Monday, August 14, 2017

Jem and the Holograms: Truly Outrageous, by Kelly Thonpson

After vol. 4 (Enter the Stingers) kind of fell flat, I was concerned about the future of this series. But I'm happy to report that Jem and the Holograms Truly Outrageous (v. 5), the concluding volume of this colorful comic saga inspired by the 1980s cartoon, ties things together nicely.

After the drama of the past several months, the Holograms are in desperate need of some R & R...so the ladies (and their love interests) head to Hawaii. They figure some sun and surf is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, the Stingers just happen to be renting the beach house next door, and Minx and Rapture just can't keep from stirring up trouble. After Pizzazz and The Misfits were somewhat declawed at the end of vol. 3 (Dark Jem), this series needed a new villain. And these two ladies are truly diabolical!

But the main storyline seems to be that Jerrica has been feeling increasingly conflicted and isn't sure how much longer she can keep the whole alternate Jem-Secret-Identity charade going. Especially when it comes to her boyfriend, Rio. Unlike in the cartoon, author Kelly Thompson actually explores the outcome of this storyline. And, as you might expect, things don't exactly go well--for either party involved. But it adds a depth to the story that the show just didn't have. And that made me like it even better.

No spoilers this time, but I think you'll be pleased with how this fifth and final volume wraps up the saga. I know I was. Between the colorful illustrations, the ongoing themes about friendship, the strong female characters, and the adorable relationships (Kimber and Stormer are just the cutest thing ever!), this series has got to be one of my favorites. --AJB

Don't Get Caught, by Kurt Dindan

This book is awesome.

Don't Get Caught, by Kurt Dindan is all the best heist stories rolled into one...only without the high-speed car chases. But there is a villain who is so evil and diabolical they would make even James Bond sweat. And there is a crime. 
And there is a twist. Oh yes, there is a twist! And it goes even deeper than even the most observent reader will suspect.

It all begins when Max Cobb and four other random students receive messages to meet at the watertower after dark. The messages are all signed "The Chaos Club" (the super secret organization that has been pulling epic shenanigans at their high school for decades). Their only instructions: "Tell No One" and "Don't Get Caught."

Well, it was a setup. Thus, "The Water Tower Five," encouraged by preacher's daughter Ellie, begin an elaborate revenge plot to get back at the mysterious club that got them in trouble. So the Five begin pulling pranks, each more complex and cruel than the next. They frame each one on the Chaos Club. Their hope is to force the club's members out of hiding and put an end to the infamous organization once and for all.


But there's more to it than just that. Someone's motives for revenge go past simply getting suspended for vandalizing the water tower. But who is the real villain here? Who is the real victim? 

What happens next... Well, you won't see it coming!

Don't Get Caught was funny and exciting and cringeworthy in all the best ways. If you want a quick, fun read that will keep you guessing until the last page, this one is for you! --AJB

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

If you're a fan of Magical Realism (and I am quickly coming to realize this is my favorite genre), you simply MUST rush to the shelves and check out When The Moon Was Ours, the second novel by Anna-Marie McLemore. The writing and world building are simply gorgeous, and you will fall in love with the quirky cast of characters...none of whom are who they first appear to be:

Meil first appeared in town when she was five, hatched from the downed water-tower, and adopted by a mysterious woman who is said to have the power to cure even the most painful heartbreak. She recalls none of her life before this moment, although she has an irrational fear of pumpkins, can sprout roses from her wrist, and knows from day one that the beautiful Bonner sisters have it in for her.

Sam, the boy next door, is Meil's first, best, and only friend. He paints moons that are just as magical as Meil's roses and hangs them in the trees around town. He guards a secret from the rest of the world, a secret that, if exposed, could mean ruin for himself and the lives he and his single mother have built. A secret that becomes harder to protect as his and Meil's friendship deepens into romance. 

But Sam and Meil aren't the only ones with secrets and agendas. Ivy Bonner believes that Meil's roses, if used correctly, can be used to control anyone. She has her reasons for wanting this power. So Ivy decides she will have these roses--no matter what. She threatens Meil, kidnaps her, and, when Meil still tries to resist, she threatens to expose Sam's secret to the world. 

What's a girl to do when her nemesis knows the one thing that could get the person she loves best run out of town? Or so her nemesis says. Give in, of course. At least for a while. But something has to give, eventually. And when things finally come to a head... Well, you'll see.

It's difficult to describe the plot of When The Moon Was Ours without giving too much away. This is a story of friendship, of acceptance, of learning to be yourself rather than conform to what the world thinks you should be. Yes, it DID have romantic elements, but wasn't a straight-up "kissing book."

All around: A gorgeous story. I highly recommend it! --AJB

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (DVD)

the animated version was better!
When I Wish Upon A Star...I wish that Disney would quit making live-action versions of their classic animated movies. Not only is it an unnecessary reinvention of the wheel. It's also incredibly uncreative, something that, until recently, I didn't associate with Disney. Mostly, though, one should not meddle with perfection. Because, chances are, that meddling will mess things up in some way.

Or, to quote Cogsworth from the animated Beauty and the Beast, "If it's not Baroque, don't fix it".

