Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wisdom's Kiss, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sometimes the people we least expect to become friendly with end up becoming some of our best friends (or at least no longer rivals). And sometimes the people we are sure will be more than just friends never take us out of the Friend Zone.

This is the premise for Catherine Gilbert Murdock's fun fairy tale adventure, Wisdom's Kiss, an under-the-radar (but WAY awesome) book from 2011. The story, which gives off all kinds of Princess Bride Vibes centers around Trudy (a lady-in-waiting with a special gift of prophecy), Wisdom (a rebellious princess), and Thomas (a member of the Emperor's staff). These three unlikely companions must work together and learn to trust each other if they are to foil an evil duchess's diabolical plot to overthrow the kingdom and crown herself Queen. 

The plot of Wisdom's Kiss is adorable, action-packed, and happily-ended (it IS a fairy tale, after all)...but the Happily Ever After isn't the traditional sort you might expect. I loved all three main characters and the relationships that developed between them, but the side characters shone as well. Felis was a particular favorite of mine and Escoffier stole the show without a word of dialogue. Also fun is discovering all the little Easter Eggs from well-known fairy tales scattered throughout. 

What really sets this book apart, however is the unique format. Rather than a straightforward narrative, the story is pieced together through letters, transcripts, diary entries, and the script of a theatrical performance. Sounds weird, I know, but once you read this book you won't be able to imagine it any other way.

If you are a fan of Princess Bride, Ella Enchanted, and Princess Diaries, you will love Wisdom's Kiss! And for a special treat, check out the audio, which is absolutely fabulous!

--AJB

p.s. Spoiler: If you've read Murdock's Princess Ben, you're in for a treat with Wisdom's Kiss! I won't say why, though.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

I've been saving Going Bovine, an award-winning novel by Libba Bray, because it's one of my favorite books to date. 

Cameron is a first-rate slacker and a nobody at his high school, unlike his over-achiever perfectionist of a twin sister, who is Miss Popularity and has the admiration of their parents and their teachers. Cameron could care less, content to slide through life without making so much of a ripple.

Things change, though.

Out of the blue, Cameron is diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease, which, last time he checked, is 100% fatal. The disease is quick-acting and has no known cure. Now Cameron has all sorts of regrets for a life not lived...and all sorts of resentment toward his healthier peers. Too bad there are no second chances.

Or are there?

Enter Dulcie, a punk-rock angel Cameron isn't positive isn't a figment of his rapidly-deteriorating mind (he is after all, the only one who can see her). Dulcie taps Cameron for a mission to save the world and life as we know it. He is joined in his quest by gaming-obsessed dwarf, Gonzo, and Balder, who claims to be a cursed Norse God trapped who is forced to travel the mortal realm in the guise of a yard gnome until he can find a way back home.  The three friends road trip from Texas to Florida, dodging evil Agents, Happiness Cultists, mad scientists, Spring Breakers, snowglobes, and an enemy so terrible one cannot look him in the face without meeting their doom.

And the reward if Cameron succeeds in his quest? He will get to live after all.

What could possibly go wrong?

I first read Going Bovine years ago, after hearing some minor buzz about it winning a Printz award. Typically, I tend to end up disliking over-hyped books (or at the very least being disappointed by them), but this is the one rare exception. I loved it! Still love it. The premise is so unique, the characters (and character arcs) are well-developed, and the whole package is a mixture of all kinds of feels...from laugh out loud humor to gut-punch "did that just happen?" situations. It's a road trip book, a friendship book, a book that stays with you long after you finish it. This book is perfection. Or as close to it as can be found.

If you plan to read Going Bovine (and I highly recommend you do), here's a tip: Pay attention to small details early on, as they may be important later. 

--AJB

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lumberjanes (Graphic Novel Series)

I can't blog about Friendship Books and NOT mention Lumberjanes, a fabulous graphic novel series about five friends who meet at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types (yes, I'm serious, that's the actual name of the camp) and solve mysteries involving mythical and magical creatures.

April, Jo, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are residents of the Roanoke Cabin. Much to the horror of their straight-laced counselor, Jenn, the girls just can't seem to stay out of trouble. Whether it's battling dragons or dimension-hopping dinos, resolving feudes between Yetis and Sasquatchs, or saving the camp (and the world) from vendetta-driven Goddesses, these girls are on the case. Sometimes Barney, an honorary Lumberjane, helps out. But they always succeed and save the day. You know why? Because they've got Friendship...to the MAX! 

Lumberjanes is a series I've been following for years, and it's absolutely adorable. Some issues are better than others, as is always the case with lengthy series (I mean, they can't ALL be gems, right?), but for the most part the series is right up there on my "favorites" list. And I always jump at the chance when a new issue hits the shelves. I love the Friendship Saves The Day theme and how there's always, always a happy ending.

To date, there are 17 Official Issues of Lumberjanes as well as a bunch of Special Editions, Spinnoffs, and Mashups. And two more are planned for later this year. So if you love it, there's plenty to keep you busy.

And if you love Lumberjanes and want something similar while you wait for the next one, I suggest Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir. This book is also set at a summer camp where strange and potentially evil things seem to be afoot, and it's up to new camper Elodie to figure things out before some really bad things start to happen.

--AJB


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

When things get weird, it helps to have a solid friend group. You know, people who have your back through thick and thin, family dramas, breakups and breakdowns, and always, always when the Zombies (or whatever) attack. When things get weird, friends will get you through.

And no one knows this better than Mikey. Mikey isn't The Chosen One or anything and neither are any of his friends, but his town has seen more than its share of strange happenings, be it zombies or aliens or vampires or whatever it is this time around.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness is a truly unique story about what happens to the normal, everyday people while (this generation's) The Chosen One is off Saving The World (this time)...and usually blowing up the high school in the process. Or maybe the local shopping mall. But even more than that, this book is about the importance of friends friendships when life gets crazy. 

