Monday, November 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Blanca & Roja, by Anna-Marie McLemore

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

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

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

Loved it!

--AJB

Friday, November 9, 2018

Juniper The Happiest Fox, by Jessika Coker

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Hairspray (1988)

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

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

And OMG, you guys!

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

Aquicorn Cove, by Katie O'Neill

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

American Road Trip, by Patrick Flores-Scott


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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Tales from the Inner City, by Shaun Tan

I loved author/illustrator Shaun Tan's short story collection, Tales from Outer Suburbia. It was weird and whimsical and as oddly satisfying as taking a small, hesitant taste of a strange new food (like starfruit or kimchi) and discovering it's delicious beyond what you have words to describe. So when I learned a brand new collection, Tales from the Inner City, was out, I was beyond excited and couldn't wait to get my hands on it. 

Tales from the Inner City is one of those rare (make that RARE) occasions where a book lives up to its hype. Surpasses it, even. Tan creates a world where wild horses and rhinos roam the city's highways, where magical fish swim through the nighttime sky, and a where very special cat brings together a neighborhood of people who would otherwise have remained strangers. Here, a tiger stalks anyone not clever enough to wear a mask on the back of their head, a mischievous nighttime fox runs amok in your home--but restores everything by dawn, and a child prodigy dreams of only one thing (and it isn't what you'd think). There't more. Much more. But too much to cover in a single review. 

Tales from the Inner City was almost as wonderful as Tales from Outer Suburbia. Like those from its predecessor, the stories in Tales from the Inner City are not the sort of short story you read and forget. These are the sort that stick with you long after you've read them and returned the book to its proper place on the shelf. They are the sort you find yourself thinking about at odd times. They are commentaries about us and our world, but never in a way that's preachy or political or in your face. But they DO make you think. And the accompanying artwork is beautiful!

To sum it up: This book is incredible in too many ways to count. I loved it!

--AJB 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Throwback Thursday: The Witches (dvd)

I remember watching The Witches on television shortly after cable finally made it down the little dirt road where my family lived (Keep in mind that I grew up in The Before Time). And it creeped the heck out of me! For years I was haunted by the images of a young girl trapped in a painting and a sinister, violet-eyed woman brandishing a snake at a little boy. I must have mentally blocked out how horrifying the main villain could be, though.

*shudder*

Until recently, that is.

Being that it IS Halloween Season, and being that witches are currently a trending thing for me, I couldn't pass up The Witches (now on our New DVD shelf) when it crossed my desk the other day. And watching it last night, it all came rushing back. Because certain elements of the film are just as terrifying to Adult Ms. Alissa as they were to Alissa as a Child.

So yes, this movie does indeed hold up.

The Witches, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, centers on a little boy named Luke who has an unfortunate run-in with not just one, but a whole convention of evil, child-hating witches (It is never really specified why the witches in the film don't like kids--other than they're smelly--but let's just go with it for the sake of enjoying a good creepy story). Luke is forced to drink a magic potion that transforms him into a mouse. Now he, and fellow kid-turned-mouse Bruno, must dodge cats, mouse-phobic hotel managers, and the Grand High Witch herself in order to stop the witches before they can unleash their diabolical plot to turn every single child in England into mice. 

First of all, don't let the cutesy picture on the DVD cover fool you! The Witches is horrifying on a number of levels. There's the obvious costumes and makeup, which are a product of Jim Henson. And if you've ever watched The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, you know how nightmare-inducing that can be! And of course the creepy seaside setting and the tragic demise of Luke's parents. But there's the more subtle qualities as well: Such as what really happens to the children who've already fallen prey to the witches? (the lifespan of the average mouse, for example) It can really mess with you if you think about it too much. There are levels of creepy I picked up on as an adult that somehow escaped me as a kid. So I would go as far as to say The Witches is even scarier to me now than it was then. It was awesome! 

So if you're looking for a good Halloween film that's not blood-soaked or rated PG-13 or more, give The Witches a watch. Maybe pair it with Return to OZ or the movie adaption of Coraline for a creepy double feature. 

