Friday, October 30, 2015

My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Told in diary form by an irresistible heroine, this playful and perceptive novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the May Bird trilogy sparkles with science, myth, magic, and the strange beauty of the everyday marvels we sometimes forget to notice.
Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.
To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.

(432 pages; released November 3)

When I requested My Diary from the Edge of the World, I thought it would be a fun, fluffy fantasy I could devour in a few hours. I expected to love it (because, seriously - inverted normality! Dragon migration! Sasquatches participating in the Civil War!), and I did. It was just as fun and enchanting as I'd hoped, but it was a little more than I'd reckoned on as well. It was, in a nutshell, a beautiful, thought-provoking tale of love and family and forgiveness and death, tied together with enough humor and adventure to keep the most fitful reader interested.

Gracie's voice comes through so authentically, so perfectly, that I could completely believe that she really was just writing down her experiences in her diary. She reminded of myself at a younger age, and some of her emotions and experiences in the beginning of the book echoed similar ones in my own life (including a short stint with an injured arm - I wish my wrist injury would heal as quickly!). As I continued reading, I actually found myself drawing a lot of parallels between Gracie's family and mine, because the Lockwoods really reminded me of my own family. By the time they left Cliffden, I'd already established in my mind that I was actually Millie (because I think the way Gracie sees Millie is probably a lot like the way my sister sees me), my sister was Gracie, and my youngest brother was Sam. I was invested in the family, and I loved them all. I even loved Gracie's dad from the beginning, though he did annoy me sometimes. My father really is a scientist (like I said, there were a lot of connections to draw between my family and Gracie's), and he's nothing like the socially awkward, completely oblivious Mr. Lockwood. I get very tired of seeing the scientist always being portrayed as this strange creature so divorced from the emotions of the people around him. It's a rather gentle stereotype in the grand scheme of things, but it still does get grating after a while.

Sorry, short rant over. Going back to the characters, it was my close connection to the Lockwood family that made the ending have that much more of an impact for me. And I'm sorry I can't delve into that more, but I don't want to spoil anything for you. On one hand it's a beautiful, meaningful, perfect ending to a wonderful book that I connected with on a deeper level. On the other hand, I kind of (no, not kind of - really!) wish the ending had been different. And that's all I can say about it.

The ending is only the last twenty pages, though, and this is a 430 page book. When I'm absolutely in love with 410 pages of a book, I have a hard time saying I dislike it just because the last five percent isn't what I'd hoped it would be. I loved watching Gracie and her family experience the wonders of their world, coming to appreciate that it's not quite as hum-drum as they always thought of it as being. Later in the book Gracie makes some really poignant remarks about the people who live in the Extraordinary World (i.e. our world) - about how their surroundings are so amazing, but they are desensitized from it. Hearing that from the girl who thinks Sasquatches are ordinary makes it that much more meaningful, you know?

Do I recommend My Diary From the Edge of the World? I think so, yes. It's such a great story, I have a terrible time turning people off of it. Just be warned that the ending isn't quite as light and fluffy as you might think, and that religion gets just as messed around with as myths and legends do. I feel uncomfortable/unhappy with some parts of the book, but they're so incredible overshadowed by the amazing writing and incredible poignancy of the rest of the story that I still love it. My Diary from the Edge of the World is, regardless of all else, a very beautiful book, and I'm very glad I read it.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Oct 27)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is an ARC of My Diary from the Edge of the World by Heather Hepler, which comes out November 3.


Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.
(432 pages)

Here's this week's teaser (from Simon and Schuster, because I can't quote the ARC - click the link to read the first chapter):
The dragons have been especially destructive this year. People are blaming it on the weather: It’s been colder than usual, so the migrations started early. (Dragons hate the cold I guess, and I do too. I wish I had wings to fly to South America every year.) Last week one burned down the T.J.Maxx in Valley Forge (all those bargains literally up in flames).
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Class Dismissed by Allan Woodrow, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Class 507 is the worst class Ms. Bryce has ever taught. And she would know — she’s been teaching forever. They are so terrible that when a science experiment goes disastrously wrong (again), Ms. Bryce has had it and quits in the middle of the lesson. But through a mix-up, the school office never finds out.
Which means ... Class 507 is teacher-free!
The class figures if they don’t tell anyone, it’ll be one big holiday. Kyle and his friends can play games all day. Samantha decides she’ll read magazines and give everyone (much needed) fashion advice. Adam can doodle everywhere without getting in trouble. Eric will be able to write stories with no one bothering him. And Maggie ... well, as the smartest kid in the class she has an ambitious plan for this epic opportunity.
But can Class 507 keep the principal, the rest of the students, and their parents from finding out ... or will the greatest school year ever turn into the worst disaster in school history?

