Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: "Something Real" by Heather Demetrios

17 year old Bonnie Baker has grown up on television - literally.  She, her twelve siblings and her parents were the stars of the long-running hit reality show Baker's Dozen.  However, since the show was cancelled 4 years ago, Bonnie has done her best to become anonymous.  She's changed her name, changed her appearance and flies under the radar at her public high school.  Just as she is starting to feel comfortable with having real friends (who have no idea about her past), not to mention actually talking to the boy she's had a crush on, Bonnie's world gets upended again when the cameras show up in her home.  Her parents have signed on for another season without giving Bonnie any warning.  Suddenly Bonnie needs to confront the events that cancelled the show four years ago while trying to keep any semblance of a normal, real life - the life that isn't allowed on reality TV.

This came highly recommended to me and I am so glad I listened!  I pretty much fell in love with most of the characters here - Bonnie, her brother Benton, her love interest Patrick, Benton's boyfriend Matt, her girlfriends.....  I even ended up liking her bitchy sister Lexi.  Her parents, well, I never liked them as well as anyone associated with the show's production.  But the core group of characters are utterly fantastic!  They came together for a fresh, fun story with a bit of romance, a bit of scheming, and one incredible ending.  I'd actually say that the only thing that annoyed me were all the TM symbols all over the place, but I get that it was done to be purposefully annoying so I don't think that even really counts.  I'm looking forward to reading more from this author!

*****
Something Real
by Heather Demetrios
Henry Holt, 2014
404 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audio Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

It is the not too distant future and the world has pretty much gone to hell.  The real world that is.  Nearly everyone, okay everyone, prefers to "live" in the OASIS - a virtual reality that began as a computer game but has become a way of life.  Wade Watts is no exception.  He is a "gunter", or someone who is hunting for an Easter Egg the creator of the Oasis, James Halliday,  has hidden somewhere in the virtual landscape.  This egg isn't just any little thing though - the person who finds it first wins Halliday's entire fortune and takes control of the OASIS.  The race for the Egg involves critical thinking, intense gameplay, potential alliances, and lots of amazing '80s pop culture/video game references.

I actually purchased this book some time ago, but when I saw that Wil Wheaton narrates the audio book - I knew I had to work that in somehow.  Because, Wil Wheaton.  So I borrowed the audio from the library and brought both on a road trip.  I listened to most of it and finished with the print version.  I'm really glad I did it that way, because  - seriously - WIL WHEATON - and also I would have had no idea how to pronounce some of the words anyway.

The thing is, while I adore 80's pop culture, I have never been a huge gamer.  This did not matter.  I understood plenty of what was going on - the entire novel feels like you are on a quest in a video game - and maybe I understand gamers a bit more now.  This story is exciting, suspenseful, funny, and also kind of scary when you think about it.  It really isn't a huge jump between today's reliance upon near constant connection to the Internet and being fully plugged into something like the OASIS.  It is easy to see the appeal with a virtual world - you can look and sound the way you want, you can project the personality that you find most comfortable and impressive, and you totally get special powers or magic to do some awesome things.  But you just can't forget about the real world.  During this hunt, a greedy corporation with zero morals uses the real world to attack other gunters in order to knock them out of the competition.  The way this is accomplished is horrifying, and can also be a warning to real world today.

I loved this book and really wish I hadn't waited so long to experience it.

*****
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Narrated by Wil Wheaton
Broadway Paperbacks, 2011
Random House Audio, 2011
372 pages
15 hours 46 minutes
Source:  Purchased New & Library
*****

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "Breathe, Annie, Breathe" by Miranda Kenneally

Annie hates running and has always hated running.  So why is she training to for a marathon?  She is doing it in memory of her boyfriend who died tragically and suddenly at the beginning of the school year.  She feels guilty, like it is her fault Kyle died....  and as much as she hates it, she likes that she is focused and is following a schedule as part of her training.  It is helping her.  Enter Jeremiah, her running coach's brother.  He has his own set of issues, but Annie still feels drawn to him - at least as a friend... but these feelings create a whole new set of guilty feelings.

I think this is the fifth book of Kenneally's set in this area of Tennessee, but it is the first I've read.  I have a feeling that some characters were introduced or included mostly as a gift to those who have read all of the books...  but I didn't have any problem with that.  I may read some of the others someday.   But I wanted to read this because it is in part about a girl who hates running but learns how to do it anyway.  This appealed to me as one who has spent this entire summer doing more exercise than ever before in my life and while I want to learn how to run, I haven't quite taken that leap yet.  Annie's schedule scares the crap out of me but seems incredibly realistic.  That aside, I did have some small issues with the writing style - nothing major, just some things that didn't seem necessary to repeat and such.  I honestly wondered if it was an attempt to be more inside Annie's head, but it wasn't consistent enough for that.  Not a deal breaker for me, and I really ended up liking Annie quite a bit.  Also, Jeremiah.  Annie's tougher than she thinks she is, and Jeremiah is softer than he lets on.

