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 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 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 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*

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (dvd)

"Gotta Catch 'Em All"...

New York City, 1926. Young wizard Newt Scamander has just returned from a whirlwind journey around the world, and jet lag is the least of his problems: Thanks to a misplaced case and a Muggle named Jacob, a bunch of the Fantastic Beasts he's collected on his journeys are loose on the streets of one of America's biggest and busiest cities. Some of them are quite dangerous! Now it's a race to track down and re-capture these magical critters before the damage is done and the Wizarding World is exposed to all.

I love the Harry Potter world. The books, the movies...everything. Yet, I couldn't help but think of last summer's Pokemon Go obsession as I watched the film adaption of J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I mean, people running around the streets, trying to find and capture strange-looking creatures. Kind of similar...don't you think?

Still, an enjoyable film. And a fun collection to the Potter Universe. --AJB

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

It's been just over 10 years since Hollywood gave us a King Kong movie, and considering the film industry's recent lack of creativity, a reboot was long overdue.

Over the weekend, I checked out Kong: Skull Island on the recommendation of a friend, and what can I say? The movie was 90% (or more) action/special effects and about 10% plot and character development (and that's being generous). 

To sum up: Basically, this explorer, played by John Goodman, finds a satellite image of an unexplored island and convinces the government to send a team to check it out. The team is accompanied by an Army platoon, led by an aging Samuel L. Jackson in an embarrassing attempt to recapture his action hero glory days. Arriving at the island, the team is greeted by a ginormous gorilla (the infamous Kong of the title) who is majorly P.O.ed at the invasion. Kong launches into Hulk-Smash mode and destroys most of the helicopters flown by the explorers. The few survivors spend the rest of the movie dodging giant island inhabitants, running from these weird dinosaur-lizard monsters who apparently live underground, and trying to get off the island alive and with all their limbs still attached. Jackson's character develops a vendetta against Kong and decides he must be destroyed, but...well, that part's actually pretty anticlimactic. Before the credits roll, there is much gunfire, a gratuitous amount of explosions, and a lot of unimportant side characters get blown up and/or squished and/or eaten. I'm sure far too much was spent on this movie that, quite honestly, was kind of boring.

The best part of the film didn't even happen on screen. Rather, it happened when my Siamese, Luna, was passing by the TV on her way to the food dish while Kong (on screen) was rage-roaring at the incoming helicopters. She stopped mid-stride and glared at the screen as if to say, "Are you growling at ME? I don't think so!"....before continuing on her mission, nose in the air and quite visablly annoyed. 

My final verdict: Skip this one. Or just wait a few more years. I'm sure there will be another reboot that's even worse. --AJB

Spellbook of the Lost and Found, by Moira Fowley-Doyle

After the annual town bonfire at the beginning of summer, things belonging to the town residents begin to go missing. Small things, like keys, hairclips, and diary pages... Big things, like self-confidence, memories, and people... And when best friends Rose and Olive stumble upon a mysterious spell that promises to return lost items in exchange for a sacrifice, they think they know why things have been disappearing. Perhaps if they do the spell, they can recover what they, themselves have lost...

Around the same time, Hazel, Ivy, and Rowan, three drifter teenagers, appear in town, hiding out at an abandoned housing development and working (secretly) for the mysterious Mags MaGuire. Each of these three teens has something to hide. Each has been missing something important. Perhaps if they do the spell, they can recover what they have lost...

It's all fun and games and falling in love...until Olive's younger sister goes missing without a trace. Most likely, because of the spell.

These five teens, each with something that needs finding, each with something to lose, must work together to unravel the mystery of the Spellbook of the Lost And Found. By reading found pages of a diary written by another teen named Laurel (not her real name), they learn that the reason all the losses began in the first place may stem from Laurel and her two friends, Ash and Holly (not their real names either), working the spell during the bonfire.

Now their only hope of finding Olive's sister is to find these three tree-name girls and learn exactly what went wrong when they worked the spell. But the mystery goes deeper than any of them suspect.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found, the sophomore novel by author Moria Fowley-Doyle combines the best of Mystery, Suspense, and Magical Realism. The writing is gorgeous and atmospheric, and it put me right in the story. I could almost smell woodsmoke as I read (or maybe that was the neighbor's wood stove and the direction of the wind). Character development was ace and the plot twists kept me guessing until the end.

I absolutely recommend this one and will be looking for the author's other books!