(272 pages)

I saw this on Edelweiss, and I knew I had to get my hands on it because I am a huge sucker for MG books about kids interacting in and around school (books like Rob Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Dan Gutman's The Homework Machine, etc.), and I always jump at the opportunity to read them. With Class Dismissed I especially loved the idea of a class without a teacher, and I couldn't wait to see how the kids dealt with all the responsibilities that came with keeping a classroom running.

I'll start with the negatives, just to get them out of the way: this is one of those books where I really wish all of the kids were just a little bit older. Because the kids are ten years old, and they act like they're fifteen. And I love reading books about fifteen-year-olds, so it wasn't a massive issue, but I just had to suspend belief a few times while reading about the boy and girl who were "in love" with each other, and the girl so obsessed with the future that she thought her fifth-grade track record could ruin her chances for getting into Harvard, and the super-shallow girl with the father made of money and the fixation on reading fashion magazines. Because ten-year-olds don't fall in love with each other (heck, I'm sixteen and I've never been on a date), nothing you do in fifth grade affects your ability to get into a top-tier school (unless you, like, killed someone in cold blood or something), and I find it very hard to swallow that a girl with super-rich parents and a penthouse suite would go to public school alongside someone like, say, Kyle - the boy living in a cramped apartment with his single mother and pack of younger siblings - and there never once be mention of any reason her parents aren't sending her to some posh private school.

Believability issues aside, though, I really loved Class Dismissed. It's got a great variety of characters, and Woodrow does a great job balancing the POVs so it never begins to feel overwhelming. Each of the narrating kids has their own distinct voice that makes them easy to pick out of the crowd, and I enjoyed reading about each of their personal problems, as well as the overarching issue of trying to keep their big class secret. My favorite main character was Kyle, because he was such a fascinating mixed bag: he wanted desperately to be the mature, helpful, successful boy who did well in school and helped his single mom take care of the kids, but he just kept getting distracted and messing things up. Watching his internal struggle as he tries to decide what sort of person he really is was very compelling. The play at the end was also fabulous, and I loved reading all of the really goofy stuff the kids kept adding and subtracting from the script. When I was reading Class Dismissed, I kept grabbing people and reading particularly hilarious quotes out loud. Luckily, they didn't get annoyed - my siblings thought they were just as funny as I did!

Class Dismissed reminds me a lot of Gordon Korman's books (fans of No More Dead Dogs, take note!), or of the Terupt books (but maybe for a slightly younger audience). It was a great read, and I highly recommend it to any kid looking for a book about school, friendship, responsibility, and history.

Actually, scratch that last part. I don't think any elementary-school-aged kids should read this until they know exactly how large a part George Washington's wooden teeth really had in the Revolutionary War (spoiler: even less than you think).



Disclaimer: This is an Amazon affiliate link, and I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler, 2015

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on Goodreads 
A delicious follow-up to Heather Hepler's smash hit The Cupcake Queen!
Former Manhattan girl Penny has quickly discovered that life in a small town is never dull. Not when there's a festival for every occasion, a Queen Bee to deal with, an animal shelter to save, and a cute boy to crush on.
There's a new girl in town: Esmeralda. She's beautiful, French, and just happens to be Queen Bee Charity's best friend. Penny hopes the arrival of Esmeralda means Charity might be too busy to keep making her life miserable.
But Penny doesn't have a lot of time to worry about Charity. Her best friend, Tally, has recruited her to help raise money to save the local animal shelter. Then there's Marcus, the adorable and mysterious boy who Penny thinks maybe likes her as much as she likes him. Plus, this is Penny's first holiday season as a "divorced" kid--although she has no idea what this means.
Can Penny help her friends save the shelter, navigate her new family dynamics, and get the boy, or will Charity and Esmeralda find a way to ruin everything?

