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

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Harry Potter : a journey through a history of magic.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY!

 (Today, July 31st, is good ol' HP's Birthday- if you didn't already know)

As a 90's baby, Harry Potter has made an immeasurable positive mark on my childhood and sometimes I cry just thinking about how much I love it. As a librarian, I adore being able to witness the continuing phenomenon of Harry Potter and seeing it alive in so many young hearts. So, naturally, this book made me cry a sappy Harry Potter cry within the first few pages. Reading Alice Newton's hand written report of how she (as an eight year old) felt about the book was the perfect introduction. I loved learning of the real (muggle) world history of magic that helped to inspire JK. Even if Harry Potter isn't your thing and you enjoy weird historical facts- you would still probably still find some of this book interesting. I especially loved seeing JK's beautiful sketches and pen-and-ink drawings of her characters. The early synopsis and drafts were also a good treat to read. This book was extremely well done for a non-fiction. It is engaging on every page. I would recommend it to any HP fan.



This book is actually located in the Non Fiction area of the Youth department at our library, but it can be enjoyed by all ages. Find it under call number (J 001B)    -MC


Friday, July 27, 2018

Wild Blue Wonder, by Charlie Sorosiak

Charlie Sorosiak's novel Wild Blue Wonder has been on my radar for several months now, and I finally got the opportunity to read it. Which I did. All in one sitting.

This is one of those books that is nothing like you expect, but you enjoy anyway. From what I knew of it, I thought I'd be getting magical realism with a bit of romance thrown in. And while Wild Blue Wonder was both those things, it was much, much darker than I thought it would be. No lighthearted, beachy read here. Nope. (and if that's what you're wanting, look to authors like Kasie West and Jenny Han)

We first meet our heroine, Quinn, a few months after a terrible tragedy happened at The Hundreds, the summer camp owned by her family. Since, life as Quinn knows it has fallen apart: Her siblings aren't speaking to her (or to each other), her parents are constantly arguing, and everyday existence is extremely tense. Even the magic (yes, magic) that has been part of The Hundreds since the beginning of time has vanished. The worst part is, everything was Quinn's fault. No one comes out and directly says this, but Quinn knows it's true. 

no spoilers, though. 

Quinn's friends and the new boy at school (and possible love interest) are doing their best to be supportive, but in the end Quinn must forgive herself before she can move on with her life. Yep, this is one of those books...but it's very well-done! 

To be honest, I was hoping for a light, fun read. Especially following the intensity and heartbreak of The Museum of Us. Wild Blue Wonder was not what I was hoping for. And I wasn't prepared for the feels I got while reading it. But despite everything, I loved it and would recommend it to anyone. 

--AJB

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Museum of Us, by Tara Wilson Redd

Sadie's life couldn't be better: She has a wonderful best friend, an incredible boyfriend, trusting, classic-rock-loving parents who give her quite a bit of freedom. 

And there's George, who has been her sidekick and partner in crime for as long as she can remember. Together, they've explored fantastical worlds, traveled to far-away locations, sampled exotic food and drink, and had just about any sort of adventure one could dream of. Sadie can talk to George about anything. And he understands her better than anyone.

The's only one problem: George is only a figment of Sadie's very active imagination. And it is this imagination that gets her into trouble. 

When Sadie spaces out while driving and totals her car, she doesn't even know what happened...until she wakes up in the hospital. And not just any hospital, but the psych ward. Apparently she was crying out for George when the paramedics arrived. And, of course, her family and friends don't know any George.

Sadie's doctor, concerned that George has hurt Sadie and caused the accident (or, worse, is out there and injured himself), is urging Sadie to tell the truth. But Sadie can't. Because if she does, George and the beautiful, magical world they've built together will vanish. And Sadie doesn't know what she'd do if she lost all that. If she lost George.

Tara Wilson Redd's gorgeous novel The Museum of Us is probably my favorite book I've read all summer (so far). Or one of them.

The novel alternates between the past and present, slowly revealing to the reader how Sadie created George (and their world) and how she came to be in the car on the day of her life-changing accident. Mixed in are flashes of the adventures she and George have taken together, so we get to see Sadie's imaginary world too (which, I agree, is quite a bit more exciting and beautiful than reality). This really gives the reader a chance to know Sadie's character intimately. 

