March 10th, 2015
All Lovely Things by Lea Redmond
Publisher: Perigee Books
Release Date: March 3rd 2015
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
Today I’m doing a quick spotlight on Grift by Jason Mosberg.
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 Amazon, iBooks, B&N, or Kobo.
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
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Release Date: January 20th 2015
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.
February 12th, 2015
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014
Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.
Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.
I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.
You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.
Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.
The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to keep her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.
The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should learn.
Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.
February 4th, 2015
Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #1
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2015
The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor. As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world. And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.
But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes. Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.
And now it's too late to walk away.
This has got to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve written in a long time. I’ve deleted and retyped almost everything I’ve written several times over. But, let me start off by saying I liked this book. I know there’s been a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I don’t have the same complaints as other reviewers. In fact, I’ll easily pick up the second book when it comes out.
First off, the descriptions only give half the story. While Quin is one of the main characters, there are three others that are followed as well. The chapters rotate between them giving the reader a good view into their world and thoughts. Quin, and maybe even Maud, are the heart of the book, but the story is really driven by John. He made a promise to his dying mother when he was seven and it literally is the focus of everything he does. He is determined to keep that promise, even if it means hurting those who cares about. The others are mainly dealing with the consequences of his decisions.
I’ll be honest, I had lukewarm feelings about most of the characters. I really liked Maud, but the others I was a bit meh about mainly because of the decisions they made. I love Shinobu, but he totally took a downward spiral once in Hong Kong. I understand it to a point. Drugs would have helped him escape the past. I can only imagine that the things he saw and did were soul crushing. However, he had a great opportunity to restart his life with family. He had the chance to have a much better life where he was truly loved, but he wasn’t willing to let go or forgive himself. Quin suffered the same problem that Shinobu did, although, she did it differently. Neither was willing to face what had happened and wanted to simply run away. While she doesn’t turn to drugs, her decision is just as bad. By the end, I feel like they were both in a better place and I look forward to, hopefully, seeing them grow even more in the next book.
A lot have complained about the setting, which can be a bit jarring. The Scotland estate feels quite medieval, but there is a lot of modern, and even futurist, technology. Honestly, it felt very steampunk to me, which may be why I didn’t give it a second thought. Also, it felt like the manor was of it’s own world. It was very secluded and a place where they followed their own set of rules, which fit in with the ancient protectors vibe perfectly. I would say just to roll with the setting and not try to pin it to a time period as doing so will only make you upset.
Also, if you want a book that has every little thing spelled out for you, this is not the book for you. There is a lot of reading between the lines and putting the pieces together on your own. Dayton does eventually reveal most of it, but you have to figure it out yourself for a while. One particular scene will be flashbacked several times, revealing a little more each time until you fully understand the horror of the situation. Of course, even though some questions are answered, you are still left with many more in their place. There are several things I’m dying to know about, which I hope will be covered in book two.
The only thing that made me eye raise an eyebrow was Shinobu being in love with Quin. They’re supposed to be third cousins, well half-third cousins, and it feels a bit weird. We’re reminded over and over that they’re really distant cousins that hardly share any blood, but it still felt a bit icky. Dayton could have easily had the relationship be the same without making them related. Often times we don’t see what is in front of us, especially if it’s been there all our lives. Of course, Cassandra Clare had 2 books were we thought Clary & jace were brother/sister, so maybe the teens won’t mind it. And maybe Dayton will spin it in future books that they’re not really related after all. That seems unlikely, but I suppose it could be a possibility.
Final Verdict: An intriguing fantasy book that can be confusing at times. However, stick with it and I think you’ll be rewarded in the end.