook Review

Title: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Narrated by: Sir Derek Jacobi
Publisher: Listening Library
Publication Date: June 11, 2013

Listening copy via Sync

H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is one of those science fiction classics that I just never got around to reading, so I thought listening to a free Sync copy would be a perfect way to finally get around to it.

I've seen the Hollywood movie adaptations (the Rod Taylor version is infinitely better than the Guy Pearce version) and knew the basic plot already ... Victorian inventor creates time machine that takes him millennia into the future where the human race has evolved into the docile Eloi and the subterrestrial Morlocks.

But this audiobook also has Sir Derek Jacobi, one of the top ten dulcet speakers of the English language. He reads this unabridged edition of The Time Machine with appropriate wonder, charm, and suspense. This recording is delight from beginning to end.

And speaking of the end, the Hollywood versions totally leave out a whole section of the Time Traveler's adventure after he leaves the Morlocks and Eloi. And it's as creepy as hell.

BTW, is it just me, or does the cover of the audiobook look like they were trying to invoke the Tenth Doctor (an inside joke for Dr. Who fans, who know that Derek Jacobi plays an important role in the Tenth Doctor's fate)?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Landline Audiobook Review

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1427239327

Listening copy via public library

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park is still crazy popular, and maybe one day it'll be in the library long enough for me to check it out. In the meantime, I listened to the audiobook of Landline.

Landline isn't YA, although an argument could be made that it's New Adult since a good portion happens in flashbacks when the main character, Georgie McCool, is in college.

The conceit of the story is that Georgie's marriage to college sweetheart Neal is at a crossroads, a road that could split off into either divorce or reconciliation. And Georgie is able to talk to Neal -- the actual Neal she knew in college -- on an old landline phone.

Given that conceit, the novel is largely made up of long phone conversations. There's humor and regret and hope in these conversations as the Today-Georgie talks to Then-Neal. She knows the mistakes that she'll make and maybe, just maybe, this is her chance to let Neal go before she makes them. But maybe, just maybe, this is her chance to make things right.

It's a what-if concept that's intriguing and kept me engaged. Georgie and Neal are well-developed, complex, flawed people. There are solid supporting characters, too. Rebecca Lowman does a fine job with the emotion and angst of the story. What I felt her narration lacked, though, was the humor. Lines that I know would have gotten a chuckle if I had read them fell flat as I listened. Georgie makes her living as a comedy writer, after all, and that wry, dry personality needed to come through more.

So depending on the experience that you want, you may wish to read the book over listening to the audio.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Book Review

Title: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
Author: Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 8, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0738732510

288 pp.

Copy provided via publisher

I picked up a copy of this title (signed by the author!) at the ALA Annual Conference last year, and though it's taken me awhile to get to it on my TBR pile, I am absolutely in love in with it.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is the story of Gabe, a high school senior who's looking forward to his post-high school life. He wants to put all the bullying and awfulness behind and start over in a new life. Because Gabe has spent the past 18 years as Elizabeth and now he's ready to transition.

His neighbor/friend/mentor John gets him a DJ gig on the local community radio station and a part-time job in an indie record store.  Gabe never thought transitioning would be easy, but his radio show becomes an underground hit. It's the one bright spot in his life, but he's scared he'll lose his fans if they found out about him.

Gabe's family basically ignores him, so he relies on his best friend, Paige, for support. Paige may just be into him, but he's kind of terrified to find out for sure in case he's wrong.

Then when he's finally outed and things turn violent, Gabe finds out who really stands with him.

Gabe's voice seems completely authentic, all the fears, hopes, insecurities, doubts, desires, and aspirations of any young person on the verge of a new life. There's humor, too, with Gabe's wit and charm.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is straight, but she did her homework. She spoke with trans teens as she worked on the novel and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children ended up winning a Stonewall Award. (Just a reminder than you don't have to be X to write X. Do your research and have respect for that world and you can write from any POV.)

I'd recommend Beautiful Music for Ugly Children to readers who enjoyed Beauty Queens by Libba Bray or Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Book Trailer:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Now That You're Here Book Review

Title: Now That You're Here
Author: Amy K. Nichols
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 9, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385753890

304 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Here's another book in the current parallel universes mini-trend, Now That You're Here by Amy K. Nichols.

