Thursday, June 30, 2016

Graphic Novel Review: "Awkward" by Svetlana Chmakova

Penelope ("Peppi") Torres is the new girl at school.  On the very first day, she drops all of her books in front of everyone.  They all start to laugh at her, but one boy stops to help her.  She is grateful, until the mean kids start picking on him for being a nerd, and then Peppi too - just by association.  She does something then that she regrets instantly, but doesn't know how to make it right.  Later, Peppi gets involved with the Art Club, which has a long-standing rivalry with the Science Club.  And who's in the Science Club?  Yep, the boy.  So awkward.

This really is an adorable middle grade graphic novel all about just how awkward it is to be in middle school.  Everything between Peppi and the boy (whose name is Jaime, by the way) is not romantic, or anything like that really.  It is all awkward because life just is awkward right then.

When thinking about what I wanted to say about this book, I first thought I'd comment on how "effortlessly" diverse the cast of characters is but I don't know if that is truly correct to say.  I have no idea how "effortless" it was on the part of the author and illustrator to write a diverse cast, but I do know that it felt effortless to read it.  By that, I mean that it doesn't feel forced or cliche...  just normal.  And I think that is in itself, awesome.  The art in this book is pretty cool too.  There is some wonderful manga inspiration going on in these panels.  In the endpages, the author also includes a few pages on how she illustrates - step by step - with a sketch gallery of the characters and a couple settings.  This will be of great interest to the budding young middle grade artists who might read this.  Also - there are twenty hidden "Mr. Raccoon"s hidden throughout the book.  Have fun with that!

*****
Awkward
by Svetlana Chmakova
Yen Press/Hachette, 2015
211 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review: "Fat Angie" by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie is in her freshman year of high school (for the second time).  She couldn't complete the year the first time around after her much-adored big sister was captured with her unit by the Taliban in the Middle East.  Now, Angie refuses to give up hope that her sister will come home while dealing with school bullies, her mother who can't be bothered to even listen to her, and her weight.  When a new girl shows up a school and actually wants to be friends with her - Angie can't even believe it.  And when their friendship shows signs of possible being more...  will Fat Angie finally find the inner strength and fortitude to stand up for herself?

This book has been on my radar for a while now.  I don't even remember how long I've even had it in my possession!  But this is a character that will stick with you.  She's far from perfect, and does not magically fix all her flaws by the end of the book, but you can feel for her.  She is tormented by all the people all around her - even her therapist doesn't seem like much help or support for her.  So Angie needs to dig deep and figure out who she can rely on... who she can really trust.  There aren't that many people on that list.

The book itself has some issues, especially at the beginning.  It starts out a bit shaky and confusing, but the writing gets figured out after a couple short chapters.  This kind of coincides with the introduction of KC Romance, the new girl at school.  She is not without her own personal baggage, but I really get into the developing relationship between her and Angie.  It is kind of like an emotional roller coaster, but you really feel the confusion Angie feels as she is contemplating her own sexuality for the first time.  She has zero experience in the love department, so everything is new to her.   I did find it a little irritating that she kept describing herself and KC as gay-girl gay though.  Very annoying.  However, discovering this truth about herself helps build her confidence that benefits her in other ways.

*****
Fat Angie
by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Candlewick Press, 2013
264 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review: "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift

I recently found out about an app called "Serial Reader".  It is an interesting concept; you "subscribe" to a classic novel, and the app sends an "issue" daily to your device.  Each issue is approximately 10-15 minutes of reading, and covers the chosen classic work in its entirety.  It is a free app, or you can upgrade for $2.99 to get features like continue reading (so you don't have to wait until the next day if you have a little more time to read), the opportunity to read more than one book at a time, and the option to "pause" your subscription delivery if needed.  I immediately opted for the upgrade.

I chose A Modest Proposal to be my first subscription, to test out the app.  This very short work came in 2 issues.  I'll admit that I just swapped out a different Swift title on my Classics Club list to this one.  I hadn't read Swift before, and didn't know about this at all!