(272 pages)

I'll be honest: this is the second book in a series, and I haven't read the first book. I don't really know what's spoilers and what isn't for the first book, so check The Cupcake Queen out on Goodreads here if you want to read it before my review. I don't make a habit of starting series halfway through, but I got an ARC of Frosted Kisses in August, and I just couldn't resist diving into what looked like the perfect end-of-summer read.

The MC Penny is fine, a bit of a vanilla character really, and I honestly felt like the other characters were the ones who stole the show. I appreciated the depth of Penny's worries, though, because mixed right in there with the petty school-girl pranks and fretting about her budding relationship with Marcus are some serious scenes about her absentee father, and about her realization that she can't keep excusing his behavior away. I don't know what happened between Penny's parents in the first book, and I'm not really a fan of divorce in general, but it's compelling to watch Penny struggle to come to terms with her father's parenting fails.

Trouble with bad parents brings me to Penny's best friend Tally, who may or may not have been a little over-the-top (okay, yeah, she was), but was still likable enough. I feel like Hepler probably wanted me to love her even more, but I just didn't really click with her. I didn't dislike her, though, and I enjoyed reading about some of the scrapes she pulled Penny into. I also appreciate that she was dealing with some truly terrible issues, bringing further depth to the story. What I didn't enjoy as much was the way she kept switching back and forth between being friendly and being mysteriously moody, for a reason that wasn't explained until Chapter 17. I think the decision to reveal it so far into the book was a bad one, because it made the entire novel feel more contrived and little bit like a soap opera. If she had just told Penny sooner, or been a little subtler about the whole thing until later, the entire book would have been much stronger.

As for Penny's love interest, Marcus has it all: he's sweet, he's kind, he's loyal, and he's motherless. Marcus isn't really "mysterious," though. I'm really not sure where the synopsis comes off saying that. He's not (unlike most of the other characters) hiding any big secrets, he's not brooding, he's not erratic. All in all he's a nice, normal, sweet boy and the only mystery to be found in connection with him is wondering why Penny could ever doubt his affection for her. He and Penny have a very sweet relationship, and I loved the way they weren't just "Boyfriend and Girlfriend!" with no room for thinking about anything other than impressing each other, and trying to find the privacy to have their first kiss. They were also just friends, and very good ones at that.

All in all, Frosted Kisses is a lot deeper than I was expecting. At the same time, it's still just as shallow. For the first 150 pages I had hope that it would, despite its flaws, end up a meaningful, original, stereotype-bending novel. It didn't - I mean, it had its meaningful parts and its fairly original components, but it also featured a few too many cliches. The mean girl is so shallow and petty I couldn't help finding her funny, and once or twice the action felt forced (like when Blake knew the answer to a question Penny had, and was sitting right there when she asked it, but didn't tell her because he "wasn't going to get involved." I mean, seriously?).

So yeah. I'm not sure whether I'll be going out of my way to recommend Frosted Kisses, but I won't be warning people off of it either. And if you think it looks good, then you should definitely give it a try! Just, um, maybe start with the first book. I can see Frosted Kisses being even sweeter to read if you actually know everyone's backstories.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler (Oct 20)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is an ARC of Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler, which comes out October 23.


Former Manhattan girl Penny has quickly discovered that life in a small town is never dull. Not when there's a festival for every occasion, a Queen Bee to deal with, an animal shelter to save, and a cute boy to crush on.
There's a new girl in town: Esmeralda. She's beautiful, French, and just happens to be Queen Bee Charity's best friend. Penny hopes the arrival of Esmeralda means Charity might be too busy to keep making her life miserable.
But Penny doesn't have a lot of time to worry about Charity. Her best friend, Tally, has recruited her to help raise money to save the local animal shelter. Then there's Marcus, the adorable and mysterious boy who Penny thinks maybe likes her as much as she likes him. Plus, this is Penny's first holiday season as a "divorced" kid--although she has no idea what this means.
Can Penny help her friends save the shelter, navigate her new family dynamics, and get the boy, or will Charity and Esmeralda find a way to ruin everything?
(272 pages)