There's dual narration by Danny, a street artist in Phoenix who lands in his doppleganger's body after an explosion at a mall, and Eevee, a nerdy good girl who's trying to figure out a topic for the science fair.

The novel is a clever mix of science fiction and romance, as there's a slow burn of revelations and realizations about what's happened to Danny. The Danny that Eevee knows is a burnout, and the Eevee that Danny knows is a mysterious girl in a red dress.

The world-building of Danny's reality gives just enough subtle clues that it's different from Eevee's (and presumably our) world. This is the first of a series, and the second book seems bound for Danny's world.

Although the science behind Danny's jump between worlds may seem a little hinky, don't that bother you too much. It's more about the relationship than the science.

Danny and Eevee are both likable characters and it seems that the Danny of his world and the Eevee of our world are meant for each other, except for that whole parallel universe thing.

There are some good supporting characters, too, like Eevee's best friend Warren, who brings in some comic relief.

I'd recommend Now That You're Here to readers who enjoyed A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray or Dangerous by Shannon Hale.

Now That You're Here book trailer:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Free Audiobooks, People!

It's that time of the year again, when the good people at Sync offer a weekly selection of YA audiobooks paired with classic titles.

If you don't have OverDrive Media Console, you'll need to install if, but Sync offers a handy link to that on its website.

Check out this year's offerings:

May 7-14:  
  • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

May 14-21:  
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

May 21-28:  
  • X: A Novel by Ilyasha Shabazz & Kekla Magoon
  • Here in Harlem by Walter Dean Myers

May 28-June 4:  
  • The Ring and the Crown by Melissa De La Cruz
  • Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

June 4-11:  
  • A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

June 11-18:  
  • The Living by Matt de la Pena
  • The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

June 18-25:  
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  • Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies & Alison Leslie Gold

June 25-July 2:  
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

July 2-9:  
  • Echoes of an Angel by Aquanetta Gordon & Chris Macias
  • Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja

July 9-16:  
  • The Explorers Club by Nell Benjamin
  • Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

July 16-23:  
  • Crows & Cards by Joseph Helgerson
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 

July 23-30:  
  • March by Geraldine Brooks 
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

July 30-August 6:
  • Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles by Tanya Lee Stone
  • John Ball's In the Heat of the Night by Matt Pelfrey

August 6-13:  
  • Under the War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott
  • The Old Brown Suitcase by Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

Happy listening!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Thousand Pieces of You Book Review

Title: A Thousand Pieces of You
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0062278968

368 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is the first in her new Firebird series, a rollicking, action-packed novel about love and revenge across parallel universes.

Marguerite Caine is an artist in a family of scientists. And not just any scientists. Her parents are cutting edge physicists working on a project, Firebird, that will bridge the gap between parallel universes. But when Marguerite's father is killed in a highly suspicious accident, Marguerite uses Firebird to go after his presumed murderer.

The novel is a fun read as we see Marguerite navigate the different worlds she travels through, sometimes subtly different, sometimes tragically different. The science behind the project is purely fictional, but Marguerite's journey is what keeps the reader engaged.

Helping her on her journey is Theo, a student of her parents. Of course, Theo is the required cute boy. Except Marguerite had always been intrigued by Paul, her parents' research assistant. But Paul's the one she's chasing through the multiverse. She keeps meeting different iterations of him, and may just have fallen in love with one of them.

Lots of twisty, juicy story in this first installment. I'd recommend this to readers who enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Dangerous by Shannon Hale.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sold Audiobook Review

Title: Sold
Author: Patricia McCormick
Narrated by: Justine Eyre
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Publication Date: November 26, 2012

Listening copy via Sync

Sold by Patricia McCormick was a National Book Award finalist, a lyrical, heartbreaking story about Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old girl who is sold by her stepfather into the sex trade.

Justine Eyre does a phenomenal job narrating Lakshmi's story, starting with her love for her mother and the struggling farm they live on in the foothills of the Himalayas, through Lakshmi's journey to what she thinks is a job as a maid to the city, and the suffering that Lakshmi endures in a Calcutta brothel, trying to hold onto her humanity and even hope.

