Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thornhill, by Pam Smy

Ella Clarke is the new girl in town. She's lonely. Her mom is gone and her dad works long hours and is rarely home. More than anything, Ella wishes for a friend. And it looks as if her wish may come true. One day Ella spies what looks to be a girl her age hanging around the creepy abandoned mansion next door. Curious and hopeful, Ella investigates.

And what she finds is nothing like she expected.

Scattered about the yard of the house next door, resting against the old statues and half-hidden by vines, Ella finds hand-made dolls. Were they left for her by the mysterious girl? Maybe. Ella begins repairing and returning the dolls only to find more. 

Then one day Ella finds a key. 

And this key leads her to the attic of the house where she first glimpsed the girl.

And in that attic she finds the girl's diary.

And within the diary's pages is a decade's-old tale of horror and torment beyond imagining. 

If Ella isn't careful, history will repeat itself.

I picked up Pam Smy's odd novel Thornhill not really knowing what to expect other than it had a "mystery' sticker on the spine. I remember the book being compared to Wonderstruck (Selznick). And it's true the format is similar in that the dual perspectives alternate between text and pictures. But Thornhill is a far darker tale. And I wouldn't exactly call the ending "happy". Open-ended, yes. Cliffhanger even? Perhaps. But not happy (and I recall Wonderstruck ending on an upbeat). 

To say much more would spoil everything. You'll just have to read it for yourself. And I definitely recommend doing so. --AJB

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Wicked Deep, by Shea Ernshaw

Curses, hauntings, possession, revenge...true love (or teenage instacrush, anyway). And witches. Don't forget witches (Witches, if you don't already know, are kind of my thing...and not the Harry Potter sort either, although I will always have a soft spot for Harry. Original 7 books only, though). All this is the setup for the events that transpire in Shea Ernshaw's new novel, The Wicked Deep.  

Two hundred years ago, Hazel Swan had the nerve to fall in love with the wrong man, the son of the lighthouse keeper. Hazel and her sisters, Marguerite and Aurora, had arrived in town months earlier and had set up a perfume shop. Perfume, female business owners making it on their own...all this was scandalous to the uptight townspeople. And it didn't help that the sisters were unusually charming and beautiful, stirring the hearts of all the men in town, married and single, old and young. So naturally the sisters were accused of witchcraft and drowned in the bay, because back then that's what one did when encountering a (so called) witch.

Unfortunately, this placed a curse on the town. And every summer since, the sisters have returned, possessing the bodies of local girls for the purpose of leading boys into the harbor to drown.  This is how it has always been. 

As this year's Swan Season Celebration approaches, a stranger arrives in town, determined to investigate his brother's disappearance. And when the drownings begin, so does the witch hunt. But local girl Penny Talbot knows how to stop the curse. But does she really want to? Because the truth is far more complicated than she, or anyone, wants to let on.

When I first hears about The Wicked Deep months ago, I knew I had to read it. Early reviews compared it to a mashup of Hocus Pocus (my absolute FAV witch movie) and Practical Magic (which I also love). In reality, The Wicked Deep was neither of these, but but it still was a fun story, albeit predictable. In fact, I guessed the Big Twist more than 50 pages before it was revealed. More than any existing witchy story, book or movie, the tone of the story recalled the paperback horror/suspense novels I devoured by the dozen when I was a teen back in the 1990s (Cooney, Cusick, Stine, etc. All those authors). Everything about the book was decidedly old school, and that's mostly what kept me reading, what made me enjoy the book as much as I did. 

I would absolutely recommend it. Like, totally! --AJB

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Pri, an Indian-American teen, is a talented artist and is mostly happy with her life. She enjoys classes with her favorite teacher and looks forward to outings with her Uncle Jatin, whom Pri sees as a father-like figure. But Pri is curious about India. She is curious about her family still living there. She is curious about her father, who disappeared before she was born. But Pri's mother refuses to speak about any of this, and this causes a lot of tension between mother and daughter.

Then Uncle Jatin announces he and Pri's aunt are going to have a baby. This will bring an end to how much time they spend together. Feeling hurt and angry and lost, Pri wishes the baby would go away. And when the baby gets sick, she blames herself. 

