Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I've taken this book in chapter by chapter, one here and one there, over the past three weeks and the experience was surprisingly not ruined by that. It says something if a story manages to hold my interest when I spread it out over a long period of time. Usually, I like them fast and close together. This book could have easily been a quick read and when I left it behind for a few days I found myself thinking about it.

Also, I found myself in the strange situation of digesting two romances at the same time this month and the experience pretty much turned me into a giggling puddle of girl. Ick.

This is the story of Mallory, a girl who spent the first twelve years of her life in foster care. The family she lived with was abusive and alcoholic. However, she always had a protector in Rider, another foster child who lived with the same family. Rider took many beatings for her and kept her as safe as he could, teaching her to hide in the closet and stay silent until the danger was over.

Now, Mallory is returning to public school for the first time in four years. After she was seriously injured, she was adopted by a pair of doctors who have provided her a safe and stable home. She is still recovering, though, and finds speaking to be particularly difficult after being conditioned to be silent. She's not quite sure if she is ready for public school but Mallory knows that if she wants to go to college she's going to have to get used to people and classes and, well, talking. What she doesn't expect is to run into Rider on the first day of school.

Rider has grown up and he is ridiculously hot. Mallory and him are drawn together by their past and their obvious affection for one another. It's complicated though. Mallory's parents don't approve of Rider for a number of reasons. Rider has a girlfriend and is still in the system. As Mallory realizes the truth about Rider and his life, she must figure out how to be the hero this time around or possibly lose him forever.

I liked this one. Like I said, it made me feel like a puddle of goo at times and it made me tear up a few times too. I probably could have done without the Epilogue as it tied things up too neatly for me but other readers will enjoy the glimpse into "forever."  -RYQ

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Living Nightmare (Cirque du Freak v. 1), Darren Shan

You know how sometimes you're reading a book (or watching a movie) and you notice that one of the characters is about to do something incredibly stupid and all you want to do is reach into the pages (or into the screen) and shake some common sense into them? A Living Nightmare, the first book in the Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan, is a series of random circumstances where the narrator does just that, hereby digging himself deeper and deeper. You know it's not going to end well.

Here we meet a young Darren Shan recounting supposedly "true" events of his misspent youth. He has an unhealthy obsession with spiders and is a bit of a brat to his parents and teachers. He and his best friend score tickets to a show promising (and delivering) real, live "freaks," one of which happens to be a vampire with a deadly spider trained to perform parlour tricks. While his bestie can only think of becoming a vampire himself (a request which is refused), Darren wants the spider. He steals the creature, which bites his friend, and then is actually surprised when the vampire comes back looking for his eight-legged pet. You know it's not going to end well. And...well, it doesn't. 

With A Living Nightmare, Shan seems to be trying a little too hard to be scary/gross/macabre. There are many instances where horrific things are described in detail. Unfortunately, the book reads more like a grocery/wish list of things the author would like to have in the story. It doesn't put the reader INTO the story and, therefore, is not scary/gross/macabre. Characters are unlikable and one-dimensional, dialogue is stilted, and plot is shallow and predictable. Overall, the book fails to deliver. Not recommended.

If you seek a truly creepy experience, try books by Dan Poblocki, Daniel Kraus' Rotters or Neil Gaiman's Coraline.--AJB

Goosebumps the movie

When teenage Zack and his single mother leave New York to move to the small town of Madison Delaware, he is less than thrilled. Then he meets Hannah, the cute girl next door. Not even Hannah's overprotective to the extreme father can discourage Zack and Hannah. Then one night Zack hears screams of terror coming from next door. When the police don't find anything, Zack and his new friend "Chump" investigate. Because it's obvious Hannah's father is hiding something, right? 

Zack and Chump stumble on a terrible and dangerous secret. They learn that Hannah's father is none other than the infamous horror author R.L. Stine, and all the monsters, creatures, and things that go bump in the night in his books are real. Naturally, the teens accidently unleash the monsters on the town of Madison. Now they must find a way to put the monsters back in the books...before it's too late! BWAhahahahaha!

I checked this one out because it looked fun, and I thorougly enjoyed it. Even more than I expected to. Based on the popular book series of the same name, Goosebumps has everything you could want in a scary, but not too scary movie: Lots of action, great special effects (with a few "jump" moments), and the perfect blend of dark humor and comic relief. If you liked Beetlejuice, you'll love Goosebumps!--AJB

p.s. If you're looking for a good book to accompany the Goosebumps movie, I suggest The Stone Child, by Dan Poblocki. The premise of this book is similar: A boy finds an old unpublishged manuscript by his favorite horror writer and, in reading it, accidently lets the monster loose on the town. But the story itself is much darker and will surely keep you awake at night. Listening... DID YOU HEAR THAT??? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Giant Days by John Allison

This graphic novel has been floating around the library for a couple of months now and I decided to pick it up on a whim the other day.  I'm so glad that I did!  I wasn't expecting much from this comic but it was fun and funny and I loved the characters.  I actually really want to hang out with them...

These comics are about three roommates at college in England.  They manage to be similar enough to get along and different enough to stand out.  Susan, the strong, feminist of the group who runs her own paper zine; Daisy, the innocent one of the group who was home schooled and experiencing most things for the first time; and Esther, the emo girl who seems fated to attract drama wherever she goes.

When we meet the group, we learn that their first weeks together have been eventful.  First they helped Esther fight off the head of a snooty group of private school girls.  Then they helped Esther deal with a painful break up.  After that they saved Esther from some mystical society she accidentally joined.  Susan bets Esther that she can't be drama-free for three whole days.  Of course, that seems to be the key to attracting even more drama.