The subject matter is difficult to listen to and Justine Eyre's expresses quiet desperation, loneliness, and grief without histrionics. If you're listening to this on a road trip, as I did, be prepared for an emotional gutting.

Sunday, April 12, 2015



Books for sale
Whew! The first ever YALLWEST books festival is over! Two days of YA madness with over 80 authors, a couple thousand attendees, and tons of books!

I volunteered to help out on both days, so I didn't go to any of the panels. But that didn't mean I didn't get to meet people and have fun!

Scrabble time
I was assigned to the gaming area, playing Scrabble with authors and attendees. Hasbro was one of the sponsors and donated a variety of games to give away as prizes. I want to give a shout-out to Hasbro for their generosity.

Several hundred inner city kids were bussed in for the event and they had never played Scrabble before. Many of them didn't own any board games. So it was especially rewarding for me to introduce them to one of my favorite games and then hand them one to keep.

Thanks to all the authors, sponsors, volunteers, and lovers of YA books who made it such an awesome event! Hope to see you next year!

Epic Reads

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone!

(or Passover) (or lazy Sunday)

Enjoy the day and enjoy this video:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Sculptor Book Review

Title: The Sculptor
Author: Scott McCloud
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1596435735

496 pp.

ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

Comic book authority Scott McCloud wrote and illustrated the graphic novel The Sculptor, his first work of fiction in over 20 years. The fact that it's already in development for a film should give you a clue that it's a hot property.

David is the titular sculptor, a once-rising artist in the New York art scene. But he's kind of a dick and he alienates his patron and most of his friends. Now he's broke and desperate. So, of course, he makes a deal with a devil.

The Sculptor is an amazing piece of work, a Faustian tale for the 21st century. David is flawed, certainly, but flawed in the way most artistic types are. He cares more about art than people. But then he meets Meg, an aspiring actress, with flaws of her own, and David begins to regret his deal with the devil.

Readers will fly through near-500 pages of the graphic novel as they are pulled into David's story. Scott McCloud's illustrations aren't perfect (one panel of Meg in a coat makes her look like she weighs 200 pounds), but they convey plenty of emotion and action and beauty.

A tip of the hat to McCloud for giving The Sculptor a diverse cast of supporting characters. It is, after all, New York City. Which brings me to my quibble. There is at least one crowd scene that takes place in the streets of New York and all the faces in the crowd are white. All of them. Even the ones in the back that are just circles. After the inclusiveness of the rest of the book, it was jarring to me. (Most people won't even notice this, but that's another blog post.)

But overall, The Sculptor is a stellar graphic novel and should be read by all people who care about what art means and what it takes to create. It's the kind of book you'll think about for days after and will want to share with all your friends so you can talk about it together.

Bonus video: Scott McCloud discusses The Sculptor

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Wildlife Book Review

Title: Wildlife
Author: Fiona Wood
Publisher: Poppy
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316242097

400 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Wildlife is Australian author Fiona Wood's US debut, and my love for Australian YA grows.

Wildlife is a dual narration novel, with Sibylla telling one story and Lou telling another. Both live in the same dorm during a wilderness semester at school, which is a pretty interesting background to begin with. The teens are supposed to learn appreciation for nature and self-reliance, but of course they learn so much more.

Sibylla is a bit of nerd, but recently became popular due to a fluke that got her a modelling gig. Now cute-boy Ben is unofficially her boyfriend and out in the woods, kissing may become something more.

Lou is an outsider, literally and figuratively. She's the new girl at school and she deliberately pushes away any attempts at friendship. That's because Lou has had her heart broken, in the most tragic way possible.

But Lou can't help observe the dynamic between Sibylla and Holly, Sib's toxic best friend. And she can't help becoming friends with Michael, an outsider himself who's on the autism spectrum and who had relied on Sib to help him fit in.

Sib's torn between her raging hormones and her brain telling her that Ben isn't really boyfriend material. She's torn between following Holly's lead like she always has and finally standing up for herself.

How Lou and Sib slowly learn to trust each other and become friends is a compelling read, a read that young women who are learning who they really are and what they really want will appreciate.

