Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

“You know it's going to be one of those nights when you start it with moving a body...”

Zoe and her mother moved to a small town after her parents divorced. However, she doesn't plan to stay very long. Her goal is to get into Princeton, and in order to get into Princeton, she plans to transfer to the fancy boarding school near her father's house. A complication messes everything up. The complication is in the form of a boy, though not in the way you'd expect.

Digby just shows up on Zoe's doorstep one day. He's a weird boy and Zoe dislikes him immediately. He seems to pop up wherever she goes, almost getting her into trouble at school. Digby reminded me a lot of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. He makes all kinds of deductions about people, all with the same lack of tact. Digby convinces Zoe to partner with him for a special independent project, but they never really do any work. Obviously, this freaks Zoe out to no end because: Princeton.

Instead, Digby wants to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl, Marina Miller. Zoe finds out that Digby's sister, Alice, disappeared years earlier. The entire family was under suspicion, including Digby. The officer who worked on their case now works at their school. He uses his position of authority to harass Digby, and it seems really immoral and possibly illegal. When she learns his entire story, Zoe becomes more sympathetic and helpful. She sees that Digby wants to be known for something other than having a sister who was kidnapped.  

Before I read the book, it had been featured on lists that extolled its humor. I was expecting to laugh out loud, and I really did. I ended up liking Digby a lot, and Zoe was cool in her own type-A way. It was a fun mystery, and I am excited to read the next book in the series, Trouble Makes a Comeback.

I received my copy of Trouble Is a Friend of Mine from Edelweiss, courtesy of Kathy Dawson Books. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

"You see it in all animals- the female of the species is more deadly than the male..."

The Female of the Species is such a great, fantastic book. However, it is not the easiest read. I'm just going to put that out there first thing. It deals with murder, animal abuse, rape, and a little bit of poverty. There are some heavy, aching, soul-crushing moments. Through some sort of writing sorcery, there are also uplifting, sweet, and hopeful moments. I was nervous because I had been on a bright and cheery run, and this one is pretty much the opposite. I read it anyways because I love Mindy McGinnis and because it brings up a lot of important issues.

Alex is best known because her sister was murdered. Other than that, she is mostly invisible. What her classmates don't know is that she killed her sister's murderer. He wasn't convicted, so she took justice into her own hands. She doesn't feel bad about it. There is a darkness inside of her, a darkness she inherited from her father.

Then Alex is pulled out of the dark. The first person to get close to her is Peekay. Peekay, P.K. for Preacher's Kid, has a reputation as a good girl because she is the daughter of the preacher. She works hard to shed the reputation, drinking and committing general debauchery. Alex and Peekay both take a class elective at the animal shelter. They bond over a bag of dead puppies.

The second person is Jack. Jack and Alex are salutatorian and valedictorian of their class. He needs to be valedictorian so that he can get a scholarship, get into college, and get out of their small town. She doesn't care either way because she doesn't plan to go to college. Despite hooking up with his childhood friend, who is now the hottest girl in school, Jack becomes obsessed with Alex. He helps pull her car out of a ditch, and they end up in a relationship.

Unfortunately, Alex can't help her nature. When one of Jack's friends grabs her in fun, she hits him where it counts. At a party, some druggie older kids are about to rape Peekay. Thankfully, Alex is keeping an eye on her friend. She stops them, then proceeds to attack the main perpetrator. Jack doesn't quite realize how bad it is until she shows up at his house, smelling like smoke. One of Peekay's friends just found out that her uncle had been molesting her sister. Then his house was on fire...with him in it. This puts a strain on their relationship, understatement of the century.

On to the difficult's hard to come up with a good seque that leads into these things. There's a bunch of stuff dealing with animals at the shelter and at Jack's after school job where he slaughters cows (I personally have difficulty reading about animal abuse and death, so I have this mantra where I repeat "It's not real, it's not real" over and over to myself. It's effective, though I still cry a bunch). The kids attend an assembly where a police officer talks about rape. There are two attempted rapes depicted in the book. It's hard to read, but important. There's some cool parts about gender equality. At one point, Alex observes some male classmates pretending to fornicate with a ball in gym class. Nobody bats an eye. She speculates what would happen if she were to do the same, and predicts that it would not be dismissed as easily.

But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eyeroll...

I always feel as though I do a poor job explaining these things, but I want to emphasize that this book has a lot of importance. It seems like another YA read about a sociopath murderer, but there is so much more to it. You can read an excellent article where the author talks about her reasons for writing the book and including so many difficult topics here.

