I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because I’m afraid the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation is hacking my brain to hijack my book reviews! ;-) Seriously, though… Listening to this story made me wonder how close we are, technologically, to having nanobots capable of invading people’s brains to control the things they do and say. A lot of this story was pretty gross — with graphic descriptions of nanobots “down in the meat” — but it was so intriguing that I just couldn’t stop listening!
The basic premise is that there’s a nano-war being fought — with Charles and Benjamin Armstrong [conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gift Corporation] on one side and a bunch rogue teens who call themselves BZRK on the other. The Armstrongs are fighting for a better world, if you believe what they say — but their plan involves mind control and the removal of free will. BZRK is fighting for people to remain free from mind control, even if it means that some people will make bad decisions that lead to war and general unhappiness. Nothing is ever black and white… especially when it comes to gray matter.
As you might recall, my son and I absolutely LOVE to check out all the incredible pictures and stories in these books! When I brought this latest edition home, he was actually disappointed that we had to sit down to eat dinner instead of going straight to the couch to check it out.
Some of our favorite wacky and creepy items in this edition were:
- “Fake Family” [p. 26] — Alice Winstone has spent nearly $20,000 creating a nursery for 50 lifelike baby dolls that she “feeds,” bathes, and even sleeps with.
- “Corpse Bride” [p. 48] — though the owner of the bridal shop says it is only a mannequin in the front window, many people believe that she is really the preserved corpse of the previous owner’s daughter.
- “Speared Skull” [p.110] — a 3D scan of construction worker Eduardo Leite’s skull after a 6 foot long metal bar fell and pierced through his hard hat and his skull. Amazingly, Eduardo lived and was not even paralyzed!
- “Triathalon Juggler” [pp. 170-1] — Joe Salter of Pensacola, FL, completed a triathalon… while juggling the entire way!
- “Candy Magic” [p. 204] — an artist named Jason Mecier created a portrait of Harry Potter using only red and black licorice.
- “Lickable Wallpaper” [p. 215] — inspired by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, this wallpaper featured cake-flavored stickers — each of which was replaced by an attendant after someone licked it to avoid the spread of germs.
- “Webbed Wonders” [p. 237] — workers from Clearwater’s High Rise Window Cleaners dressed in Spider-Man costumes to clean windows at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL. Talk about a great way to raise morale!
I could go on and on… but, really, you just need to get your hands on a copy and check it out for yourself!
Other than the fact that I had to listen to some of the dialogue bits twice to understand what the Wee Free Men were saying in the audiobook (because they speak with a very thick Scottish brogue), I loved this book! Tiffany Aching is a young witch who has to rescue her young brother, Wentworth, from the clutches of the evil Queen of Fairyland. Though Tiffany doesn’t actually know any magic, her teacher/mentor, a witch named Miss Tick, reassures her that having a keen eye and an attention to detail is often more practical than magic. After witnessing her attack on a monster, using only a frying pan, the Wee Free Men [aka the Nac Mac Feegle] decide they would like to help Tiffany on her quest. And, while it sounds awesome for Tiffany to have a band of men to help her out, you have to consider that these particular “men” are six inches tall and best known for their sheep-stealing, drinking, and fighting. If you enjoy fantasies and/or stories that make you laugh out loud, you should definitely check this one out.
Cent [short for Millicent] is a 16-year-old girl who, despite being homeschooled in the remote Canadian wilderness, has seen more of the world than many people will see in a lifetime. She sometimes takes off at a moment’s notice to go shopping or surfing half way around the world, but her parents don’t own a private jet or helicopter. In fact, the helipad on their property is so overgrown with weeds it’s barely recognizable. How do they get there, then? They jump. All they have to do is concentrate on where they want to go and they can teleport themselves. Though unable to jump herself, Cent has always been brought along by one of her parents. Until one day, while snowboarding without permission, when she nearly gets caught in an avalanche and accidentally learns how to jump herself. Cent gets excited by all the possibilities her jumping has opened up to her… but it terrifies her parents. Not only do they have the usual parental worries of their daughter getting hurt in the usual ways, but they’re also worried that Cent could wind up kidnapped by the scientists who once held her father captive in an attempt to discover how jumping actually works.
It’s not very often that I have enough down time to finish a book in only a couple of sittings — and even more rare that I finish a book and post a review the very next day — but this book was just so awesome that I couldn’t help myself! It was thought-provoking without being too preachy/in your face, told a very unique story, and had characters so well developed that I kinda wished I could jump in the story and hang out with them for a while. What was it about, though, right?
Rafe was a generally good kid, good student, and soccer player. He also happened to be gay. Luckily, because he had super-accepting parents and grew up in a very liberal city (Boulder, CO), coming out was fairly easy. His parents actually threw him a coming out party — his dad referred to it as a “cotillion” — and his mom became active with the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Despite the fact that he agreed to speak to students at local schools, Rafe started to get upset that his being gay was all some people saw. He decided to go away to a boarding school in New England so he could have a chance to live life as a “normal” guy. It was kinda cool, at first, to see how different life could be… but Rafe soon found out that withholding the truth — even though it’s not technically lying — can cause a lot of collateral damage.
