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