Friday, September 23, 2016

Fantastic Beasts trailer

Hooray! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is right around the corner. I'm still kind of amazed that a whole movie is being made out of what was a very slim book of Harry Potter "extra material" with essentially no plot. Still, I guess we've all seen films made from less!


Friday, September 16, 2016

Shut Out review

Shut Out 
by Kody Keplinger 
September 2011

First line: "There is nothing more humiliating than being topless in the backseat of your boyfriend's car when someone decides to throw an egg at the windshield."

Keplinger delivers a very capable re-telling of Greek playwright Aristophanes's Lysistrata. In the original play, a comedy, the title character Lysistrata arranges a "sex-strike" to convince the armies of Athens and Sparta to stop fighting.

opening scenes of Shut Out are like a slap in the face, and I mean that in the best possible way. Readers are rudely reminded that most high school boys are not dreamy romantics. Indeed, most are horny, inconsiderate jerks. Teen Lissa's boyfriend, football quarterback Randy (get it? Randy??) barely pays attention to her - even when they're making out, he's busy planning some sophomoric prank to play on the soccer team. While many schools enjoy a football rivalry between schools, Hamilton High has an internal rivalry between the football team and the soccer team. Fed up with Randy's disgusting behavior, Lissa decides to enlist her friends in shutting out the boys' advances until they can behave like gentlemen.

the meantime, Lissa develops a growing interest in Cash Sterling, leader of the soccer team. Even though she's underwhelmed by Randy's charm, she's afraid of letting down her dad and her brother, both big football fans. It's obvious that Cash is the better choice for Lissa but it takes them a while to figure it out. They hooked up briefly a year ago, but due to a misunderstanding never pursued things. Lissa is simultaneously bossy, detail-oriented and perfectionist, yet still manages to come across as a lovable nerd who is just trying to figure out how to master social skills.

Of course, the book suffers from the same weaknesses as the original play: an overemphasis on sex, and a somewhat juvenile approach to relationships. On the whole though, Keplinger's version warms and humanizes Aristophanes rather two-dimensional characters. All of the characters, including Lissa, her family, her circle of girlfriends, even disgusting Randy, really ring true. Cash is a hero, but not in a "too good to be believed" way. There's a lot of discussion, from a feminist perspective, of the double-standard for sexually-active young men and women. Keplinger has her finger on the pulse of how teens speak. I'll recommend this book for older teens.

Compare to:
The Duff - Kody Keplinger
XVI - Julia Karr
Dairy Queen - Catherine Gilbert Murdock
A Long Way From You - Gwendolyn Heasley

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scarlet review

by A.C. Gaughen
Walker Childrens
February 2012

First line: "No one really knows 'bout me."

In this re-telling of the Robin Hood tale, Will Scarlet has been re-cast as a girl. She is, of course, a tomboy, who frequently masquerades as a young lad. Scarlet is a grumpy loner, who can't seem to figure out how to fend off Little John's advances and admit her feelings for Robin Hood - to herself, or to him.

I found the dialect a bit of an annoying distraction, but I got used to it fairly quickly.  Imagine a Cockney-accented Katniss, and you'll have an idea of what Scarlet is like. As tough as Scarlet is, I wish that she had been able to get Little John out of the picture a little faster... she's oddly passive when he shows interest. There are also some terribly awkward scenes when a young woman has a crush on Scarlet, not realizing Scarlet's true identity.

There is a great twist at the end, and I liked the treatment of Maid Marian. The medieval England setting is rustic and there are plenty of hardscrabble characters just barely eking by. Still, the grittiness of the story is not overwhelming, and for romance or violence, the book is relatively tame.

Compare to:
Rowan Hood - Nancy Springer
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The Forestwife - Theresa Tomlinson
The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner

I purchased this book.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Read in August

Last month I read the following:

1. What to Do With a Houseful of Memories: A Heartfelt Guide to Downsizing - Marni Jameson

picture credit:  The Bluestocking by Reginald Higgins, 1923

Friday, August 5, 2016

Read in July

Wow, a first. This July, I was reading multiple books at once, and finished none of them!
Summer reading (the library programs, not the reading part) at the library have kept me busy.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Peeled review

by Joan Bauer
Putnam Juvenile
May 2008

First line: "DATELINE: Banesville, NY, May 3rd. Bonnie Sue Bomgartner, Banesville's soon-to-be 67th Apple Blossom Queen, let loose a stream of projectile vomiting in the high school cafeteria."