Monday, August 21, 2017

The Misfits: Our Songs Are Better, by Kelly Thompson

I love me a story that takes an established villain, turns things upside-down, and makes the reader realize said villain isn't so bad after all. That they're maybe even likable. Kind of like what the later part of the Harry Potter series did with Professor Snape's character. He became sympathetic, someone who maybe didn't get all the good things in life handed to him, someone...well, real. And you, as a reader, found you didn't dislike him like you did before.

The Misfits: Our Songs Are Better, the uber-clever spinoff of Kelly Thompson's Jem and the Holograms comics, does just that. Here we have the story of The Misfits, the rival band in the main series. Up until this point, we've only seen these ladies painted as sneaky and vengeful. And who wouldn't be that way after this strange band appears out of nowhere, steals the spotlight, and one-ups them at everything (a band that has a super-smart supercomputer on their side)? I mean, really! But look closer: Throughout the Jem series, you see glimpses that The Misfits are more than the villains: Sneaking Pizzazz's cat into the hospital after a near career-ending accident... Accepting Blaze even after her startling confession... And other bits and pieces here and there. 

Our Songs Are Better picks up somewhere around the time where Enter The Stingers left off...and takes things in a different direction. Because of The Holograms and The Stingers, The Misfits have been dumped by their record label...and no other label will touch them. The only chance they have to get back on top is the worst thing ever: Reality TV. As much as Pizzazz hates this idea, she can't stand to see the band she built destroyed (or her friends hurt). So she agrees...and convinces the rest of The Misfits to do the same. 

And so... Each chapter follows a different band member, letting the reader inside the characters' heads. Their fears, their insecurities, the good, the bad, the everything. The story touches on some pretty heavy subjects, like body image, illiteracy, and losing parents at a young age. It's also all about friends and loyalty and being yourself. No more spoilers, though. I'll just say that fans of the original series will get to know The Misfits characters as they really are: And it's nothing like the reader would (probably) expect. In fact, The Misfits are not the bad guys at all! Dare I say they're more likable than The Holograms? (yes, I DO dare) I like what Thompson did here... It takes true talent as a writer to so completely change a reader's mind about a character/characters. Especially ones as established in their villainous roles as the ladies of The Misfits. And as a fan of the original TV show as well as the comic, that view was pretty cemented. I will be seeing these characters through different eyes from now on!

And so... I very much enjoyed The Misfits: Our Songs Are Better. Like, really a lot. Definitely one rare book that was worth the hype and worth the wait. I hope there are more Misfits graphics in the future. I'd totally line up to read them! 


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Make A Pinhole Camera!

View the eclipse safely with a pinhole camera!
Didn't get a pair of Eclipse Viewing Glasses? Not to worry. You can still experience this awesome event!

Stop by the Teen Area this Saturday (August 19) for a Very Special CrafterNoon and we'll show you how to make a pinhole camera. This craft will allow you to experience the eclipse safely. And it's super easy! The craft is Noon-4:00 p.m. or until supplies run out.

Not able to make it to our craft? Get instructions on to make a camera are here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Treat Yourself: How to Make 93 Rediculously Fun No-Bake Crispy Rice Treats

Cute...but likely VERY complicated!
Food Artist and Instagram sensation Jessica Siskin breaks into the print-publishing world with her first book, Treat Yourself: How to  Make 93 Ridiculously Fun No-Bake Crispy Rice Treats

The book is filled with colorful photos of rice crispy treats sculpted into everything from tacos to trucks. From burgers to balloons. And everything in between. There's themed treats for birthdays, holidays, and any and every special occasion under the sun and moon (I bet you could even find something to eat while viewing the upcoming eclipse). 

And it all looks SUPER cute!

How easy are these projects, really? That I couldn't tell you. Ms. Siskin seems like she is Grand Master-Level at the craft of food art. For someone of that skill level, these projects are probably second nature. But for the average person, however...I can foresee many a Pinterest Fail (much embarrassing trial and error and sticky mess) before something that looks even remotely close to some of these photos is achieved. 

If nothing else, this book is really fun to browse.

But if any of you out there in blog land DO check this book out and DO try some of these recipes, please snap a photo and send it our way. I'm interested to see how yours turns out in comparison with the pictures in the book. --AJB

Monday, August 14, 2017

Jem and the Holograms: Truly Outrageous, by Kelly Thonpson

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

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

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

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

Don't Get Caught, by Kurt Dindan

This book is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (DVD)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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