I'd recommend Wildlife to readers who liked Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo or Panic by Lauren Oliver.

Bonus video: Fiona Wood discusses Wildlife

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Soppy Book Review

Title: Soppy
Author & Illustrator: Philippa Rice
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: December 2, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1449461065

108 pp.

ARC via NetGalley

"Soppy" is something that's overly sentimental and it's a word used more in the UK than the States

So it makes sense that the writer/illustrator of Soppy, Philippa Rice, is from the UK.

Soppy started out as a webcomic and the book is a collection of those comics, plus new stuff. It really isn't a graphic novel as it mostly lacks a narrative, but the nearly wordless collection of comics does show the story of two people who love each other and who learn to live together.

There are the sweet, tender moments shared of just being together, cooking, sleeping, watching tv. There are moments apart, moments of regret, moments of anger. But mostly the soppy stuff.

So if you're not familiar with the webcomic, don't go looking for a story here. But if you're looking for quiet moments of couplehood, then this is it. I don't want to call it a Love Is ... for the 21st century, but it did remind me a bit of that.

Soppy would make a delightful gift for the romantic in your life.

Soppy Book Trailer:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Audiobook Review

Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Narrated by: Kathleen Wilhoite
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: April 16, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1478978947

Listening copy via public library

Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a 2013 Alex Award winner, which means that it's an adult book with teen appeal. Which means it's a book that it is little edgy, a little twisty, a book that you can read for fun without having to write a paper about it. But that doesn't mean that it won't get you thinking.

Maria Semple has written a satire about tech culture, helicopter parenting, and Seattle. It's also a commentary about the nature of art, the loneliness of genius, and the bonds of family.

The story is told through a series of email correspondence, magazine articles, doctor's reports, and the narration of Bernadette's teenage daughter, Bee, who is trying to piece together the puzzle of her mother's sudden disappearance. There isn't much of an actual mystery, but rather misunderstandings both comic and tragic. But mostly comic.

It starts when Bee gets straight A's and calls in her parents' promise for a special present. Bee wants to go to Antarctica. This puts Bernadette into a panic because she's become something of a hermit, but she agrees to go. And cue series of mishaps.

Bernadette comes off as unlikeable, petty, agoraphobic, brilliant, funny, lonely, and completely devoted to her daughter. Yay! A fully dimensional female character who isn't always nice! You're not supposed to like her all the time. But the point of the novel is that by the end, you understand her.

Kathleen Wilhoite is absolutely amazing in her narration. She handles the different types of correspondence and their many characters with aplomb, giving voice to the humor without losing the pathos.

Book Trailer for Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

El Deafo Book Review

Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1419712173

248 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

I am so happy that Cece Bell's El Deafo got some Newbery love as it was named an Honor Winner earlier this month.

This graphic novel is funny, sweet, honest, touching, and true. It deserves all the accolades and awards and fans that it has.

Cece Bell got meningitis when she was four years old and became profoundly deaf. She has used this life experience to create El Deafo, which was the nickname she gave herself. She went to a regular school and to help her hear the teacher, she wore a Phonic Ear. The device amplified the teacher's voice, but unknown the the teacher, Cece was able to hear the teacher wherever she went throughout the school. Including the bathroom!

Cece thought of this as her superhero power, but it was a secret power that she didn't share with anyone. She was ashamed of the Phonic Ear and of being different.

The story centers on how Cece dealt with being different when she desperately wanted to fit in and how she learned she could have friends by being herself.

The artwork is perfect for tween readers, bright and colorful, and anthropomorphizing the characters into rabbits is a cute way to emphasize ears and hearing.

While El Deafo is specific to a hearing disability, it is universal in its story of being proud of who you really are. Put this in the hands of fans of Raina Telgemeier.

Bonus video: Cece Bell discusses El Deafo

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sisters Book Review

Title: Sisters
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Publication Date: August 26, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0545540605

208 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Raina Telgemeier made her name with the Eisner-winning Smile, a middle grade graphic novel that perfectly captured what it's like to be different when you're not entirely sure you want to be different.

Raina has created another note-perfect graphic novel with Sisters, which this time explores the love-hate-barely tolerate relationship of sisters. Both Smile and Sisters are based on Raina's personal experiences and it shows in the honesty and humor of the books.

