Monday, November 20, 2017

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), by Philip Pullman

Prequels are tricky. Especially prequels to awe-inspiringly awesome series that were penned decades after the final volume of the original was published. Any fan of the original Star Wars trilogy will tell you this (Jar Jar Binks? Really? Was that nerve-grating annyoance really necessary? I ask you...)

So as much as I was thrilled to learn about La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in Philip Pullman's new Book of Dust series, a part of me was very nervous. This series was to be an expansion of the original His Dark Materials/Golden Compass trilogy. Which I absolutely adored, by the way. To me, this trilogy was better than Harry Potter (Rowling), Books of Pellinor (Croggon), Raven Boys (Steifvater), and The Alchemyst (Scott) series combined. I love, love, love everything about it. And to this day it's my "go to" series and the one I measure all other series against. 

So yes, I was extremely thrilled when I learned of La Belle Sauvage, which was supposed to be set when Lyra, the main character in The Golden Compass, was still an infant. 

And yes, I was also extremely nervous. Would the new story be as good as the original? Would it make the original better? Or, like the Star Wars prequels, destroy it somewhat (or a lot)? 

I almost didn't read it.

But then I did. And I'm so glad I did! 

This new story focuses on 11-year-old Malcolm, whose parents run the inn near the nunnary where infant Lyra Balaqua is being cared for by the kindly sisters. Malcolm finds himself pulled into political intrigue involving the child, who even then is prophecized to be The Chosen One. Not your typical hero, Malcolm is rather ordinary. But he is brave and curious and observant and exceptionally likable. He accidently becomes a spy, saves Lyra from the evil Magisterium, and ends up being a key player in how the girl ends up at Jordan College. In that, this story is more like Star Wars: Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace (thankfully!). No more spoilers, though. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this story. Pullman did an excellent job returning the reader to the world of Oxford. The details! The world building! The characters! Everything! Reading it, I almost felt as though I never really left this world. I would absolutely recommend this book, both to fans of the original trilogy and to those simply looking for something awesome (because even if you haven't read The Golden Compass, you will want to do so after reading La Belle Sauvage). 

--AJB

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dramatically Ever After, by Bandeira, Isabel

If you enjoyed reading the first book, Bookishly Ever After, you'll probably love Dramatically Ever After, the second book of the series. So, here are my reasons why this book is so great. I hope you don't mind, I have written it into a list.

1. Em is very dramatic. She's always flouncing off, yelling, getting all worked up, or missing the very obvious hits (which is probably why the title is Dramatically Ever After). She is also pretty competitive. She likes performing and public speaking. She doesn't like accepting constructive criticism but she's smart and ambitious. She likes to figure out what things mean for her as person. She has a good character development. She realizes that she's been defining herself with a lot of false dichotomies, and that despising someone else shouldn't be part of your identity.

2. The dialogue was excellent. The flirty dialogue was excellent at building up romantic tension, and the conversations between friends were great, and I really liked the style of the instant messages and emails-- but what was even better was the debates. There were lots of discussions about volunteering and fundraising, and what it really means to make a difference. There were also conversations about politics, as well as faith and belief in God.

3. The background of Boston and college. I think it's really hard for books to find a balance between characters being obsessed with college or not bringing it up at all, but this book gets it just right and I really liked how that part of the story worked. The setting in Boston-- museums, coffee shops, and so on, also added some flavor to the story.

4. It's the perfect companion novel. In a companion novel, the story and format should have a different focus but a similar feel. The author exactly understands what teenagers go trough and it made the story more realistic. I also liked how different Em is to Phoebe (from the first book) which made the story different and they fit together perfectly.

This book is utterly enjoyable and realistic. I loved the hate to love romance and I highly recommend it! *JK*

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Before The Davil Breaks You (Diviners #3), by Libba Bray

Author Libba Bray's Diviners series, a paranormal ghost story set in New York during the Roaring Twenties, started out with a bang. The first book grabbed me right away and I couldn't put it down for anything. It had suspense, mystery, well-developed characters, amazing world building, and even a bit of romance. It was everything a great book should be and more. Even the follow-up, The Lair of Dreams, was excellent...although not quite as much. But the first two books of the series were made of awesomeness. And maybe that is the problem.

The third book in the series, Before The Devil Breaks You, promised equally amazing things, but didn't deliver. From the synopsis, I thought the story would be a horrifying, action-packed trek into a haunted mental asylum. And although the characters did, indeed, visit the supposedly ghost-infested building, the thread felt more like an anecdote than a main plot point. Instead of being the scary thrill ride I was anticipating, the story was a very slow burn that mainly consisted of character development, setup for the final book, and the author's thinly-veiled anger toward the current political climate (This last bit I didn't appreciate at all! I read to escape, not to get an earfull of the same sort of drama I could get by glancing at headlines). The story didn't really get good until the last 100 pages or so. But the author had so many balls in the air by that point that the action that DID take place was more quick flashes than anything with any depth. 

Bottom line: I struggled with this book. Unlike the previous two, I kept putting it down, kept skimming over the boring parts, kept wanting to give up on it and read something else (or do laundry or some other mundane task). 

But all series have slow books. All series some parts that, when adapted into a movie, get greatly shortened or left out altogether. For example, the infamous Camping Saga in Harry Potter or the meeting with Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings ("Tom Who?" say those who only saw the movie. "Exactly," I reply). Even the most EPIC of epic series have books or parts readers just don't care for. And this is the first reason why I typically don't like series. The second is cliffhangers. 

Because Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors, and because the first two books of this series were awesome, I'm going to overlook the faults in Book 3. Because I know it's only a setup for the Final Showdown that is sure to happen in the fourth and final book. All I know is Book 4 better be the bees knees! 

--AJB

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Bone Queen, by Allison Croggon

Prequels seem to be a thing lately. 