--AJB

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stranger Things, Season 1

With Halloween fast approaching, I've been craving all things creepy, strange, and suspenseful. I found all this and more in Stranger Things Season 1, which more than made up for the disappointment that was X Files Season 11. Not only that, the show gave me all sorts of nostalgic feels: The Goonies...Super 8...and, yes, even old school X Files. I loved it!!

And now, my (relatively) spoiler-free review:

Hawkins Indiana, early 1980s: Tweenage William vanishes while biking home from his friend's house. This sets the small town's residents to panicking, and no one more so than Will's mother Joyce who insists against all odds that her boy is alive...just not in her own reality (And she's not as crazy as she seems). And Will is only the first of the town's residents to disappear...seemingly without a trace. Around the same time, a mysterious girl with strange abilities appears and befriends Will's buddies. The girl, whom the boys name Eleven, and Will's disappearance seem connected as do other mysterious and supernatural events happening around the previously quiet town. And everything seems to point to Hawkins Laboratories. But only the boys and a tenacious sheriff seem brave enough to investigate.

The season ends somewhat ambiguously with a not exactly cliffhanger moment: You could leave it at that and imagine what happens next or you could keep watching into Season 2 (which OPL also owns). I am excited to do the later.

I somehow missed Stranger Things when it first aired on TV. But what better way to experience a movie or show than to check it out of the library? Besides, my recent almost-Halloween viewing timing was perfect. Plus, the show had everything I could ask for: Mystery, suspense, humor, great characters, and, BONUS!, an awesome soundtrack. 

This show is a new favorite of mine! --AJB

Throwback...Saturday? Better Off Dead (DVD)

I admit it: I am a fan of cheesy 80s teen comedies. They're from a different, more simple time, and there's something...well, innocent about them. But even though I watched a countless number of these films growing up, and continue to enjoy them as an adult, I somehow missed Better Off Dead. But a friend recommended I see it and I'm so glad I did. After a somewhat crazy week, it was exactly what I needed. 

The film opens when Lane's girlfriend Beth leaves him for ski jock, Roy. Lane decides that life isn't worth living. So he does what any depressed teen in that situation would do: He tries to kill himself. Many times. Of course his attempts always fail in increasingly funny ways. All the while, Lane must cope with embarrassing parents, awful first jobs, vengeful paper boys, school dance nightmares, and failed attempts to win back the girl of his dreams. He also gets unwittingly caught up in a love triangle involving a French foreign exchange student and the nerd next door. Before long it's more than just getting Beth back. It's a matter of defending his own honor. And Lane's only chance of doing either one is to beat his rival at the notorious K-12 ski race. But if he does all that, will Beth even want him back? And, more importantly, will he want her?

Despite the grim undertones of suicide (which is a VERY serious matter), this film is not a downer by any means, but, rather, an affirmation that life is actually worth living after all. Even if one has just been dumped. True to most 80s comedies, the film boasts lots of near-slapstick humor and shamelessly pays tribute to pretty much every single high school stereotype in existence.

Definitely recommended! --AJB

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

X-Files Season 11

Occasionally, it's awesome when beloved shows or bands or whatever from one's past have a special reunion. But in most cases, a revamp of something that peaked 20 years ago (using all the original players) is not something that should see the the light of day. I mean, it sounds most excellent...in theory. But the reality of it is cringe-worthy in the same way as seeing your grandmother model her dusty old prom dress (before offering it to you). In the worst case, seeing the revamp somewhat tarnishes the experience of the original for you.

Such was the case with The X-Files Season 11. In my opinion, Season 10 (or "X" if you're using the roman numeral/pun on the show's title) should never have happened. I really didn't want to see 50/60-something Mulder and Scully trying to solve mysterious crimes when they should be hanging up their badges and retiring to someplace like Hawaii where they could sit in the sun and eat pineapple and forget the Conspiracy ever happened. It was embarrassing and overly-campy and completely train-wreckish, but I couldn't look away. Which is why I nabbed Season 11 as soon as it hit the shelves. I guess I hoped it would get better and fix what Season X messed up.

It didn't.