Mike's mom is running for office again, meaning she's kind of an absent parent who is more concerned with how she looks to the voting public than how she treats her family. That is, she's kind of a self-obsessed jerk. This means Mike and his sisters are getting the short end of the straw in a lot of ways. Meanwhile, a group of immortal alien beings have landed and are looking for new host bodies among the town's popular kids, presumably so they can take over the planet and who knows what else.

At least there are good friends to make everything manageable.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is one of the more memorable YA books I've read. One, for the unique concept (because how often do you read a story where the main character is NOT The Chosen One?), but also for the characters, which are so fantastic you hate to leave them behind when the story is finished.

Check it out, y'all! I think you're gonna like this one!

--AJB  
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Thursday, February 11, 2021

"Summer" Trilogy, by Jenny Han

You've been waiting for it: A review of a straight-up romance novel. And with Valentine's Day coming up this weekend, I figured...Why Not?

For me, a good Romance must have a few things: 

1. Buildup

2. Crushworthy Feelings (whether one-sided or mutual)

3. Suspense

4. Satisfying Conclusion

5. Believability

Jenny Han's classic Summer trilogy (Summer I Turned Pretty, It's Not Summer Without You, and We'll Always Have Summer) hits home on all counts. Yes, they can be absolutely cheesy, but so adorable you can't help but devour them. Especially when you're in the mood to read about love.

Summer centers on Isabelle "Belly" Conklin, a hopelessly romantic teen who has been crushing on childhood friend, Conrad, ever since she can remember. Belly's and Conrad's families have met up at the same beach house every summer, and each summer Belly hopes will be THE summer she and Conrad finally get together. And the summer Belly is 16, she believes it will happen.

But wait...there's a twist!

There's always a twist...isn't there?

Enter Conrad's younger brother, Jeremiah, who, that same summer, starts to see Belly as something more than just an annoying tag-along. But does Belly see him that way? Maybe... if circumstances were right. 

Summer covers a span of about 5-6 years, where Belly's feelings toggle back and fourth between brothers.

The trilogy ends with a wedding. A Happily Ever After. How perfect is this?

But which brother will Belly finally end up with? Does she even end up with one of the brothers. Or does she (surprise!) pick someone entirely different? You'll have to read the trilogy to find out. And you DO want to find out...right?

Normally I avoid love triangles like the plague. A certain overly-hyped Paranormal Romance series kind of put me off them. But Summer is so cute I didn't mind the trope as much. So if you're looking for a cute, beachy romance (and who doesn't want something beachy this time if year?), the Summer trilogy is for you.

p.s. And if this review wasn't enough to convince you, rumor has it Amazon is adapting this trilogy for the screen. So read up now before these books can't be found on the shelves (because they're checked out)

--AJB

Monday, February 8, 2021

This Was Our Pact, by Ryan Andrews

Each year on the Autumn Equinox, the townfolk celebrate by sending lanterns down the river. Legend has it, if you follow the lanterns far enough downriver, you'll see them magically fly into the sky and into the stars.

That's what they say, anyway. But no one has ever actually SEEN it...until this year. 

Maybe. 

Ben and his friends are determined to find out what really happens to the lanterns. They make a pact that, no matter what, they will follow the lanterns to the end. No turning back. The journey will be long and potentially dangerous, but the boys are determined. Yet one by one they head home as comforts like tacos for dinner and warm beds call to them. Soon it is only Ben and Nathaniel, an arrangement Ben is not pleased about (because Nathaniel is SO annoying).

As the boys travel, they encounter magical bears, tricky witches, map-drawing crows, and caves that hold all the stars in the sky. It IS dangerous, but it is also the adventure of a lifetime. But the only way these two frememies can make it there and back is to put aside their differences and work together. And who knows...maybe they'll end the night the best of friends.

This Was Our Pact, a graphic novel by Ryan Andrews, is incredible and magical in a way that reminded me of a Studio Ghibli movie. In it, two boys who are absolutely NOT friends in the beginning discover maybe, if they take a chance on each other, they're not so different after all. And this is one of the things I loved about this story. I also loved the magical elements woven into it. 

All in all, a This Was Our Pact is a gorgeous story not to be missed!

-AJB

Friday, February 5, 2021

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

I've likely reviewed E. Lockhart's novel We Were Liars in the past (maybe when it was first published (2014)?), but it's a perfect example of the sort of book I wanted to review today. Besides, I promised you a twist, and, with this book, a twist you'll get!

We Were Liars is not your traditional romance novel, although it does deal with the strong, and often irrational, power that comes with First Love. Mainly, it is a mystery story where the narrator, a 17-year-old named Cady, is trying to figure out what happened two years earlier to cause her migraine headaches and spotty amnesia. Her family isn't talking and, each time she asks, they blow her off or change the subject. Her only assumption is she must have had some sort of accident that's so awful or shameful no one will bring it up. Because that's how her family rolls. They like to hide behind the false fa├žade of perfection. So... Sick of the lies, Cady returns to Beachwood Island, the scene of the proverbial "crime" and a place she's avoided since that summer, to see if she can't get to the bottom of the mystery. Here, she meets up with her cousins and her longtime crush, Gat, all of whom she was supposedly with the night IT (whatever "IT" is) happened. Can Merrin, Johnny, and Gat help shed some light on the mystery that has become Cady's life? Or will they only bring up more questions?

We Were Liars was one of those books I read all at once. And it was also one of those rare books with an ending that totally surprised me. Because of all the possible scenarios I came up with while reading, none were correct. And that is the mark of a very well-written story.

If you haven't discovered this book yet...check it out! Just don't Google the ending. 

--AJB