Alice Hoffman recently released a prequel to Practical Magic (which inspired a 1990s movie), all about the old Aunts. Philip Pullman just published The Book of Dust, which is set several years before the events of The Golden Compass trilogy. And Laini Taylor wrote A Night of Cake & Puppets, a companion to Daughter of Smoke & Bone that casts the spotlight on a swoonworthy romance between two popular side characters. Seems authors are anxious to tell what happened before, and fans of the original books are gobbling it up. And these are but a few examples of this seemingly popular trend.

Another is The Bone Queen, the latest novel by Alison Croggon. This new novel is set several decades before the author's Books of Pellinor quartet (The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow & The Singing) and focuses on events only hinted at in the series. The Bone Queen focuses on Cadvan of Lirigon's early years, before he was mentor to Chosen One Maerad of Pellinor. Still a young magician, Cadvan is lured to the Dark Side by the promise of powers greater than he could ever learn at the Schools of the Light. In doing so, he unleashes a terrible evil upon the land. Cadvan must regain the trust of his friends if he is to banish this evil back to the Abyss from which it came. But he knows that, even if he is successful, things will never be the same.

Although not as awesome as the original series, The Bone Queen was still amazing. Written in Croggon's Tolkienesque style, which includes incredible world-building, and appendix, and detailed notes on the text, this story gives fans of the Pellinor series some insight into a key character. Those new to the author's books will enjoy it too, but not as much as those who already have a background about this world. 

As for me, I liked this book. It makes me want to re-read the original quarted, which I'm sure I will enjoy even more now that I have more backstory to work with. --AJB

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mirrormask

Its no secret I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman's weird brand of fantasy. I adored Stardust, The Graveyard Book, and quite a few of his short stories (in particular, How To Talk To Girls At Parties). I even enjoyed Coraline, even though it creeped me out far more than a book meant for children probably should. 

When I learned of Mirrormask, which was written by Gaiman, I was excited. Even better, the film was produced by Jim Henson Comapny, whose films Dark Crystal & Labyrinth I love. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out. The film is dark and strange and left an odd taste in my mouth. The storyline feels like it jumps around a lot as well, and I found it difficult trying to follow such randomness. 

The movie centers around Helena, a teenage artist whose parents run and perform in a circus. Helena wishes for a different life and, in anger, lashes out at her mother. When her mother falls ill and must have an operation, Helena blames herself. That night, Helena is transported to a strange world where everyone wears masks and all the buildings resemble her drawings. Here she learns she must find something called The Mirrormask in order to wake the White Queen and stop the darkness from devouring the land and all who reside there. She also learns the cause of the darkness has to do with the Queen of Shadows' missing daughter. Helena is joined in her quest by Valentine, a juggler. As the two travel through the increasingly strange lands, they encounter hungry sphinxs, Very Useful Books, floating giants, and odd creatures that resemble both birds and apes (but don't think Wizard of Oz flying monkeys...think creepier). Helena must confront the Queen of Shadows and find the Mirrormask before it is too late. Because if she doesn't not only the Mirror world, but Helena's world will be destroyed. 

Overall, I'm not certain exactly how to feel about Mirrormask. I didn't love it, but did I hate it? I'm not sure. I'd have to watch it again to be sure, but I'm not certain I want to. 

p.s. I DID love the library in the movie! Just saying. 

--AJB

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dorm Room Feng Shui, by Katherine Olaksen

Several years ago, when I was in the midst of my witchy/New Age-y phase, I read a few books on Feng Shui. I found it interesting, and have since put to use some of the tips I got out of it, but I never really got hard-core into the practice. I don't color coordinate my living space in accordance with the Bagua Map or make certain that particular knick-knacks are placed in particular corners. But I do tend to favor simplicity over clutter. And I value neatness. And I know enough to tell that my current home, and its surrounding property, naturally has a positive Chi flow and a good balance of Yin to Yang (that comes without too much effort on my part). 

At its most basic, the theory behind Feng Shui teaches that a person can improve their overall life and health by becoming more organized. There's a whole lot in there about elements, colors, interior design, and zodiac animals and such too, but we won't get to that here. So in short: Organization.

And what better place to begin that journey to being a more organized person than college? 

College is the first place you're really getting a taste of what it's like to be on your own. It's up to you to go to class, do your homework, clean your room, eat (reasonably) balanced meals...and your mom isn't going to be there to get on your case about any of it. Sounds awesome, right? But if you don't start adulting NOW, you never will. So get organized.

I picked up Dorm Room Feng Shui because it looked interesting and because I wanted to see how author Kathleen Olaksen applied the (actually quite complicated) principles of Feng Shui to college life. The book was short, less than 150 pages, so I didn't expect much.

I was surprised. Olaksen did a great job of packing a lot of info into a small space without losing too much essence. And she made it relative to younger readers. The book is fresh and fun and not at all dry. I would recommend this to anyone (college student or otherwise) who is looking for an intro to Feng Shui or who is just trying to improve their organizational skills.

A fun read :) --AJB

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Zoolander 2 (dvd)

Last week, my husband challenged me with the quest of renting "a comedy we haven't seen" to watch over the weekend. Being that I pretty much built much of the teen DVD collection and had already seen quite a few of the films of that genre featured there, the task was indeed daunting!

Or so I thought.

While straightening the shelves in the DVD area, I stumbled upon Zoolander 2. We'd seen the first Zoolander film. Years ago. I didn't even remember much about it except it poked fun of the fashion industry and starred Ben Stiller. Hubby and I are fans of Stiller. Also of Owen Wilson, a.k.a. "that guy with the nose". And Will Ferrell is pretty funny too, although I don't think this film allowed him to fully unleash the madness I know he's capable of. A comedy starring this golden trio of comedians was sure to be good. Right?