The Conspiracy episodes really did nothing to add to the original storyline from Seasons 1-9, and the Mythology would have been better off had they not been filmed. The Monster Of The Week episodes were even worse. The writers were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for these, going the B-Horror Movie route and often substituting gratuitous blood and guts for substance. Unfortunately, that made things really boring. Admittedly, I even dozed off during the one where possessed "smart" technology stalks the agents after Mulder refuses to tip the robot chef for screwing up his meal (Mulder was right, in my opinion. I wouldn't tip after that experience either). The one (almost) stand-out episode was the one where creepy characters from creepy kids shows came to life to lure children into the woods and to their untimely doom. But even that plot kind of trailed off...as if the writers didn't really know where they were going with it. 

Why are shows aimed at young children (Barney, Teletubbies) so darn creepy? Discuss.

Rumor has it there will be no Season 12, and, to me, that is a relief. I'd rather not see a beloved show from my past struggle any more toward a slow and painful (to watch) demise. I'd rather remember things how they used to be. 

--AJB

Friday, October 5, 2018

Thunder and the House of Magic (dvd)

All the neighborhood animals know to stay away from the Haunted House at the end of the block. Strange things happen there. Bad things. And critters who unknowingly enter the property have been known to disappear. But an abandoned kitten would rather risk unknown horrors than face real world dangers like thunderstorms and sharp-toothed dogs. And thus begins an epic adventure!

When Thunder takes shelter in the creepy old house, he finds himself in a world of magic, where everyday objects come to life. Turns out the house is owned by an elderly magician who knows real, actual magic. The old man adopts Thunder and even begins to use him in his shows. But a jealous white rabbit is determined to get rid of the cute kitty at all costs. And his plan leads the magician to have a terrible accident.

But there is an even more sinister plot afoot! While the magician is recovering in the hospital, a scheming real estate agent tricks the old man into signing over the deed to the house, which he plans to sell to the highest bidder (and keep the profits for himself). Now Thunder and his long-eared nemesis must put their differences aside and team up to protect their home and stop this evil plan from happening. 

If you're looking for a cute, fun film, look no further than Thunder and the House of Magic. While the plot is not super original (it's actually very Home Alone), it's an extremely enjoyable movie that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Definitely recommended --AJB

The Moth Diaries, by Rachel Klein

Spotlight on Suspense

Tis the season for monsters, ghosts, witches, and things that go bump in the night. And if there's a better creature of the night than vampires, I don't know what it is. I'm not talking those NOT-pires that sparkle like so many unicorns in the sunshine and grace the pages of certain paranormal romances. i'm talking real old school vampires. The sort that should terrify us (if we know what's good for us).

While Rachel Kline's The Moth Diaries isn't terrifying in the obvious way, there's a subtle building sense of suspense and dread here that makes the story's creepiness factor almost worse than if there had been blood splattered over every scene. This gives the story a similar feel to that of Charlotte Perkins' classic, The Yellow Wallpaper in that, by story's end, you, the reader, don't really know what's real and what's in the narrator's head almost feel slightly mad yourself. In my opinion, this is exactly what a good horror story should do.

We meet the unnamed narrator when she is beginning her year at boarding school. She is glad to be away from home and excited to see her best friend, Lucy, with whom she is sharing a suite. Typical feelings. But then Lucy makes friends with new girl, Ernessa. At first it seems like nothing more than jealousy, but things begin to turn dark as the narrator develops an increasingly unhealthy obsession with Lucy and Ernessa. She begins to suspect Ernessa is a vampire who is slowly sucking the life force from Lucy. As the semester wears on, strange occurrences begin to plague the school, and Lucy becomes mysteriously ill. This should be proof enough that the narrator is correct about Ernessa. But why can no one else see it? In the end the reader is left wondering: Is Ernessa really a vampire? Or has everything that happened been filtered through a disturbed imagination?

I admit it: The Moth Diaries completely creeped me out when I read it. And that feeling lingered long after I finished. I suppose it's because it's not about real actual monsters, but rather about how the mind (anyone's mind) can create them given the right combination of circumstances.