I'm not even sure what to call this - a novella?  A long essay?  I don't know, but it certainly makes an impact.  Not knowing anything at all about Jonathan Swift, I started to imagine how this piece came into being.  I kind of imagine Swift and his buddies down at the pub, complaining or getting vocal about the poverty issue in Ireland over a few pints.  And A Modest Proposal was Swift's tongue in cheek solution to the problem - sell the infants of the poor people as food for the rich.  The whole tone of the piece is of utmost seriousness, in which he lays out the problem, introduces his solution, and provides several points of support for his solution.  The whole thing is ludicrous, even though he makes his point clearly.  Check it out if you're looking for something short and very well written but cannot be taken as seriously as it is written.  It is a brilliant piece of satire.

*****
A Modest Proposal
by Jonathan Swift
First published 1729
Source:  Serial Reader
*****

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Review: "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman

The best way I can describe Ove is that he is that he is partly that curmudgeonly old man who yells "Get off my lawn" and part Dwight Schrute.  All the poor man wants to do is kill himself and join his beloved wife in the afterlife, but he keeps getting interrupted.  It just doesn't work.  All all starts when the new neighbors back their moving trailer into his house and knock over his mailbox.

I just love Ove.  He is so frustrating and inflexible but good.  All he wants is to follow the rules; order is his jam.  He doesn't understand new technologies or new attitudes, but he knows what is right.  And this often leads to very amusing circumstances.

Ove reminds us that there are plenty of reasons to keep living, even if it is to make sure that the right thing is done.  And no one drives in the residential area where cars are prohibited.  Ove slowly opens himself back up to the people and world around him and as is often the case, enriches their lives as much as they enrich his.

Part of the fun of reading this book is that a co-worker was listening to it at the same time.  Each morning when we'd get into the library, we'd compare notes on where we were in the story, and what wacky thing just happened.  We agreed that it is just a wonderful story with so much heart.  And now three more co-workers are waiting to read it!  My co-worker is moving on to Backman's other books right away, but I think I'll wait a bit.  It's nice to have something waiting on the wings that you know is good.

*****
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press, 2015.  First published 2014.
337 pages
Source:  Gift
*****

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review: "The Unexpected Everything" by Morgan Matson

Andie Walker had the summer all planned out.   Her father would be in D.C., of course, doing his Congressman thing.  She would be in Baltimore at her Young Scholars program that would later help her go pre-med in college.  Her three best girlfriends had their things going on and everything was all set.  Then her father is rocked by a scandal which keeps him home for the summer... and her program is taken away as well.  Andie doesn't do well with the unexpected...  but she's going to have to figure it out.  Luckily, she has her friends, a few dogs, and that guy....

I adore Morgan Matson.  She writes these awesome summer romance books that I practically inhale.  Andie is a great character because right off the bat you can see what an organized planner type person she is who is subsequently rocked right off her rails.  She is very independent too, and has a great bond with her best friends who are all great characters.

In many YA books, the parent is largely absent.  However here, the absent parent is thrust back into the fold and it creates an interesting dynamic.   Dad turns out to be more fun than I expected, and keeps a few tricks up his sleeve.  Their relationship is a fun one to watch play out.

There is one kind of big cliche in this book, but I forgive Morgan Matson everything because the way it works out is not cliche at all.  It's fairly realistic and open to possibility and I really liked that.  Also, the ending was a clear send up to one of my favorite scenes in a rom-com which I loved and didn't at the same time.  Still a little conflicted on that...  but it is a secondary theme throughout the book, so I'm working on that myself.

Oh, and can I just say, that I completely forgot that this book is taking place in the same town that Matson's previous books did?  I was reading a description of the hang-out place and kept thinking that it sounded really familiar....  until I smacked myself on the forehead and realized it was because it was familiar!  Maybe I need to do a little rereading....

Great relationship book - relationship between friends, family, and a new romance.

*****
The Unexpected Everything
by Morgan Matson
Simon & Schuster, 2016
519 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: "Two if by Sea" by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This novel opens with a very powerful scene:  a tsunami hits Brisbane, Australia at midnight during Christmas destroying nearly everything in its path.  The many victims include Frank Mercy's pregnant wife and her entire family whom had been sleeping at a beachside motel.  Mercy, a former police officer, is a wreck but can only move forward and assists in the rescue effort.  He manages to rescue a little boy from a sinking minivan, and feels the need to take care of him.  So much so that he brings him home to his family's horse farm in Wisconsin, introducing him as his adopted son Ian.  Everyone loves Ian.  Frank starts to notice something he calls "the Ian effect" in which it seems Ian can manipulate people's motivations and get them to be nice, or give him what he wants.  As this "Ian effect" becomes more prominent, it also seems there are some sinister people looking for Ian - people who aren't afraid to kill to get what they want.