River was orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, and he’s also shorter than he should be because his legs’ growth plates were fractured in the crash. He now lives with his aunt and pretty much only has two friends — Freak and Fiona. Freak has plenty of problems of his own, thanks to his alcoholic father. And Fiona is popular enough that she pretends not to know River and Freak when other people are around. To make matters worse, they live next to a place the local newspaper calls “Hellsboro” — the area surrounding the old Rodmore Chemical plant where an underground coal-seam fire makes the land inhabitable.
After all of that, I can understand if you’re hesitant to believe that this is a great/often-funny middle grade book, but it really is! My son and I actually laughed out loud fairly often as we read this story. How is that possible? Because it doesn’t focus so much on the depressing stuff; that’s all more of a footnote, really. The story centers around all the craziness that happened after they found a rare crayon in a sofa by the curb in front of the Underhill Mansion. If you want a funny story about cell phones, genetically modified foods, flash mobs, and brain control (presented as a nice blend of realistic and science fiction), I suggest you check this one out.
Tom always wished that he was special enough to be a Chosen One who would get whisked off to an alternate reality in which he was the only one who could save the day. The way he saw it, though, he just wasn’t “unspecial” enough… Until the night someone named Gark showed up and told him he WAS foretold in a prophecy and that he needed to enter a portal to another world to help save a kingdom! Although it initially seemed like a dream come true, it soon became apparent that the unnamed kingdom [which Tom dubbed "Crap Kingdom"] was full of pessimistic people who couldn’t really care less about whether or not Tom saved them. And Gark, who was the only one actually excited about Tom’s arrival, kept calling him “Tim.” Yeah. Being the chosen one wasn’t necessarily so great after all.
Despite the fact that this is a fantasy book, a great deal of it takes place on Earth and could easily be mistaken for contemporary fiction. Original, funny, and well-written. What’s not to like?!? I would highly recommend this book to fantasy readers who want a break from books that require a glossary and pronunciation guide and/or fans of humorous books who wouldn’t mind a little reality bending. People who enjoyed The True Meaning of Smekday should probably pick this one up.
When Tamsin was born, her grandmother predicted that she would be one of the most Talented witches in their family. Now that she is 17 years old, it seems pretty clear that Tamsin has no Talent and her grandmother must have been mistaken. She is really embarrassed by her lack of Talent and frequently wishes to be more like her older, more beautiful, and extremely Talented sister, Rowena. While working for her family’s bookstore/magic shop, Tamsin is approached by a handsome young professor who would like help locating a family heirloom cuckoo clock. Unfortunately, Tamsin has no idea that locating this clock could upset the balance of good and evil. So, when he mistakenly calls her Rowena [who is fairly well known for her ability to locate lost items], she chooses not to correct him and, instead, tries to use this as an opportunity to prove herself.
To say that Josie Moraine has a very unusual life would be an understatement and a half! Though she is only in high school, she already lives on her own and works two jobs — as a clerk at a local bookstore and as a maid of sorts for the brothel where her mother works. That’s right… Josie’s mother is a prostitute. Not to mention a cold, calculating, unloving woman who only ever seems to think of herself. And, as if that isn’t bad enough, Josie’s mother also happens to be in love with an abusive gangster-type. So, when her mom disappears from the French Quarter the very same morning that a man turns up dead, Josie isn’t sure what to do or what to believe. She has never wanted anything so much as a chance to get out of the “Big Easy” and to get a good education, but her mother and her mother’s foolishness always seem to get in the way.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was how the entire cast of characters was so well fleshed-out. I get annoyed when authors skimp on developing the supporting characters, but Sepetys did not disappoint! My favorite was Willie — the brothel madam who knew Josie was bound for bigger and better things, regardless of the fact that many people assumed/hoped she would simply follow in her mother’s footsteps. I loved that Willie did her best to support Josie and to encourage her to want more from life instead of being upset that Josie didn’t want to join the [ahem] family business. If you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, this is a book you won’t want to miss.
Aaron Hartzler credits his acting ability to all the practice he got at home. After all, having questions about his faith and his sexuality weren’t exactly encouraged by his strict, Christian parents. If he wanted to stay out of trouble, he had to pretend to believe what they believed and to behave as they thought he should. As a child, he found it easy to get swept up in the excitement over the thought that Jesus might come down and take them all away to heaven at a moment’s notice. As a teen, though, Aaron had begun to enjoy his time on Earth too much to hope for the rapture. He also began to question many of the strict rules his parents upheld in the name of religion — especially the rules against listening to popular music and going to the movies. He began sneaking around and breaking rules and, what started off as smaller/more innocent lies, soon became intricately planned deceptions and full-fledged rebellion. Though I grew up attending church, my Presbyterian upbringing was very liberal and I found it fascinating [and sometimes horrifying] to see how vastly different it could have been even though his religion was based on the same holy book as mine.