Uh...

I'll let you be the judge. 

Set several years after the Happily Ever After of the original film, we, the audience, find life has not been so kind to Derek Zoolander. Having lost his wife to a tragic accident and his son to protective services, the former male model has gone into hiding and is now living the life of a hermit. But when a mysterious killer begins hunting the world's beautiful people, Derek and former rival Hansel are the only ones who can save the day. They must find and protect The Chosen One. And to do so, they must return to the world of fashion, which has changed much since they last ruled the scene.

Packed with cameos and overrun with (already dated) pop-culture jokes, this movie is pretty ridiculous. And there was a point where we weren't sure we could finish watching it. And as fans of ridiculous comedy, that's saying a lot! But then the film hit its stride and we actually ended up laughing at it and, yes, even enjoying it. It's not something I'm in a hurry to watch again anytime soon, but perhaps several years down the road if they make a Zoolander 3 I'll revisit it. Or if I just am in need of a reminder why this is a film to only watch once. Maybe then I'll rewatch it.

Or maybe not.

On A Personal Note: For me the best part of the movie was the joke about the Tiny Phone/Huge Phone. I laughed so hard at that it hurt! Back in the day, before Smart Phones and when Flip Phones were just making their debut, I actually had a Tiny Phone. The thing was literally about 3 inches long, had a black & white screen, and only made and received calls. Nothing else. No exaggeration. It was one of those free, no-frills deals you got in exchange for signing up for two years of cell service (beggars couldn't be choosers).  I got tease good-naturedly by friends who had more high-tech phones. I will always remember the day I traded my Tiny Phone in for my purple flip phone...which (OMG!) had a color screen! 

Aaaaaand now I feel old. 

p.s. Sometimes I miss my Tiny Phone and all its glorious simplicity! Not to mention space-conscious. My current one barely fits in my bag's phone pocket.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content

I promised myself after the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, that I would either stop watching or greatly lower my expectations. I was a really big fan of the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, (which if you haven’t watched THAT yet, you totally should before you do anything else or read anything else- THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS) because of the story-line of the golden trio; Captain Jack, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan/Turner. So when they trio split up after movie three, I was super bummed that their shared story line ended in an unfulfilling way.

BUT ALAS. Yet another “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was made and I was drawn back in. Dead Men Tell No Tales continues the story of Will and Elizabeth through their child, Henry Turner. Determined to free his father from the curse of forever being the captain of the Flying Dutchmen, Henry seeks out Captain Jack Sparrow for help. Even our old pal Captain Barbossa and his mischievous monkey, Jack, joins the gang. A new character, the smart and beautiful Carina, joins the group as she has spent all of her life trying to decode the “map no man can read” to find Poseidon’s Trident.

Our heroes are trying to find Poseidon’s Trident which contains all of the curses in the sea and possibly the power to remove them. Unfortunately the villain, Salazar, is also trying to find the Trident to try to break the curse that he and his shipmates endured many years ago. Salazar has an interesting backstory to explain his hatred for Captain Jack, but I will leave that for you to find out.

The plot-line is a little off to me because from my understanding there seem to be a lot of loopholes when comparing it to the other films concerning timelines and magical objects such as Jack’s compass that doesn’t point North (apparently, it can do more than tell you what you want most, but only in this movie does it have an extra meaning/power). It is slightly comparable to the Hermione’s Time Turner “loophole”. You kind of just have to choose to ignore the issue, trust the writer(s), and try to enjoy the story.

I wouldn’t call this the GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME or anything, but it is not terrible and worth a watch. If you felt unsatisfied like me about the sad Will and Elizabeth situation at the end of At the World’s End I would highly recommend watching this for closure. -MC

Friday, November 3, 2017

All The Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

Author Maggie Stiefvater's new stand-alone novel All The Crooked Saints was every bit as fantastic and as strange and as amazing as I anticipated it would be. It's a story filled with myth and mystery and kissing (isn't there always kissing in a Stiefvater book?), and it hooked me from the first page.

For decades, pilgrims have flocked to Bicho Raro, Colorado to see the saint of the Soria family, whom it is told can bring miracles to those in need. But such things come at a great cost to both parties. These so-called miracles only bring a pilgrim's own personal darkness to the surface, causing it to manifest in strange and, sometimes, frightening ways. It is then up to the pilgrim to learn how to vanquish this darkness. Until the day these people are whole once more, they reside at Bicho Raro. 

The Soria family only has one rule: They must never, ever assist the pilgrims with their battles. Very Bad Things happen when they do. Even speaking to them could prove a fatal mistake. This is how it has always been.

Until Daniel, the current saint, falls in love with Marista, a pilgrim cursed to live beneath a perpetual raincloud. 

Knowing he could bring doom upon his family, Daniel flees into the desert, his personal darkness in pursuit. 

It is now up to Beatriz and Joaquin Soria to figure out a way to help Daniel before it's too late. Because maybe the Sorias have been going about this miracle business the wrong way.

If I say too much more, I will spoil the story. And there's no way I want to do that!

I WILL say that I definitely recommend this one! --AJB

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wild Beauty, by Anna-Marie McLemore

This year I discovered a new Favorite Author (or a new "One of my favorite authors". I have a few...). And that would be Anna-Marie McLemore. She writes unusual/unconventional love stories that are always somewhat magical and fantastical, although not overly so. Even though McLemore is fairly new to the world of YA Lit, I've loved everything she's written so far. And her latest, Wild Beauty, doesn't disappoint.

For over one hundred years the Nomeolvides family has been cursed: Each generation produces only daughters, and if these girls fall in love too deeply, those they love disappear. Vanish into thin air never to be seen again.  Further, each Nomeolvides girl is born with the power to create flowers from nothing. Believed to be witches, the family was long ago exiled to the famed gardens of La Pradera, where they must remain under the threat of death.