I received my copy of The Female of the Species from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl Gretchen McNeil

"Women are not on this planet exclusively to inspire men and make them happy. We have our own dreams and needs, our own shit to get done. We run companies, countries, international organizations. We're not props, and we're certainly not here to cater to men's egos..."

I wanted to read this book because it sounded cute. Beatrice is about to start her senior year of high school. She is optimistic that everything will be better this year. People will learn her actual name instead of calling her Math Girl. Her friends, the gay comic book loving Gabe and artist Spencer, won't be bullied and beaten up by the jocks. It's also the first time that Beatrice has a boyfriend, Jesse.

Despite such high hopes, senior year starts out the same as every other year. Then she arrives. Toile is weird. She dresses in mismatchy clothes with dumb hats, says weird things, and becomes inexplicably popular. The last straw for Beatrice is when Jesse breaks up with her...and starts dating a girl named after fabric.

Beatrice has been trying to come up with a project on applied mathematics to get into M.I.T. She creates The Formula, a way for her and her friends to succeed at high school. She turns Gabe into Gabriel, a gay stereotype who wears bow ties and suspenders and spouts a catchphrase. Spencer becomes the tortured artist and gets on the radar of the most popular girl in school (Even though he obviously is in love with Beatrice).

Beatrice decides to beat Toile at her own game. She changes her hair and clothes, always wearing two different shoes because that is her "thing." Now she goes by Trixie, and she studies a bunch of movies to learn how to act. Basically, she says loopy things and never acts embarrassed. There is a definite reaction to her new look and attitude. Trixie makes more friends than Beatrice ever did, and they actually know her name. Jesse also pays attention, dropping Toile for Trixie as fast as he dropped Beatrice for Toile.

Despite my hopes, I wasn't all that into this book. Beatrice was kind of slow to realize so many things. She barely talked to anyone else, but complained that they didn't talk to her. She didn't know that Spencer was in love with her even though Gabe kept singing, "Why can't I find a woman like that?" right in front of her. Finally, she didn't know that Jesse was a jerk who was looking for someone to focus on him instead of an actual relationship, and I didn't care for how much Beatrice blamed Toile for her problems when Jesse was the one she should be mad at, and he was so not worth making yourself over for. Toile and Trixie's manic pixie routines were legitimately funny, though, and I would have liked more of that.

I received my copy of I'm Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer + Bray. It will be available October 18th.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

iZOMBIE 1-4 by Chris Roberson

I am a HUGE fan of the iZombie television show. Before the show premiered, I read an article (Though I cannot remember what it was) that listed the differences between the show and the graphic novels of the same name. Even so, I wanted to read the series myself.

It turns out that the show didn't take much from the graphic novels, aside from a title and the concept of a zombie who eats brains and gains the memories from the brains' owner. There are far more differences, such as:
  • The main character's name: Gwendolyn Price/Gwen Dylan in the comic, Olivia "Liv" Moore in the show
  • Gwen works and lives at a graveyard, obtaining brains from the corpses. My concern had been that the formaldehyde used in preservation would make the brains inedible, but it's actually an organic cemetery that doesn't preserve bodies, which seems odd. Is that an actual thing? She paints the memories she gains. Liv works at the coroner's office and obtains brains there. When Liv eats a brain, she gains talents and personality traits as well as memories.   
  • The universe of the comics contains many supernatural creatures besides zombies, such as vampires, werecreatures, ghosts, mummies, etc. The TV show wisely focuses solely on zombies, though part of me would appreciate the chaos of multiple monsters. 
  • In the comics, Gwen is friends with a ghost named Ellie and a wereterrier named Scott. They were both wisely omitted from the show. Liv's friends from the show: Peyton, ex fiance Major, and coworkers Ravi and Clive are not featured in the comics, but for a reason.
  •  The reason is that Gwen doesn't retain many memories from being alive. Her family and friends believe she is dead, and she doesn't remember them anyways. Liv remembers everything from her former life, and none of her friends and family (Save her boss Ravi...this was written a while ago because now a lot more people know as of the completed second season) know that she died and became a zombie. 
The first book, Dead to the World, introduced the characters. Gwen, Scott, and Ellie were trick-or-treating when they encountered a mysterious man.
You have to appreciate Gwen's Shaun of the Dead

Gwen eats a brain later and discovers that the mysterious man murdered the brain's owner in some sort of ceremony. The man turns out to be a mummy named John Amon who teaches Gwen the nature of zombies. See, there's this whole oversoul and undersoul thing.  Oversoul is the brain: "thoughts, memories, and personality." Undersoul is the heart: "appetites, emotions, and fears." Ghosts are bodiless oversouls. A bodiless undersoul is a poltergeist. Vampires have an oversoul, but drink blood because they lack an undersoul. The opposite, having the undersoul but seeking the memories of the oversoul is the zombie.

