May 23, 2015

Audiobook: Smek for President

by Adam Rex
Read by Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Nothing. Nada. Some fake swearing ("pardon my language"). The audio version is probably good for kids who have an attention span longer than 20 seconds; the book is in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I loved the audiobook of The True Meaning of Smekday, so when I heard that Bahni Turpin was doing the sequel, I KNEW that was how I needed to experience this book. And I was right. Turpin is perfect for this. Seriously.

The story picks up a year and a half after Gratuity "Tip" Tucci and J. Lo save the world. The Boov have moved to New Boovworld, on one of Saturn's moons. J. Lo and Tip are hanging on Earth, trying to get used to having Tip's mom around. And, for J. Lo, trying to to fit in. They need a break, and so J. Lo soups up their car, Slushious, and they head off-world to check out the new Boov homeland. Since they saved the world, they'll be welcomed as heroes, right?

Well, no.

Things don't go quite like they planned. J. Lo is named Public Enemy Number One, and thrown into jail. Tip repeatedly avoids being captured, but only just barely. Which sends her on an adventure through New Boovworld. She meets and befriends a delightful flying billboard, whom she names Bill (of course), as well as several other Boov (and one human; Dan Landry's son), in her attempts to free J. Lo and set everything right. There's a lot of action, tons of humor, and a bit of time travel in the mix.

But what really made the book was Turpin. I adore her reading style, and it's perfect for Adam Rex's humor. I was chortling, guffawing on occasion, and I was thoroughly charmed by all the Boov voices (with their distinctive quirks). I was pleased to see that the Chief was back (if only in Tip's imagination), as well as other favorite characters from the first book. I loved how Rex imagined New Boovworld. And it was satisfying (as a parent) to see that there were real consequences for Tip's actions.

In short: I adored it.

May 22, 2015

Lost in the Sun

by Lisa Graff
First sentence: "When we were real little kids, Mom used to take Aaron and Doug and me to Sal's Pizzeria for dinner almost every Tuesday, which is when they had their Family Night Special."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Release date: May 26, 2015
Content: There's some bullying, and some tough subjects and a couple of instances of mild swearing. It'll be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I would hesitate giving it to the younger end of that spectrum.

Eight months ago, Trent was the cause of a fatal accident. He hit a hockey puck into the chest of one of his friends, who then died. Not really from the hockey puck: his friends had a heart condition that no one knew about, and that's what caused the death. But Trent is convinced that it's his fault. And he feels like everyone -- well his father, his brothers, and his former friends -- blames him for what happened.

Now, on the first day of sixth grade, Trent is completely depressed. Until the "weird" girl, Fallon, decides that they need to be friends. Fallon's the one everyone shuns, mostly because she has a scar down her face. Everyone asks how it happened, but she keeps the true story close, choosing instead to make up ones. Over the fall, Fallon and Trent deal with his grief, guilt, and anger, as he tries to make life work.

A lot of books deal with grief from dead or sick parents, or dead or sick siblings. But the idea that a kid could be the catalyst for a friend's death hits home and deep. I thought Graff captured those emotions perfectly, from Trent's self-loathing to his feelings like everyone hated him. And because we saw the rest of the world through Trent's eyes, I could tell which adults were reaching out (his homeroom teacher, eventually) and which adults just needed a good smack (his father). The longer Trent's self loathing went on, the more I was afraid that Graff wouldn't be able to give Trent a good resolution. But, in so many ways, she did. I was thoroughly satisfied with Trent's arc, and with the way things weren't neatly tied up in a bow.

Quite good.

May 20, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven

by Elizabeth Wein
First sentence: "Sinidu told me I should aim for the sun."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's a smattering of violence, and some insinuations, but it's not nearly as intense as Wein's other books we have in the store. I'm torn between leaving it where it is (in Teen, grades 9+) and moving it to YA (grades 6-8), where it really fits better, subject and content-wise. Thoughts?

I know Wein has written other books about Ethiopia, but I didn't know they existed, really, until this one came out and I started hearing the buzz. And so I really didn't know what to expect with this one.

Many of the elements I have enjoyed about Wein are there: women pilots, in this case two: a white woman, Rhoda, and her black friend, Delia,  learned to fly in France and go around the States in the late 1920s/early 1930s with their barnstorming act. There is also World War II: after Delia's accidental death, Rhoda takes their two children, her daughter Emelia and Delia's son Teo (whom Rhoda has taken as her own) to live in Ethiopia, which was Delia's dream.

The book is a long letter written to the emperor of Ethiopa by Emelia. It's in the middle of World War II, and the Italians have invaded Ethiopia. Because of their precarious legal situation: Teo is not legally Rhoda's son, they're not really legally in the country, and because Teo's father was Ethiopian, it means that their position in the country, especially with the Italians there, is a precarious one.

Emelia recounts history and how their little family ended up where they are. Teo contributes some, writing journal entries and flight logs -- Rhoda eventually teaches both children to fly -- and so you hear his voice as well as Emelia's.