When Estrella Nomeolvides and her cousins all fall in love with Bay Briar, they fear she will disappear like so many loves before. So they perform a ritual to appease La Pradera, each sacrificing their most treasured possession with the hopes that the land will leave Bay alone. As a result, the unexpected happens: A strange boy appears on the grounds. He knows nothing of who he is or where he came from. The only clue to his identity is a scrap of cloth pinned to his shirt, on which the letters "F-E-L" has been written. 

Beliving he is a long-lost love the land returned, the Nomeolvides women take this boy into their care. And no one feels more attached to him than Estrella, who believes her sacrifice, more than anyone else's, was responsible for bringing him back. But who is Fel really? What is his connection to La Pradera? As Estrella and Fel dig deeper into the history of La Pradera, falling deeper in love with each passing day, they learn a dark secret: Maybe Estralla's family is not where the curse comes from after all.

Like the author's past two books (When the Moon Was Ours and The Weight of Feathers) Wild Beauty is Magical Realism at its very best. McLemore's lyrical writing style reminds me of Alice Hoffman or Kathi Appelt. Her stories are ones I want to get lost in - and remain in long after I've finished reading the final page. Yes, this IS a "Kissing Book," but it's one I would be happy to recommend to anyone. Because this book is simply incredible!

--AJB

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Rise of the Isle of the Lost, by Melissa De La Cruz (Tween)

I will always be a Disney girl at heart. If you're like me, you'll want to devour this Descendants series and even watch the Disney movies. Each volume adds at least one new character who is a descendant of one of the Disney movie characters. The Rise of the Isle of the Lost introduces us to Ursula's daughter. I'm a BIG mermaid fan, and The Little Mermaid happens to be my all-time favorite movie, so I was very excited to get my hands on this book! There is very little of the actual mermaids though, so don't get your hopes up too much for them. There is also our favorites from the first books, Mal, Evie, Jay, Carlos, and of course, Ben. And, as with the others in the series, the villain kids end up managing to become involved in all that's going wrong in the kingdom and the Isle of the Lost.

I love how each book has a new problem to solve, but doesn't take away from the overall journey that the kids from the Isle are going through in their attempt to be good. We get a continuing story of their lives, but also the new drama by adding new characters and new drama. I hope the author continues to write more of this series, and I wouldn't be sad to have more of the movies as well. *JK*

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Weight of Feathers, by Anna-Marie McLemore

I adored Anna-Marie McLemore's award-winning novel When The Moon Was Ours, so when The Weight of Feathers hit our New Book shelf, I scooped it up instantly. And I was not disappointed. This story is gorgeous!

This is a Romeo and Julietesque story about the Palomas and Corbeaus, two traveling families who put on shows that are downright magical: The Paloma's mermaid shows are famous throughout the land, and the Corbeaus don goregeous winged costumes and perform astounding stunts among the treetops. The fued between these two families goes back generations and has become something of a legend in and of itself. Lies, rumors, and cruel pranks abound, making things worse. Things finally come to a head when the two families find themselves in the same town at the same time:

During a catastrophic accident in the middle of a performance, Cluck Corbeau saves the life of Lace Paloma, not realizing who she is. Not wanting to owe her rival anything, Lace disguises herself as a local and crosses the line into enemy camp, planning to work off any debt feels she owes...and gets pulled into the world of the Corbeaus. Over the next several days, Lace and Cluck form a tentative friendship that blossoms into love. Even after Cluck learns Lace's true identity. 

Together the teens delve into their familys' pasts and learn the secrets and lies go deeper than either of them ever suspected. Incluing one especially dark secret that could unite the two families--or drive them even further apart.

Can love survive family drama? 

I loved The Weight of Feathers just as much as When The Moon Was Ours. McLemore's writing is lyrical and the worlds she paints with them are magical and beautiful. I was sorry to have to leave Lace and Cluck's world. But there is hope: There's a new novel by this author due out this month, and you can bet I will be first in line to read it (or as near to first as I can get). --AJB

Supernatural (TV Series)

No fewer than 10 people have told me I have to watch Supernatural, a (thus-far) 13-Season epic that is about two brothers who investigate ghosties, ghoulies, monsters, and other things that go bump in the night. 

Sounded to me like a modern day riff on X-Files. A show which I love, by the way. So my saying that is actually a good thing.

Well, the other day, I was in need of something new to watch. And, being that it's October, I wanted something on the creepy/weird end of the viewing spectrum. I picked up Supernatural because, well... because I was curious and because I was running out of excuses of what to tell all those people who kept asking me why I hadn't checked out the show yet. 

So I watched the first few episodes of Season 1. And so far so good. I like. But not gonna lie. I was correct in my initial reaction: It IS very, very X-Files.  Almost to the point I can hear that well-known theme song being played as I watch. I'd say Supernatural is more Monster of the Week rather than Mythology, but very X-Files nonetheless. Here we have Sam and Dean, two brothers who both lost loved ones due to mysterious and paranormal circumstances (compare to X-Files: Each of the main characters lost someone in to similarly unexplainable ways and they are each searching for a family member who mysteriously disappeared). They team up to hunt creatures whose existance The Man and/or society would rather deny (compare with X-Filesneed I say more?). Good times.

In fact, I only have one complaint about the show so far. And that is, the show is in desperate, desperate need of a strong female character. Not a romantic interest, per se, but a Hermione Granger/Dana Scully type of character. A "no B.S." type to play devil's advocate and keep a cool, rational head when the brothers are in danger of going off the deep end. Perhaps this gets remedied later on in the show. I certainly hope so.

Overall: As much as I like Supernatural so far, I like X-Files better.  

