Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie Vol. 1 by Anthony Del Col and Werther Dell'Edera

In the same fashion as Riverdale comes The Big Lie. Here, Joe and Frank Hardy are suspects in the murder of their father, Fenton Hardy. He had been a cop under trial for corruption, and the shame seems to have led him to shoot himself. The comic opens with Joe and Frank under interrogation. They had been at the Bobbsey twins' party during the murder, but there was an hour of time where nobody could place them.

The whole thing is actually a plan masterminded by Nancy Drew. They are trying to make the police suspect the Hardy boys and meanwhile they are trying to find the real killer, who they suspect is another cop. The three teen detectives have to get their hands dirty to catch the real murderer. They cheat in an underground poker game in order to get on the radar of the Rovers, major drug dealers. It becomes even more complicated when it seems like Nancy's father, Carson Drew, was involved in the corruption and may even be the one who killed Fenton Hardy.

It's all incredibly gritty detective stuff. Plus, they all have smart phones now. There are references to other retro children's book characters, the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins. The whole thing ends with the Hardy Boys and Nancy catching the killer, but hints at even bigger corruption and darker forces orchestrating the murder. Which leads to the second volume of the series.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

"He was tired of everyone believing they knew everything there was to know about him, as if a person never grew, a person never changed, a person was born a weird and dreamy little kid with too-red lips and stayed that way forever just to keep things simple for everyone else..."

Bone Gap is the typical small rural town. The people all know each other, and they know everything going on. They know all the rumors, such as the one about the ghost who eats leftovers at the house it haunts. Most of the rumors in Bone Gap involve the fields of corn. They say that the corn talks. Some even say that the corn walks around on its own.

Brothers Finn and Sean have lived in Bone Gap their entire lives. Their father is dead and their mother ran off to marry an orthodontist. Sean had been planning to go away to medical school and become a doctor. He gave up his dreams to take care of Finn and make sure that his younger brother graduates high school. Where Sean is responsible and serious, Finn is dreamy. He never meets anyone's eye. Everyone talks about how handsome Finn is, but also how strange he is.

Things shifted when the boys found a girl in their barn. Rosa showed up out of the blue...and disappeared the same way. During her brief stay, Sean lightened up, even laughed. Finn also had a bond with Rosa, as did everyone else in Bone Gap. It was a great blow when she left. Finn adamantly insists that she was abducted. Nobody believes him, especially because he can't describe the kidnapper's face. All he can say is that the man looked like a scarecrow. The man who kidnapped Rosa keeps confronting poor Finn, threatening to hurt him and everyone he loves if he doesn't stop looking for Rosa. Unfortunately, no one else ever sees the man.

It turns out that Rosa was abducted. A strange man took her and has been holding her in a series of strange places. Every day, the man asks the same question, "Do you love me yet?" Rosa tries to escape, to break out, find a weapon, even stabs the man. In spite of her efforts, she keeps waking up in a new place, still captive.

Meanwhile, Finn starts to spend time with a girl named Petey, the beekeeper's daughter. She is known for her bad attitude and her unusual face. Finn and Petey have lots of late night adventures riding Finn's mysterious horse (It's a very fancy horse that just showed up in their barn) through cracks and into alternate dimensions, or something equally odd. Because Finn is really pretty and Petey isn't traditionally attractive, the rest of the town thinks that he is using her. She starts to agree, but not in the same way as everyone else.

Bone Gap was such a weirdo of a book, and I was there for it. It's got that whole magical realism thing going for it. It's been a while since I've actually read it, but believe me, it was good.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

"One great fear to rule your life. One great fear to take it. There was no escaping her fate and no way to save the members of her family from theirs; this Esther's grandfather had told her since she was a child..."
The center of A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is the Solar family. They have been cursed by Death himself. Reginald Solar met a man during the Vietnam War who he believed was an apprentice to Death. Since then, every Solar has been cursed with one great fear. That fear will consume them and eventually be what kills them.

Esther doesn't know what her fear is yet. Her twin brother Eugene is afraid of the dark. Their house is full of lamps and candles, and every light switch is taped on at all times. Shadowy creatures come from the dark trying to take him away. The twins' father developed agoraphobia. One day he went into the basement and just never left. He stays down there, all alone, surrounded by Christmas decorations. Despite suffering multiple strokes, he refuses to leave. Their mother is afraid of being unlucky, something that started after her husband went into the basement. She spends all her time and all the family's money at the casino. She also spent a thousand dollars on a rooster that is supposed to be a goblin.