All in all I did enjoy this and will recommend to older teens interested in grief/survival/romance stories or stories about reinventing yourself.

*****
Breathe, Annie, Breathe
by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks Fire, 2014
307 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: "Forget Me" by K.A. Harrington

Morgan's boyfriend Flynn died in an unsolved hit-and-run accident, and she's still grieving.  Her best friend Toni suggests she post a picture of him online and say something sweet about him for closure.  As Morgan does this though... the social networking site's facial recognition software asks if she wants to tag him as "Evan Murphy".  Weird, right?  Curious, Morgan and Toni decide to check up on this Evan Murphy and find that he lives a couple towns over, is very much alive, and looks exactly like Flynn.  EXACTLY.  It's too strange to be just a coincidence, right?  Or is it stranger to consider that Flynn may have faked his own death?  Looking deeper into this unusual circumstance puts Morgan, Toni and even Flynn/Evan (?) in the middle of a mystery and cover-up much larger than they could have imagined.

This is such a fun mystery!  I fell right into all the twists and turns - to the point that I think I read about 200 pages in one sitting.  Every single time something lead me in one direction, everything would change again.  I am always a little disappointed if I figure it all out too early, but that was absolutely not the case here.  It all gets a little creepy too, which I always enjoy.  I mean, look at that cover!  One of the themes in this book is abandonment, and the town where it takes place is full of abandoned places like houses, mini-golf courses and even an amusement park.  Have you ever seen those pictures of abandoned amusement parks?   I kept picturing those while reading...  even if the action wasn't taking place in the park itself, it still was in the same town - and it just felt so creepy.  I loved it.

*****
Forget Me
by K.A. Harrington
Putnam, 2014
276 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a perfectly ordered world.  The Elders dictate everything, and with the Community's perfect acceptance there are no disagreements, no disappointments.  The Elders approve family units for children, they approve of the marriages to begin with, they assign the jobs for adults to perform and the jobs the children start to train for when they are twelve.  But during the Ceremony, Jonas isn't assigned a job.  He has been selected to be the Receiver of Memory - and this changes everything.

I had promised one of my young patrons that I would read this, as it is one of his favorites and he couldn't believe that I hadn't read it yet.  Little did he know, that I already had it on my miles-long to-be-read list!  However, his request combined with the forthcoming recent movie definitely moved this up in priority.

So what did I think?  I think this is a brilliantly constructed dystopian world.  It really didn't take me long to fall into it, and figure out Jonas.  Of course, at the beginning, there really isn't much to figure out about Jonas the character - he is as flat and bland as the world around him.  As his training with The Giver progresses though, Jonas becomes a much deeper character - one who sees the problem with the so-called "perfect" world as created (and kept perfectly in place) by The Elders.

The story itself opens up room for discussion about the power of choice, the freedoms that power affords you, and the problem with blindly following leaders without question.  The beauty of this is that these huge concepts are drawn out of a story that can be easily understood by young teens.  And it is a really short and fast read, that will also appeal to even reluctant readers.

*****
The Giver
by Lois Lowry
Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1993
179 pages
Series:  The Giver #1
Source:  Purchased New
*****
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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: "Let's Get Lost" by Adi Alsaid

Let's Get Lost tells the story of 4 different teens from different parts of the country who have a run-in with Leila.  Leila seems to pop up in just the right moment for them and changes their lives for the better.  But who is Leila?  Why is she driving all over the country?  What is she really looking for and can she find it?

I knew nothing about this book, really, except that I was seeing it everywhere due to an incredible advertising campaign by the publisher.  As I started reading, I could see that this is not a 'typical' YA novel in its structure; rather it is more like five short stories that happen sequentially and have Leila as the common link.  The first four stories are told from the "other" point of view (ie: whomever it is that is interacting with Leila at this point) and the fifth is Leila's.  Let me just emphasize how much I liked this way of telling the story...  It is different and while some of the actions within the short stories are not terribly inventive, it all really worked together for me and I was digging it.

Until the last chapter that is.  The very last chapter in the book dropped a huge brick of cheese right there that got all over me and ruined it.  This is the perfect book to just let things go a little unanswered, allow the reader to ponder the great possibilities that Leila now has after going through everything she has gone through on her trip (and why she was on her trip).... but no.  Of course there is that one thing that the reader was going to hope for or assume was going to happen somehow...  but it didn't need to actually happen right there and then in such a cliched way!  It obviously got seriously under my skin, and I'm sorry about that.  But I hate to be so profoundly disappointed when there was so much going for it up until that point.