But I do like Supernatural. So far. I plan to watch a few more episodes and see where it goes. --AJB

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

There is something that I cannot resist about a slim novel and this one comes in at 149 pages plus has a great cover.  I'll be honest and say upfront that this isn't a book for everyone but I really liked it.  It was weird, which I love, and it was scifi without feeling like scifi.

This is our world after the vuvv, an alien race shaped somewhat like coffee tables, have landed.  The vuvv are all about efficiency and when they first landed they promised Earth a world with no more work and no more disease.  However, all of their tech was sold to the highest bidders and now the economy is in ruins.  Adam used to have a normal life but now his father is gone, there's another family living in his basement, and his mother has been unemployed for months.  Adam is a painter in a world where most art is digital and each short chapter feels like a painting.  Adam is trying to find ways to support his family, by recording his relationship with Chloe for the vuvv and entering in an art contest, while dealing with a disease makes digestion miserable.

I thought this was a really interesting book.  It looked at the line between the haves and have-nots in a way that didn't feel heavy handed.  Adam's family used to be middle class and I like how it painted the picture that anyone could lose everything.  Adam's mother never gives up hope and Adam is always trying to come up with a better way.  Great scifi for someone who doesn't necessarily like scifi. -RYQ

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tenth Kingdom (dvd)

Several months back, my husband and I stumbled across The Tenth Kingdom while at the store, searching the bargain shelf for a movie to watch. We didn't end up getting it (we bought the Lord of the Rings trilogy instead). I stumbled across The Tenth Kingdom again while weeding/sorting the Teen Department's dvd shelf and thought I'd give it a try. From the synopsis, I thought it would be similar to Chris Colfer's Land of Stories. A book I found charming and enjoyable. Also, the film featured lots of big names. How could I go wrong?

The verdict: I'm glad I rented the film instead of buying it, because I didn't finish it.

Originally a TV miniseries from the late-1990s, The Tenth Kingdom centers on  Virginia, a 20-something New York woman, and her greedy, bumbling father They get sucked into the fairy tale world by way of a magic mirror/portal. Before they can return home, they must find a way to defeat the Evil Queen and restore the heir to the throne, who has been transformed into a dog, to his true form. They are aided/hindered in their quest by a werewolf who is in love with Virginia. Meanwhile, the troll king and his idiot children are wreaking havoc on the land. The heroes travel across the countryside, encountering various fairy tale characters and making new friends (and more than a few enemies). 

I got about halfway into the film before losing interest (I'm sure there was a "Happily Ever After," so no need to prolong the torture to find out what happens). My excuse was the plot was dragging along at a snail's pace. I got bored.

Another complaint I had was I'd be hard-pressed to define an actual audience for the film. Some parts were so silly and juvenile and cheesy (the annoying cheesy) I couldn't imagine anyone over the age of seven really enjoying it. Then, without warning, it would suddenly flip gears: Visually scary and/or violent images, mature dialouge/innuendo.... The switching back and fourth was so jarring it really disrupted the flow of the film. I'm not certain whether the writers themselves had a clear idea of what they were trying to achieve (at times it seemed like they were just feeling it out as they went along).

Overall, I really can't recommend this one. But if you want a great movie recommendation, stop by the Teen Desk. We have a ton of other movies we think are awesome. --AJB

Archie, vol 4 by Mark Waid

It is no secret that I am in love with the new Archie, sometimes called "hot Archie."  When the newest in the series lands on my desk, I have been known to squeal and hug it.  This updated comic has branched out into other things, too.  I love CW's Riverdale, though I am watching on Netflix so don't ruin the second season for me!  The revamp of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is also pretty great.  I even saw an Archie Diegest the other day that was a special Riverdale edition that I did not buy and have been beating myself up about ever since.

This new volume is more serious than the last and it was a roller coaster ride for me.

Now that Veronica has returned to Riverdale, her relationship with Archie is strained.  Veronica has matured slightly, at least on the surface, and she's starting to talk like the future heir of her father's billions while Archie is the same old Archie.  Things already shaky between them, Archie is worried about Veronica finding out that he could be cut from the football team so when Reggie threatens to tell her if Archie doesn't drag race him in Betty and his newly restored 1969 Mustang Mach 1 Cobra, Archie feels trapped.  He takes off in the car without telling Betty where he is going but when she finds out there are dire consequences.

Even though this was a much more serious run than the previous volumes, it was still loads of fun.  Plus, cliffhanger!  I can't wait to see what happens next.  (Also, so much fun to read the car stuff out loud to my husband. Ha ha.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Night of Cake & Puppets, by Laini Taylor

As much as I enjoyed author Laini Taylor's epic fantasy Daughter of Smoke & Bone, I couldn't get behind the romance between the two main characters, Karou and Akiva. I mean, #1: He got her first incarnation executed (and then neglected to tell her about it). And, #2: When he met her again in her second incarnation, he ended up killing her family. Those two things are pretty serious Deal Breakers, in my opinion. I wouldn't have forgiven the guy. But hey--that's just me. 

However: Zuzana and Mic, two side characters in the series... What can I say? I heart, heart, HEART them! So much! They are the Ultimate Couple for all the right reasons. They're romantic, they're funny, they have fantastic chemistry, and, as an added bonus, they're both non-magical people existing in a magical world.. Also, no love triangles or drama. While reading the Smoke & Bone series, I was happiest reading the scenes that included these two characters. 

So imagine my extreme delight when I finally, finally got my hands on Night of Cake & Puppets, a companion to Smoke & Bone that focuses entirely on Mic and Zuzana (originally published as an ebook, but recently came out in hardcover). In fact, it's about the night they finally got together. And it's adorable!