There's a lot going on in this book, and yet, I felt like the conflict didn't really pick up until the last third. It's a quieter book than her previous two WWII books, one that felt more vignette-driven as well. (Though typing that, and thinking back to Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, I'm not sure that's true.) The characters were definitely younger in this one, and perhaps that's what I'm feeling. I did like how Wein rounded out most of the characters in the book, but especially the female ones (the male ones, aside from Teo, were basically set dressing, there to move the plot along). Wein also touched on a lot of cultural issues for the time: segregation in the US, slavery in Ethiopia, the war, the limitations of women at the time. Even though it didn't feel like much, plot-wise, there was enough to hold my interest and carry the book.

I'm not sure I love it as much as I do the other books I've read by Wein, but I did thoroughly enjoy it.

May 18, 2015

Moonpenny Island

by Tricia Springstubb
First sentence: "Transparent."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It's pretty basic, language-wise, with short chapters and simpler words. Good for anyone who likes friendship stories. It's in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Flor and Sylvie have been best friends forever. Growing up on a small island in the middle of Lake Erie (it's doesn't exist, but it's possible, though I had to look it up) on the Ohio side, they were pretty much all they had. Which was just find with Flor. Then things change: Sylvie is sent to Cleveland to live with her aunt and go to school there. And Flor's mother leaves as well, and they don't know when -- or if -- she's coming back.

With her life falling apart, how can Flor cope?

Once I got over my annoyance about the whole there's an island in Lake Erie by Toledo thing... I found I really liked it. It's not magical quirky, but it does fit with the whole small-town quirky thing. I liked how Flor knew everyone on the island, and was willing to stick up for the less "acceptable" members of their community. I liked how Springstubb introduced a scientific-minded, homeschooled girl into the mix, and how she wasn't weird or unusual or super-religious. I felt like Springstubb tackled everything -- from problems at Flor's home to problems with her friends -- with an evenness that suited her audience.

The only thing that bothered me, really, about the story was that it had the feel of a first person narration, but it wasn't. For the most part, I was able to flow with it, but every once in a while, it pulled me out of the story.

But that's a small quibble in an otherwise good book.

May 17, 2015

12 Books You Should Read Instead of Seeing the Movie

I was sitting around, trying to figure out what to do for a list this month, and C suggested bad movies. (We were talking about the new City of Bones TV show, Shadowhunters, and how we have high hopes that it'll be better than the movie.) In the spirit of goodness (and this Tshirt, which, yes, I do own)  I give you a dozen books that you should read rather than wasting  your time on the movie. (For the record: I always try to read the book first, when I can. But that's just me.)

In the category of Don't Even Bother With the Movie:
Twilight - I know: we're all over the vampires. But, given a choice between reading the books and watching the movies (I never even bothered with the last three), I'd take the books, hands down. At the very least, you can skip the annoying parts.

The Lightning Thief - When the author disses the movies you know it can't be good. But, aside from the book, this doesn't even hold up as a movie. Don't bother. Especially since the book is SO good.

Inkheart - The movie isn't terrible. I mean, Brendan Frasier is really eminently watchable. But, it's not good either. It's just kind of... Meh. Like everyone phoned in their performances and they were hoping to get a movie as fascinating as the book was.

The Three Musketeers - Orlando Bloom is the best thing in the most recent movie. Seriously. It's not even remotely the book, which is really quite good.

The Hobbit - I loved Lord of the Rings, all three movies and all 12 hours of it. But, after slogging through the FIRST of three movies for this charming little book, I bailed. (That said, the TV movie from 1977 is quite good.)

The movie is okay, but it has Nothing To Do With the Book:
Ella Enchanted - It's actually a charming movie. I love the music (always have), and there are parts of it that I think are great. But, aside from the title, the character names, and the curse on the main character, it's not the book. Which is just as charming and fun on its own.

The Great Gatsby - It's a gorgeous movie. Lush and beautiful. But that's all it is. It missed the point of Gatsby, of what Fitzgerald was trying to say. If you don't think about that, it's a good movie, but I'd rather read the book.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy- the opening minutes of this were brilliant and I had high hopes for the movie, but it kind of just petered out. Alan Rickman as Marvin is brilliant, however.

Tuck Everlasting - C insisted that this one be on the list. She adored the book, and the movie is NOTHING like the book. Except for the premise, there's really nothing in common with Babbitt's powerful book.

I know I'm going off the trailer here, which can be misleading. (Bridge to Terabithia anyone?) But, the trailer for these books scared me so much, I haven't seen the movie. And unless someone convinces me otherwise, I probably won't.
The Dark is Rising  - I really didn't think this book would translate well onto the screen, and if the trailer's correct, it proves me right.

Ender's Game - Yeah, there are some big blockbuster-y moments in the book, but the movie missed out (or at least the trailer implied this) on the reflective nature of this book, of the underlying themes of brutality and the means we'll go as humans to reach the ends we want. I know I may be wrong, but I haven't had the desire to find out.

The True Meaning of Smekday  - This is the one I'm most conflicted about. I want to see Home because of a person of color, girl main character. And because it does look charming. But, I can tell that it's not the book. I don't object to that, I just haven't worked up the courage to see the movie yet.

As a side note, they really shouldn't make any picture book into a full-length movie. There isn't a single one (Where the Wild Things Are, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) that's any good.

What are some of your worst (and best) movies from books?