Monday, November 25, 2019

Big Book of Little Kittens, by Hannah Shaw

Sometimes you just need to take a break from it all and look at cat pictures. Or cat videos, if that's your thing. Taking a breather to do such a thing has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to productivity. I can't site specific studies (although I'm sure I could Google you a few dozen). Just take my word for it.

This is why, on this Monday night, I picked up Hannah Shaw's (a.k.a. "Kitten Lady") book Big Book of Little Kittens. How could I not? Just look at that little darling featured on the cover! And BONUS! browsing a library book while at work counts as 'work', as 'keeping up to date on the collection', as long as I don't get too distracted by what I'm reading. I have to admit... NOT getting too distracted was extremely difficult in this case. Because Big Book of Little Kittens was just about the cutest thing I've read all year!

Shaw, who rescues and fosters orphaned kittens until they're ready to be adopted into their their "fur-ever families," uses this book to talk about her work with adorable little fluffballs. But the job isn't as magical as one might think. Raising kittens, sometimes ones who are just hours old, is hard work. They must be fed, bathed, helped to the bathroom...none of which they can do on their own when they're as young as many of Shaw's rescues. So lots of hard work, lost sleep, and commitment to the cause. Raising teeny tiny kittens is hard work and not something to be taken lightly. But it's without a doubt one of the most rewarding things out there, if you love kitties.

Of course all this info is enhanced by many, many, MANY photos of some of the cute kittens Shaw has raised. Of COURSE there are kitten pictures. Which is the best part of the book.

So stop by the New Book shelf and pick this one up. I promise it will make you smile even on the most Monday-est of Mondays.


Friday, November 22, 2019

September Girls, by Bennett Madison

Fairy tale re-tellings are HUGE right now, thanks, in large part, to Disney. Seems everyone wants a piece of that (mouse-flavored?) pie, meaning everyone is clamoring to get a jump on this trend before it goes the way of Terminal Illnesses and Glittering Immortals. This has the unfortunate side effect of making nearly every reboot published lately sound the same. Like when you eat something really spicy and everything consumed afterward is overshadowed by that spice flavor. It's all uniform.

And then there are books like September Girls.

Bennett Madison's Little Mermaid re-imagining hit the shelves a few years before the fairy tale re-tellings truly became A Thing. So it has that advantage. But it would be unique even if it were published today, at the height of the trend.

Dee-Dee isn't sure what she is. "Dee-Dee" isn't even her real name. She doesn't remember that...or anything else about herself or her life before she crawled from the waves onto that Outer Banks beach. All she knows is she, and all the countless Girls like her, are cursed. The specifics of that curse are foggy, but there are certain rules they must all follow: 

1. They are spit from the ocean upon their 16th birthday. And they have until they turn 21 to break the curse, which is harder than one might imagine. If they fail, they must return to the ocean (see rule 3). If they get lucky and do break the curse, they are free. Most fail.

2. They must adopt a certain appearance (blonde, beautiful...identical) and a certain demeanor (shallow, flirty, unable to speak unless spoken to first).

3. They must stay close the ocean from which they came, but if they enter the water they will drown.

4. They will begin to forget everything they need to know as soon as they set foot on land for the first time. 

Sam escapes to Dee-Dee's beach with his father and older brother, Jeff. Sam's mother recently left the family to go "find herself" and, since then, things at home have been getting steadily worse for the three men. None of the guys begin the story very keen on women and have operating under quite a bit of resentment and false beliefs. This begins to slowly change when Sam and Jeff meet Dee-Dee and Dee-Dee's older "sister", Kristle, and learn about the curse (and the magic) happening at that beach. And, as she gets to know Sam and know herself, things change for Dee-Dee too. 

Unlike many of the re-tellings out there, September Girls is no light-hearted bit of fluff (I've often told people I recommend it to that this is not a "kissing book"). Rather, it dives deep to put a unique spin on Anderson's mermaid story and brings to light what that story has always been to me: A commentary on how society typically (and falsely) views women (pretty, silent, submissive) and a cautionary tale about leaving/being forced to leave home for all the wrong reasons. It's a story about identity, about becoming who you're supposed to be rather than what you think is expected of you, and fully accepting yourself for who you really are. It is a story I interpreted as being decidedly feminist. September Girls is disturbing and gorgeous and will stick with you long after you've put it aside. You will either absolutely love it or passionately hate it. There will be no middle ground with this one.