Meanwhile, a pair of hunters comes to town and starts to take out the local vampire population. One of them, Horatio, asks out Gwen. This is somewhat distressing to Scott, the wereterrier friend who has a crush on Gwen. I'm going to admit that I don't remember everything that happened and in which book. At some point, Gwen remembers her younger brother. Scott the wereterrier meets him and falls in love with him. The brother makes a pact with a comic book writer to be possessed with the spirit of his character, who is actually real and kind of homophobic, which messes up their relationship (That old cliche again!) Ellie the ghost makes friends with a Frankenstein monster and they end up falling in love. The mummy guy turns out to be kind of evil and a zombie. Also, his former friend has been working on a plan to summon a big bad entity that will destroy the world.

Out of the two, I definitely prefer the TV show. It's more streamlined and funny, though I would probably be super stoked if Rob Thomas brought on a wereterrier. The novels were not completely without their own charms. However, the lack of Ravi was unforgivable.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

"You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country, She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head....
We have a different story to tell...."
My Lady Jane is a VERY loose account of Lady Jane Grey's nine day reign as Queen of England. In real life, Henry VIII had been King, he married Catherine of Aragon, she gave birth to a daughter, Mary. Henry was not pleased with the lack of a male heir, so he decided to put a ring on his mistress, Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, England was a Catholic nation and divorce wasn't allowed. Ever the resourceful once, Henry decided to start his own church and have all the divorces he wanted. Poor Anne only gave him one daughter, Elizabeth, before losing her head. His third wife finally gave him a son, Edward. After a few more wives, Henry dies and leaves Edward in charge.

Edward grew ill, and it was soon discovered that he would die. To keep England from falling under Catholic control, Edward changed the line of succession. Instead of going to Mary, the crown would go to his cousin Jane. Mary doesn't take it well, raises an army, and takes the throne back. Jane and her husband Guilford end up losing their heads.

My Lady Jane is, somewhat surprisingly, a comedy. Less surprisingly, it accomplishes this by taking a lot of liberties with the actual history. The main players are all the same. The religious war has been replaced with a battle over shapeshifters. E∂ians are humans who can change into animals. There is a party that opposes them, that believes they should all be killed. King Henry VIII surprised his country by turning into a lion to maul an unfortunate messenger. Unfortunately, he has passed away and left the country to his only son Edward. Edward has recently found out that he is ill with the Affliction, and it's getting worse. His chief advisor urges him to name a successor.

The country would normally go to Edward's oldest sister Mary, but she is strongly against E∂ians. His advisor Lord Dudley's solution is to leave the throne to Edward's sensible cousin Jane. Jane would marry the advisor's son Gifford, and the throne would pass to any male heirs that they produce.

Lady Jane Grey is not well known at court. She has a profound love of reading, and a dislike for parties. She's a girl after my own heart. Jane has been engaged several times, and her fiance always fell into some misfortune. She doesn't think that the new engagement will be any different, but the wedding is scheduled to take place in only a couple of days.

Her fiance, Gifford (He prefers G, but I don't), is also not well known at court. He has a pretty good reason, though: he is an E∂ian and spends his days, from sunrise to sundown, as a horse. Unlike other shapeshifters, he can't control his changes. Gifford is in love with Jane from the moment he sets eyes on her, but she thinks that he finds her ugly. Jane is offended by Gifford's "hobbies." He has worked hard to maintain a reputation as a lady's man in court, but it's a front to cover up his terrible secret: Gifford writes poetry which he reads in taverns.

In spite of being prepared for the "special hug" that comes after marriage, Jane and Gifford do not consummate their marriage. Instead, they live together rather tensely. He makes fun of her books, she makes fun of the fact that he is a horse. They bond on their Honeymoon by taking food and supplies to a village that was attacked by rogue E∂ians. When they finally start to like like each other, they find out that Edward has died. Jane is now the Queen of England.

As it turns out, Edward isn't actually dead. His favorite dog, Pet (Short for Petunia) turns out to actually be the daughter of one of the stablehands. Pet informs Edward that Dudley has been poisoning him in order to make him appear ill. Edward manages to escape the turning into a falcon and flying away.

Jane is advised to pass the throne to Gifford, but she refuses. This makes Gifford's father angry and hurts G's feelings a bit. Unfortunately, as Jane is being crowned Queen, Mary is gathering an army to fight her. Soon enough, Jane and Gifford are thrown in the Tower of London waiting to get their heads cut off, and Dudley is at Mary's side. This is basically where the real story ends. Fortunately, this one has a happier ending. 

