June 5th, 2015

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Book Review: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date: June 9th 2015
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley

Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave.

After their mother's recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven't seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.

Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.

When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.

There is nothing “almost” brave about Liberty. Without a doubt, she is one brave twelve year old. While internally she is freaking out about being abandoned at a gas station, she mainly keeps it together as she tries to get her and her sister back to the only home they’ve known. Her strategies, while dubious, keep both her and her sister alive and mostly out of harm’s way on their adventure.

As they make their way across the states, you can’t help but cheer them on. Every turn of the page, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the time they’d finally get caught. Maybe they’d finally reach their mother’s friend, Julie, back home. Liberty’s quick thinking gets her and Billie out of many sticky situations. Just as often, though, they find themselves in equally dire circumstances.  Not everything can go according to plan.

I love how the story used flashbacks to fill you in on the missing pieces. It was done in a way that wasn’t confusing and only enhanced the story. I’ll admit that my heart broke several times learning what had landed them in their current predicament. Both Liberty and Billie were so desperate for their father’s love, but he just wasn’t capable of giving it. His mental illness/obsession took over, and he could barely perceive that the girls were there most days. There are glimmers that make it obvious that he wants to be the father they deserve, but he falls short time and time again. I appreciate how White shows how mental illness can take over and entrap a person even as they fight it, and how everyday things quickly become all-consuming and overwhelming.. Mental illnesses are rarely easy for the person or loved ones to deal with, something that White shows with grace.

The only thing that made me hesitate a little was the girls’ fear of the authorities. I could understand avoiding the creepy gas station man, but I never fully understood why they were so scared of the police catching them. Liberty’s fear kept them running and lead to stealing, lying, and many other questionable acts. I got a sense that Liberty was scared they’d be separated, but there was nothing in their past that would cause that nagging fear. If they had been placed in foster care after their mother’s death it would have worked, but it seems like Julie took over care right away. The only other explanation is that her mom said she was responsible for Billie now, but I don’t think that should have driven her to avoid all adult help. Of course, it was a necessity for the plot, but I wish there had been more explanation/backstory to it. I doubt the intended audience will be bugged by this, but it was something that annoyed me a little as an adult.

Final Verdict: A nice, fast-paced middle grade story that has humor, adventure, and a lot of heart.

April 13th, 2015

GN Review: Possessions: The Final Tantrum

GN Review: Possessions: The Final Tantrum

Possessions: The Final Tantrum by Ray Fawkes
Series: Possessions #4
Also by this author: Possessions: Unclean Getaway (bk 1) & The Ghost Table (bk 2), Possessions: The Better House Trap
Publisher: Diamond Comic Distributors
Release Date: February 4th 2015
Pages: 88
Source: Publisher

Gurgazon the Unclean has escaped the feeble confines of the Llewellyn-Vane House. Now she towers over the city, reigning destruction over all! And with the help of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there's no stopping her from bringing on the end of the world! Except, of course, for all the ghouls, ghosts, vapors, poltergeists, and ectoplasmic entities within the city limits. Do they stand a chance against Gurgazon the Pit Demon? Can the Apocalypse be stopped when it's only just begun? Find out in Possessions Book 4: The Final Tantrum!

Whew, okay, can I just say it took me way longer to come out of my GN slump than I imagined? I loved being on Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults the past two years, but it was tiring! After finishing my term in the end of January, I didn’t want to touch a GN. Not even ones I’ve been looking forward to forever. But I’m finally, FINALLY, back in the game and it’s a pleasure to jump back in it with Possessions vol 4: The Final Tantrum. If you haven’t heard of Possession before, you need to go and check out my earlier reviews. I absolutely loved the past volumes and volume 4 was no exception.

Gurgazon is finally free from the manor and she’s ready for her reign of terror to begin. I loved being back into this world. This one is not as funny as the past volumes, but it’s not meant to be. After all, if Gurgazon successfully creates her chaos, it’ll be the end of the world! I enjoyed the backstory on Gurgazon and seeing all the characters we’ve grown to love working together to stop the chaos and bring Gurgazon back to their side.While not the best volume of the four, it’s still a very solid read. I had thought this would be the last volume, but it looks like there is (at least) one more as this one ends in another cliff hanger.