I have been trying to figure out how to talk about this book, as it has so many different layers it seems.  I loved the family saga, and connected with all the different roles family members play.  Frank Mercy doesn't have a huge family, but it's big enough (especially as he's added to it) and there is a lot of love there.  I loved Ian and thought he was a strong and vulnerable little boy all rolled into one.  I liked reading about the horses too, which is something I really don't know much about at all.  And I loved the setting and scenery.  This story ultimately takes place on three different continents, and I liked how the setting changed and laid down foundation for the plot.

But I did have an issue with pacing throughout.  I just couldn't seem to stay in the same tempo as the writing sometimes.  There were scenes that I thought were a little too drawn out and slowed down when it needed to be quick and intense, and others that I didn't quite understand why it rushed.  I did read this from an ARC though, and some of that could have been corrected before the final print was put on the shelves.  I did like the book though, and thought it an interesting mix of family saga, adventure/survival with a touch of paranormal thrown in.

*****
Two if by Sea
by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Simon & Schuster, 2016
416 pages
Source:  ARC from ALA-MW
*****

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book Review: "Anne of Green Gables" by L.M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley is one of a kind.  When we first meet her, she is eleven years old and adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (even though they had asked for a boy orphan).  Anne has a wonderfully active imagination, which tends to get her into some unusual situations.  This first book of the series follows Anne through her schooling - all the way through earning her Teacher's Certificate.  She makes deep, lasting friendships as with Diana Barry and holds a major grudge against Gilbert Blythe.  She wins over adults all over the town of Avonlea, and she definitely won over this reader.

I had never read this before, nor had I watched any of the film or TV adaptations.  All I knew was that this was a story that everyone seems to love.  And now I know why.

Anne is just so darn charming!  There is such an innocence and simplicity woven through this story that it feels like such a comfort to get lost in her story.  There are parts that are so awkward and funny that I found myself grinning like a fool and loving it.  There were also some very sad parts that I really had to push through because I had a feeling Anne would come out all right.  She is so positive and creative!  I thoroughly enjoyed her long-winded rambling speeches that would go from topic to topic and how exasperated Marilla would become from listening to them.  This book really is a treat.

I'll admit that I was a little skeptical, and thought that one book would really be enough for me.  However, I am now seriously considering reading on in the series.  I'd love to know what happens next at Green Gables!  (Don't tell me!!)

*****
Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery
originally published 1908
314 pages
Series:  Anne of Green Gables #1
Source:  Gift
*****

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

#20BooksOfSummer Challenge 2016!

I'm a little late joining in, but I had so much fun last year that I really wanted to do this again with Cathy from 746 Books!

Basically, the idea is to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th.  Thankfully, Cathy is super lenient in regard to "rules" and whatnot which works well with me.  Most people come up with a list to read over the summer, but I think I'd like to list a few I'd like to read and just see how it goes.

I've already started The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson... and I have The Bad-Ass Librarians from Timbuktu checked out from the library.  I also posted a list of classics yesterday and I'd like to read at least two of those this summer.  And I still have quite a bit of work to do on my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks project, so I'd like to read at least 10 books off my TBR bookcase.  I'll track the books I read on the 2016 Reading Challenges page.

If you'd like to join in the fun, check out 746 Books, or watch the hashtag #20BooksOfSummer on Twitter!
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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Classics Club Spin!

I'm in my last few months of the original Classics Club Challenge, and I have been slacking off BIG TIME.  I honestly want to throw away my original list and start anew, but I'm going to try and wait until March before I do that.  TRY, anyway... no promises.

So I'm going to try the latest Classics Club Spin, wherein we list 20 books still on our list.  On Monday, a number will be announced, and that is the book on the list I will try to read by August 1st.  I'm taking all of these titles from books already waiting on my TBR bookcase, because I also need to work on my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks project too.  Let's see what happens with this, shall we??  Wish me luck!

  1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. Lysistrata by Aristophanes
  3. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
  4. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
  5. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  6. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
  7. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
  8. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  9. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
  10. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  11. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  13. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  14. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  15. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  16. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  17. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  18. Junky by William S. Burroughs
  19. Dubliners by James Joyce
  20. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo  
Edit:  The Number chosen is 15 - so looks like I'll be reading Gone With the Wind this summer!
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