Sixteen year-old Hildy Biddle dreams of being a stellar journalist. She's the star writer for her high school newspaper in the small, sleepy farming town of Banesville, NY. I must admit I very nearly put this book in my "Did Not Finish" pile in the first few pages. The book opens with a prolonged description of the Apple Valley Pageant Queen vomiting, which went on for far too long and with far too much detail. That, plus the fast-paced, noir-inspired, witty banter that Hildy uses initially felt a bit forced - she was trying too hard to sound like Sam Spade. But, I stuck with it, and things picked up from there.

Hildy reminded me a lot of Veronica Mars... bold, inquisitive and skeptical, and fairly negative on the whole idea of dating. Ever since the recent death of her father, also a reporter, she's been living with her mother and cousin and grandparents.

The local paper, The Bee, starts printing more and more outrageous stories, claiming there's a ghost haunting the old Ludlow place, creating fear and panic in the town. With the help of her experienced newsman mentor Baker Polton, she sleuths out the clues that lead to the real reason behind the hauntings. When the school shuts down the school paper, The Core, she and her friends start a rebel sheet called The Peel.

This is basically the same plot of every episode Scooby-Doo, ever:
"You mean the editor of The Bee faked all the ghost sightings to lower property values in town so he could build a new development?"
"And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

This was a fast-paced enjoyable read, a solid pick for younger teens, and the perfect book for YA readers looking for non-fantasy realistic fiction without too much emphasis on romance. I'd actually recommend this as a great introduction to Joan Bauer. If readers like this, they'll love the much-stronger Hope Was Here.

Compare to:
Hope Was Here - Joan Bauer
Famous Last Words - Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Inside the Shadow City (Kiki Strike #1) - Kirsten Miller

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Trio of Adult Fiction

I don't normally read very much adult fiction, but I've been trying some out lately.
Here's a group of three mini-reviews from the last couple of books I just flew through.

Life Before Death
by Abby Frucht
Scribner Book Company
July 1997

What a depressing book! Isobel discovers a lump on her breast, and in an alternate universes either recovers completely and helps her friend raise two Mexican orphans she impulsively adopts or the cancer worsens and she struggles as her health worsens and she finally succumbs to the disease. A heartbreaking look at infertility, adoption and childlessness, and the painful transitions of being born/giving birth and dying. I enjoyed My Real Children by Jo Walton much more, for it's slightly more sci-fi feel and more uplifting look at how different choices can create completely different life paths.

I borrowed this book from the library.

This Body
by Laurel Doud
Little, Brown & Co.
September 2009

I kept looking for a reason why the magic works exactly the way it did. This had more of a literary fiction feel - Katharine has a heart attack, and for reasons no one can understand, she awakes in the body of a 20-something drug addict, Thisby. She immediately sets to getting Thisby (herself?) cleaned up. Ultimately, this slow-paced book concentrated the bulk of the story on Katharine's wonderment at her situation, especially being in a new, younger, stronger body. Readers may wonder if "Katharine" is just a drug-fueled dream of Thisby's, but Katharine does hunt up her own teen children (never revealing her true identity, of course) and eventually comes to terms with the fact that she will be living out the rest of her life as someone else.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Lily and the Octopus
by Steven Rowley
Simon & Schuster
June 2016

I have a confession to make: I am not a dog person. Also, I have never been a sucker for a book where the dog dies. This book though, is a heart-breaker! Quite against my will, I found myself being utterly charmed by silly, cute, lovable Lily. Her owner Ted, is a single gay man and he lavishes all of his attention on her as if she was his own child and dorky best friend rolled into one. You know what happens! Of course, the "octopus" is a tumor threatening Lily's life, robbing her energy and her life, and yup, you'd need a heart of stone to resist crying at Lily and Ted's inevitable goodbye.

I borrowed this book from the library.


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