Redd treats Sadie's issues delicately, but doesn't sugar coat anything. And in the end, she does accept herself and she does seek help for becoming more grounded (although I hope she doesn't lose her imagination entirely).

Perhaps the only flaw in this gorgeous story is the way the minor characters were handled. Henry and Lucie, Sadie's boyfriend and best friend, were too perfect: Attractive, talented, understanding, smart... They had no flaws. And, in many ways, that made them seem even more fastastical than George. And then there was Eleanor, who, at first, seemed important, but was "killed off" (not literally) in a way that made it seem the author changed her mind about having the character in the story but couldn't be bothered to go back and edit her out.

Aside from that, the story was perfect. I didn't even mind that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, much like an old-school TV show where all the world's problems are solved in a 30-minute span (roll credits, studio audience applauds).

I absolutely recommend this one! --AJB

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Guitar Hero Night

Guitar Hero Night

Tuesday July 24 @ 6:30-7:30 p.m.


Channel your inner Rock Star and play Guitar Hero on the big screen! No musical experience required, but be ready to have fun, play some mini games, and cheer on fellow guitarists as they rock their way to stardom. 


Oh yeah...and there will be snacks!

Friday, July 20, 2018

The History of Jane Doe, by Michael Belanger

Author Michael Belanger's debut novel The History of Jane Doe is a decent read-alike recommendation for anyone who loves the writings of John Green and wants something pretty much exactly like a Green novel (and I do mean exactly).

Raymond is your typical nerd whose sole passion in life is collecting obscure historical facts. Particularly those having to do with his town of Burgerville, which is famous for being home to mythical green cows. His life has thus far been boring until the New Girl shows up. Jane is mysterious, alluring, and has a tragic air about her Ray can't quite put his finger on. Her arrival seems like a miracle...especially when she picks Ray over the more popular choices to be her best friend and, eventually, her boyfriend. 

Jane becomes Ray's new reason for getting out of bed in the morning and the two have random and quirky adventures together. But Jane is hiding some Big Tragedy from her past. Something she won't talk about. And that secret is slowly wearing her down.

Of course it's only a matter of time before the truth is revealed and things spiral downward. 

I won't spoil anything, but I bet you can guess what's going to happen. Especially if you've read John Green's Looking For Alaska, which I was reminded of several times over the course of reading Jane Doe. In fact, this book was so similar it felt like a reboot of Alaska.

Unfortunately, Jane Doe wasn't nearly as good as Alaska. The plot was highly predictable and I easily guessed all of its secrets well before they were naturally revealed to me (and I promise I didn't peek ahead). Characters were more stereotypes than fleshed-out people. There was the Emo Male Protagonist, the Quirky Best Friend, and, of course, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl With LOTS of Baggage who became the Emo Male Protagonist's reason for living. This made it difficult for me to connect with, or have any sympathy for, any of them--even after the Big Tragedy was revealed. 

Overall, The History of Jane Doe wasn't terrible. It just wasn't anything new or exciting. It's been done before and done better at that.

--AJB

Monday, July 9, 2018

Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli

After devouring Becky Albertalli's novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and its film adaption, Love Simon, and loving, no, adoring, them both, I just wasn't ready to leave that world or those characters behind. And thanks to the author's spinoff Leah on the Offbeat, I didn't have to.

Seriously, you guys...I was so happy this book happened!

Leah on the Offbeat focuses on Simon's sarcastic artist/drummer-girl friend, Leah. The novel is set about a year after the events of Simon. And unfortunately, not all well among the friends: Abby has split with Nick, unwilling to attempt the long distance relationship thing when they go off to college in a few more months. And Nick is not taking the break well. Meanwhile, Simon, while still rock solid with Bram, is facing his own doubts about taking that next big step toward adulthood. And Leah, in the middle of all the friend drama whether she wants to be or not (try NOT), has her own struggles to contend with. Particularly when she unexpectedly falls for a certain classmate at the worst possible time.

Could life get more awkward?

The answer is, yes. Yes, it can. 

And it does. 