Recommended for anyone looking to get that "hairs on the back of your neck" feeling. --AJB


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Beetlejuice (dvd)

When October arrives, my first go-to movie is, of course, Hocus Pocus (because nothing says Spooky like the Sanderson Sisters and their insatiable hunger for the souls of little children of Salem...MWA-hahahaha!). But although there are no words for how much I love this movie, I'm not reviewing it for today's Throwback, because it would be a bit too obvious. Even for (and especially for) me. 

Instead, I've elected to review my Number 2 Halloween Movie, which is BeetlejuiceThis film about two recently deceased souls trying to rid their beloved home of the living is classic Halloween and director Tim Burton at his best. And despite its mid-80s special effects and over-the-top campy-ness, this film holds up amazingly well. And that's not just the nostalgia talking. 

Beetlejuice opens as small-town newlyweds leave their quaint farmhouse for an innocent drive through the countryside...and meet with tragic demise when their car plunges off the bridge into the raging waters below!! They return home wet and shaken, but otherwise all right. Or so they think. It takes them a while to realize they are dead. But if blood-thirsty sandworms and an ominously-titled book aren't clues enough, their BIG wake-up call comes when a quirky family from the Big City move into their former house and proceed to do some very bizarre remodeling. The ghostly couple decide they must get rid of these people at all costs. But when their "haunting" efforts don't amount to anything, they go against better judgement and hire a bio-exorcist, whose name I will not say a third time (because you know what happens when you do!), to get rid of these pesky mortals. But his methods aren't exactly conventional...or safe. And there are hints things will end badly for everyone unless he-who-shall-not-be-named-a-third-time is banished back to the nether-realms. 

So if you're looking for a Halloween classic movie that's not extreme in its scariness, try Beet...OOPS! (I almost said it) This film whose title I shall not speak a third time. Because whether you're re-experiencing this movie's awesomeness or are watching it for the first time, you're craving for a near-perfect Halloween film is sure to be satisfied.

--AJB

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Second Life of Ava Rivers, by Faith Gardner

See...the cover is so pretty!
I originally picked up The Second Life of Ava Rivers, a novel by Faith Gardner, because I thought the cover was pretty. I know, I know... That whole "don't judge a book" thing. And me, a supposed professional in the world of literature too. But I still occasionally base my book selections entirely on attractive packaging. More than I should probably admit. You do it too, so don't judge.

The story is a missing-person mystery told from the point of view of Vera Rivers, a soon-to-be college student, whose twin sister Ava disappeared without a trace the Halloween they were six. Since then, Vera's once idyllic family life has been turned upside-down: Her father now refuses to leave the house, instead spending his days hiding out in the basement playing a Sims-like role-playing game and searching the Internet for any clues that may lead to the whereabouts of Ava. Her mom has filled her calendar to overflowing with volunteer activities, charity events, and anything that will help keep her mind off the tragedy that happened almost 12 years ago. And her brother, who was supposed to be watching the girls that night (but wasn't) has been drowning in drugs, alcohol, and guilt. As for Vera, she can't wait to get the heck out of Dodge. She is counting the days she can leave her small California town for college in Portland, Oregon, a place where, hopefully, no one will know her tragic back story. A place where she can start over.

Then the impossible happens. Just days before Vera is scheduled to leave, her parents receive a call that Ava was found. And everything seems to match. Not only does the young woman look eerily like the age-progressed computer photo of Ava, but she knows things only Ava would have known. And she was even wearing a mood ring--just like the one Ava had been wearing when she disappeared. 

Inevitably, cracks begin to form in this picture perfect scenario. And something deep down in Vera begins to suspect this girl may not be telling the whole story. But that can't be right, because if this girl isn't Ava, who is she?

The Second Life of Ava Rivers was a bit predictable as far as mysteries go, but it kept me reading just the same. Short chapters kept the action going. And characters were so well-developed you felt you knew them intimately. And the feels! OMG, the feels! I did guess the twist long before it was revealed, but I enjoyed the story just the same and would recommend it. --AJB

Friday, September 14, 2018

They Lost Their Heads, by Carlyn Beccia

Perhaps it IS a bit early for the macabre, but it's also a bit too early for so much pumpkin spice*. So I'm just going to go with it.