Because of this somewhat interesting family life, Esther dreams of moving out on her own after high school. To fund this dream, she sells secret underground baked goods to her classmates. Sugar and junk food are banned, so she makes a decent profit. One day after selling her wares at her grandfather's nursing home, she encounters a boy she once knew: Jonah Smallwood. She loved him in Kindergarten and they were really close, but he moved away suddenly. Now, he is crying and bruised at the bus stop. He proceeds to con her out of her newly earned $55, her grandmother's bracelet, and even her fruit roll up. It's a non-traditional way to start a romance, that's for sure.

Jonah is the one who convinces Esther to face her fears. He had also taken her notebook with her list of fears. She decided to write down anything that seemed mildly frightening. Then she could avoid said thing and it would never become her great fear. Jonah has the idea to conquer each of the fears. Esther figures that if she takes enough risks, Death will start to pay attention and she can make him reverse the curse. With Jonah's help, she conquers one fear every Sunday, starting with #50: lobsters.

This book was terribly charming. I LOVED Esther and Jonah. They were adorable. Jonah rescues a little kitten he ran over with his moped, and he names the disabled baby Fleayonce Knowles. Esther constantly wears costumes, dressing like Wednesday Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Indiana Jones. The interactions between Jonah and Esther's father are also really sweet. Jonah is incredibly kind to him, promises to eat dinner with him. She tells him that he doesn't have to do it, but Jonah likes her dad. You can tell that her dad appreciates the company, which kind of breaks my heart.

There was also a lot of dark stuff. I didn't expect so much darkness, including a very upsetting suicide scene. The ending is also kind of ambiguous about whether the Solar curse was real or not. Was it a curse placed by Death himself or a family history of mental illness, self-fulfilling prophecies, and coincidences? There isn't a definitive answer, and it kind of feels like the book is trying to have it both ways. I didn't really mind, though. I enjoy the openendedness.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Diviners by Libba Bray

“Oh, Evie, you’re too much,” people said, and it wasn’t complimentary. Yes, she was too much. She felt like too much inside all the time. So why wasn’t she ever enough?”

After causing a scandal in her small Ohio town, Evie is sent to stay with her Uncle Will in New York City. This "punishment" actually suits her just fine, as Evie is one of those young flappers. She imagines that her stay will be nothing but parties, time with her old pal Mabel, and her name in the papers. What she didn't count on was murder.

Bodies have been found around the city. Certain body parts are missing and there are strange symbols at the crime scenes. The police enlist Will's help. Will runs a supernatural museum, known locally as the Museum of Creepy Crawlies. He is aided by Evie, who has a supernatural gift. When she touches someone's belongings, Evie gets visions. This gift got her in trouble back in Ohio, but it will help her catch the killer in New York.

There are several other characters with powers in The Diviners. Evie encounters Sam leaving the train station after first arriving in the city. He can make himself invisible at will. She holds a grudge against him because he steals twenty dollars from her, but he gets a job at Will's museum and they have a cordial animosity. Memphis used to heal people when he was a child, but he lost the power. Now he's involved with a speakeasy, running receipts. His younger brother has a powerful gift that Memphis wants to hide from his very religious aunt.

The Diviners is a very long book, but also very entertaining. Evie can be a little frivolous at times, but you can tell her heart is in the right place. The story switches between her and several different characters, including the killer. Separate storylines end up intersecting and coming together, which I always like. I look forward to reading the next books in this series to find out what happens to Evie and the rest of the Diviners.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Things I'm Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni

"Find out what you want. Find out what you don't want. Screw up some more. Get your heart broken again. Try to be decent along the way. That's how you make a life..."

Tess is not okay. Her online boyfriend Jonah just committed suicide. Out of grief, she drops out of high school and moves in with her estranged father. One of her first actions upon arriving is to symbolically purge herself of Jonah by literally dumping her laptop in the lake, after which she jumps in the lake herself. So, yeah, the poor girl has some issues to work through.

Tess' dad used her college fund to pursue his latest career path: funeral planning. He has mixed results. There was a dog funeral that ended with wasn't great. Tess ends up helping him plan a funeral for a prized race horse, and it's a massive success.

Tess partners with her dad with the agreement that he will pay back her college fund. Their newest venture: planning a life celebration for a former burlesque dancer before she succumbs to Alzheimer's. They grow closer, and things start looking up for her. Then she gets a Facebook message from Jonah. Impossible, right? Not so much. I'm going to spoil the plot twist, so look away if you don't want to know...

It turn out that part of the time that Tess had been chatting with Jonah online, she had actually been talking to his roommate Daniel. Obviously, this is deceptive and all kinds of messed up. Tess starts to talk to actual Daniel and together they work through feelings about Jonah and his sudden death, and it's kind of nice.

