Thursday, April 26, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Great stories don't always have to involve Grand Adventures or Epic Quests. Sometimes great stories are just about life and the ordinary magic that happens every day (if one only knows how to look for it). This is the basis of Lynne Rae Perkins' Newberry Award-winning novel Criss Cross

It begins with a single wish. For something good to happen. Something different. And soon. And the story unfolds from here.

It is the summer of 1970-something, a time before cell phones and social media, and friends Debbie, Patty, Lenny, and Hector are poised to discover the meaning of life, the universe, everything. Or at least that's what each teen is hoping for. What really happens is life: Events, choices, actions, decisions. And all those things lead to other things. Snapshots of moments, ordinary and extraordinary. And these moments strung together is what makes the story so amazing.

How ironic is it that the very thing I loved most about Criss Cross is what makes writing a review so difficult? After all, nothing really happens here (and yet everything does). Criss Cross is not so much a story in the traditional sense. Rather, it captures a certain elusive feeling. Criss Cross is watching fireflies on a warm summer night. It is sharing with your best friend things silly and profound. It is the butterflies you get the first time you see your first crush. It is hearing a new song and instantly connecting with it. Criss Cross is the best kind of magic. The sort you don't need a wand or special words to conjure.    
I'll admit it: Criss Cross is not for everyone. If you want a lot of heart-pounding action or epic romance, you best look elsewhere. But if you're sick of reading about drama, love triangles, and all the ways the world could end...If you want a sweet, quiet story that will transport you... Well, Criss Cross is exactly what you're looking for. Read it! And I hope you'll love it!


Monday, April 23, 2018

Legendary Ladies, by Ann Shen

In the past 10 years as a teen librarian, I've seen a lot of trends come and go. This years most popular book can become next year's joke...or, if nothing else, a guilty pleasure no one will admit to liking. I've seen it happen. But the one thing that always seems to be popular is Mythology. Greek, Egyptian, Norse, etc. If it's about gods and goddesses, it's sure to fly off the shelf. We can thank authors like Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) for that.

So when I encountered Ann Shen's book Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You, I predicted it would be super popular. For one thing, it's all about Mythology. And BONUS! it also fits the bill for the recent reawakening of the Girl Power movement that has filled so many books with strong, empowered heroines. When I read about it, I knew we had to have it for our collection!

I just didn't realize how cool this book was until I flipped through it today!

Each page features a different goddess and includes a color illustration and a brief write up about what she represented within her mythology. But Legendary Ladies doesn't just stick with the more well-known Greek and Norse myths. Also featured are goddesses from Native American, Polynesian, Hindu, and Ibo (to name just a few). So its pretty diverse. However, there are several similarities among the stories. For example, the tale of Creiddylad, Welsh goddess of Springtime, is very similar to that of the Greek Persephone.

Overall, Legendary Ladies was a very interesting read. I think the teens here will really enjoy it! I know I did. --AJB

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Altered History of Willow Sparks

Willow Sparks is at the bottom of her high school's social food chain. Each day she and her equally unpopular best friend, Georgia, run the gauntlet of mean girl bullies, deal with unsympathetic gym teachers, and nurse crushes on boys who don't know they exist. 

Then something miraculous happens: While working her after school job at the local library, Willow stumbles upon a secret basement storage room. And in this room she finds a blank book bearing her name as the title. Attached to the book is an old fountain-style pen with the inscription "For Emergencies Only". Willow smuggles the book home and soon discovers she can re-write the parts of her life she doesn't like, replacing those parts with how she wishes things were. She starts with small things, like getting rid of her acne and a new designer wardrobe she'd never be able to otherwise afford. But as her wishes get bigger and bolder, other things in her life begin to change as well...and not necessarily for the better. Suddenly Willow's BFF no longer wants anything to do with her and her mom doesn't trust her anymore. And then it gets worse.

Maybe the Book isn't such a miracle after all. But Willow finds that the more she re-writes her life the harder it is to stop. There's only one person who can help her, but will she find the courage to seek him out before it's too late?