You know what they say about life being stranger than fiction? Well the decidedly morbid content of They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington's Teeth, Einstein's Brain and Other Famous Body Parts is truly better than anything the Horror Movie industry could cook up. Here, author Carlyn Beccia has collected dozens of twisted and true tales of Black Market body parts**, consumption of vital organs, and other freakish bits and pieces*** from throughout history. Seriously, it's so fascinating you can't look away. There's even a particularly gruesome story about a man who had a 4-foot metal rod driven through his skull...and lived to tell about it****. Although it's true that he was never quite "right" in the head after that little ordeal. You'll find all this here and more. It's actually pretty awesome. Not for those with weak stomachs*****, but awesome nevertheless.

I picked up They Lost Their Heads because my curiosity finally got the better of me, and was SO glad I did. It was entertaining from cover to cover, and I actually learned quite a bit of odd factual info to add to my "Did you know..." arsenal. Such as what happens to peoples' tonsils when they have them removed (eww!), what's really in that seemingly-empty test tube residing Henry Ford Museum's Edison display (hmmm), and just how far an Elvis fangirl went to make sure her collection paying tribute to the King was the best (seriously-EWW!). 

I 100% recommend this one! --AJB



* Which, by the way, has already reached epidemic proportions...and Autumn doesn't even officially begin until next Saturday.

** Stolen, of course.

*** Literally and figuratively.

**** For more about Phineas Gage and his brain, check out Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science, by John Fleischman

***** And perhaps not the best thing to read (or speak about) during mealtime.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions, by Sophie Campbell

I've been a major fan of the Jem and the Holograms graphic novel series since Day 1. I loved the story arc, loved the new spin on familiar characters, loved how bright and colorful everything was... I loved how it made me view the so-called villains in an entirely new way and made me more sympathetic toward them. Like them, even. Maybe even better than the heroines of the story. I loved how the writers delved deeper into the storyline than the old 80s TV show ever did. I loved everything about this series. Everything! So you can imagine how sad I was when, as all good things do, it came to an end.

Or so I thought.

When I saw Jem and the Holograms: Dimensions sitting on the to-be-processed shelf, I thought I was imagining things. It was too good to be true! I borrowed it to read during break, and... 

Well...I was actually kind of disappointed.

Dimensions doesn't continue the original cannon storyline or even add much to it. Rather it is a collection of short unrelated stories, some decent while others could have been skipped over altogether. The whole thing had an almost fan fiction feel to it. What's more, several artists with drastically varying styles contributed, giving the collection an even more choppy feel. 

I'm glad I read it if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity, but there was really nothing memorable about it. But in hindsight I could have skipped it too. If you're a hardcore fan of the series, you may enjoy it, but I wouldn't rush out to recommend it. 

If you're still looking to fill the hole left by the end of the original Jem series, instead check out The Lumberjanes or Giant Days. Both are awesome! --AJB 


Monday, September 10, 2018

I Hate Fairyland (series), by Skottie Young

I hate fairyland #4
I'm not even certain how exactly I stumbled across the utter and complete madness that is Skottie Young's I Hate Fairyland series, but I'm ever so glad I did! The graphic novel series, which has just released its fourth and final volume, follows the misadventures of Gert as she does anything and everything she can do to escape the technicolor, candy-coated madness that is Fairyland.

Once upon a time, some 30-odd years ago, Gert was a carefree and innocent little girl, skipping happily among the daisies, when she accidentally stumbled into Fairyland. Like all children who happen upon these circumstances, the kindly Queen Cloudia gave Gert a quest to complete in exchange for safe return to her life back on Earth. But unlike most children, Gert failed rather spectacularly at said quest and therefore has been trapped in Fairyland. For some 30-odd years. And her body hasn't aged a day. Her mind, though...that's another story. To explain much more would spoil a whole lot of the plot, so I'll leave it at this: Gert is now stark-raving bonkers.

The first three volumes of I Hate Fairyland are gratuitously colorful, darkly grotesque, and absolutely hilarious, and leaves readers with a constant "OMG I can't believe that just happened" sort of feeling. Throughout are all sorts of nods to well-known fairy tale characters and popular culture references. I Hate Fairyland may not be for the faint of heart, but it's absolutely and 100% awesome!