As we know from the first Smoke & Bone book, Zuzana has a huge crush on Mic (a.k.a. "Violin Boy"), but is too shy to act on said crush. Well, turns out Mic feels the same way about Zuzana (but is also too shy). Armed with a string of wishes, gifted to her by Karou, Zuzana decides to discover once and for all if this thing could happen. On a snowy evening, she leads Mic on a treasure hunt all around Prague. The end result: Herself, of course. 

Told in alternating viewpoints, the night unfolds. And concludes better than either could have hoped.

There is magic.

There is cake (as promised in the title).

And there is kissing! (This is SO MUCH a kissing book)

Night of Cake & Puppets is a sweet, simple romance that was fun to read and 100% met any hopes and expectations I could have had for the story. In fact, it was better! --AJB

A-Force: Rage Against the Dying Light by Kelly Thompson

I read the first A-Force trade and liked it a lot more than I expected.  When I finished reading, I noticed that it was by G. Willow Wilson and I really liked her Ms. Marvel so I felt less surprised and also very excited to start the second trade.  Then I checked it out and I realized another reason that I get so ticked off about comics.  New writers.  New artists.  I know Kelly Thompson from her work on Jem, the first trade of which I really liked.  I decided to give it a try.

I liked it.  I did.  Again.

Which has left me in a kind of conundrum.  Am I going to have to admit that maybe I DO like superhero comics, if they are the right ones?  Am I going to have to trust Marvel's choice in writers and artists?  (I don't think I can do that because we all know they have a tendency to do stupid stuff constantly.  Though I do like that both writers for this series were women.)  And, you know, is there ever going to be more A-Force because I kind of need it?

We join the team this time in the midst of a battle that is going poorly.  It goes poorly enough that She Hulk ends up in the hospital, in a coma.  Meanwhile, Captain Marvel has heard a prophecy that Nico will kill a woman named Alice.  Cap wants to arrest Nico in order to prevent this murder until they can figure out what is going on.  Nico is not a fan of being arrested by her teammate and runs away (ha) to a safe house she has in Colorado.  However, when she gets there she finds that the townspeople are being turned into giant insects.

Another fun run!  I want more, Marvel. -RYQ

Monday, September 25, 2017

Project You: More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress & Feel Great

Ok, so unless you've been living completely off the grid for, like, the past decade or so, you know that Mindfulness is a 'thing.' But unlike shirts with odd cut-outs or the latest designer skinny jeans, this trend won't make you broke. And it won't make you cringe when you look back at your photo memories 5 years from now and think "OMG" (if that's even still said in the future) "What was I wearing? What was I thinking?"

Rather, Mindfulness is something that's always going to be trendy. Because mindfulness is all about YOU: Your self-esteem, your good health, your happiness, and, well, just all the good and positive things that can make your life awesome. Stuff like that is never out of style.

And in today's busy world, your personal health and well-being is more important than ever! Like I said, it's a "thing."

Project YOU: More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress & Feel Great, a recent addition to our New Book Shelf, has a variety of tips & tricks (50, to be exact) that will help your life become happier, less stressed, healthier, and, overall, more balanced. There's overviews on Meditation, Yoga, feng shui, aeromatherapy, massage... And, for the more practical-minded, tips about eating healthy and exercise. This book has it all. Although geared toward teens, Project YOU can be helpful to everyone.

In short, it's awesome! --AJB

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

Seeking Mansfield by Kate Watson is sort of like Jane Austen re-telling Mansfield Park. It's been such a long time since I read Mansfield Park that I can't really comment on how faithful it is to the source material. I do know that the basic structure of it is similar and reading this made me really want to go back to re-read Mansfield Park.

I really liked both Finley and Oliver.  I loved their friendship and how they always supported each other. I loved the slow burn romance between them, too. We get both of their points of views throughout the story. Normally when we get both perspectives, we end up finding out that both characters have feelings for each other. I really enjoyed getting both perspectives here. I think that I could have ended up disliking Oliver a bit without his thought process of how he was justifying his actions. Instead I thought he was pretty adorable, even if he frustrated me at times.

I loved "uncle" Thomas and how the parents in this book were present. There were consequences for bad behavior and guidance when needed. I thought the other side characters - Harlan and Emma Crawford (Hollywood actors and new neighbors) and Tate and Juliette (Oliver's brother and sister) were all fairly well developed, though I would've liked a little more of Oliver's siblings. From what I remember of the Crawfords from Mansfield Park I thought Harlan and Emma were really well done though maybe a little more likable here.

Overall, I really enjoyed Seeking Mansfield. I liked the characters and the romance and the message of self-worth and standing up for yourself. It was an easy and addicting read. Though I thought the middle of the story dragged a little but it did pick right back up and I really enjoyed it. *JK*

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Best Kind of Magic, by Crystal Cestari

The Best Kind of Magic, the new novel by Crystal Cestari pairs the all the best elements of romantic comedy and paranormal romance. The end result is pure awesomeness!

Amber Sand comes from a very magical family. Her mom, a powerful witch, spends days giving readings and mixing up all sorts of charms and potions for the patrons of Windy City Magic (the family New Age shop). And that's just scratching the surface of the Sand family's magical ancestry. Unfortunately, Amber's powers are quite limited. Specifically, Amber is a Matchmaker. This means she can look into anyone's eyes and see their one true love, the person with whom they are destined to spend their Happily Ever After. And while there IS a market for this talent among the tourists, Amber is still pretty low on the Supernatural Being Hierarchy. Because how useful is this talent, really? I mean, where it counts. Especially when Amber can't even use her talent on herself. 

Then classmate Charlie Blitzman's new future stepmother, Cassandra, goes missing. And there seems to be something distinctly paranormal afoot. And with Amber's mom distracted by a new witch running amok in the family coven, Amber knows it's up to her to figure out what's really going on. 

