Thanks to my recent stint at Batgirl at the YSS Spring Conference, I finally remembered that I need to post a review of this book! Let me just start off by saying that I liked this book, but I was a bit put off in the beginning. I think it’s because the cover had me expecting something that would be more accessible to tweens and younger teens but the story left me feeling uncomfortable recommending this book to someone who specifically asks for a “clean read” for their child. Perhaps I found the beginning of the book so off-putting just because I am female and just don’t *get* it as much as if I had grown up as a guy. But, as it stands, I thought that the first several chapters were a bit much. I mean, does it really take several chapters to get across the point that Bright Boy was embarrassed about an erection showing through his spandex costume? I think not…
For the most part, though, I really enjoyed this book. I especially appreciated the fact that good and evil were not as typically “black and white” as in many super hero stories. Sometimes, heroes do very bad things; sometimes, villains are actually misguided altruists. I loved that Phantom Justice was a campy parody of Batman, whom I think my husband takes entirely too seriously, and Dr. Chaotic reminded me quite a bit of Dr. Horrible. If you’re looking for a funny story with action and adventure, mystery and suspense, and a hint of romance, you should give this one a try.
In honor of Teen Tech Week, I decided to review a book that I read as a digital ARC. (If there are any teachers/librarians out there who would like to get digital ARCs, by the way, I highly recommend checking out Edelweiss and NetGalley.) Though I was reluctant to use an e-reader, I really have come around. Though I still prefer “real” books, I am learning to appreciate my e-reader — especially when it means that I will have a better chance of receiving, and sometimes even instant access to, a review copy!
I don’t recall where I first saw the cover of this book, but I was intrigued by both the title and the cool cover. I wanted to find out more about it and whether it might be a good fit for my library’s YA collection, but I couldn’t find any professional reviews. So, I decided to get a digital review copy from Edelweiss and read it myself. I am SO glad I did! I loved the main character, Gabe/Chunk, and thought the unique way the story was told — in the form of a written statement/police interview — worked surprisingly well.
Gabe’s “friends” call him Chunk [a reference to a character from an 80s cult classic, The Goonies], and he has long accepted that moniker. After all, he is fat. Huge. Beyond hope. After his mom left, he and his dad both began to feed their feelings. One of Gabe/Chunk’s biggest problems is his addiction to soda — but the money from the soda machine in the school cafeteria helps to fund the school pep band, so he is OK with wasting his money and drinking all the extra calories… until the day he finds out that they’ve been bamboozled. Without public knowledge, the school board decided to take the money from the soda machine and give it to the cheerleaders for a new dance squad! Gabe/Chunk decides that he is not only going to enlist the help of his friends to win back the money for the band, but he is going to let his grandfather [a former champion body builder] help him win back his body. Though I admit that the description sounds like it could get a little preachy, I am pleased to report that this story was often hilarious and that Gabe/Chunk had an authentic teen voice. I’m definitely hoping for more from this author.
18-year-old Becky Randle, a recent high school graduate, works for a local grocery chain and lives in the trailer she inherited when her mom died (from complications of diabetes/being morbidly obese). One day, Becky thinks she hears her mom’s ringtone and, while searching for the phone, unearths a phone number on a scrap of paper inside an otherwise empty jewelery box. She wonders if the phone number has anything to do with the cryptic thing her mother said on the day she died — “[S]omething is going to happen to you. And it’s going to be magical.” So Becky decides to take a chance and calls the number. It’s almost too good to be true when the person on the other end of the line offers her $1000 and a plane ticket to New York City, but she has nothing to lose and decides to check it out.
Upon her arrival in NYC, she is brought to see fashion designer Tom Kelly, who offers to make her three dresses and to transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky doesn’t believe him at first, but her best friend Rocher uses some extremely colorful language to convince her to go for it. (Rocher’s expletive-laden exclamations were often hilarious, and one was so good that I actually pulled over and recorded it with my cell phone so I could later play it back for my husband. AFTER the kids had gone to bed, of course!) Anyhow… Tom comes through and works some sort of crazy magic and Becky really is transformed! She becomes Rebecca — who is tall, thin, and gorgeous, with perfect skin and hair. She can eat anything she wants without gaining an ounce, and this gives her loads more confidence than Becky ever had. The only problem is that Rebecca needs to fall in love and get married within a year or everything will go back to the way it was before.
I was initially going to read this by myself, but I had to keep stopping to read things out loud to my son because he kept asking, “What’s so funny?” After a few chapters he asked me, “Can you just start over and read that book out loud to me? It sounds really good!” Well, I couldn’t say no to that! And, I must say, even though this book is cataloged as YA, it really didn’t have anything in it that made me uncomfortable reading it out loud to an 8-year-old.