As for me... Of course I loved it! It's one of my favorites. And I encourage you to give it a try.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu

Ok... so Halloween was a few weeks back, but for me it's always an excellent time for a Witch Story. Especially when it's as adorable as Mooncakes, the newest graphic novel by Wendy Xu.

Teen witch Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps them run Black Cat Books and Cafe, which is not your typical bookstore, which sells everything from ordinary bestsellers to special collection magic books. Like would any girl with special powers, Nova's struggling to balance her magic life with her ordinary life. But of course that's not always the easiest thing to do (if it was, there wouldn't be a story). Especially when her childhood crush, Tam Lang, who just happens to be a werewolf, rolls back into town. Nova couldn't be happier. And, as it turns out, Tam reciprocates her feelings. This has all the setup for a super cute magical romance story.

But there's dark supernatural forces afoot.

A cult of evil witches who would like nothing more to harness Tam's wolf magic for their own purposes. And Tam and Nova (and the grandmothers) are the only ones who can stop them.

Mooncakes is fun to read. Reminded me a lot of Lumberjanes, actually. With a a bit of Scooby-Doo feels too, because the villain would have gotten away with it too if not for those meddling kids and their dog...I mean werewolf. Also, if you pay attention to clues throughout the story, you can guess who the bad guy is before they're 'unmasked'. But still, a cute story.


Friday, November 15, 2019

For Fun Friday: How I Paid For College, by Marc Acito

With all the recent books about Serious Topics, Worldly Issues, and Warrior Princesses so hardcore they'd make Katniss Everdeen (of Hunger Games fame) shudder with fear, sometimes you just need a book that's nothing but FUN!

This book is How I Paid for College, by Marc Acito.

Flashback to 1983. Edward Zanni and his BFF Paula are getting ready to celebrate their last summer before college. And they plan to have plenty of mischief and mayhem while doing so. This pretty much means hanging out at Aunt Glo's pool, putting the neighbor's ginormous Green Buddha statue in compromising positions, and sneaking into the local piano bar to sing showtunes. And once summer is done, Edward, a lifelong theater kid, is looking forward to attending the holy grail of performing arts colleges: Julliard. 

That is, until Edward's father pulls the plug on his dreams, refusing to fork over thousands per semester for what, he thinks, is sure to be a useless degree that will have his only son working low-paying, dead-end jobs for the rest of his life. Like, here's a helping of Harsh Reality... Do you want fries with that? Edward's pretty sure his new (evil) stepmother has everything to do with this. After all, Dadd-o didn't have a problem with Edward's school of choice before he tied the noose...I mean, knot.

So Edward decides he will pay his own tuition. But when the old fashioned way (um, a job) isn't working fast enough, Edward and friends hatch the Plan of All Plans. One that includes embezzlement, forgery, blackmail, and the impersonation of priests and nuns. There's plenty of cringe-worthy moments, hilarity, and hijinks along the way. And one of the most satisfying (if convoluted) endings I've ever read.

Fans of Becky Albertalli's Simon vs The Homo-Sapiens Agenda and Play Me Backward by Adam Selzer will love this one!


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Throwback Thursday: The Schwa Was Here, by Neal Shusterman

Anthony "Antsy" Bonano's new friend has a  very cool superpower. He can't fly through the air or melt steel with laser vision or have super strength or anything. He doesn't even have a sweet car. And he certainly doesn't bring criminals to justice. But he IS invisible.

Well...not legitimate invisible. Not like Harry Potter donning the cloak of invisibility or anything. But he can so perfectly and naturally blend in with his surroundings that he may as well be. So much that people often forget about him. They forget he's in the room. They forget he even exists! He would be a legend...if only people remembered him.

Wait... who are we talking about again?

Oh yeah... Calvin Schwa. 

Nice kid, The Schwa. Smart, funny, would do anything for a friend...

Wait... WHO?

I see The Schwa Effect is impacting even me, the reader. 