Here's this week's teaser (from Amazon, because I can't quote the ARC:
When you best friend says she needs your help, you say yes. But when your best friend is Tally Greene, who has orange-and-red streaked hair (to match the autumn leaves); loves all animals to the point of obsession (even a prima donna albino vulture); and will do anything for a friend (including pretend to eat lard sandwiches), you might want to ask a few questions before saying yes.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Betrayal of Richard III by V.B. Lamb, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads 
In this classic work, the late V B Lamb and Peter Hammond survey the life and times of Richard III and examine the contemporary evidence for the events of his reign, tracing the origins of the traditional version of his career as a murderous tyrant and its development since his death. The evident grief of the citizens of York on hearing of the death of Richard III - recording in the Council Minutes that he had been 'piteously slane and murdered to the Grete hevynesses of this citie' - is hardly consistent with the view of the archetypal wicked uncle who murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, and there is an extraordinary discrepancy between this monster and the man as he is revealed by contemporary records. An ideal introduction to one of the greatest mysteries of English history, this new edition is revised by Peter Hammond and includes an introduction and notes.
(160 pages)

My dad is really into history, and he recently discovered something that is mega-cool to me: I am, very very likely (barring some uncertainty in the immigration records of the 1600s) descended from British nobility. We're descended from King John - the one who signed the Magna Carta (or, for you non-history people, the "evil prince John" in Robin Hood). Pretty cool, huh? That means that all of the current monarchs are my distant (very, very, very distant) cousins, which I think is awesome. It totally gives me an excuse for being obsessed with British royal history, right? I wish I could say that's why I wrote an English capstone project arguing on behalf of Richard III's innocence, but sad to say that was before I even knew about the connection. Oh, well. I'm a geek - I don't think my sort-of-relation to anyone would hide that.

If you read my blog regularly, my interest (okay, possibly obsession) with Richard III is not new. At the end of the last school year, neck-deep in research, I wound up writing a few rambling book reviews tying everything back to Richard III (like this review of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Claim to Fame - it doesn't get much more random than that!).When I e-mailed my finished project to my ex-AP European History teacher, she recommended I read The Betrayal of Richard III. I just now got my hands on it, because my library was so slow about purchasing a copy.

I disagree with the author on a few matters of interpretation, but he did bring up some interesting ideas that I hadn't thought of before. He pooh-poohs away my pet theory (that Henry killed the boys shortly after taking the throne) with barely a pause, but I have a hard time following his own suggestion. Something about the boys escaping to France and trying to secretly gather forces? At times Lamb's arguments become a bit circular (like when he suggests that Richard was so loyal to his brother that he didn't even want to take the throne, and only did so to prevent Civil War - this optimistic view relies on Lamb's assumption that Richard was a good guy, but he's using it as evidence for why the reader should think Richard was good), but he still does a great job bringing up all of the primary source documents we have to paint the fullest picture possible of Richard's life and death.

What I really loved about The Betrayal of Richard III, actually, was the richness of details. The first half of the little book traces Richard's life, from his childhood under a troubled regime to his brother's stormy ascension to the throne, to the great military feats he achieved while still in his teens, to his (by all accounts) happy and devoted marriage, all the way through his famous death during the Battle of Bosworth Field. Every single other detail I had to hunt down and pin together myself from various sources while writing my own paper are brought together in one place in this book. Lamb's conclusions might sometimes be slightly different from my own, but he's got the groundwork all beautifully laid out for examining the entire situation. I think I would recommend it on the strength of this research alone.

The second half of the book examines the controversies around Richard, and the way his name was maligned after his death. I found it really fascinating to see the tactics that Henry and his men used to blemish Richard's previously clean name, and even though I already knew most of the things that Lamb describes I still got a much clearer picture of how everything worked together. This is the section that possibly provides the most compelling argument of all on Richard's behalf, because it presents such a clear and complete picture of a process that would take even the nicest man on Earth and turn him into something from a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

Do I agree with every single conclusion Lamb comes to? No. Do I think he is rather biased in parts? Absolutely! But part of my research into Richard III has taught me that every historian has his own strong biases; no matter what anyone says, there's no such thing as an entirely impartial history book. The Betrayal of Richard III has a lot fewer strange biases than some of the books I read last year, and it certainly works harder to back each and every one up with as much evidence as possible. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in studying the enigma of Richard III and his legacy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2002

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on Goodreads 
In the year 2000 Melly and Anny Beth had reached the peak of old age and were ready to die. But when offered the chance to be young again by participating in a top-secret experiment called Project Turnabout, they agreed. Miraculously, the experiment worked -- Melly and Anny Beth were actually growing younger every year. But when they learned that the final treatment would be deadly, they ran for their lives.
Now it is 2085. Melly and Anny Beth are teenagers. They have no idea what will happen when they hit age zero, but they do know they will soon be too young to take care of themselves. They need to find someone to help them before time runs out, once and for all....