Teamed up with her psychic BFF Amani, Amber and Charlie begin investigating... And discover the mystery goes far deeper than any of them suspect, to the very heart of Chicago's paranormal underbelly (shady vampires, goblin mafia, and other creepy crawly creatures that one would NOT want to encounter in a dark ally - or any ally). And they begin to ask themselves: Who is Cassandra, really? Why are these shady characters so interested in her? And what are her plans for Charlie's father?

But the biggest question of all is this: How can a non-magical girl focus on solving a magical mystery when she might be in love with a boy she's not meant to be with?

The Best Kind of Magic was lots of fun right from the first page. The author did a fantastic job creating a world of magical beings who, apparently, are secretly living alongside us regular people. The characters are all very likable. And even though the plot was predictable, it was extremely enjoyable! Overall, a fun read. --AJB

Monday, September 11, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 (DVD)

If you thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was awesome, wait until you see the sequel. It's even better than the original, which is really saying something!

While fleeing the wrath of the Sovereigns, a race of genetically perfect beings whom Rocket angered when he stole from them a stash of Anulax Batteries, the Guardians are rescued by Ego, a man who claims to be Peter Quill's estranged father. While Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to repair the wrecked ship and babysit Nebula, Quill, Gamora, and Drax accompany Ego and his companion, Mantis, back to Ego's planet. Here, Peter learns something about his legacy and, for a time, everything appears wonderful. But nothing as it seems, and the Guardians soon find themselves facing a threat that could mean the end of life as they know it--for the every single planet in the universe

Meanwhile Rocket and Baby Groot are captured by the Ravegers and must find a way to escape, find their friends, and help save the universe. 

What can I say: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is non-stop awesome! All the best characters are back, and some of the villains from the first film get a chance to redeem themselves in this one (always something I like). There's action, amazing special effects, some very well-placed humor, and, of course, a killer retro soundtrack. What can I say: This movie has it all!  


--AJB

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel (illustrated by Jon Klassen)

Patrick Ness' creepy Tween novel The Nest combines a child's anxiety over a mysteriously ill newborn sibling of Under Shifting Glass (Singer) with the uncomfortable skin-crawling vibe of A Monster Calls (Ness). It's subtle, it's terrifying, and it's definitely not something to read while you're alone at night. 

It's also awesome!

Steve's newborn brother is sick, and no one can figure out what is wrong. Or...that's the story as far as Steve knows. His parents aren't saying much. They're also gone a lot, what with all Theo's doctor appointments. So Steve is left to worry while he takes care of his little sister. That's a lot for an already-anxious 10 year old boy recovering from OCD to deal with. On top of that, strange white wasps are building a nest just outside the baby's window (Steve is allergic to wasps). And then there's the Knife Man. And the shadowy Mr. Nobody who haunts his nightmares.

It's shaping up to be a bad summer all around. And even falling back on his rituall behaviors (the OCD) doesn't help.

Then the Wasp Queen begins visiting his dreams, promising she and her workers will help Theo. At first, Steve thinks she's an angel. But with each consecutive dream he learns the Queen's real agenda...and it's more horrible than anything he could have imagined. And, since no one else sees the wasps for what they really are, Steve knows it's up to him and him alone to save the day. No spoilers here. You'll have to read the book for yourself. Just be prepared for the book to stay with you for a long time. 

The Nest is Magical Realism at its best! The fantasy elements build slowly, until the reader can't tell what's real and what's simply taking place in the narrator's imagination. Additionally, Oppel did a fantastic job writing Steve's character. The voicing, the word choices...Steve's age comes across as authentic. The Nest is an all-around awesome book. Just be prepared to be creeped out a little. Or a lot.

--AJB

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A-Force: Hypertime by G. Willow Wilson

A while ago, I gave up on superheroes.  I was just, you know, over it.  In all fairness, the superhero comics get damn confusing.  New arcs, new dimensions, cancelled stories left incomplete, no clear jumping in place.  Plus, there are SO MANY great comics out there right now that aren't superhero centric.

But, of course, being me, I decided to delve into graphics this year and I also decided to just "go ahead and start at the beginning of the graphic novel section" which just so happened to plop me in A-Force: Hypertime.  I actually really enjoyed this.  I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

When a strange being appears in space Captain Marvel moves in to destroy it.  However, the destruction is only temporary and in its wake there appears another being:  Singularity.  Singularity is from another dimension where she was part of the A-Force that protected Arcadia.  Now that world has been destroyed but she remembers the people who were her friends: Medusa, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Nico, and Dazzler.  When the original being remanifests and goes after Singularity, she gathers these friends around her to attempt to defeat it.  The only catch is that her friends don't know her and nobody knows how to defeat Antimatter.

A-Force was added to the collection based on the suggestion of a TAB member.  I always try to order what TAB members recommend.  -RYQ

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Have you ever been completely frustrated by your lot in life? Do you wish things were different...better? Young Coraline just moved with her family to a large house in the country, and nothing is going right for her: Her parents are distracted by work and don't seem to have much time for her (and neither can cook a satisfying meal). Her elderly neighbors are all crazy and just can't seem to get her name right. And there's no one even close to her age to play with (even the stray cat that hangs around the house runs from her). Life can't get any worse, can it?

One day while exploring the new house, Coraline finds a strange locked door that opens onto a bricked wall. At least...it does at first. One day Coraline chances to unlock the door and finds herself in another world. A world that, st first, seems just like the one she left behind. But there are differences: Food is prepared exactly to her liking, animals speak and dance, and she seems to have everything her heart desires. And, of course, there is The Other Mother, a button-eyed woman who gives Coraline all the attention she wants and actually seems to want her around. In fact, she asks Coraline to stay with her forever. It seems a dream come true.

But there's a catch.

A horrifying catch.

Soon Coraline finds herself trapped in this nightmarish other world, and all she wants is to get back home. If only she can find her way...