Sisters centers on Raina and her baby sister Amara, a baby sister she dreamed of having but the reality of her turned out to be much different. There are sepia-toned flashbacks of their early days together, the constant power struggle for attention and territory. But the main story is a road trip that the family takes to Colorado.

Family dynamics and drama are all here, from who gets to sit in which seat to what they eat on the road. There's not a lot to the plot, but that's not the point. It's the characters that matter and that readers will immediately recognize in their own lives.

Raina's art is fun, kid-friendly, and cartoonish. The ARC had partial color only, but the final copy has full-color. The characters and art work so well together, I didn't even miss the color.

Sisters is a winner and a definite must-read for fans of Smile.

Sisters Book Trailer:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

More Research Tools for Writers

A while back I wrote a blog post about research tools for writers, and I thought it was time to include some new ones to the list.

One of things I like to do is read up on a certain subject before I write about it. I may use Wikipedia for a brief overview (yes, librarians use Wikipedia), but then I may want a book for a more in-depth view. And if I don't want to spend money to buy it, or my local library doesn't carry it, I check Worldcat. Worldcat is an aggregator of libraries' catalogs so you can search a particular title or author and find out what libraries carry it. Worldcat lists most academic and public libraries, and a few specialty libraries, throughout the world. Is the only copy of a pulp novel you want to read before you finish your noir novel in another state? Then you can see if it's available for ILL (Inter-Library Loan). There's usually a small fee, and there's some restrictions on what items can be loaned, so check your local library for their ILL policy.

Maybe you prefer to do your research online, but you're having a hard time finding just what you need. Then check out the Internet Public Library. This website is maintained by a consortium of colleges and universities with information science programs. Students and information professionals vet websites and organize them by subject, such as Business & Economics, Social Science, and Arts & Humanities. They even offer a free (!) reference service.

If you really want to get in-depth in a subject and take a class in it, check out Gale Courses. See if your local library offers these free (!) 6 week online classes. New classes are offered monthly on topics such as graphic design, personal finance, and healthcare. They also offer courses on creative writing and publishing!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Carter Finally Gets It Audiobook Review

Title: Carter Finally Gets It
Author: Brent Crawford
Narrated by: Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: April 7, 2009

I listened to this as part of Sync's audio summer promotion (yeah, it took me awhile to get to it). But it was pretty damn funny.

Carter is a freshman with ADD and a stutter, especially around girls. He, like just about any other 14 year old, thinks about girls ALL THE TIME. He has his friends who live to tease each other, an older sister who is completely embarrassed by him, and really no clue about what high school will bring.

The school year passes by through the sports Carter plays (or tries to play) and the girls he dates (or tries to date). There really is not much of a plot except how Carter tries to survive his freshman year.

Carter is honest, raunchy, occasionally sweet, and voiced perfectly by Nick Podehl. He brings a lot of swagger to Carter and knows just when to deflate that self-importance when reality hits Carter upside the head.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Prince of Venice Beach Book Review

Title: The Prince of Venice Beach
Author: Blake Nelson
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316230483

240 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Robert "Cali" Callahan is a street kid. He ran away from a foster home in Nebraska when he was 14 and headed for sunny California. Now he's 17 and he spends his days surfing, skateboarding, and playing basketball with his friends.

But he'll be turning 18 soon and that means he doesn't have to duck social services anymore with the fear that he'll be sent back to Nebraska. He's starting to think about the future because he knows he can't always live in the tree house in a hippie's backyard.

Cali realizes that his one true talent is finding people. He knows everyone around Venice Beach and he knows how to get people to talk. So when a cop he knows asks him to be on the lookout for a recent runaway, and that there's some money in it for him for finding the kid, Cali does the job.

That leads to more jobs finding people. And Cali thinks that he could have a real future being a private detective. He starts taking GED classes. He designs a business card.

But then things become more complicated. The jobs he gets are shadier than he's prepared for and he ends up in over his head. Especially when beautiful runaway Reese Abernathy finds him first.