(240 pages)

I'm named after my great-grandmother, who was born in 1900. I'm actually named after two of my great-grandmothers (Marie, my middle name, was my dad's grandmother's name), but it's the woman whose first name I share that really captures my fascination. She grew up in a completely different time, on a farm in rural Missouri. She lived a fascinating life full of ups and downs, and died an old woman living on the same farm she'd spent her entire adult life working.

In some ways, Melly is just like my great-grandmother: she grew up in a rural village in the twentieth century, and she was one hundred and one in 2000 so she must have born around the same time as my great-grandmother. The big different between the two women, however, is that my great-grandmother died long before 2015; Melly, on the other hand,  made it much farther than that. She made it much farther than even my grandparents are going to get: to the year 2085. Rereading Turnabout for the first time in a few years, just as I'm becoming interested in researching my family history, I can't help but obsess over how awesome it would be if I could meet my great-grandmother. Meeting her when she'd unaged so far that she was biologically my own age? Even cooler. Just think of all the stories she could tell, all of the precious anecdotes and family stories. She could help me decipher my sometimes-confusing family tree, putting stories to all of the different faces. She could humanize the past with her own personal experience.

Sitting here typing this, I'm thinking that would be pretty cool for me. But would my great-grandmother have wanted to participate in Project Turnabout? I have no way of knowing - it wouldn't be as simple a choice as you'd think. Getting to live for twice your allotted time is great, but what sort of life would you have? You'd either be an anomaly to the world, living your life under a scientific microscope, or you'd spend your whole life running away from anyone and anything that could make you lose your secret. This second choice is the one that Melly and her friend Anny Beth make: to run, to hide, and to lie. They've spent the last eighty-five years completely on their own, with only the agency that initiated Project Turnabout to help them, and they haven't seen hide nor hair of their descendants in all that time because they're afraid it would be too hard to resist telling them who they really were.

I am a huge fan of Haddix's, and it's books like Turnabout that are perfect examples of why I love her writing so much. She takes an amazing story idea ( here it's an unaging scenario with so much potential), adds compelling characters with complex backstories and convincing motives, and sprinkles in some profound thoughts for the reader to chew on (in this case it's aging and death, and what exactly the consequence of avoiding them would be). She often also includes a really interesting setting (here it's her early-2000s view of what the world will be like in the future - including a scary-good prediction of voice recognition software), as the icing in the proverbial cake. So do I recommend Turnabout? That's a silly question, of course I do. The only real question is one that's been haunting me since I first read it years ago: could Project Turnabout ever happen in real life? And if it did, would I want to participate in it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Oct 13)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

In the year 2000 Melly and Anny Beth had reached the peak of old age and were ready to die. But when offered the chance to be young again by participating in a top-secret experiment called Project Turnabout, they agreed. Miraculously, the experiment worked -- Melly and Anny Beth were actually growing younger every year. But when they learned that the final treatment would be deadly, they ran for their lives.
Now it is 2085. Melly and Anny Beth are teenagers. They have no idea what will happen when they hit age zero, but they do know they will soon be too young to take care of themselves. They need to find someone to help them before time runs out, once and for all....
(240 pages)

Here's this week's teaser, from page 132:
Sad was such an old-fashioned word. Nobody in the twenty-first century was ever sad - they were depressed, emotionally unbalanced, incorrectly medicated. Sorrow was a disease that everyone rushed to cure.
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, 2010

Wait just a minute! This is the last book in the four-book Unicorn Chronicles. Have you read the first three? What's that, you haven't? Then please kindly hit the back arrow and get off this page until you've read the other books (my reviews of the first, second and third). Unless, of course, you don't mind having entire series spoiled for you. In that case, feel free to read on. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Readers will be on the edge of their seats with this concluding episode of the riveting best-selling series by one of America's most gifted fantasy writers.
In the center if Luster stands an enormous tree called the Axis Mundi, the Heart of the World. But now that tree is wounded, pierced through by magic. And through that wound marches an army of Hunters, led by the sinister and vengeful Beloved. And they are all determined to destroy each and every unicorn.
As the unicorns gather to defend their lives, the human girl, Cara, is sent on a mission to meet a ferocious and mysterious dragon. Faced with perilous danger, Cara must make a desperate decision that will change her life forever.