Soon, Susan is faced with her arch-nemesis, a good-looking guy named McGraw who sports a fantastic mustache.  Daisy is being introduced to the kind of feelings she's not particularly experienced in.  Even Esther attracts a more common kind of drama when she is voted 3rd Hottest Freshman on a misogynistic website.

Giant Days was just a quick, fun little read and I can't wait for the next collection to come out. -RYQ

Friday, May 13, 2016

Summer of Sloane, by Erin Schneider

The day before Sloane is set to depart for Hawaii, where she plans to spend the summer, her best friend, Mack, drops a bombshell: Mack and Sloane's longtime boyfriend, Tyler, slept together. Twice. And now Mack is pregnant with Tyler's child. Understandably upset, Sloane immediately unfriends Mack and punches Tyler in the face, breaking his nose and fracturing her hand. Not the best way to begin the summer.

Once in Hawaii, Sloane receives multiple (as in hundreds of) apologetic calls, texts, emails, messages, etc. from both her ex-boyfriend and ex-BFF. Basically, they won't leave her alone. Sloane ignores all if it, though. It's not like there isn't plenty to distract her from the trouble back home. Namely, a romance with cute boy Finn. Then a tragedy makes Slaone re-think how she reacted to Mack and Tyler's betrayal and wonder if, maybe, things can be fixed. Eventually, Sloane is able to make peace with everything and move on with her life.

Erin Schneider's novel Summer of Sloane has so much angsty drama it's like reading a novelization of some cheesy daytime soap opera. Every single character comes with a ton of over-the-top baggage, and their reactions to events are often blown way out of porportion. This was my problem with this book. What should have been an easy, beachy read was instead a dramafest that exhausted me more than would reading a novel that delt with serious topics. It was just too much. But then after the ridiculous amount of drama, things are wrapped up far too neatly. Sloane makes peace with her issues far too quickly for all she went through. Other characters, too, come to easy resolutions. It felt like the author tried too hard to tie things up. 

If you're craving a TON of drama (and I DO mean a TON!), this one is for you. Otherwise, skip it and go for something else. --AJB

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eagar

Carolina's friends are planning fabulous summers, filled with shopping and pool parties and sleepovers. But not Carol, age 12. She's stuck in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her family prepare the family ranch for sale and prepare Grandpa Serge for his move into an assisted living home. 

The ranch is a haunted place that feels like it hasn't seen rain in 100 years (and, according to Grandpa Serge, it hasn't). Here, in this dusty and parched landscape, poisonous snakes and hungry coyotes roam. Then there are the ghosts of the past. But strangest of all is Grandpa Serge, who has dementia and won't stop rambling about bees and drought. Often he is caught in the past, but sometimes he seems oddly alert for a man with his condition. At first, Carol is afraid of him. He is often cranky. But she gradually warms to the old man, who enchants her with fairy tale-like stories about a long-gone village built on the edge of green-glass lake, a magical tree that gave immortality to those who lived there, and the bees that kept the magic alive. He tells these stories as if they are true, and swears that the bees will return and bring back the magic. Soon, Carol is wondering if these might be more than just stories. Because what if?

What if?

Author Lindsay Edgar's middle grade novel Hour of the Bees is pure magic. Character development, especially the relationship between Carol and Serge, is fantastic. And the settings are so vividly-described you (the reader) feel as if you are there! 

This one is amazing! You should read it! --AJB

Saturday, May 7, 2016

West Side Story (Musical)

West Side Story is a musical based on a story by Irving Shulman. If you like Romeo and Juliet, you will love West Side Story. Not only you will get to watch the tragic romance between the two characters but you will also get to feel and listen to the music as well as watch them dance.

West Side Story is a tragic love story set in New York City in the mid-1950s on the west side of the city. This area is full of gangs and this story features the clash between two gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. The two lovers are Tony and Maria, Tony being an ex-member of the Jets and Maria being the sister of the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo. Tony and Maria see each other at a dance where both gangs happen to be at and their eyes meet and an instantaneous love connection is made. They must keep their love a secret because of their rival gangs but unfortunately, their love suddenly ends in a grim and somber way.

Themes like love, secrecy, violence and tragedy manifest in the story and it will shine through the dialogue and words of music. *JK*

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Maybe A Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

No matter how fast Sylvie, 12, can run, she always wishes to be faster. Faster than the fastest racehorse. Faster than a speeding bullet. Faster than the speed of sound. So fast she can... Well, Sylvie never speaks her reason out loud. Even when her little sister Jules presses her for an answer. She does, however, write these wishes on Wish Rocks, which she throws into the nearby river. A river so dangerous the girls' father warns them never to go near it. Ever.

But does Sylvie listen? No.

One snowy morning, Sylvie doesn't return from her secret trip to the river. Could she have moved so fast Jules missed her return? No. Readers will learn that Sylvie slipped on a patch of snow and fell into the river. 

But at the exact moment Sylvie drowns, a fox cub is born. But not just any fox cub. Senna is special. She is "Kennen," meaning she is a spirit animal born with an important purpose. And the reader later learns that purpose is Jules. But why? 

Right away, we see that Maybe A Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee deals with some pretty heavy topics: The sisters lost their mother at a young age. Jules loses Sylvie. And other characters experiences losses as well. Maybe A Fox sounds like a very depressing book, indeed! But that's just it: It isn't depressing. Sure, it's sad. But it's also filled with mystery and the hope that things will get better. And things do.

Personally, I was really excited to finally read Maybe A Fox. Kathi Appelt is one of my favorite Tween authors, having penned one of my favorite Tween books, Keeper. While I didn't like Maybe A Fox as much as I liked Keeper, I still found it to be a fantastic book. One of the things Kathi Appelt does best is weave a bunch of seemingly unrelated storylines together. She is also the master of creating believable, well-rounded characters.

I can (and WILL) definitely recommend Maybe A Fox. --AJB