Coming soon to a library near you (OK, this library): The fourth and final volume details what happens to the cast of characters after Gert is unceremoniously taken out by a rogue lollipop...just as she is finally on the verge of a VERY long-awaited victory. And reader, you will be shocked to learn that Fairyland now faces worse threats than anything Gert could ever dish out. Will there be a happily ever after after all? I'm as excited as the rest of you to find out! --AJB



Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Truth Lies Here, by Lindsey Klingele

The weather is cooling off (well...sort of), the leaves are beginning to change color, and Pumpkin Spice is reaching epidemic proportions. It is around this time of year when I stop wanting to read fun, beachy stories and begin to reach for those that are more dark and suspenseful. Witches, Aliens, and Ghosts...oh, my! Bring it on!

The Truth Lies Here, the third book by Lindsey Klingele sounded perfect. Who can argue with unexplained phenomenon, missing persons, and, BONUS!, set in Michigan (so a local twist)? The story opens when Penny, a hard-nosed skeptic, returns to the small town of Bone Lake for the summer and discovers her father has forgotten to pick her up from the airport. It isn't unusual for her dad, who makes a living writing about Bigfoot and Alien Abduction for a local tabloid, to get caught up in a story. So this wouldn't be the first time he flaked out on a commitment. At first Penny is angry, but when her dad fails to show after several days, she begins to worry. Turns out Dad isn't the first to go missing. Two teenagers recently vanished without a trace. And then there was that hiker's body discovered in the woods, burned beyond recognition. Plus strange lights have been sighted in the area. And those ominous-looking men in black suits patrolling the area. And the locals won't talk about any of it (and act zombified if any of it gets brought up). Something strange is definitely afoot in the town of Bone Lake... And it's up to Penny to unravel the mystery.

The Truth Lies Here had the feel of a scary Teen movie from the 1990's (think I Know What You Did Last Summer or even X-Files), and it was incredibly fun to read. A bit predictable, but fun. I'd absolutely recommend it! --AJB

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Every Day (DVD)

When we get a request for an item, we usually try to order it for the collection (if it sounds like something that will circulate well). This is especially the case when we get multiple requests for said item. But when we get an unusual number of requests for the same thing over the course of several weeks... Well, that's when it gets personal. That's when "We should probably order this for the library" becomes "I need to check this thing out for myself!" Because I need to see for myself what appeal of the item. 

This was the case with the movie adaption of Every Day by David Levithan. Since its DVD release earlier this summer, we'd probably gotten no fewer than a baker's dozen requests. The demand was so great it seemed to be shaping up to be the New Twilight. Fortunately it had been ordered and was on the way.

And yesterday I finally got the chance to watch the movie for myself. I'd read the book several years ago and remember enjoying it. But I'm sorry to say the movie did not hold up to the hype surrounding it. Every Day, if you recall, is the story of "A," a wandering spirit-soul sort of being that wakes up in a different body every day. Up until this point, A has tried to remain inconspicuous and do as little damage to the host's life as possible. But then A wakes in the body of Justin, boyfriend to Rhiannon (and kind of a jerk). A falls for Rhiannon and starts bending and breaking each and every rule to be with her. It's one of those bittersweet star-crossed romances you know is doomed from the start, but you still want to root for them anyway.

I'm sorry to say the concept did not translate well to film. At all.

First: It was very difficult to get behind A's character because he/she/it/whatever kept changing appearances. And then there was this creepy vibe surrounding the character that wasn't so obvious in the book, but was very obvious in the movie. In watching the movie, I found I didn't like either A or Rhiannon. 

Second: Key characters and situations were left out of the film. Including the main antagonist who, in the book, stalked and threatened A for most of the story. The film attempted to make up for this slight by adding characters and drama not in the book, but none of this furthered the story. If anything, it took away from it.

Last and Most of All: The film was boring. It was nothing more than a montage of first meetings. There was no action. There was no conflict. And there was no satisfying resolution. Just "Hello, I'm Samantha today. Let's hang out" or "Hello, I'm George today, let's hang out." Snore. It literally took me four hours to watch this movie, because I kept pausing it to do other things (fold laundry, play with the cats, check social media, etc.)