The art is also remains solid. This one continues the one main color for the book; this time in tan. As with the past volumes, don’t go in looking for a lot of detail, especially in the background. The panels are sparse concentrating on the main action. It’s one of the more simplistic series that I read, but it works quite well for it.

Final Verdict: Another good addition to the series. If you enjoyed the previous installments, you won’t be disappointed with this one. My only hope is we won’t have to wait another 3 years for the next volume!

March 10th, 2015

Book Review: All Lovely Things

Book Review: All Lovely Things

All Lovely Things by Lea Redmond
Publisher: Perigee Books
Release Date: March 3rd 2015
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher

Think of this book as Pinterest for the inner soul. All Lovely Things asks readers to to consider who they are by way of the diverse items they surround themselves with. Through simple, illustrated prompts, readers are encouraged to create object-based portraits of themselves, or people they know, admire, or imagine. Whether it's a favorite childhood toy, a piece of clothing worn on a first date, or a book that shaped who they are today, readers will create sketches, collage images, or record descriptions of the key objects in a life. They'll also find several completed portraits throughout for inspiration. Drawing attention to objects not as mere possessions or shallow stuff, but as fascinating companions in the world that help us develop a unique sense of self, All Lovely Things is a celebration of the way we make objects and how objects make us.

This is one of those books I can’t do a typical review for. The actual text of the book is very sparse, only about 20 pages or so. Of course, the object of the book is for you to explore your own (and others) life via objects. Redmond walks the reader through a series of of examples to get your mind on the right track before starting the actual profiles. After that, you have over 100+ pages that are blank waiting for you to create your own profiles.

I didn’t do a full profile, but I did like thinking about things that were important to me and why. I don’t know that this profiles truly fit my style, at least in the way Redmond meant. However, I do like doing profiles on family/friends as a different style of a memory book. I would love to know what things were important to those I love and why. Also, it’s interesting to see what they would put in a profile for myself.

I also like how you could use this academically/in library with teens. I see more benefits for this in a classroom setting, but it could translate to libraries just as well. Redmond suggests doing a profile on someone famous/someone you don’t know by doing research/reading some bio information. I love how this could be a new way to do a report/presentation for school. It would definitely be a bit more interesting than the typical way. The idea of doing a profile for a fictional character is intriguing as well. I can see how this could be beneficial for writers/people trying to learn who their characters are and who don’t want to write it all out. Honestly, the more I think about the more ways I realize how many ways you could use these profiles. In talking with a co-worker, i thought of about 5 more different situations, which just goes to prove the possibilities are endless.

Final Verdict: An interesting journal that gets you thinking about objects in a new way. Looks of empty pages for those who enjoy scrapbooking/creating things on paper.

March 4th, 2015

Book Spotlight: Grift

Today I’m doing a quick spotlight on Grift by Jason Mosberg.

grift-cover

 

Grift follows a crew of orphaned teenage con artists living in Las Vegas. Piper, the main character, masquerades as a prostitute to con rich men. Unlike the others, she must split her time between hustling and raising her younger sister Sophie. Disaster strikes when Sophie gets kidnapped by the Las Vegas mafia, and the crew must rally to piece together the ransom money before the clock runs out.

 

 

 

 

This feels like one of those books that my teens who like edgier books would enjoy. If you’re not sold yet, be sure to check out the Grift-ChapterOne. The book can be bought at AmazoniBooksB&N, or Kobo.

Author Bio:
Jason Mosberg lives in Los Angeles where he works as a screenwriter. He has optioned several feature screenplays to independent financiers. He wrote his first novel   Grift while staying in cheap hotel rooms in Las Vegas. When he’s not writing, Jason can be found playing soccer, walking, and over analyzing everything.Having grown up in Delaware, Jason attended Wake Forest University before he lit out for the west coast. His top five TV shows of all time are The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, and Twin Peaks. His one vice is claw machines. On the book side, he is represented by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger.  Jason can be found on Twitter & Facebook.

February 25th, 2015

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.