The Prince of Venice has a noirish vibe as Cali falls hard for Reese and gets caught in a web of lies and betrayals. It's a quick read that might appeal to reluctant readers, but I had a couple of quibbles with it.

First of all, the language is really flat. There's a lot of telling as Cali describes what he does and where he goes. Second, this is a extremely romanticized view of life as a street kid. I live near Venice Beach and I see these kids all the time. The casual drug use, the public urination, the panhandling ... all of this is missing from Cali's world. So if you're looking for a gritty tale of life on the street, look elsewhere.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

There Will Come a Time Book Review

Title: There Will Come a Time
Author: Carrie Arcos
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1442495852

320 pp.

ARC provided by publisher

Carrie Arcos has written a quiet, sensitive novel about a quiet, sensitive protagonist. Mark is a gifted musician who lost his twin sister in a car accident. It's bad enough losing Grace, but since he was driving the car when they were hit by a distracted driver, he's lost in as much guilt as grief.

Mark has withdrawn inside himself as he goes through the motions of therapy. But when Grace's best friend Hanna discovers Grace's bucket list, she convinces Mark to join her in completing the list. Mark's not sure what to do about his complicated feelings about Hanna, either. His impulse is to push everyone away.

The novel is a poignant, believable story about loss and surviving. It's set in a suburb of  Los Angeles that one's not likely to see on reality television and Mark's family is a multicultural mix of Filipino and Caucasian. Kudos to Arcos (who is white) for showing another facet of life in L.A.

I'd recommend There Will Come a Time to readers who enjoyed Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard or Something Like Normal by Trish Doller.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Teen Titans: Earth One Volume 1 Book Review

Title: Teen Titans: Earth One, Volume 1
Author: Jeff Lemire
Illustrators: Rachael Dodson & Terry Dodson
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: November 25, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1401245566

144 pp.

ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

I cannot begin to tell you how much I LOVED The New Teen Titans. I mean, seriously, this book saved me when I was a teenager. "A freak among freaks," Vic Stone says in the first issue and I knew this comic was for me. One of my proudest moments was getting a Letter to the Editor published. And here's me with Marv Wolfman at ComicCon a few years back:

Marv Wolfman was instrumental in defining my story sense, taught me how to develop character arcs, and showed me how comics could be smart, funny, and incredibly human.

Plus with George Perez's illustrations, The New Teen Titans was a thing of beauty from the cover to the last panel.

Then it started to suck. George left. Stories were boring. And I was in college by then. So yeah, time to move on.

The Teen Titans Go! animated show arrived on the scene, which I derisively called "Tween Titans," but then I watched a couple of episodes. The anime style and humor was cute and well-done, but it wasn't my Titans.

Then I saw the ARC for The Teen Titans: Earth One. And I hoped. I hoped the characters, reinvented as they were, were still true to their inspirations. I hoped the writing had the humor and angst I loved. I hoped the illustrations would be evocative of powerful world-building. I hoped this would be a Teen Titans that could save some other lonely teen out there.

I am happy to report that The Teen Titans: Earth One is pretty damn good. The artwork by Rachael and Terry Dodson is modern and exciting. The script by Jeff Lemire digged deep into Titans mythos and created a new origin story that paid homage and still created characters than stand on their own. The action is fast-paced, with just enough hints of what's to come (one word: Blackfire!) that I am waiting breathlessly for the next installment.

A couple of concerns, though. One is that without Robin/Nightwing, there is no clear leader. The obvious choice is that Cyborg will step up to the plate, but I'd like to see Changeling take the lead. In this incarnation, he's the most grounded and a genius, too, so he'd be a good tactician. And though I loved Garfield Logan's humor in The New Teen Titans, he could be more than comic relief here.

The other concern is Raven. I like the idea of making her Native American (although sorry to lose the Trigon backstory), but that can be tricky. The last thing any book needs is stereotypes of spiritual/mystical Native Americans.  So please, talk to some Native Americans and get their take on the characterizations before you proceed any further. (And if the writer ends up making her Trigon's daughter and Native American, that's just lazy.)

So if you were curious about this graphic novel, go ahead and pick it up. Longtime fans and newcomers alike will find a good read.

Bonus video: Jeff Lemire talks Teen Titans Earth One


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