Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

This is quite possibly the funniest book I have ever read. So funny that I repeatedly had to set the book down, wipe my eyes, and take a deep breath to compose myself. So, so funny that I get a little giggle building up inside me even now, thinking about the part with the goose. And the part with the cake. Oh, and the part where they are lost in the woods. Seriously hysterical.

I couldn't even remember why I'd put the book on hold, or how I'd heard about it, but when I found it waiting for me on my desk at the library, I started flipping through it and knew I had a winner. How on earth I'd missed Allie Brosh's amazing blog, I have no idea. This book is made up of some of the best stories she's written, and even though most (all?) of it is probably available through her blog, this is one of the few books I will end up buying so I can have it. For me. Mine, mine, mine! (Picture Daffy Duck on the treasure pile in the cartoon with Aladdin's cave.)

Brosh has the rare gift of being able to remember childhood realistically - to remember how amazing and powerless and baffling childhood can be.  So that even when you are laughing you feel such compassion for the child she is writing about - and her parents, too, poor things. The drawings are deceptively childlike and simple, but as I read I found myself becoming more and more impressed by the skillful way she manages to infuse such emotion into the facial expressions and the posture of the characters.

Even though this is such a funny book, it also contains the most thoughtful and insightful portrayal I have ever read of what it is like to be acutely depressed. Anyone who has coped with depression will appreciate this aspect of the book. And anyone who has friends or loved ones who cope with depression (and that is just about everybody), should definitely read this book. And learn not to tell depressed people unhelpful
things like this:

I also adored the stories about her dogs. It makes me grin just thinking about them.

At first glance this seems like a silly and lighthearted book, which it certainly is, but there is more here than meets the eye, and I was delighted by the unexpected depth and the cleverness and compassion in Brosh's stories. There is definitely some adult language here, but I would still recommend this as an excellent crossover book for teens. In fact, both my children (now 13 and 15) read and loved it, and it sparked some thoughtful conversations that we wouldn't otherwise have had. Highly recommended!

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh (Touchstone, 2013)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tokyo Heist

Sixteen-year-old Violet Rossi is a Japanophile who adores Japanese culture, food, fashion - and manga in particular. She hopes to become a manga author and is always drawing and thinking about stories to write. When her father gets a painting commission in Tokyo, she’s thrilled about being able to visit Japan during summer vacation. Once she is there, though, her fun vacation turns into a harrowing adventure as she finds herself involved in a years-old mystery involving stolen artwork by Van Gogh. Lives are at stake if she cannot locate the missing art. The few clues she finds are baffling, and time is quickly running out.

This is a fantastic mystery, packed full of danger and excitement, with a feisty protagonist it’s easy to relate to and care about. It was refreshing to read a book that is a standalone (as far as I know, at any rate), doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger, and doesn’t have a love triangle. The plot doesn’t hinge on romance, but there is a romantic element there as well. I loved the setting and the way it informs the plot, and I loved Violet’s passion for art and manga. This is the perfect summer read for fans of mysteries and exotic adventure stories.

Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn (Viking, 2012)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nim's Island by Wendy Orr

I started a book club at my library this year, specifically for third and fourth graders. This is one of the first books that they picked (I do a short book-talk about two potential choices, and then the kids vote for their pick). I had seen the movie several years earlier, but hadn't read the book. It turned out to be a hit among the book club members, and I enjoyed my own read of it as well.

This story, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's whimsical tales, is about a young girl named Nim who lives on a tropical island with her scientist father. When her father doesn't come back from a boating trip, and a huge storm hits the island, Nim has to survive on her own (along with her animal companions, a seal and an iguana). She is having a difficult time of it, but luckily she has struck up a friendship via email with a favorite author of adventure and survival stories.

I enjoyed the sweetness and whimsy of this story, which was perfectly captured by Kerry Millard's illustrations. I loved the strong female protagonist, who is resourceful but not unbelievably so, as well as the relationships among the characters (including Nim's animal pals) and the delightful surprises that occur as the story unfolds.

Nim's Island
 by Wendy Orr; illustrated by Kerry Millard (Borzoi Books, 1999)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hopeless Savages (graphic novel) by Meter, Norrie and Clugston-Major

I picked this up at my library because I'm always interested in checking out whatever graphic novels come my way. Sadly, this is the only book in the four-volume series that my library owns. It is a funny, sweet story about a group of siblings whose parents are famous punk rockers. When their parents are kidnapped, the kids decide to track down their estranged older brother, because he may know things about their parents' past that will help them figure out who and why they've been abducted.

I love a character-driven book, and when it is packaged as a graphic novel with arresting artwork and witty dialogue, then it is truly delightful. The mystery element is fun, but I loved the unfolding of the relationships among the characters, and the fact that the villain isn't a super-villain bent on evil deeds, but someone human and, it seems, redeemable. I will be on the lookout for the subsequent volumes in this charming series.

