Monday, November 19, 2018

Throwback...Monday: That Was Then, This Is Now, by S.E. Hinton

The first time I read S.E. Hinton's classic novel The Outsiders, I was 13. My best friend had to read it for her English class and write an essay comparing and contrasting the book with the movie adaption. I watched the film with her and we were instantly enamored with the story of Ponyboy, his brothers, and his friends (Admittedly, this had mostly to do with the fact the movie featured pretty much every cute boy Hollywood had to offer at the time. And to a couple 13-year-old girls, well...you get the idea). I begged to read the book when she was finished, and she loaned me her copy, and I devoured it. I'm sure I still have it somewhere...

Oddly enough, I hadn't read anything else Hinton had to offer until now. I recently picked up That Was Then This Is Now, and thought it was just as good as The Outsiders. Better, maybe. Bryon and Mark live in the same underprivileged neighborhood where The Outsiders is set (in fact, Ponyboy, the narrator of The Outsiders, even makes a cameo appearance in the story). These two best friends were raised as brothers and are that close. But they're also growing up and growing apart...as much as Bryon hates to admit it. Bryon starts dating Kathy, gets a job, and starts trying to turn his life around. But Mark heads in the opposite direction: fighting, stealing, and even getting involved with drugs. Bryon tried to ignore all this. Mark is family, after all, and family comes first. But when Kathy's little brother almost dies after taking drugs he got from Mark, Bryon faces the worst choice of his life: Do nothing or turn Mark in before someone else gets hurt--or worse.

Admittedly, That Was Then This Is Now is not the sort of book I've been gravitating toward lately, and it's not usually the sort of story I like, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Horrible (but fitting) ending and all. The best part for me was the characters and how real they were. Even minor characters had depth. And it also hit home in some strange ways. Not that I've ever faced a choice like the one Bryon faces, but because we do grow up and grow apart from friends...even friends we, in our innocence, promise to be BFFs with forever. We don't mean for it to happen. It just does. My best friend now is not the same as my best friend when I was 13. In fact, I lost touch with this girl (the same friend I borrowed The Outsiders from) shortly after I graduated and moved out of my parents' house. I guess I was thinking about her lately and maybe this is why I picked up a Hinton book. 

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to have read That Was Then This Is Now. And I would absolutely recommend it! --AJB

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Blanca & Roja, by Anna-Marie McLemore

I've been a fan of Anna-Marie McLemore since her debut novel, When The Moon Was Ours. Her writing is gorgeous and atmospheric, she always twists fairy tale elements into her stories, and her characters are always equal parts likable and flawed. And, of course, there's always a twist I somehow never see coming. 

Her latest, Blanca & Roja, is no exception. This retelling of Snow White and Rose Red tells of two sisters living under the burden of a curse brought upon their family by an ancient ancestor who wanted a daughter so bad she made a bargain with the swans. The swans granted this wish, but at a terrible price. Each generation until the end of time, two daughters would be born, but when both girls were 15, the swans would take one back, transforming one girl into a swan and leaving the other with her guilt. But this was before Blanca and Roja, sisters so alike no one can tell them apart...despite their physical differences. This was before Barkley and Page, two local boys who get caught up in the lives of the sisters and, thus, the curse. This was before a lot of things. So it looks as if the sisters just might survive the curse after all. That is, until Blanca learns a loophole that will save only one of them...and decides to secretly use the information to save her sister. Misunderstandings abound and ancient rivalries are awakened. By the end, the sisters (and the boys too) will be lucky if any of them survive the curse of the swans.

Having not much familiarity with the story of Snow White and Rose Red, I had to do a bit of research. And while it's probably not a story Disney will be adapting anytime soon, I loved McLemore's retelling. Because there's more there than just the original fairy tale. Much more. Alternating viewpoints really allowed me to get to know the characters intimately, and painted a broader landscape on which the story could be told. This also moved the story rapidly along so I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. 

Loved it!

--AJB

Friday, November 9, 2018

Juniper The Happiest Fox, by Jessika Coker

Know this: I am a sucker for cute animal stories. Homer, Marley, and, of course, Dewey (because ALL us librarians love Dewey)... I've read them all and more. So I knew I would love Juniper The Happiest Fox even before I had the physical book in my hands. 

As with several generations of her ancestors, Juniper was born in captivity (meaning her behaviors and instincts were more like that of a domestic animal). She was the runt of her litter and was born with an underbite, a condition that would make life more difficult than for her littermates. Author Jessika Coker, who had lifelong experience working injured animals, had a special soft spot for foxes. So when she heard about Juniper needing a home, of course she adopted the adorable little ball of fluff... And the rest was history.

Juniper The Happiest Fox chronicles her life with Jessika, her friendship with Moose (dog) and Fig (another fox), her artistic endeavors, and all the shenanigans she gets up to...like the funny trick she plays on guests. This story is nothing if not adorable, and I got A LOT of feels reading it. Made me want to go home immediately and cuddle on my own fur babies for as long as they'd allow it. But the best part about Juniper The Happiest Fox are the pictures! Because what would a book about a happy rescue animal be without pictures! And let me tell you: If Juniper's story doesn't charm you, her goofy snaggle-tooth grin and floofy tail will win you over instantly! 

Reading Juniper The Happiest Fox made ME happier! And I hope it will do the same for you. So read this book! Now! --AJB

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Hairspray (1988)

On this edition of Throwback Thursday (honestly, does that phrase ever get old?), I want to talk about Hairspray. The original 1988 version. And how, despite early reservations, the film was something I actually really liked. Seriously, you guys. It was surprisingly awesome! And I can totally see how it became the cult classic it did.