Like Willow Sparks?
Try this read-alike!
The Altered History of Willow Sparks has been on my "To Read" list for several weeks, and I was not disappointed. Although I pretty much knew what was going to happen from page one (predictable), I nevertheless enjoyed this book. Author Tara O'Connor's minimal but well-placed dialogue moves the story along and the detailed artwork does the rest. Willow is a sympathetic and likable character. Although she doesn't make the best choices for much of the story, she learns from her mistakes. Eventually Willow learns that cool clothes and being liked by popular boys aren't what makes her happy. Rather, it's her true friends and, even more important, self-acceptance that is most important. Pair this one with Lisa Daily novel Beauty and the 80s-era comedy film Teen Witch, all three of which center around the same universal themes. 


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles, by Amy Spalding

With winter seeming to drag on and on, I've been in desperate need of something light and summery and beachy. And Amy Spalding's new novel The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles was exactly what I was craving. I'm serious! This book was adorable! And a lot of fun!

Abby Ives feels like her world is falling apart: At 17, she's never been kissed. Sure she's had crushes on girls in her school, but they've never liked her back the same way (Not that she's ever had the guts to approach any of said crushes, but that's beside the point). What's more, she feels as though she's a constant disappointment to her skinny, health-obsessed mother. 

The one bright spot in Abby's life is securing the coveted summer internship at Lemonberry, her favorite couture clothing shop. Not only will this mean free clothes and fodder for her fashion blog, but it will be excellent experience for the career Abby someday plans to have in the plus-size fashion industry. What's more, everyone knows this internship usually turns into an actual paying job come fall. 

Maybe things aren't so bad after all. But then...

Abby learns she'll be sharing the internship duties with fellow classmate and rumored bad girl Jordi Perez. Problem is there will only job offer at the end of the summer. To complicate things further, Abby begins crushing on Jordi. And by some miracle, Jordi likes her back! When the girls begin dating, Abby wonders how she can feel right about competing with someone she only wants to kiss. And what will happen to their relationship at the end of summer when one girl gets the job and the other doesn't?

Maybe Abby won't have to worry about any of that. Maybe fate will decide things for her.

The Summer of Jordi Perez & the Best Burger in Los Angeles read like the script for a teen rom-com from back in the day. Perhaps something directed by John Hughes of Sixteen Candles fame. Abby is the perfect atypical heroine: Insecure, sarcastic, quirky, and completely oblivious to how awesomely cool she really is. I adored her! And her relationship with Jordi is very sweet. Even side characters come alive within the pages: Jock Jax, who is not really as cool as he pretends to be and ends up being the best sort of friend... Maggie, the frazzled owner of Lemonberry... Abby's circle of supportive friends who are there for her no matter what... As with any good rom-com, the plot is predictable and the issues resolve themselves just in time for the Happily Ever After ending. 

I enjoyed every moment of this amazing book!

(Also, it really got me craving a hamburger! With lots and lots of pickles...)


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

This book was a reread for me.  I read the first five books in this series when they first came out and I remember being absolutely riveted.  I wasn't wrong!  This book sucked me in and kept me there, sufficiently scared but also needing to know what was going to happen.

Tom is the seventh son of a seventh son and when he turns thirteen he is apprenticed to the spook.  A spook's job is to protect the county from the dark, from ghasts and boggarts and witches.  Tom is not necessarily excited about his future job.  He knows that the spook's life is lonely and dangerous but his mother, who seems to have the gift of sight, tells him that he is meant for this life.  Tom resolves to make the best of it.

However, he quickly gets himself involved with a girl who wears pointy shoes, something the spook has warned him against.  Now there are missing children in the village and a witch on the loose and the spook just happens to be out of town.  Can Tom handle it himself with just a couple of weeks worth of training?  What about when an angry witch gets too close to his family?

This book was exciting and scary.  However, it's definitely not for the faint of heart!


Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Girl Like That, by Tanaz Bhatena

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena is definitely a story that I can't forget. This book tackles a lot of tough topics and before I go on I want to say these pages do contain bullying, rape, and physical abuse and the author handled them very well.