*****
Let's Get Lost
by Adi Alsaid
HarlequinTeen, 2014
338 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: "Hyperbole and a Half" by Allie Brosh

I've been hearing  about this book for a while now but had totally forgotten about it somehow until I saw it arrive at the library per a patron's request.  So I naturally requested it myself.

This is a memoir written in text and sequential art.  The illustrations play a huge part in telling the story - and are the source of many of the laughs.  Yes, if you didn't get it from the cover art - this is a very funny book!  Actually, I would caution against trying to read this before bed, because of the laughing.  The stories she tells about her dogs - simple dog and helper dog - were definitely my favorites.  Of course there are some other gems in here - letters to her younger self, and when the goose got in her house are good examples - but I loved the dogs.  I could read an entire book about those dogs.  There were some more serious chapters though, particularly when talking about her experience with depression, but these are told honestly and in her distinctive voice.
I loved the illustrations too!  When looking at the cover, the figure on the right is her.  Such a simple character, but still manages to invoke emotion and tell the story through her eyes and body language.  And the dogs!  Again, I seriously love these dogs.  I am not a dog person, these are not super well-behaved or smart dogs...  but I *almost* would start to think about considering to maybe adopt one.  Maybe.

If you are in need of a laugh - and especially if you need a laugh and love dogs - pick this up.  Also, she has a blog (where some of these stories may also be found and lost more!).

*****
Hyperbole and a Half
by Allie Brosh
Touchstone, 2013
373 pages
Source:  Library
*****


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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Book Review: "The Art of Lainey" by Paula Stokes

Lainey's epic summer has just begun and she can't wait to play soccer, party with her friends, put in her required hours at her dad's coffee shop and most importantly - hang with her perfect boyfriend all the time.  Until said perfect boyfriend dumps her in a most humiliating way and without reason.  Lainey isn't going to just sit back and let him ruin everything though - she's been reading The Art of War and decides to use it as a game plan to win Jason back.  A big part of the plan is recruiting Micah - her mohawked and tattooed co-worker to be her fake boyfriend to make Jason jealous.  But what happens when hanging out with Micah stops feeling so fake?

I honestly could not stand Lainey for the first three quarters of this book.  I couldn't really relate to her, and I would never be friends with her - she was so shallow and rude and such a stupid mean girl.  We don't really get to see too much from Jason at the beginning, but I didn't like him either.  So why did I keep reading this book about trying to get two super unlikable people back together?  Micah.  I am ALL ABOUT Micah.  He is not the typical bad boy who says super sweet things only and always in private.  I mean, he does say the right things, but he also says very sarcastic and funny things as well as plenty of things I didn't expect.  He pretty much rocks.  He certainly has some issues to work through, but I have faith that he ends up okay.

This book came highly recommended and while I had some serious doubts at first - I ended up really liking it.  Lainey goes through a pretty decent growth spurt and despite my initial frustrations with her, I liked her by the end.  Also, I purchased a pretty cool edition of The Art of War about a year ago, and I really really want to read it now!  Although all the passages featured at the beginning of each chapter makes me feel like I have read it at this point, I still need to read it front to back.

*****
The Art of Lainey
by Paula Stokes
HarperTeen, 2014
384 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: "Foundations in Comic Book Art" by John Paul Lowe

I am not an artist.  I won't even try to pretend that I have artistic talent.  But I do enjoy art and have recently been drawn into appreciating the art that goes into graphic novels, comics and manga.  This book intrigued me as I saw the big "SCAD" on the cover.  SCAD = Savannah College of Art and Design, which is definitely a trusted resource for information on this kind of topic!  The author is a professor there, and had previously worked for such comics as DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, and more.  So, yeah, this seemed like a pretty good book to check out.

The first thing that impressed me was the overall look and feel of the book.  (Art has a lot to do with image, no?)  It is an oversized paperback with full color illustrations or graphics on every page to help illustrate the point in the text.  The text is concise and easy to follow as it flows from topic to topic.  It starts with very basic drawing concepts (with exercises to help you develop your skills) and continues with topics of special interest to comic book art, like inking, perspective, drawing the human figure, solving visual problems and so on.  The book even discusses using Photoshop or Manga Studio as well if you wanted to explore creating art with a computer.

Now, I'm going to need way more time to practice but I feel like this would be a great reference book for budding artists or even more experienced artists who are considering comics as a focus.  There is a lot of good information in here, as well as advice from an experienced professional who is also trained to teach.  Also note the detailed index for easy reference.  I will definitely be adding this to our library's collection.

*****
Foundations in Comic Book Art
by John Paul Lowe
Watson Guptill, 2014
147 pages
Source:  Provided by Blogging for Books for an honest review.
*****

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