Anyway, Antsy decides to use The Schwa's ability to his advantage. Learn some secrets, make a few bucks, pull a few pranks... And The Schwa Effect works. 

Until it doesn't.

When attempting to break into Old Man Crawly's place on a dare, The Schwa gets busted. And now he, Antsy, and Antsy's whole existence are in jeopardy. because Old man Crawly is a very powerful, very grumpy guy. And he doesn't take kindly to being pranked. 

Neal Shusterman's novel The Schwa Was Here is today's Throwback Thursday feature. It strikes a balance between hilarity and heart and is just a fun read. And if you can't get enough of Antsy antics, you'll love the followup Antsy Does Time. The Schwa isn't in the sequel, however (or maybe he is and you just can't see him).


Monday, November 11, 2019

The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection, by Fran Kraus

So... you know how sometimes you wake up at 3:30 a.m. with a random, weird, and freaky thought in your mind? One of those thoughts you just can't shake and, before you know it, you're up for the next several hours worrying about it?

For example: What if jelly beans aren't really candy at all, but are actually giant spider torsos (but with the legs and heads torn off) that have been dipped in a colorful  candy shell and marketed as sweet treats?

Well... if you're prone to such night time thoughts, author Fran Krause's latest book, The Creeps, is definitely NOT for you! Because it's filled with all sorts of fears that are sure to keep you up at night. Here you'll find everything from urban legends to disturbing lies told by cruel older relatives/siblings to perfectly rational worries (these are the ones that stick with you the most because they could maybe actually happen). All fears are artfully illustrated in graphic detail so as to put that visual in your mind. You know, in case simply reading the text isn't enough on its own.

Bravo to Fran Kraus for penning pretty much the most disturbing piece of work I've read so far this year. I highly recommend it.

Now... sleep well, my lovelies. Sleep well. 


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Frankly In Love, by David Yoon

How unusual to stumble upon a romance novel...written by a GUY! I mean, these books are out there, but they're kind of not typical. Even now. Which makes this book stand apart from the rest of its kind.

All I know is author David Yoon must have watched A LOT of 80s and 90s Teen Rom-Com movies. Because the plot of Frankly in Love is pretty much straight from that era/genre!

Here we have Frank Li, whose traditional Korean parents don't want him to date anyone but a Korean girl. A super racist move on their part, yeah, but these folks are really Old-School. Remember that. They come from a different place/era. And tradition is a very, very big thing for them. Frank, however, is in love with Brit. And although this young lady is everything a typical parent would probably want for their son (smart, pretty, going places, etc), she is not Korean. So dating her is forbidden. Enter Joy, another Korean teen whose parents have similar views about dating as do Frank's. So what's the harm in Frank and Joy pretending to date each other as they pursue their non-Korean crushes?

Well, if you're even remotely familiar with teen movies from the later decades of the 20th Century, you know A LOT can go awry with this sort of setup...even with the best-laid plans. Just ask Molly Ringwold (Google her, people). Predictably, readers will encounter numerous cringe-worthy moments and A LOT of drama before these lovebirds get their happy ending. 

Yoon should have left it at that, though.

He tried to make the story much more than it actually was by padding it with 'serious' plot twists that came out of left field (and then went nowhere) and getting downright preachy about Frank's parents' almost too extreme racism. Among other things. further what was, ultimately, your run-of-the-mill Rom Com plot. 

Being that this is the author's first book, I'll cut him some slack. Not everyone can hit their writing stride right out of the gate. We can't all be JK Rowling, after all... However, I don't think I'll be picking up the sequel (because, according to official sources, Frankly In Love is supposed to be the first of a series...or at least a duology). I'm just not that impressed with this one.


Serious Moonlight, by Jenn Bennett

Have you had it with Warrior Princesses who (surprise!) still need a guy to make their lives complete? Are you full-on sick of books about Serious Timely Topics with Heavy Political Overtones? Are you looking for a story that's just a cute bit of fluff? 

Yeah, me too.

Even better if the story includes pie. Because everyone likes pie!