I really loved My Lady Jane. It's really very funny, and I loved the anachronistic humor (There were constant jokes about things not being invented yet). Jane and Gifford were super cute together, even when they were being kind of infuriating. I may have spent the majority of the book wanting them to just kiss already. At least they fared better than their real counterparts. There was a part where they were locked in the Tower, and Gifford carves Jane's name in the wall of his cell, and I was Googling the real story, and...
I'm not going to lie, this made me sob a little. Aww, poor Gifford/Guildford! Poor Jane. Thankfully, as I said, we get a much happier ending here. My History degree is crying a little bit, but the rest of me is satisfied.

Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat, Volume 1: Hooked on a Feline by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams

I knew Patsy Walker best in the form of Trish on Jessica Jones. Trish is actually really awesome, but I was a little skeptical about the comic. I don't know why I was, because it was absolutely delightful.

The plot involves Patsy putting her life back together after spending some time in Hell. While she was otherwise occupied, Patsy's frenemy Hedy has republished the old comics based on Patsy and her friends. Patsy's mother gave her the rights to the series, and Patsy hasn't gotten any money from the deal.

She could really use the money as She-Hulk had to let her go from her detective agency, and she also has to stop living in the supply closet. Patsy manages to bounce back, befriending a telekinetic almost-villain named Ian and moving in as his roommate. As Hellcat, she manages to fight and then befriend people with powers. This gives her the idea to open a job agency to pair people with powers with employers. It's a good solution, as lots of people with powers don't want to fight or commit crime, they just want to make a living.

It turns out that the people that Hellcat has been fighting are being recruited. A mysterious person has been seeking out people with powers on the internet. They have to prove that they are bad by committing a crime, then they can join the group. This person promises them anything that they need: a car, money for student loans, etc. It's up to Hellcat to stop this villain's evil plot!

Patsy/Hellcat is such a spunky and enthusiastic character, so I loved her. My immediate thought was that I wanted her to hang out with Squirrel Girl. Lo and behold:

I want to hang out with that squad. Hellcat was just as good as my beloved Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and made me laugh just as much. I love the lightness they bring, and I'm definitely excited to have another series to read. I'm also very excited to read the next issues because:
Jessica Jones!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

"I know it can be empowering to some, but I hate that word in all its forms. Survive. Survival. Survivor. Blah! So temporary and meaningless. 'Congratulations! You didn't die! At least not yet! But you will! Oh, trust us, you most certainly will!"

Spontaneous is a book that starts with a bang...literally. A member of the senior class explodes during pre-calc, just bursts into blood and little pieces. A second senior explodes soon after, then a third. The FBI gets involved, and theories of terrorist activity are thrown around. It's all a dead end because the kids have nothing in common. Boys or girls, all different races and body types, the only common denominator is that they were members of the senior class.

Our main character, Mara, is present for several of the explosions. She gets a mysterious text early in the crisis that reads:
You were there for both of them. That must have been invigorating.

So weird, right? The text turns out to have been from Dylan, a fellow senior with a serious reputation. There are two rumors about him: 1. He burned down the local convenience store and 2. He impregnated his ex-girlfriend with triplets. Mara and Dylan start to date; he clears up the rumors and takes her around in his dead father's ice cream truck. They are fairly cute together, though weirdly so.

After so many explosions, no one is any closer to figuring out why the seniors are exploding or how to stop it. The government gathers them all in a tent to do experiments, even hunting down any seniors who skipped town, as well as kids who would have been in their class who moved away. The school had shut down permanently, with intentions to destroy the building. Classes were to resume in a vacant mall nearby, but the seniors weren't invited. Mara decides to take some initiative and set up a school so that her class can graduate. Her parents always phrased it like once they get their diplomas, the explosions will just stop. They manage to get some funding, hire a couple teachers, a lunch lady, and a janitor, and school is back in session.

Even the laziest seniors start to realize that attending school is better than staying home all day. The classes are fun and interesting, the food is gourmet, and the class has become internet sensations. Explosions even stop...until they don't.

This book was pretty funny, pretty weird, and pretty darn difficult for me to write about! Mara was funny and weird, but I thought she was sort of ridiculous when she decided that she caused the explosions. Her best friend was a cool, level-headed girl and I really liked her. I'm probably a terrible person, but the explosions were both really gross to read about and also kind of funny. The ending is more open than I would have preferred, and there were some lulls in the book that lost my attention, but it was still a stellar read.

I received my copy of Spontaneous from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dutton Books for Young Readers. It's available for purchase now.