(605 pages)

Okay, wow. Just wow. When I started the Unicorn Chronicles, I had no idea what I was in for. It grows (literally almost doubles!) with every book, so that the first book was a cool 180 pages, and the fourth, final, book is a whopping 600. I'm still trying to figure out what happened. I mean, I can see this series being seriously awesome for kids who read the books as they came out: the books would grow in length at the same pace your reading ability did, so you could read a single series stretched out over your entire childhood, and you'd never feel like you were outgrowing it.

Reading it over the course of a few months, though, I'm hard pressed to find any other advantage. Except maybe tricking kids into reading long books by gradually weaning them with a series they're hooked on? I can see that as a great selling point for the series, actually: "Get your kids to no longer be afraid of big books! Give them short little Into the Land of the Unicorns hook them onto the series, and then slowly reel them in with longer and longer books until they're reading the MG version of Lord of the Rings!" It's like hooking your kids on drugs, except reading is legal - and, you know, actually good for your brain.

But then again, I'm not sure I'd want my kid transitioning from Into the Land of the Unicorns to The Last Hunt. The books don't just get physically heavier as the series goes on - they start featuring heavier material. Sure, there's no romance or walking dead or other topics that scream "YA," but there sure is a lot of violence in The Last Hunt. And I mean blood-gushing, head-crushing, unicorns-dying, really-gross violence. Violence that I had a hard time reading about. So I think the Unicorn Chronicles are dangerous, because they promise one thing in the beginning, but wind up offering something very, very different.

And that's not even going into any of the weird religious undertones that were scattered throughout The Last Hunt. I'd try to analyze them, but I'm still befuddled by the whole bureaucracy-of-creators thing.

But really, it's not like I hated the book. I spent a few happy hours reading it, and I really was invested in all of the different storylines. I cared about Rocky, and Cara, and Cara's mom, and the queen, and the centaurs, and the geomancer, and the dragon - and, um, all the other semi-random characters who got page-time. Whoever's point-of-view I was reading, I genuinely cared about (except maybe Cara's dad - I still don't like him). And in the end, I was satisfied that I had just read an epic-type book, full of adventure and quests and grand battles between good and evil. Did I question the way everyone assumed all Hunters were incurable monsters, after Cara's own father had converted from being one only a few months before? Did I get supremely frustrated at Cara's grandmother, the queen who spends literally two whole books not communicating with her own ex-husband about whether Cara was his grandkid or not? Did I question whether the entire centaur side-story was even necessary for the plot? Why, yes I did. But that doesn't change the fact that I did enjoy it well enough, and that fans of this sort of epic would probably like it much more than I did.

But let's be honest, if you've read the first three books in the series you're not about to stop now no matter what I say. Go on, track down a copy - it's like fifty dollars on Amazon, but if you hunt around long enough you can probably find a library system that has it.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds, 2015

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on Goodreads 
Atticus Hobart couldn't feel lower. He s in love with a girl who doesn't know he exists, he is the class bully's personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there's more to Mr. Looney's methods than he'd first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe just maybe discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.
(208 pages)

Hmm. This one looked a lot better in the description.

I mean, it looks good, doesn't it? The synopsis makes it look like a sort of mix between Dork Diaries (or whatever it's called - Diary of a Teenaged something, maybe? I don't read them, in case you couldn't tell) and the Terupt books (which I have read - and loved!). I always like a good coming-of-age story, and books about kids with crazy-but-super-effective teachers are kind of my secret addiction. So I snapped The Looney Experiment up when I saw it available for review - and now I'm wishing I hadn't.