First of all, this is an incredible read. To me, it reads more like true events than a fictional story and I found it tough to get into and then impossible to put down. I think it was hard to start because there are a fair amount of characters to meet and multiple points of view. Also, this is set in Saudi Arabia. Their culture, language, and traditions are alien to me, so it took longer to immerse myself in the setting. Honestly, I don't think it is possible for me to appreciate the full impact of this story, and that's okay because it wasn't written for me. That did not stop me from enjoying and appreciating Bhatena for showing me a glimpse of this world so different from my own. And I still could relate to a lot of what the characters went through because a lot of what young adults face is applicable in all cultures.

Zarin, the main character is such a tough character. Her parents both died when she was very young and now she lives with an aunt and uncle who don't always appreciate her presence in their lives. Zarin is also a girl who steps outside the boundaries, breaks  through the caution tape and defies the rules. I really loved her fire. Every one of the characters is unlikable and some are downright despicable. Except perhaps Porus, who is just the sweetest friend and protector to Zarin. The muliple points of view into each character's life was really interesting. I didn't feel like I got to know any of them really well but I saw important moments that influenced them. I don't believe that Bhatena ever justified the antagonist behaviors of the characters but she did show us just how complex each life is behind closed doors.

At the start of the book and even in the synopsis we know that Zarin is dead and then the story begins in the past leading up to the accident. I knew what was coming, eventually, but I was not prepared for the journey I would go on with Zarin. Bhatena flipped my expectations over, surprised me, delighted me and broke my heart. *JK*

Friday, April 6, 2018

Breakfast Served Anytime, by Sarah Combs

Gloria (Glo) hopes a summer at "Geek Camp," hanging out with other artistic types and studying the Secrets of the Written Word, will help her get over a few things: Namely the recent death of her beloved grandmother and the pain of an unrequited crush on an older boy. She's also struggling with whether or not moving to New York City with her best friend is still something she wants to do with her life (She thought so once, but now she's not so sure...). 

Armed with only her biting wit and her GoGo's copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, Glo  embarks on an what is perhaps the biggest adventure of her life thus far. Here at the Morlan College Program for the Gifted and Talented, she discovers new friends, new perspectives, and maybe a new love interest. But she also discovers some things about herself and becoming the person she's meant to be.

Sarah Combs' novel Breakfast Served Anytime is one of those stories that make you fall into instant bookish love. The characters are quirky and likable and the setting is so vivid the reader feels as if she is there, discussing the Great American Novel underneath The Kissing Tree or hanging out at the Egg Drop Cafe ("Breakfast Served Anytime"). There are no Grand Adventures or Epic Quests, but there's real life...and maybe just a little bit of the best sort of magic.

Breakfast Served Anytime is not going to be exceptionally memorable. Won't be one of those books that lodges itself into my mind and heart and becomes something I return to again and again throughout life. In fact, a year from now, I may not remember it all that much. But I loved this book in the moment, and for me that is enough. 

A great choice for fans of Emma Mills and John Green.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Water Memory, by Valerie Vernay & Mathieu Reynes

When young Marion and her mother move into the old cottage by the sea (complete with a private beach!), Marion can't wait to explore. But there's more to her new home than meets the eye. There are these sinister carvings all over town and a creepy lighthouse keeper who seems to already have an instant vendetta against Marion. Research leads Marion to a local legend of a cursed family and a terrifying sea monster who demands a sacrifice every generation. And if that doesn't happen, well...the alternative is too terrible to talk about. With the time of sacrifice fast approaching, Marion knows something must be done to stop the creature's vengeance once and for all. But will she find the solution in time?

Valerie Vernay and Mathieu Reynes' graphic novel Water Memory is really the best sort of adventure story. Marion is my favorite sort of hero: Curious, brave, loyal, and willing to do anything to get to the bottom of the mystery at hand. Much like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter or Mikey from The Goonies. I loved the seaside setting, and the plot kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed this book. The only drawback was it wasn't long enough. 

Definitely recommended! --AJB