Books in the Hopeless Savages series:
1. Hopeless Savages
2. Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero
3. Too Much Hopeless Savages!
4. Hopeless Savages: B Sides: The Origin of the Dusted Bunnies

Hopeless Savages, Volume 1 by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, and Chynna Clugston Major (Oni Press, 2003)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

It's just not summer without a new Stephanie Plum novel! I'm always excited when my copy comes in at the library. One of the great things about working at the library is showing up at work to find books waiting on my desk, and when one of those books is the latest Stephanie Plum, I know it's going to be a good day. The only sad thing is how quickly I read through it!

This one did not disappoint. Stephanie, bounty hunter not-so-extraordinaire, is trying to locate used-car dealer Jimmy Poletti, who is able to stay one step ahead of her while bodies, apparently connected to his crimes, are discovered one by one. There are many familiar elements here: cars exploding, apartments burning down, romantic tension between Stephanie and Ranger (and, of course, Morelli), Grandma Mazur excited about going to funeral homes, and pot roast dinners at Stephanie's house. I find these elements enjoyable, part of revisiting Trenton with some of my favorite fictional characters, and I continue to enjoy the way Evanovich is able to make me laugh while drawing me into another fun screwball mystery.

I'm a bit baffled by some of negative reviews I've seen out there by fans of the early books who find recent ones to be repetitive and predictable. Why, exactly, would they pick up a book in this series expecting something different? I wouldn't watch a James Bond movie and then complain that oh, there's Q again, going on and on about the gadgets, and oh, there's Moneypenny lusting after James, and James is with another woman, and oh, jeez, a villain stroking a white cat again? It seems unfair to criticize a series for being exactly what it sets out to be. Evanovich delivers a fun, gripping, delightful summer read for me, and of course I enjoy some books in the series more than others, but I know what I'm getting when I open to the first page. It works for me. If it didn't, I'd simply drop the series and move on to something else.

Books in the Stephanie Plum series:
1. One for the Money
2. Two for the Dough
3. Three to Get Deadly
4. Four to Score
5. High Five
6. Hot Six
7. Seven Up
8. Hard Eight
9. To the Nines
10. Ten Big Ones
11. Eleven on Top
12. Twelve Sharp
13. Lean Mean Thirteen
14. Fearless Fourteen
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
16. Sizzling Sixteen

17. Smokin' Seventeen
18. Explosive Eighteen
19. Notorious Nineteen
20. Takedown Twenty
21. Top Secret Twenty-One

Top Secret Twenty-One (#21 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (Bantam Books, 2104)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso

This first book in the new graphic novel series about a young witch, The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, opens with irrepressible young witch Salem learning about an upcoming spelling bee at school. She assumes it’s a contest for casting spells, not spelling words, and when a classmate taunts her for being unable to spell “dinosaur,” Salem inadvertently turns the elderly school crossing guard into a dinosaur and gets into trouble at school. Salem’s parents, who possess no magical talents (although Salem’s aunt is a witch), decide that Salem needs an animal companion to help her sort out her spelling ability, not to mention her impulsiveness. But when the companion, a cat named Whammy who is scared of flying (but is a good magic teacher) arrives, Salem is not interested. She wants a monkey butler. Or a unicorn. Definitely not a boring old cat.

This is a sweet and fun story that will appeal to fans of Calvin and Hobbes and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, full of humor and heart. Salem treads a thin line between independent and slightly bratty, but she kept my sympathy and made me curious to follow her next adventures in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #2: The Big Birthday Bash. This will be a very easy sell to young readers at my library.

Books in the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series:
1. Spelling Trouble
2. Big Birthday Bash
3.Cookie Catastrophe

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso (Amulet Books, 2013)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Joyland by Stephen King

It's been years since I picked up a Stephen King novel, not because I don't like them (I do), and not because he isn't a fantastic storyteller (he is), but because they can be so scary and intense that, given all the stress and demands of my life right now, I prefer a slightly less heart-pumping, under-the-skin experience when I finally have the time to relax with a book. However, I heard King interviewed on Fresh Air back when this book first came out, and it sounded so appealing that I had to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did! It turned out to be a fascinating, character-driven read set in the 70s about a young man named Devin who, recovering from a broken heart, takes a job at Joyland, a seaside theme park in North Carolina. There Devin lives in a boarding house, makes friends with his fellow teen employees, and becomes fascinated by a years-old mystery about a girl who disappeared from a ride called the Horror House. The first part of the book is atmospheric and almost relaxing - yet it has the feel of a roller coaster car slowly creeping up the track to that highest point. The second part of the book has the reader hurtling back down, hanging on tight. King is a wonderful storyteller, giving us characters worth caring about, and a story that is romantic, spooky, mysterious, and ultimately very satisfying. This is the perfect summer read.

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime, 2013)

Monday, July 14, 2014

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

There's not a whole lot to say about this book that hasn't been said by dozens of other book-reviewing bloggers out there. But this blog is about reviewing whatever I happen to read, so here we go. Our hero is Colin Singleton, a young man who for some bizarre reason has only dated women named Katherine. Nineteen Katherines, in fact, all of whom have dumped him. Colin is also a former child prodigy, and now that he's nearly grown up, he has to come to terms with the fact that for the most part, child prodigies tend to turn out as normal in adulthood as everyone else - as far as performing amazing feats of genius and saving the world goes, at any rate.