Then Pri discovers an old Pashmina in an old suitcase. And when she tries it on, she is magically transported to an idealistic version of India, all shining palaces and brightly-colored marketplaces. As the baby's health worsens and as the fights with her mother become more frequent, Pri begins to use this magic shawl to escape from her unhappy reality.  

When a twist of fate allows Pri the opportunity to visit her aunt and uncle in India, she discovers the reality doesn't match the visions she saw while wearing the Pashmina. But in learning the truth about India, Pri also learns the truth about her mother's past and about herself. 

Pashmina, a graphic novel by Nidhi Chanani, is a fun and accessible coming-of-age story about a teen trying to learn about herself while balancing two very different cultures. Pri is a likable and relatable character, and readers will sympathize with her as she tries to understand herself better by attempting to learn more about her Indian culture. For those unfamiliar with Indian words and concepts, a glossary is provided. But readers will likely not need this often, as most things are understood within the context of the story. 

Overall, Pashmina was a highly enjoyable story. I look forward to reading more of this author's books. --AJB

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Love, Life, and the List, by Kasie West

Love, Life, and the List is another fun read from Kasie West. It's full of sarcastic humor, challenges, friendship, and family. I love the easy to read pace and the go-getter character. The main character has many wants and she's doing everything she can think of, even stepping out of her comfort zone, to win the things she wants. There are setbacks, but she picks herself up and try again and it's very inspiring to read where everything is not perfect from the start.

This book is told in the first person point of view, following Abby Turner, a seventeen year old who loves art. She wants to display and sell her paintings at the museum, a fundraising the museum does once a year, but was told her paintings doesn't have heart and depth. She sets out to make a list of things for her to do to achieve heart and depth. Abby recruited her best friend, Cooper Wells to join in her challenges. One of the challenges is to face her fears and Cooper takes her out to the sand dunes for a quad ride. Another challenge is to try something new and they both auditioned for a play. Some challenges are harder to achieve than others, especially when her heart already set out for someone but that person doesn't reciprocate. This book also introduce agoraphobic, a condition where a person doesn't leave the house. Abby's mom stays in the house all the time while her dad is deployed to the Middle East. This story takes place in the summer so time is abundance for Abby to explore new things and take care of her family.

This book is very well written. I love books with characters that strive for what they want and don't give up when things don't go according to plans. The challenges that Abby face can  be relatable to many readers. Read this book if you are looking for motivation! Just read it for sarcastic humor because they are great! *JK*

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Underneath It All: A History of Women's Underwear, by Amber J. Keyser

It was a quiet morning at the Teen Desk, thanks to a freak blizzard, and I was in need of something to browse. Not wanting to commit to a full-length novel, I picked up Amber J. Keyser's Underneath it All: A History of Women's Underwear. This is a book a patron pointed out to me the other day, saying it looked really fun and she'd have to come back for it once her TBR list was a bit smaller.

Weighing in at just under 100 pages and written in a user-friendly style aimed at a younger (teen/tween) audience, Keyser's well-researched and interesting book chronicles the history of something most of us take for granted. Beginning in the 1300s when function was key to today's more fashionable (and comfortable! styles, undergarments have been as important to the clothing industry as are the latest runway trends--even though it wasn't always P.C. to talk about them. Mixed in with the facts are stories of iconic historical figures and how they pioneered changes in the undergarment industry. Everyone from Queen Elizabeth 1 to Madonna and Beyonce. 

And it's not just a fashion thing. The book discusses the issue that sweat shop labor that is used to mass produce some (not all) undergarments and how some companies are working to change that. It talks about how different cultures have different views on what is/is not acceptable when it comes to undergarments (and how society is striving to become more accepting of these differences). There is also a whole section about body image and how changing undergarment trends have both helped and hurt this growing concern. I also learned a few things while reading. For example: Did you know that there is a "smart" bra that can supposedly warn the wearer of early signs of possible breast cancer? No, me neither. But that's a pretty cool thing. 