I stumbled upon Neil Gaiman's Coraline sevreal years ago and it stuck with me...so I decided to re-read it for review. To date, it is still one of the most disturbingly creepy stories I've ever read (heavy horror hitters like King and Koontz have nothing on Coraline). If you're looking for something to give you nightmares, this is it!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The City of Ember, By Jeanne DuPrau


A dark city underground with all of the food, supplies, and sources of light at high risk of being completely depleted. The dreary City of Ember is in danger of leaving no survivors and the people are in panic. The ones who are brave enough to walk out into the complete darkness in hope of another way of life come back terrified in a matter of hours. There is very little known about what is beyond the city lights and there is no way to bring light with you to explore. Imagination and fear brings out the worst in the desperate people trying to make it out of Ember alive. Lina and Doon follow the mystery of how the city came to be, in hopes of finding a way to save them all.

This book has been on my list for quite some time now. I loved the elements of adventure and mystery and it is just spooky enough to get in the mood for fall without over doing it. If you are one of the few out there (like me) that hasn’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it. Great for tweens AND teens.

If you enjoy it, you can try to heal your “book ending feels” by reading the rest of the series or watching the movie. I haven’t done either of these yet, but I think I will. I was sad for the book to end.    -MC

Monday, August 28, 2017

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale (illus. LeUyen Pham)

Teenage life isn't always easy. Not even for a (now) well-publicized YA author.

In her new graphic novel memoir, Real Friends, author Shannon Hale talks first-hand about growing up and what happens when your best friend starts hanging out with the popular girls. Sometimes this means you get included (and that's awesome), sometimes it means you get left out (and that's awful). Always, there is drama. Always, there are tears. And aways, you never know where you stand...and this can change from moment to moment. Literally.

Red-haired, freckled Shannon became friends with pretty blonde Adrianne in Kindergarten, and she believed they would always be best friends. But by third grade, things were changing. Adrianne had attracted the attention of Jen and Jenny, the most popular girls in class. Thus began a constant tug-of-war that lasted until just before the summer before of middle school (And probably continued well after it, but since the book ends there, the reader can only make a logical guess). Rumors were hatched, secrets were whispered, lies were told, and friendships broke up and made up. Add to this family issues (with parents, with siblings), and you can't escape the drama. But throughout everything was the theme of what friendship is (and isn't), what it should be (and shouldn't be), and how to find it (and keep it the best way you can). The lesson here is this: No matter what, your real friends will be the ones who stick by you. And sometimes they're found in the most surprising of places. 

Real Friends reminded me a lot of Raina Telgmeier's uber-popular book, Smile. It has similar themes about family and friendship and finding who you are supposed to be, similar colorful & whimsical illustration style, and a storyline that anyone will relate to. 

I definitely recommend this one! --AJB 

The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle

I love discovering an awesome new author...don't you?

Having just recently devoured Moira Fowley-Doyle's most excellent novel, The Spellbook for the Lost & Found, I was hungry for more atmospheric and slightly weird-spooky books. I really liked this writer's style. So imagine my excitement when I learned she'd written another, earlier book.

I sort of remember seeing The Accident Season on our new shelf a couple years back. I may have even paged through it. But back when it was first released, I'm pretty sure I was reading a lot of beachy-type romance about too-cute couples doing too-cute things in idyllic, too-cute locations (I know, right! Gag! <--not really, "gag" but I'm in the mood for something else now). Not really psyched up to read a story about curses and ghosts and other things that lurk in the shadows and hide in corners of photos and go bump in the night.

Now. NOW, I am in the mood for it. ALL of it! In fact, I can't get enough. In fact, I plowed through The Accident Season like a starving person would plow through a pizza (or bowl of spaghetti or whatever you like best). The plot is so mysterious and interesting I didn't want to stop until I'd read every page and learned WHY what was happening was happening. 

Cara, Alice, Sam, and Bea have always known to be extra careful during the month of October. This month marks The Accident Season, the time of year when their family is more accident-prone than usual. And we're not just talking a bump or bruise here and there (although those things DO happen). We're talking BIG accidents...like broken arms, like getting hit by a car. Sometimes people even die, like what happened to their uncle. And this year is shaping up to be the worst of all. Or it could be the year they finally get to the bottom of why The Accident Season happens to them...IF they can survive, that is. Mix in the Party of the Year, a haunted house, and the mystery of a missing girl no one seems to remember ever existing (except Cara, Alice, Sam & Bea), and you've got yourself one un-put-downable story. 

Although I didn't like The Accident Season as much as Spellbook, it was still an incredible story. Fantastic characters, an interesting plot complete with the necessary twists, and atmospheric writing...It was all there! I look forward to more of whatever this author has to offer...and I hope that's more soon! --AJB

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Letters to the Lost, by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer gave me some serious feels. It was absolutely beautiful and very emotional.

Working long hours at the cemetery for his mandatory community service, Declan finds a letter on a grave. After reading it, he decided to write back. Furious about someone reading her letter to her dead mother, Juliet writes another letter addressing the anonymous writer. Soon the two start talking anonymously and opening up to each other about the difficulties they're facing, slowly helping one another face the challenges and work through their problems. The only problem is that they actually know each in person and they dislike each other.

So the characters, the storyline, everything was just perfect. I can't get over how good this book turned out. At first I was a bit iffy about the characters, they were both great characters but they did little things that made me mad, like how Juliet was very judgmental of Declan and how he couldn't understand that his step-father and mother were trying to help him (even though it wasn't in the best way). But their character development was mind blowing, they went from okay characters to these strong and intelligent characters that you end up falling in love with. These two really help each other be better people, even though they can't see it at first.

The story was really captivating. You may end up reading the entire story in one day because it's that good! There was lots of action, and some really great twists that even I didn't see coming. *JK*