I admit I am seriously disappointed. After all those requests, after all that hype, I was expecting and hoping for something amazing. Or at least a sweet, lighthearted story. Even something fun. Instead I got one of the most boring movies ever. 

I'm sure the film will circulate. After all, the book was very popular. And I hear the author is planning to publish a sequel later this year. And I'm also sure there are people who will love this movie. It just wasn't for me. --AJB


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding


For reasons unexplained, a large number of English school boys suffer from a plane accident causing them to get stranded in an uninhibited island. It appears that any adults on the plane have perished, leaving the boys on their own. Trying to be civilized, they elected a leader and started the division of tasks and jobs to ensure their survival. They build shelter for themselves and some of the boys stay on fire duty, while other act as food gathers, or animal hunters. What starts out like an adventure/survival story slowly turns into a tale of terror and evil.

The younger boys start having nightmares and fears in the night about a beast on the island with them who lurks within the forest. Could they be as alone as they thought they were? Eventually, their civilization crumbles and the group becomes controlled by fear. One extremely disturbing night changes it all and the boys themselves are at war with each other.

Somehow, this was my first time reading this classic! It takes place on the brink of World War II, which could be symbolic for the war that the boys on the island begin with one another. The only thing I did not personally like about this book was that some of the dialog in the beginning felt like it dragged a little, but once you work past it-HOLY MOLY IS THIS BOOK TERRIFYING. I partly listened to the audio-book (read by Mr. William Golding himself) and partly read in physical book form when Mr. Golding was not reading fast enough for my level of NEEDING to know what happens! My page turner/nail biting scale was at a 10/10 once I passed the middle. We own both the book and audio-book in the teen area.

I would highly recommend it for any teens who like scary stories or suspense. Seriously, it will scare your socks off.    -mc

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Breaking Cat News, by Georgia Dunn

As a general rule, I typically try to avoid the news whenever possible, finding it too filled with Drama Queens, Dooms-Dayers, and mean, unpleasant people whining about other mean, unpleasant people. All of that is about as appealing to me as being forced to down a plate of overcooked, week-old broccoli (and I hate broccoli). Plus, having spent 10 years in the newspaper business, I know that all news reports are biased. Even when reporters try not to, it's impossible for said reporter to not put their own spin on things.

But I gladly made an exception for Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats, by Georgia Dunn

A coworker first introduced me to Breaking Cat News (the webcomic) about a year ago, and I was instantly hooked! Lupin, Elvis, and Puck are three adorable house cats who do daily news reports on what's really important: The Red Dot, The Buzzy Mouse, Bacon, the mysterious and curious actions of the humans with whom they live, and more. The "news" reports delivered by these felines are insightful and hilarious (and sometimes heartwarming), and I enjoyed reading the News for perhaps the first time in my life. Because cats!

So when I learned that the webcomic had its own book... Well, of course I had to read it! (and recommend we order it for the collection)

Breaking Cat News (the book) covers the early reports, before field reporters Tommy, Tabitha and Sir Figaro Newton were introduced. But it is nonetheless genius and an overall fun read. I have already recommended it--twice! And would do so again in a heartbeat.

--AJB

p.s. Rumor has it there will be a sequel coming out early next year.

The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

A little over a week ago, I purchased a new (used) car. Unlike my former ride, which allowed me to synch my phone and listen to tunes from my iTunes library, this car only has a CD player. But I've found that this is not a bad thing at all. Because since I have rediscovered the magic that is Books on CD, something of which OPL has an abundance. 

Recently I picked up the audio version of Neil Gaiman's short story The Sleeper and the Spindle. Narrated by a full cast, this twist on the Sleeping Beauty tale is absolutely gorgeous! It tells the story of a young queen (listener, I leave it to you to figure out who she is) and her three dwarf companions who travel to a distant kingdom to unravel the mystery of a terrible sleeping sickness that has been sweeping over the land. The four travelers brave many dangers and must fight the sleep themselves. And finally, once inside the castle where the enchantment began, they learn that the myth of the sleeping princess is nothing like they thought. 