Having just been dumped by the most recent Katherine, Colin is completely heartbroken. He needs a fresh perspective, and what better way to attain one than going on a road trip with his best friend. And that's where the fun begins. Friendship, humor, romance, coming of age - all these elements combine with unforgettable characters and a plot that never fails to surprise and delight. Highly recommended.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton Books, 2006)

Also by John Green:
Looking for Alaska
Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Libby Kelting loves Jane Austen novels, historical romances, and everything to do with the past, so she is delighted when she gets a summer internship at Camden Harbor, the Museum of Maine and the Sea. It's a place like Williamsburg, except in Camden Harbor the year is always 1791. She gets to wear period costumes and teach summer campers about all the things she loves about the past. Unfortunately, her dream job involves some unpleasant aspects, including a difficult roommate situation and rumors that Camden Harbor is haunted. Soon Libby finds herself bunking in a period ship with a geeky reporter, all the while falling for a super hot sailor named Cam.

I really liked the premise of this book, and I think it would be a good summer read for teens who enjoy romance and humor. I did find the characters to be stereotypical to the point that it was difficult to identify with them as closely as I would have liked to. I found it difficult to believe that a summer camp would permit a teenage female employee to share a bedroom on a ship with a boy. Libby was also annoyingly obtuse about her relationships and allowed herself to be treated terribly by one of the boys, putting up with more than I felt was believable for the strong, independent teen she is purported to be. Still, she gets a clue by the end of the book, and it turned out to be a light and entertaining "historical" romance with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Books in the Pilgrims series:
1. Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink
2. Confederates Don't Wear Couture

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink (#1 in the Pilgrims series) by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Although this is technically the second book in the Goodnight Family series, it really is a standalone novel featuring a different character from the first book. Even though I'm a huge stickler about reading things in order, even I would say you could read either one of these books first without any spoiler issues arising.

Our heroine is Daisy Goodnight (little sister to Texas Gothic's Amy Goodnight), a teen who is yanked from her classroom by the FBI and whisked off to Minnesota to help them solve a kidnapping/murder case through her ability to communicate with the dead.  Before she knows what's going on, Daisy herself is kidnapped and thrown into a perilous situation that involves ancient Egypt, a mysterious (but hot) boy, and all kinds of unexpected elements that kept me laughing, happy to hang on for the ride.

Daisy has a strong narrative voice that drew me in immediately. I knew from the first page that I was going to have fun with this one, particularly when Daisy tells us at the crime scene: "I like to pretend that I'm all Daisy Goodnight, kick-ass teen psychic, when really most of the time I'm all Please don't let me puke in front of the FBI." 

Spirit and Dust is the perfect gripping summer read, with action, adventure, humor and romance, a mystery to be solved, creating that sense of wonder I've come to expect from Clement-Moore's books.

Books in the Goodnight Family series:
1. Texas Gothic
2. Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust (#2 in the Goodnight Family series) by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte Press, 2013)

Also by Rosemary Clement-Moore:
Prom Dates from Hell

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Professor's Daughter

I picked up this graphic novel when I found it on the shelves at my library. The cover was intriguing, and when I flipped through the pages, I found the artwork was so attractive that I had to bring it home to read. The story is, disappointingly, not as compelling as the illustrations, but it is silly and fun. Set in Victorian times, it tells the story of Lillian, the daughter of a prominent Egyptologist, who is in love with a mummified ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

There's a little be of everything here - romance, comedy, action, adventure, and drama. The characters are not very well developed, and the plot doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense when you stop to think about it, but the story is still fun and engaging, and the artwork is delightful.

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert (First Second, 1997)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels

One of the many mystery fans among the patrons at my library recommended this series to me, so I thought I'd give the first one a try. Our heroine is Pepper Martin, a once-rich girl reduced to working for a living after her father was convicted of fraud, the family fortune evaporated, and in the wake of these troubles, her fiancé dumped her. So now Pepper works as a cemetery tour guide.

Following an accident in which Pepper sustains a head injury, she can suddenly see ghosts - namely, the ghost of Mafioso Gus Scarpetti. Gus has some unfinished business, and when he realizes Pepper can see him, he refuses to leave her alone until she agrees to help him. Pepper finds herself on the trail of an unresolved mystery, and her own life becomes even more complicated by an attractive neurologist as well as a sexy cop.

What I liked: it was an interesting paranormal mystery, and the mafia boss was a fun and entertaining character. The mystery itself was solid and held my attention. What I didn't like so much: Pepper was kind of annoying, not terribly likeable, and if she'd had a more engaging voice I'd have been drawn into the book more quickly. Still, it's a promising start, and once the book got going, it was a fun read. I will probably give the second book a try.

Books in the Pepper Martin series:
1. Don of the Dead (2006)
The Chick and the Dead (2007)
Tombs of Endearment (2007)
Night of the Loving Dead (2008)
Dead Man Talking (2009)
Tomb with a View (2010)
A Hard Day's Fright (2011)
Wild Wild Death (2012)
Supernatural Born Killers (2012)

Don of the Dead (#1 in the Pepper Martin series) by Casey Daniels (Avon Books, 2006)