Everything comes to a head on Prom Night, but things actually turn out all right  for Leah and friends (I know, how very John Hughes of you, Becky Albertalli, but I loved it just the same). Another feel-good ending.

While I didn't get the same feels about Leah on the Offbeat as I did about Simon, I still enjoyed the book very much. I really liked Leah's character. While she comes across as tough and blunt (almost rude at times), she's someone who cares deeply about her friends and her family. At the same time, she's trying to find the courage to be true to herself. Leah is not always likable, but she's a very "real" character. Someone pretty much anyone can relate to.

I'm hoping Becky Albertalli writes more books centering on these characters. Or maybe make it so Leah on the Offbeat gets a film adaption. All I know is I'm looking forward to more good things from this author in the future. The hardest part will be waiting for that to happen.

--AJB 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Love, Simon (DVD)

Know this

I simply adored Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, so when I learned that Becky Albertalli's iconic novel was being adapted into a movie, I was excited. And maybe a little apprehensive. After all, how many fabulously amazing books have been spoiled somewhat by absolutely horrid film adaptions as of late? Too many, in my opinion! Did I really want to witness this happening to yet another beloved book? (Not so much)

(I'm not being pessimistic, blog reader. I'm being realistic)

Somehow I missed Love, Simon when it was in the theater. Life. You know. It gets in the way sometimes - lol.

So when the Love, Simon DVD finally, at long last, crossed my desk, curiosity won out over concern. Besides, I'd heard nothing but good things about this movie. So I watched it. And I was not disappointed. 

In fact... If anything, I loved the film as much as (if not more than) the book. First of all, the casting was stellar! The characters were pretty much exactly as I pictured them while reading the book. And the director & writers obviously had the utmost respect for the source material, because the film stuck pretty close to the book. Some liberties were taken, of course (liberties are always taken, no matter what), but those didn't interfere with the film in any way and, in fact, only enhanced my overall viewing experience. Much like the liberties that were taken with The Princess Bride and the Lord of the Rings movies. 

So the verdict: Out of 5 stars, I give Love, Simon a solid 10!

For those who have not yet read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda or seen the movie adaption: What's wrong with you? Only kidding :)

The story centers around Simon Spier, a likable high school student who has pretty much everything going for him. He's got an awesome family, an amazing group of friends, and is mostly pretty happy. Simon lives a fairly charmed life. Except for the fact that he's been keeping a huge secret (he's gay) from everyone.

And Simon is content to keep this bit of personal info under wraps indefinitely. Especially when he starts emailing another closeted boy from his school (alias, Blue) and, for the first time, finds the safety of common ground. Inevitablly, Simon begins falling for his secret pen pal. 

But Simon's secret may be out sooner than he thinks (or wants) when fellow student, Martin, happens to take a screenshot of Simon's emails and uses them to blackmail Simon to get a date with Abby (who, by the way, wants nothing to do with Martin). This means not only will Simon be outed, but Blue as well (whoever he is). Simon can't let that happen, so he agrees to Martin's demands.

Things obviously spiral out of control from that point.

I won't spoil the book (or the movie). But know that this is one of the most enjoyable stories out there. The characters are well-developed and likable. Even the hapless and annoying Martin. The romance is sweet. And the ending has enough happy feels to brighten even the worst day.

I adored it! (both)

--AJB

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Big Water, by Andrea Curtis


The year is 1882 and Christine is aboard the Asia steamship, making its passage through the Great Lakes to Sault Ste. Marie. She is trying to restart her life on her own after the heartbreak of losing her twin brother puts a large strain on her relationship with her parents, who cannot bare to look at her. Chris does not know how to live her life without the person that has been there through it all with her. She does not have a plan about what she will do when she gets to the Soo, but the need to run away from it all is strong enough. She isn’t traveling alone- her older cousin, Peter, happens to be the heroic first mate who acts as a mentor to Christine. After a huge storm hits, the Asia steamship and everyone on it is in trouble.

This new teen book of historical fiction takes in a heavy breathe of survival story grit. That being said, this tale is not for the faint of heart. The sinking ship alone is heavy, but Christine’s heartbreak of the death of her twin brother, becomes incredibly intense after being surrounded by the death of the passengers of the Asia. Christine also experiences some intense survivors guilt since she is one of the two people who survive the tragedy.