I'd read The Sleeper and the Spindle years ago when it was featured in a book of short stories. And I didn't remember much about it other than The Kiss caused much controversy and buzz among the literary community (because, after all, it is a woman, not a prince, who administers the kiss that wakes the princess. Things were not so open-minded then as they are now). So it was like re-discovering the story, the characters, the world-building...everything. The story itself was a magical enchantment, and the audio format only made it more so. What's more, I was able to listen to the story in its entirety within one round trip to work and back.

I absolutely recommend this one! --AJB

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Little Mermaid (DVD)

I've been on an animated movie kick lately. Of course I've always been a fan from the time I was a kid, be it Disney or Dreamworks or Don Bluth or something else. I've even been known to dabble in Anime now and then. Particularly the films of Studio Ghibli (When Marnie Was There is a favorite). I've just always had an appreciation for animation. The medium lends itself especially well to the fantasy genre where live action just couldn't hack it--even with the aid of computer graphics. 

Recently, I was in the mood for something animated. So I visited the New Movie shelf before I left for the day. I knew we'd just gotten in a bunch of such films and I figured I'd grab one or two. I ended up with an Anime version of The Little Mermaid (I recalled we'd had a request for it just the week before, and I suppose that stuck in my mind and made the movie stand out among the others). Plus I like mermaids. Like them as much as I like unicorns, if not more so.

As the story opens, we meet Marina the mermaid, the youngest daughter of the sea king. Marina wants nothing more than to visit the surface as her older sisters do. But she's just not old enough yet. So she does what any self-respecting rebellious teen would do: She convinces her BFF, a dolphin named Fritz, to help her sneak out. While above, Marina and Fritz spot a ship and decide to investigate. And this is where Marina spies the infamous Prince. A sudden storm comes up and the ship goes down. Marina saves her royal crush, but swims away when a group of girls from a nearby school appear on the beach. Convinced she cannot go on unless she and her Prince can live Happily Ever After, Marina visits the sea witch to request she be transformed into a human. (don't know what she sees in the guy. he's as shallow as they come)

And here is where the story begins to diverge from the Disney film.

I won't spoil the rest, but do know this: This version of The Little Mermaid is very faithful to the original Anderson story (I'm always happiest when films stick to the source print material...aren't you?). It's dark and sad and has some truly creepy elements, but in many ways I actually found it preferable to the more well-known and Mouse-Approved counterpart. Character interactions seemed deeper and more meaningful, particularly the dynamic between Marina and her sisters. And the film didn't rely so heavily on humor from side characters. The most notable difference (other than the ending) was in this version the mermaid was on her own once she was on land. She didn't have an entire entourage of undersea friends to help with the whole "kiss the girl" thing. In that, she seemed more capable--even if things didn't exactly work out the way she hoped. Additionally, in this version, the mermaid's character undergoes considerable growth, maturing from a spoiled child used to getting her way into someone who actually thinks about what would be best for those for whom she cares and takes responsibility for her own (stupid and impulsive) choices.

All around, an enjoyable cinematic experience. Although I DO think I'm in the mood for something a little happier just now.--AJB

Monday, August 6, 2018

Giant Days: Extra Credit, v. 1, by John Allison

A couple years back, a coworker passed me the first volume of a new graphic novel, claiming I'd probably enjoy it. The book was John Allison's Giant Days and it was all about three college freshmen, each who is somewhat of a misfit, who'd become best friends. I read it and was hooked. Daisy, Esther, and Susan have become something like friends to me (don't you love it when that happens with books?), and I'm always thrilled when the next volume comes out so I can catch up with them and see what they've been up to.

So I was especially ecstatic when that same coworker passed me Giant Days: Extra Credit. And I devoured it on one sitting. Here are a series of short vignettes and bonus material, including an alternate history where our three heroines didn't become friends and another detailing the girls' drama-filled holiday adventure in London. Plus other fun stuff. The only drawback is I now have Extreme's "More than Words" stuck on repeat in my brain. 

While not part of the main series, this one was fun to read. And it will get me through until the next main volume comes out next month. Guess I'll have to wait a little bit longer to find out what happens between Susan and McGraw... 

--AJB