 It was nice to be able to see Tess' journey as she went through the process of grieving Jonah. I also liked seeing her bonding with her father. Things I'm Seeing Without You definitely seemed to try its hardest to be quirky and unique. I wasn't always feeling it, but it was still a pretty good story. There was a lot of hope in the ending, and I liked that a lot.  

I received my copy of Things I'm Seeing Without You from the Goodreads Firstreads Program, courtesy of Dial Books. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

"LadyConstellation is the hero who defeats Eliza Mirk once a week and celebrates with her many admiring fans. She is beloved by all, even the villain, because without her the villain wouldn't exist.
I am LadyConstellation.
I am also Eliza Mirk.
This is the paradox that can never be solved..."

Francesca Zappia's first book, Made You Up was a beautiful, funny, and weird. I absolutely loved it. Therefore, I was beyond excited to read her follow up, Eliza and Her Monsters.

Eliza Mirk is the Weird Girl. She used to be normal, but now she is either ignored or ridiculed. To be honest, she doesn't really mind. High school is just something to get through until college. Besides, Eliza doesn't need friends in real life...she has plenty online.

She is the creator of the incredibly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Under the username LadyConstellation, Eliza publishes the comics, sells merchandise, and chats about teen soap Dog Days. Only her closest friends, Emmy, a 14-year-old college student, and Max, a twenty-something Canadian, know her true identity. Her parents and brothers also know about the comic, but not how big it is, or how important it is to her fans.

One day Eliza uncharacteristically defends the new boy in school against some bullies. He was writing fanfiction about Monstrous Sea, so Eliza considers it her responsibility to help. The bullies grab some of her rough drawings, and she ends up bonding with the new boy, Wallace, over the comic. Wallace is tall and big like a football player, but he never talks. He prefers to write notes back and forth. It turns out that he is also a major player in the online fandom as rainmaker.

Eliza doesn't want to tell Wallace who she is, but they continue to grow closer. He is writing a novelization of Monstrous Sea, and asks Eliza to read it and offer critique. She doesn't want to, but it turns out that his writing is amazing. She urges him to share it online. Wallace invites her to a Halloween party at a bookstore where she meets his friends, who are all very active on the Monstrous Sea forums. They get so close that they hold hands, he even talks about kissing her...which makes it so much harder that she still hasn't told him she is LadyConstellation.

I definitely related with Eliza, especially her view of high school. My teenage years were spent alone, although I didn't create any massive online universe. Unfortunately, I also didn't bond with the new boy in school and start an adorable, nerdy relationship. Eliza and Her Monsters was another fantastic novel from Francesca Zappia, and I highly recommend it. It's got funny moments and moments that made me cry when I read them on my break at work (Awkward). I must confess that I couldn't quite understand what we were shown of Monstrous Sea, but it sounded pretty cool. And, as always, I love me some nerds in love.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Meant to Be by Julie Halpern

"Fuck fate. Screw destiny. I'm team free will..."

Meant to Be offers an interesting future. A worldwide event known as the Naming resulted in every adult having a name suddenly appear on their chest. Now, the Names appear at some point after everyone turns 18. The Names, also known as Meant to Be's, or MTB's, belong to your soul mate. The Naming brings up lots of questions. Where did the Names come from? What if they leave as suddenly as they came? Most importantly of all, what about free will?

Agatha, better known as Aggie, is incredibly cynical about the Names, which she refers to as MTs (Empties). This is largely because her father ran off to be with his Empty, leaving Aggie and her mother alone. Thankfully, Uncle Jim moves in and helps with money and housework. He's a delightful man who writes romance novels under the name Savannah Merlot, none of which involve MTBs. Aggie's best friend Lish, however, is all about MTB's. She paid a lot of money to have her name scanned to find her MTB, Travis. He is coming to stay with her family for the summer, and she sees their relationship as leading to marriage, children, etc.

When the name Hendrix Cutter appears on Aggie's chest, she has every intention of ignoring it. Her goals are to hook up with her hot co-worker, Luke, at Haunted Hollow, the Halloween-themed amusement park where she works, and to visit Australia after graduation so she can pursue a job at their famous amusement parks. Everything seems to be going according to her plans, not destiny. She hooks up with Luke, and they start a semi-casual relationship. Still, Aggie finds that she can't stop thinking about one Hendrix Cutter. Who, as it turns out, lives in Australia...

This was a pretty fun story. Aggie was delightfully snarky. If I had to complain, I might say that there's a little too much focus on her large breasts. Also, there are a couple of fairly detailed sex scenes. So, proceed with caution on that front. In spite of those small quibbles, I really loved Meant to Be and its imaginative what-if scenario.

I received my copy of Meant to Be from Edelweiss, courtesy of Feiwel & Friends. It's available October 24th.