Because for one thing, they swear too much. And fart too much. I get that Atticus and his classmates aren't little kids, but it's still a little excessive that they have to be using the A word all the time. And I can forgive some of the farting because Atticus' little brother is pretty young, but I still don't really enjoy reading about it. There's only so much family bonding over flatulence that I can stomach, okay?

And in a way The Looney Experiment is meaningful - after all, Atticus learns some very valuable lessons from Mr. Looney! - but it also felt pretty fake. I mean, we're basically told (and not shown) that Mr. Looney is this awesome teacher, but all he really does is really nutty antics that shock his students into thinking he could be someone cool. To be perfectly honest, I would probably have behaved more like Danny than like Atticus when they all made a conga line and danced around the classroom.

As for the girl - yikes! I feel bad, because I know that kitschy middle-school romances are part and parcel with reading MG these days, but I just couldn't really handle it. They're, like, twelve. I don't care if she's nice, she's still six years from reaching majority! When I was that age, I wasn't even thinking about romance, let alone crushing on guys or wanting to go out with them. Reading about Atticus' clumsy attachment to Audrey is cute in a way, but the whole thing just isn't handled well enough to keep me invested. I know it's possible for me to enjoy MG romances (just look at the Willow Falls books by Wendy Mass, or The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt - links go to my reviews), but there was nothing doing this time.

I just don't know. I don't know who I would give this to, or why, or when. It's got some great themes and messages, don't get me wrong, but there are so many other books out there that cover all of this same material in a more tasteful way (or at least in a way that's more to my taste). If it looks good to you, go for it - maybe it's more your cup of tea than it is mine. But I won't be recommending The Looney Project in the future, and I'm donating my copy to the local book swap.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds (Oct 6)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds.

Atticus Hobart couldn't feel lower. He's in love with a girl who doesn't know he exists, he is the class bully's personal punching bag, and to top it all off, his dad has just left the family. Into this drama steps Mr. Looney, a 77-year-old substitute English teacher with uncanny insight and a most unconventional approach to teaching. But Atticus soon discovers there's more to Mr. Looney's methods than he'd first thought. And as Atticus begins to unlock the truths within his own name, he finds that his hyper-imagination can help him forge his own voice, and maybe just maybe discover that the power to face his problems was inside him all along.
(208 pages)


Here's this week's teaser, from page 12:
"Fatticus," he whispers.
This is what life is like for me, the kid with no guts and the World's Worst Name: Atticus. 
Let me know what you think of the book, and check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Diary of a Jackwagon by Tim Hawkins and John Driver, 2015

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on Goodreads 
He s a comedian. He s a YouTube sensation. And now he becomes an author. Best known for his song parodies and riffs on yoga pants and homeschooling, Tim Hawkins now shares his perspective on life in the 21st century in his long-awaited debut book.Tim's topics are as wide-ranging as his stand-up comedy including marital communications ( Marriage needs a challenge flag, like in pro football ), worship music( Pick the right key, because I m not Barry White and I m not a Bee Gee ), and food( Eating a Krispy Kreme donut is like eating a baby angel ). Diary of a Jackwagon reveals a witty and relatable voice reminding readers that for life's many difficulties, laughter is always the best medicine when there aren't any pills left.
(224 pages)

I feel like my dad would like this book a lot more than I did.

Not that Tim Hawkins isn't funny - he is, of course. He's one of the funniest Christian comedians out there! But a lot of his jokes revolve around things I really can't relate to. I mean, I can relate to a Taylor Swift song by using my imagination. I can relate to husband-wife jokes by thinking about my parents. But I'm-a-forty-year-old-man jokes? And I-love McDonald's-food-jokes? And I-have-road-rage jokes? Yeah, I'm not using my imagination with those.

Because I'm not a forty-year-old guy, and discussions of Tim Hawkins' copious wiry back hair really doesn't appeal to me. It's actually really gross. And I hate McDonald's food, my family doesn't drink soft drinks, and we only get donuts when people who like donuts have a birthday (so, like, twice a year). And I'm a sixteen-year-old girl with a learner's permit, learning to drive in Maryland where just about everyone needs some serious road-rage counseling (like, for real - this one guy almost drove me into a ditch once, my third time out. And this mom in a minivan gave me the finger while illegally passing me because I was - *gasp* - actually going the speed limit). So jokes about all three of these categories kind of . . . miss me. Go past me. Over me. Under me. Whatever, It's too bad, because that's what a lot of the book is made up of.