15-year-old Jennifer Strange works as the manager for Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Since wizidrical power has been dwindling for quite some time, wizards are reduced to using their power for more mundane purposes, like delivering pizzas and rewiring houses. Jennifer spends her time and energy trying to find enough work for the Kazam employees, but demand seems to be drying up just as quick as magic. Until, suddenly there is a magical surge and people start whispering about the possibility that Big Magic is involved. When “precogs” start picking up on the impending demise of the last dragon, Maltcassian, everyone in the UnUnited Kingdoms starts going mad about claiming a portion of the untouched Dragonlands — and Jennifer learns that SHE will become the Last Dragonslayer. Reluctant to believe that she will have to kill Maltcassian, since he hasn’t yet done anything to break the Dragonpact, Jennifer does her best to wield her power as Last Dragonslayer with integrity. This book has a winning combination of a strong female character with a good moral compass and plenty of wry humor. I can see this book being a hit for fans of Harry Potter who want a lighter fantasy read.
When people ask Richard Casey what’s wrong with him, he likes to reply that he has SUTHY syndrome. He waits an uncomfortable beat and then explains that SUTHY stands for “Somebody Up There Hates You.” After all, what other reason would there be for a 17-year-old to be in hospice care with a terminal cancer diagnosis? If I hadn’t already read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I may not have believed it was possible that Seamon could have written so much humor into this story. Between Rich’s wry sense of humor and his bumbling romance with a girl named Sylvie [the only other teen in the hospice unit], I laughed out loud often enough that my cat gave up on falling asleep in my lap — and that never happens! If you already read TFiOS and need something to hold you over until the movie comes out in June, you will probably enjoy this story too.
Ryan Dean West has a lot going on… First of all, Ryan Dean — yes, that’s his first name — is a 14 year old junior. Even though he attends an elite prep school, or perhaps because he attends an elite prep school, being two to three years younger than the other students in his grade causes a lot of resentment. Aside from being called a baby all the time, he also has to deal with the fact that he landed himself in “O Hall” [the residence hall for trouble makers] and is stuck rooming with a psychopath named Chas. Luckily, Chas is a rugby teammate and, therefore, has *some* reason not to randomly kill Ryan Dean in his sleep. Other than Chas, Ryan Dean’s biggest problem is girls. His age complicates dating a bit, since he would rather date people in his grade and not people his own age. Unfortunately, though it’s pretty clear that Ryan Dean is love with his best friend, Annie, she seems to think of him as a kid. And Megan, who clearly has the hots for him, is Chas’ girlfriend — which may end up giving Chas the excuse he needs to kill Ryan Dean for real. Luckily, Ryan Dean has another best friend, Joey, to help him through all the craziness and to try to talk some sense into him as needed. Although Ryan Dean occasionally feels awkward about the fact that Joey is gay — wondering, for example, if people will think he is gay by extension — he loves Joey like a brother and is [sometimes begrudgingly] grateful for his advice.
Even though the plot is not at all similar, I found that this book reminded me of I Love You, Beth Cooper. Ryan Dean, despite being a “jock,” somehow reminded me of nerdy Dennis Cooverman. Maybe it was his superior book smarts paired with a lack of interpersonal intelligence? One could probably make the argument that the connection in my mind stems from the fact that Ryan Dean got progressively more banged up throughout the story (just like Dennis), but I think I made the connection before the injuries started to pile up. I think that the overall humorous tone, realistic dialogue, and writing style were similar enough for my brain to make a link (though I feel compelled to warn readers that Winger had a very sad twist ending). No matter the reason, nevertheless, I think Larry Doyle fans are likely to be Andrew Smith fans as well.
It’s no secret that I read to my children all the time… I’m a former teacher who became a librarian, so books and reading are kind of my thing! When I report that my son loved a book or a book series, some people take it with a grain of salt. They say, “But he loves everything!” Well, he kinda does… And that’s OK. For the people out there who haven’t yet convinced their children how awesome books and reading can be, though, THESE BOOKS might be a breakthrough! Not only does Adam Gidwitz trust that many kids can handle the gory old versions of the Grimm fairy tales, but he also understands just how often to give little reassurances and asides [as the narrator] to take the edge off for kids who might get a little nervous about what is going on in the story.
Here are a few things you need to know before reading these books:
1) You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, since each book has different main characters — though you may want to read A Tale Dark and Grimm before The Grimm Conclusion, because the latter references the Hansel and Gretel’s stories in the former.
2) If you plan to read these stories out loud, you may want to establish a separate “narrator” voice, so the listeners can tell when the narrator is interjecting without you having to say so every time. (Especially because it happens A LOT!)
3) These books are HILARIOUS… in a dark and disturbing way. My son has inherited my sick sense of humor, so he and I often found ourselves cracking up so hard that we had to put the book down and just laugh [or risk losing our place]. We were even scolded a few times because my daughter was trying to sleep and we were being too loud! ;-)
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.
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.