About a month ago, a friend glowingly and enthusiastically recommended this film to me. I'd heard of it, of course. But never had any inclination to watch it. But my friend insisted, even loaning me her personal copy....which then proceeded to sit, untouched, on my coffee table, making me feel increasingly guilty each time I glanced at it. Still, I put it off. I had to finish Season Two of Stranger Things. And, of course, there was my annual viewing of Hocus Pocus, which had to happen before Halloween.... Excuses. I know. Until the other night when my husband cornered me with the dvd and said, "How about we watch this tonight?" I was out of excuses (and my guilt was getting the better of me), so I caved.

And OMG, you guys!

Hairspray centers on unlikely heroine Tracy, a plus-sized teen from the 1960s with big hair and a big dream. Tracy sneaks into the set of a local dance show and her sweet moves on the floor quickly skyrocket her to fame. Soon she has stolen the heart of every viewer in Baltimore. And there's a new romance to boot! But things aren't all sunshine and smiles and cheesy teen movie tropes. This film also deals with some pretty heavy issues, which are just as immediate today as they were in Tracy's time. Racism is at the forefront of this seemingly sweet teen drama. And Tracy and her friends get caught up in the center of the struggle. Also, there's a certain Mean Girl Bully who will stop at nothing to strip Tracy of her Dancing Queen crown. And let me tell you, things get pretty explosive. Can Tracy and Co. prevail? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

Pair this film with Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. In this fun novel, Willowdean, a plus-sized teen, defies traditional stereotypes and launches a plan to take back her self-confidence by entering the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Beauty Pageant. Her plan is to prove that beauty can come in any size--not just 2. This feel-good story with an instantly lovable heroine is soon to be a movie, so be sure to read the book first! You don't want to miss it. 

Oh...and while you're at it, don't forget to watch Hairspray. You can check out the original (like I did) or the 2007 remake, which features John Travolta in drag (hilarious). OPL has both --AJB

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Alright, I love John Green.  For a while I worried that it made me too "mainstream" but that's just stupid.  He's a great writer.  I love his characters.  He makes me FEEL things.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Turtles All the Way Down, which is Green's first book in six years.  That gap felt huge and I worried that he would have lost his touch.  I can see how this was a hard book to write, though, and Green deals with mental health excellently.

Aza lives in her own mind.  She suffers from anxiety and OCD.  She is constantly worried about bacteria and the fact that she may not be a real person, just a fiction or a vehicle for said bacteria.  Her best friend Daisy is her opposite, outgoing and daring.  Daisy writes fan fiction and works at Chuck-E-Cheese.  She's saving up for college so when she realizes that Aza knows a missing billionaire's son, Davis,  and that there is a reward for information leading to the arrest of the billionaire, Daisy convinces her to paddle down the river in a canoe to Davis's property and snoop.  Davis saves them from mansion security and Aza and Davis start a maybe-more kind of friendship.

Aza wants to be normal.  She wants to be able to listen to conversations without falling into her own thought spirals.  She wants to be able to hold hands and kiss without thinking that the other person's bacteria is invading her body.  She wants to be a good friend and daughter and girlfriend.  Aza is trying but things are getting harder and harder and the spiral is getting tighter and tighter.

One of the highest praises that I can give to this book comes from my own experiences with anxiety.  Green describes this thought pattern so well that when I was talking to a fellow anxious person he actually told me to stop because it was such an apt description that it was going to give him a panic attack.  High praise indeed.  This book also made me laugh and cry and feel grossly romantic a couple of times.  Excellent read.  He still has it!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O'Neill

After reading (and loving!) Katie O'Neill's graphic novel Tea Dragon Society last year, I couldn't wait to read her latest, Aquicorn Cove. So when it finally crossed my desk, I immediately dove into it.

Like the author's other works, Aquicorn Cove focuses on family, friendship, and strong female characters. The story opens when young Lana and her father return to the seaside hometown to help the residents clean up after a hurricane. It's been several years, but Lana feels at home right away. Especially after visiting the tidal pools she used to explore with her late mother. But this time she discovers something other than fish hiding within the shallow, protected waters: A small, seahorse-like creature that had been injured in the storm. Lana brings the creature home...and soon finds herself deep in an adventure involving the magical Aquicorns and their undersea city among the nearby coral reef. The reef and the Aquicorns are being threatened by the village's fishing community, and it is up to Lana and her aunt to do what they can to save it. 

Aquicorn Cove is a beautiful story with all the feels. The dialogue is minimal, but the gorgeous illustrations develop the characters and convey the story's message perfectly. Also, although the story has an environmental protection theme, it is never preachy or in-your-face. Something I appreciated.

When you have the chance, be sure to check out this sweet story! You'll be happy you did --AJB

Saturday, October 20, 2018

American Road Trip, by Patrick Flores-Scott


First of all, I didn't know American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott would have so much emotions in it. I was merely interesting in reading something to breeze through but I was wrong.

This story gently handles how a family copes when a brother comes home from war. PTSD is front and center in this story told through the eyes of a younger brother who is trying to make the most of his life despite poverty, ability, and lack of resources. The protagonist is likable and has an engaging voice that allows us to see his ambition, his struggles, and how much he cares about his family. We all make sacrifices, and there aren't any easy ones. But the story feels approachable without hiding from the truth. There's a tough attempted suicide scene, but it is handled with compassion. You begin to learn that not everything in life is pretty, but the focus is on overcoming.

In the end, I realized there is so much to love about this book. What resonated with me the most is the mass amounts of emotion wrapped up within and between these characters. From the  beginning to end I was totally invested in "T" and how he maneuvered through a journey of self-improvement, understanding his brother's battle with PTSD, his first love, and how he loved his family. The characters, the plot, and the heart of the story were so well-developed that it was hard to put it down. *JK*