But then there are the homeschooling jokes and the church jabs, and I am so totally there. He's a Christian homeschool dad pointing out some of the biggest misconceptions about homeschoolers (and some of the biggest idiosyncrasies in Christian culture), and I was a Christian homeschooled girl lapping it up. My absolute favorite part of the book was Hawkins' chart depicting all the different forms of arm-waving during worship songs (with labels such as "my fish was this big," "Rocky," and "touchdown"), which made me laugh so hard my sides ached. It felt good to laugh like that.

So yeah. Marriage, food, aging, homeschooling, and church - these are the topics of the bulk of Hawkins' book. Is he as funny in writing as he is in person (or, er, in YouTube)? No. It's impossible to get the comedic timing and inflection that he puts into his live acts. Diary of a Jackwagon is still pretty funny, though, and even though I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would, I'm still glad I got the chance to read it - and now I've passed it on to my parents, who I think will probably find it funnier than I did.

[Edit: I finished writing this post a week ago. Since then both of my parents have read it, and I think they actually disliked it.]

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, 2008

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on Goodreads 
You just can't keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods.
Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie.

Sure, she hasn't mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she's real good at loop-the-loops.
Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma's at her wit's end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents' farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities.
School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.
Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.
(328 pages)

A few weeks ago, I saw in my Goodreads monthly releases e-mail that Victoria Forester has finally written a sequel to The Girl Who Could Fly, and that it's coming out late October. To say I'm excited about The Boy Who Knew Everything is an understatement - I've been waiting for this book since 2008. During the painful wait between now and October, I decided to review my long-time favorite The Girl Who Could Fly, thereby simultaneously spreading the word about a great MG book and having a valid excuse for re-reading an old favorite (instead of tackling my massive TBR pile, which I really need to start working on - I've never returned so many unread books to the library!).

What is it about The Girl Who Could Fly that has made me love it so much? For starters, there are the characters. I knew from the beginning that I couldn't help but love Piper McCloud, the homeschooled girl with a penchant for floating and a desperate desire for friendship. Back in 2008, having only been homeschooled for a few years, I could relate just a little too closely to Piper as she sat on a hidden perch and watched all of the kids her age stream off to school where they got to goof around and make friends. My situation wasn't quite as extreme as hers (my parents weren't actively separating me from my peers, and actually tried very hard to find friends for me), but that core loneliness struck a chord in me. Plus, I just plumb loved her bubbly determination to make the world a better place, even in the beginning she was a little too ditzy to actually figure things out. I also loved the kids at the school, but I can't talk about them much for fear of spoilers. Needless to say I became deeply attached to each and every one of them, and revisiting The Girl Who Could Fly is like revisiting old friends.

I also love the idea of the story. Who could resist a book about kids with special abilities, brought to a special academy for kids with abilities? It's like Camp Half Blood or the X-Men academy, but with a dark twist. A pretty disturbing twist. A twist that is actually way creepier now than I remember it being the first time around. I think maybe I just blanked out on some of it the first time. Because what some of the characters, both big and small, went through was just plain evil. And heartbreaking. And in the end, the anger and sorrow I feel about what has happened is amplified as I struggle with which it is that certain people deserve: the anger, or the sympathy. It's a deep book, much deeper than the flighty cover and the exciting synopsis make it out to be.

What I love about The Girl Who Could Fly, though, is that it's a deep book and a shallow book, all in one. It's got small-town rivalries and mean gossips and the push and pull of life in boarding school (not to mention the insanely cool talents all of the main characters have!), but then it's also got things that make you cringe and cry out and just plain cry. Every time I've read The Girl Who Could Fly, I've found new things to draw from it - this time, it got me mulling over the things that make people unique, and the fact that no one has the right to command others to change. When I was younger, the scene that struck me the most strongly was the one with the giraffe - which I won't spoil - and I came away with the idea that it takes only a little bit of kindness to light up someone's world.

So go. Read this book, and discover the wonderful world of Piper McCloud - I promise you won't be disappointed. And now you won't even have to wait five years to read the sequel!