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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Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: "Being Henry David" by Cal Armistead


When he wakes up in Penn Station, he has no idea who he is or why he's there, with nothing but ten dollars in his pocket and a copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden.  He doesn't know if he should ask the police for help or if he should be running from them.  Walden is his only clue...  so that is where he goes...  and as his memories slowly come back, he needs to decide if he wants to go back or break free and start a new life.

This book starts off with a bang and you feel the boy's confusion and bewilderment immediately.  It isn't long before he really is running from the police.  Taking a cue from his only possession, he names himself after the author - Henry David, or "Hank".  He comes across a few people that can't really help him discover his past but help him figure out his present and future.

This was a pretty engrossing mystery.  I liked how Hank was able to discover different parts of his true self.  I also liked the relationships he built with certain characters.  I don't live too far from Concord, MA or Walden Pond and have visited once or twice and the descriptions fit my memories perfectly.  In fact, everything fit perfectly and that might be the only thing that stops me from fully being a fanatic about this book.  Even the messier/scarier parts of the book end up fitting perfectly and everything gets tied up super neat and tidy.  There is a scene right at the end in which Hank is by himself in a life threatening situation - and I thought that was perfect and necessary to his character - but then it comes to its conclusion pretty easily and then another lucky twist of fate seals the deal for him.  I don't know.... it just didn't feel as satisfying as I'd hoped - even if it the outcome was what I was hoping for.  I am probably being a little too picky or something.  I did like this overall though, don't get me wrong.

I would give this to those who like realistic fiction, mysteries, and books that deal with family issues.  Thoreau fans will also enjoy the quotes featured throughout the text.

*****
Being Henry David
by Cal Armistead
Albert Whitman Teen, 2013
304 pages
Source:  Friend's copy
*****

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: "The Archived" by Victoria Schwab

Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper, like her Da before her - but she can't tell anyone.  She's one of the youngest Keepers ever and now at age 16, she's already been doing this for four years.  What is a Keeper?  A Keeper is part of the Archive and is charged with chasing down Histories that wake up and return them to the Archive before they reach the Outer (the world as we know it).  It is a dangerous job, but Mac is well trained.  Or at least she thinks she is....  Her family, still grieving the sudden death of Mac's little brother, has just moved into an old apartment building for a fresh start.  The building seems well connected to the Archive, but also much much busier.  Is someone waking up these Histories on purpose?  Why?  The building is full of mysteries too...  and Mackenzie needs to figure it out before its too late.

I read this at the suggestion of a friend, who knows that I'm working on my "appreciation of fantasy YA" as I've started to think about it.  She thought I might like it because of the whole library aspect... which I admit, is kind of cool.  But it took me quite a while - like almost a third of the book - to really figure out what was going on.  There just seemed to be so many different angles going on, and I just could stay focused long enough to really get it.  I even went an entire weekend without picking it up - electing instead to watch terrible movies.  I gave it one last chance, and thankfully I did because that is where everything finally clicked for me and I actually became pretty involved in the story - enough to become curious about the sequel Unbound.  I'm not racing out to read it or anything...  but I am curious and that says a lot considering what I was thinking when I started this book!

Who would like this book?  I would hand this to those who like fantasy, strong female characters, a little bit of romance, and mystery/suspense.  This probably isn't great for a reluctant reader who probably wouldn't fight through the first third to get to where it really gets exciting.

*****
The Archived
by Victoria Schwab
Hyperion, 2013
321 pages
Series:  The Archived #1
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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