Before I get into the review, I want to say that I loved Maleficent (2014), the live-action remake of Sleeping Beauty, because it took the classic fairy tale and turned it upside-down and inside out and put an entirely new twist on things. It was awesome!

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Cinderella (2015), which followed the animated movie pretty much to the letter. Still, I had high hopes for the live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017). After all, it stars one of my favorite actresses and I have heard nothing but good things about it. Plus, I adored the animated version, so.... 

Despite the gorgeous costumes, expensive special effects, and new songs, I found the live action version of this film lacking. The story itself was pretty much the same as that told by the animated version, which left me asking "what's the point?" (other than $$). And the additions only served to drag the plot out. My main beef was this newer version didn't have the heart and soul the animated version possessed. I felt no chemistry between Belle and Beast. Even the main villain seemed like he'd been declawed a bit (maybe the actor just wasn't into the role). Lastly, I found the live-action/CGI/Whatever versions of the furiture/doo-dads/castle stuff to be quite creepy. 

The final verdict: Don't waste your time on the live action Beauty and the beast. Rent and relive the magic of the animated version. THAT is the one you'll really want to experience. --AJB


Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Everyone knows the stories: Of children stepping through mirrors or falling down rabbit holes or vanishing through strange doorways...and emerging somewhere else entirely. These worlds are fantastic and frightening. Here where dreams and nightmares come true. And for a time, these children are happy. Because these strange new worlds are more home to them than the worlds from which they came.

But then the inevitable: The children get sent back. Sometimes they break an unforgivable rule... Sometimes they get too old to exist in that world any longer... Sometimes there IS no reason. But one thing is certain. Once those childen return, they can never be the same. And they can never comfortably exist in our world again.

This is where Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Childen comes in. Here, returned childen are given the time and space and resources to recover from the shock of being returned (or, if they can't recover, they are , at least, given a place to stay while they morn the loss of their true home). They are educated about their fantasy world and others. They meet other children who have also journeyed and been returned. They are given a home, or at least a way station, away from home.

Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, is the story of one such returned child:

Nancy spent months--maybe years--in another world. It's hard to know how long, exactly. Time flows differently through the Halls of the Dead. All she knows is she was happy there. She was finally allowed to be herself. But now she's back to the "real world" and her parents, not knowing what to do about her, have sent her to Eleanor West. 

Here, Nancy meets Sumi, Kade, Jack, Jill, and other children who have had similar experiences. She finally is feeling like she will be OK....at least until her doorway re-opens and she is allowed to go home again (her real home). 

But then something terrible begins to happen: The residents of Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children begin dying in terrible ways. And no one seems to know how to stop the killer from striking again. Except maybe Nancy. But is she willing to help?

Although short (less than 200 pages), Every Heart A Doorway is amazingly creative. Fans of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will especially love this one!

--AJB

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex, by Gabrielle Williams

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist, and His Ex begins with a real-life incident about a mob calling itself "Australian Cultural Terrorists" who stole a Picasso, the Weeping Woman, on the 2nd of August in 1986, from the National Gallery of Victoria to draw the attention of the government to increase the funding of struggling artists of Victoria. The painting became the subject of an international manhunt involving the Australian Federal Police and yet the Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.

The story in not all about the artwork. It's about four characters who are unexpectedly brought together by the painting, for better or for worse. They are:

-The Guy, as suggested in the title, is a guy named Guy who is flunking out of school.
-The Girl, Rafi, has been raised by her mom who's quite off the hinge since her little brother's untimely death.
-The Artist is Luke, who is the mastermind behind the whole Picasso stealing plan.
-The Ex is Penny, who somehow makes everything come together without intending to that fateful night.

What I liked most about the book are undoubtedly the well-crafted characters and plot. This book is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator as we are shown the trajectory the lives of the main characters takes when the painting crosses their path. There were some great characters -the Bastard-Ex. was certainly a convincing bastard and the unhinged mother was both heart-wrenching and unnerving. The thing I liked best about this book was I felt like I could really tune into the emotions of the characters. I wouldn't say this book is necessarily YA -apart from the fact that many of the characters are in that age bracket - it easily works as crossover or adult fiction as well. *JK*

Friday, June 16, 2017

Stuff That Sucks, by Ben Sedley

Sometimes life sucks! 

You fail an exam you studied really hard for (because who knew the teacher would test you on THAT?!?). You have an argument with your BFF over something stupid. Your parents just don't get it. Maybe you just feel sad or worried or alone for reasons you don't even have words for. The feeling just sneaks up. Maybe you get angry about something that happened and just can't let it go.

And in a society so focused on being happy, putting that best appearance forward, and hiding any negativity behind a smile (no matter how fake), especially when you feel NOT happy... That... Well, that sucks!

Ben Sedley's short and sweet book Stuff That Sucks is full of exercises and advice about how to acknowledge those bad feels (yep, embrace 'em) and then move on by focusing on what's really important in life. It may sound a little fluffy, but actually some of the articles are pretty good. There's solid advice in here. 

Stuff That Sucks may not give you an instant cure for the bad feels, but it will make those bad feels not so...sucky. 

--AJB