Big Water is a fictional tale based off of the real story of the only two survivors of the sinking of the SS Asia in 1882 in the Great Lakes.

If you are looking for a nail biting survival tale of suspense, this is it! - MC

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Neverworld Wake, by Marisha Pessl

One year ago, Bea was living a charmed life. She was popular, she had amazing friends, and she had an incredible boyfriend, the boy all the girls wanted to date and all the guys wanted to be. Everything was perfect. Until Jim's mysterious (and accidental?) death, that is. 

That's when everything fell apart.

Today Bea is a different person. Her grades have dropped, her friends have drifted away, and she spends her free time working at her parents' restaurant and trying not to think too much about the past.

Then comes an invitation from Whitley Lansing. Whitley tells Bea that the friends are reuniting for the weekend at Wincroft Estate. And against her better judgment, Bea attends. She finds everything and everyone the same, but senses there's something very wrong. Something no one is talking about. 

Then, following a near-miss car accident, a mysterious stranger arrives at the door. He tells the five teens that they are all lingering between life and death, caught in an endless loop where they are doomed to live out the same day over and over again. There is only one way to break the loop: Each day, they must vote on who lives and who dies. 

The vote must be unanimous. 

And there can only be one survivor.

(You can guess how well that plays out)

At first no one believes the Stranger and everyone goes their separate ways. But again and again they wake to find themselves back at Wincroft, repeating the same day. Some use these repetitions to do what they want without consequence, but Bea begins to look into why she and her friends are stuck in time. She suspects it has something to do with the circumstances surrounding Jim's death. Unfortunately, this is something no one will talk about.

Neverworld Wake, the first YA novel by Marisha Pessl, reminded me of a cross between We Were Liars (Lockhart) and Before I Fall (Oliver). In the best possible way! The author did a fantastic job with character development in that I didn't much like any of the characters but, as I got to know them, I became sympathetic with each and every one of them. I understood their motivations for how they behaved and why they did what they did. The plot was highly suspenseful and hauntingly strange. It kept me guessing right until the end. And, for the most part, I didn't see the twists and turns coming until they were upon me. 

That's all I'm going to say. This is the sort of book that's best read if you don't know too many spoiler-y things. In fact, the less you know going into it, the better. (I've probably already said too much)

Just read it!

You know you want to!

-AJB

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi


Zelie’s mother was a powerful maji, who was killed by the royal guards during the raid because of her ability to perform magic. At the kings command, all of the maji were ordered to to be killed in attempt to wipe out magic from the land forever. Their children, "diviners" marked with bright white hair, are spared since their magic was not supposed to reveal itself until they’re older. Without the maji, the diviners are doomed to never acquire their powers. Magic becomes a thing of the past. Almost a legend. Diviners are treated like animals, having to pay higher taxes which causes some to be forced into selling themselves into slavery. The diviners, who are referred to as "maggots", live in fear as they are also frequent victims and survivors of violent crime. They would dye or cut their hair to conceal their identities as diviners, but the white strands repeal all methods of remaining hidden.


Many years later, an artifact resurfaces that possesses the ability to give magic back to any diviners who touch it. Orisha’s rebel of a princess, Amari, escapes the castle with the stolen artifact with the help of Zelie. Teaming up with Zelie’s stubborn brother Tzain, they find themselves in an important quest to try to bring the magic back to all the diviners, “The Children of Blood and Bone”.  


Any teen will fall in love with the magical people from the land of Orisha. The diverse characters, intricate character development, and meaningful plot line will keep readers turning the pages until its over. There are also giant cats the characters ride on, so that is pretty awesome. Zelie and her cause to give the magic back to the diviners so they can stand up to their oppressors is both powerful and inspiring. This book is also told from 3 alternating points of view every chapter or so. Adults and teens alike will not be able to put this book down until it is finished. I loved it. It is everything I wanted out of a 2018 fantasy novel and more.

MOVIE ALERT: In additional exciting news, the book is signed in to become a movie in development at Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions with the incredible producers Karen Rosenfelt and Wyck Godfrey (you know them from their work in movies like- Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Love Simon). Read it before it hits theaters! 

-MC

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling

This is a brief review of the Audiobook version read by Jim Dale.

Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts for his 3rd year there. The prisoner Sirius Black is on the loose. Harry, throughout the school year, is told he is not safe with Sirius on the loose. Later, he meets Sirius Black and learns the unknown truth about his godfather. 

PS You can submit a review too and earn a square/ticket on your Summer Reading Bingo Sheet!

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Overall, I think the audio-book "The Secret Garden" was an interesting experience. Usually, I don't listen to audio-books. But, I think I'd definitely listen to another one after this. Furthermore, I'd absolutely suggest listening to The Secret Garden because it is a classic story and it is almost like someone is sitting there and reading to you. Looking back on this, I now realize that I like audio-books, and without this square on my bingo board I would have never tried it out. 

PS You can submit a review too and earn a square/ticket on your Summer Reading Bingo Sheet!

Warcross, by Marie Lu

An ever-changing virtual reality world, bounty hunters, food delivering robots, a warrior of a heroine, a slice of romance, game-changing plot twists- what more can you want from a science fiction novel?!

Warcross is the name of a virtual reality game that changes the world. You can use it to escape to a virtual island in the sun, make a “better version” of yourself in your avatar, play the actual fighting game it is used for, or keep yourself logged in on your walk to work so anyone else also logged in can see your virtual pet dragon following behind you. The Warcross tournament is an event that is kind of like the Olympics. Everyone watches from around the world. The game itself is essentially capture the flag style, but set in virtual reality with amazing power-ups like being able to fly.


Emika Chen is an orphaned teen who is struggling in life. She has a job as a waitress, but is about to be evicted from her apartment due to a lot of debt. She also works as a bounty hunter for the New York City police to make ends meet and she escapes into Warcross on her off time. An experienced hacker, she attempts to hack into a professional Warcross game to try and make some quick cash. She is caught by the game creator, young billionaire and skilled inventor, Hideo Tanaka. Quickly, Emika’s life is changing into something she did not know she would be getting herself into.

This science fiction has some seriously stellar technology flares that Emika (as a hacker) can see as breaches through its security. Any teen interested in technology would enjoy this piece of science fiction that might not be too far off from our own world after all. As Hideo Tanaka says, “everything’s science fiction until someone makes it science fact”.   




This book will make you feel like you have entered an episode of Netflix's Black Mirror - MC

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Flight of Dragons (DVD)

Recently I recommended ordering a bunch of animated (and Anime) films to add to our growing DVD collection. Among them was Flight of Dragons, which popped up as an "if you like...try..." recommendation for one of the other films. The reviews were glowing and Fantasy films are popular here, so I figured we'd give it a try.

Over the weekend, I decided to check it out. And, despite the decidedly old-school animation, I was not disappointed! This movie was pretty fantastic!

Flight of Dragons opens with the Green Wizard expressing his concerns about the negative impact of modern society on the environment and, in turn, the repercussions that impact is having on the realm of magic. Before his power disappears entirely, he contacts his brothers the Blue Wizard and the Yellow Wizard. Together they determine a champion is needed to defeat the diabolical Red Wizard, who has basically cursed the world and humankind to self-destruct, destroying all positive magic with it and leaving in its wake a world of evil. Pretty harsh!

Enter Peter, a gamer geek from the 20th Century. We first meet Peter while he is playing a Dungeons and Dragons-like game with an elderly friend. Although skeptical at first (because this kid hardly looks like warrior material), the three Wizards decide to trust the wisdom of the Fates that Peter's combined love of science and fantasy is what is needed to save the day. 

The Green Wizard brings Peter to the Realm of Magic, but a spell goes awry and traps the young man in the body of a dragon. But the quest happens anyway. Aided by an aging knight, a warrior princess, a Hobbit-like creature, and a magical wolf, Peter does, indeed vanquish the Red Wizard. But it is his intelligence, not his sword (or fiery breath), that saves the day. This was a twist I wasn't expecting, but really appreciated.

Although originally released in the mid-1980s, Flight of Dragons touches on some issues that are very timely today, such as environmental awareness and accepting others rather than making war with them. 

Overall, Flight of Dragons was an enjoyable movie. I'd recommend it to fans of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Eragon, and other classic fantasy stories.

--AJB