I found all this in Jenn Bennett's latest novel, Serious Moonlight. I mean, the plot of this book is the stuff of cheesy, 1990s-era Rom-Coms. Think Sleepless in Seattle. Think Serendipity. But with teen-aged characters. It's freaking adorable, people!

Birdie and Daniel first meet-cute in their favorite local diner and bond over their mutual love of pie and mystery stories. Even better, they both work the graveyard shift at a local hotel that is supposedly home to the reclusive mystery writer, Raymond Drake (although this fact is pretty hush-hush, thus the mystery). And Birdie loves nothing more than a good mystery! Both characters have Issues to overcome: Grief over the death of family members, chronic medical conditions, extreme painful introversion... But they find the support they need in each other (awwww). And now they have a real-life mystery to solve! So there's that too.

Did I mention there's pie?

This story is adorable. Not particularly memorable. And the plot tends to get pretty cliche at times, and the characters sometimes feel rom-com worthy stereotyoical. But adorable nevertheless. 

Also, pie!


Friday, November 8, 2019

The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns, by Sarah Laskow

So it's been firmly established that we, in the Teen Department, adore Unicorns (and if you haven't picked up on that you haven't been paying attention at all). So it's only natural that we'd add any and every book on the subject to our collection.

Well...within reason.

Which is why we are not the proud owners of The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns. So how, you ask, can an account about a so-called fictional creature be considered "true." Just ask author Sarah Laskow, who describes how this magnificent, single-horned beast first appeared in popular culture more than 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece. And things took off from there. Seems the masses were so enchanted by the idea of unicorns that they fully embraced the concept (can you blame them? I ask you...). And the world isn't letting go of the idea anytime soon. In fact, it seems unicorns are even MORE popular today than ever before. Because unicorns are everywhere, from books to movies to food (Unicorn latte anyone?). 

So if, like us, you too can't get enough of unicorns, stop by the New Books shelf and pick up The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns. You'll for certain learn a thing or two about everyone's favorite fantasy creature. And you'll be enchanted by the rainbow-colored illustrations (by Sam Beck). It's just too bad Unicorns don't really exist outside of the imagination.


Throwback Thursday: Beastly by Alex Flinn

I first heard about Beastly, the book that started Alex Flinn on her twisted fairy tale kick, back in 2007. I was fresh out of earning my MLIS degree and was invited to attend a YA Literature conference along with the then-Teen Department head. I recall I had to enter a random drawing to win this coveted opportunity (I also recall there being a bit of jealousy among the then-teen staff who didn't get to go)...


One of the workshops I attended was a showcase of Hot Off The Press YA Books. The presenter was excellent at book talks and I wanted to read everything I heard about. But especially Beastly. I'd long been a fan of re-spun stories and the idea of a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast's perspective sounded really intriguing. I was especially excited to learn OPL had ordered the book. I put a hold on it and, shortly thereafter, it was in my eager hands.

I was not disappointed.

I read the book in one sitting, completely swept up in the story of Kyle/Adrian and Lindy and how their relationship blossomed from mistrust to friendship and, finally (and inevitably) into love.  Had I been in a different sort of mood when I read it for the first time, the book likely wouldn't have resonated with me in the same way. Maybe I would have found it juvenile, the characters shallow. But it was a case of right book, right time. And I loved it. I still do...more, I think, for nostalgia reasons than for literary merit. But I do think it's a sweet story that I have revisited a few times since the first read-through. And it's far better than any of the other retold tales the author has penned since.

There are a few elements that seriously date the story and would cause today's teens to scratch their heads. Like the concept of a chat room, in which Kyle/Adrian connects with other teens under similar curses. And the mention of MySpace, which was THE social network back when this book was penned (is MySpace still around? I don't know). And I'm sure there are a BUNCH of elements that would cause today's critics to cringe and scream and stir up all sorts of drama (there is no diversity among the cast of characters, save for a very cliche immigrant houskeeper, and the female lead is pretty much a stereotypical damsel in distress).

Still, Beastly is an enjoyable story that I shamelessly admit to loving.

And it still makes me want fill a huge bowl with popcorn and re-watch The Princess Bride for, like, the millionth time.

p.s. The movie adaption is simply awful and you're best avoiding it.