Although I'm not typically a non-fiction reader, I found Underneath it All: A History of Women's Underwear to be a really interesting read. An added perk: I feel a bit smarter having read it. I love when that happens. Don't you?


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Across the Universe (DVD)

By now it's probably no secret that I'm a Beatles fan. I play a Paul McCartney style bass guitar and even named two of the characters in my quarterly Winston's World cartoon after members of the band. So when I discovered the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe (PG-13, 2007), of course I had to watch it! 

I was not disappointed. This film is amazing!

Set in the late 1960s, the story centers on Jude, a young man from Liverpool who travels to the U.S. to find his estranged father. Jude befriends college dropout Max and falls in love with Max's sister, Lucy. The trio travels to New York City and moves in with aspiring singer Sadie, her guitarist boyfriend Jo-Jo, and teen runaway Prudence. Then Max is drafted and Lucy, who already lost her high school boyfriend to the war, becomes involved with a group of anti-war extremists. Can love and friendship survive all this drama? 

This type of musical is always tricky. So much can go wrong. Especially when songs I like are involved. Although I actually liked Rock of Ages, I hated Moulin Rouge, and there are songs I no longer enjoy listening to because the film versions ruined things for me. But Across the Universe is perhaps the best-case scenario for this type of film. You can tell the writers had a deep respect for the music and took great care that the adaptions were exceptionally well-done. Some even surpass the original. For example, the film version of "Let it Be"...just thinking about it gives me chills. Even better, every single actor can sing! I should also mention that those familiar with Beatles music will find dozens of little "Easter Eggs" squirreled away throughout the film (which made watching even more fun).

Across the Universe captures the mood of the era, from the "peace and love" movement to anti-war protests to the war itself. It is a well-done bit of historical fiction in addition to being entertaining. The plot is engaging and the characters are the sort you will be rooting for. I'll also mention that the cast is very diverse, because I know that's an important issue these days. A word of caution: There are some mature situations and topics touched upon in the film, although nothing is exceptionally graphic. 

Overall, Across the Universe was a truly amazing cinematic experience. I would recommend it to fans of musicals and history alike. --AJB

Monday, February 19, 2018

Play Me Backwards, by Adam Selzer

Perhaps one of the most unconventional books I've read this year has been Adam Selzer's novel Play Me Backwards. Some of the concepts are strange, I'll give you that. But underneath all the freshman humor and cliche heavy metal references, there's a very awesome coming-of-age story that's got all the feels of a John Green book. I've got to admit it: I really enjoyed this one way more than I expected!

Back in middle school, Leon Harris was a proud member of the Gifted Pool along with all the other brains, geeks, and outspoken political advocates. He was ambitious. He was creative. He was going places. But that was then. That was before his girlfriend and love of his life, Anna B, broke his heart by moving to England and out of his life forever. 

By senior year, Leon has really let himself go. Nowadays he spends most of his free time in the back room of the Ice Cave (the less frequented of the town's two ice cream parlors) with all the other slackers, freaks, and metalheads. Leon has pretty much become slacker himself. In fact, he may not even graduate on time. Leon may not be living the dream, but he's content to skate through in a haze of don't-really-care.

Then Leon receives some earth-shattering news: Anna B is coming back to town for a visit. Maybe even moving back permanently!

There's no way Leon wants his old flame (whom he never got over) to see what a loser he's become. So he seeks out the unconventional wisdom of his friend and coworker, Stan, who may (or may not) possess dark mystical powers. And Stan is all too happy to help...for a price, of course. Mwa-hahaha!

Stan instructs Leon to complete several odd and seemingly unrelated tasks: Listen to the unabridged audiobook of Moby Dick, find the elusive white grape slushie, date a popular girl, join yearbook. Stan promises that by the time Leon has finished these missions, he will be a new man and worthy of Anna B once more. And never one to question Stan, who has been known to work miracles (it's, like, been documented), Leon begins his quest...

What follows is an often hilarious, often cringeworthy, and sometimes heartbreaking journey of personal growth and transformation that makes for a worthwhile read. Now Play Me Backward may not be for everyone as it does contain some mature humor and situations. But this one's perfect for fans of Going Bovine and other books with quirky, unusual stories. --AJB