ShakespeareZombie

ShakespeareZombie

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

"Remember, the center of a woman is her uterus. Her crazy, crazy uterus..."

The fabulous Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, recommended Unmentionable. It sounded really interesting and funny, and I do occasionally read books that aren't kept in the YA section, so I asked my library to add it to their collection. They did, because I have some pull there. Not to brag or anything, but I'm a card-carrying member. (Banter is fun, and I may have been watching too much Gilmore Girls this weekend, because it makes me all babbley.)

Unmentionable promises to tell the dirty secrets behind the scenes of Victorian life. Movies and novels make it seem like a carefree jaunt full of gentlemen callers, dances, feasts, and flattering empire-waisted dresses. The reality was somewhat of a shock, full of crotchless undergarments, chamber pots, and poop in the streets.

Oneill uses excerpts from medical journals and instructional books to show how a well-off Victorian woman lived. These men, women, and men pretending to be women mused upon all aspects of daily life. There was advice on grooming, romance, even that special lady time of the month. It's funny, interesting, and a little bit scary at times. The author's summaries, captions, and comments were always hilarious.

It really does show how far life has progressed. The majority of medical advice back then was that having a uterus was evil, and the only thing to be done for it was to fill it with babies made in wedlock. It was fun to read about grooming and dressing, and the fun of flirtation. The chapter on menstruation was just as awkward as the actual subject, and mostly focused on those evil uteri again. Because if you have difficult periods, you must be an evil sinner. Obviously. The least fun of the chapters was on hysteria, that crazy women disease that comes with having that old uterus (again). Women were locked away in asylums. They had to undergo barbaric treatments and shock therapy, and the symptoms of "hysteria" were actually quite broad and could cover any number of actual maladies.

It can be fun to imagine living in another time, maybe trading in the complications of modern life for a simpler time. Whenever I think of that, though, I remember the freedom that comes from living in modern time that wouldn't have been available to me then. I like being able to vote and go places without a chaperone. I want to wear pants and not be thrown in an asylum! There are a million things to feel lucky for that wouldn't have been possible then. However, I know that there is still a long, long way left to go. It's going to be difficult with our future president, a decidedly anti-feminist political party in control, and a culture that still doesn't seem to understand concepts such as no means no. Maybe there is a little light at the end of the tunnel in the very fact that women went through so much and still persevered? That we have come so far in the time since then? I hope so, and I definitely hope that years from now, we will also be able to look back and marvel at how far we have come. Hopefully, it won't be very many years.

Sorry for so much digression! I highly recommend Unmentionable. It's great as a historical book, and even better as a humor book.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

"I know what you're thinking- if you hate it so much and it's such a burden, just lose the weight, and then that job will go away. But I'm comfortable where I am. I may lose more weight. I may not. But why should what I weigh affect other people? I mean, unless I'm sitting on them, who cares?"

Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places was the first book I read last year, and it was totally fantastic. It also made me sob and cry so much. So. Much. Crying. I can still think of the book even now and start to tear up. Granted, I cry very easily and am experiencing an attack of hormones at the moment, but still. The book resonates.

This brings us to Niven's newest book, Holding Up the Universe. It's alternately narrated by two teenagers, Libby and Jack. Libby used to be the world's fattest teenager. The tipping point came when she had a panic attack and the paramedics had to destroy her house to get her out. Now, she has lost half of her body weight and is about to attend regular school for the first time in years.

Jack seems normal, but he recently realized that he has prosopagnosia. This is a condition where a person cannot recognize faces, even faces of family and friends. This condition caused him to hook up with his girlfriend's cousin (They are physically very similar). If that wasn't enough, Jack also recently discovered that his dad is cheating on his mom with one of the teachers at his school.

Libby's return to school doesn't go very well. She reunited with her old friend Bailey, and befriends fellow large girl Iris. Most of the other kids stare, point, and laugh. Even though Libby isn't as fat as she was, she's still the fattest girl in school. She dreams of being accepted, of joining the school's dance team. A cruel prank puts her in Jack's path, and leads to the two of them being forced to attend detention/counseling. Libby and Jack start to bond. They even sort of like-like each other! He even tells her about his prosopagnosia, and she encourages him to seek help. Their relationship is really sweet and adorable, though there are some challenges and rocky times before the end.

Holding Up the Universe was very good, pretty much just as good as All the Bright Things. Thankfully, it was less emotionally devastating. That isn't to say that I didn't cry, because I almost always cry. I also laughed and swooned a fair bit. As a fellow big girl, it was nice to read about an overweight character. Libby was bold and extroverted, basically the opposite of me. I love her positive attitude and her fearlessness. Jack sometimes acted like a dumb guy, but was really sweet. He was great with his younger brother. There was a little subplot where the brother used to carry a purse to school, and some kids broke the strap. Jack was just so sweet and supportive. It's a nice story about accepting other people and their differences, about bullying and how we should not do that, and also a sweet and funny romance. So, you should read it.

I received my copy of Holding Up the Universe from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas


"I wanted to see behind the masks and see their true expressions, their true beliefs, their true selves. Not just endless lies..."

These Vicious Masks takes place about the same time as one of my previous reads, The Dark Days Club. This one veers more towards Pride and Prejudice meets the X-Men. After reading so much of rules and propriety in the other book, Evelyn's behavior in this book was shocking indeed!

Evelyn and her sister Rose are skilled at nursing the sick and wounded. It's not a proper occupation for a young lady, though their mother tells everyone it is for charity. Rose desperately wants to go to medical school and become a proper doctor. Evelyn just wants to explore the continent.

After a scuffle at a party, the family awakens to find Rose's bed empty. Evelyn is sure that she was kidnapped, pointing out errors in the note she left behind. Her parents don't believe her, admitting that the family is poor. All they have left is their reputation, and Rose most likely doesn't have that anymore. Evelyn sets off to London on her own to confront the man she is convinced has taken Rose.

Thankfully, Evelyn meets up with Mr. Kent, an acquaintance. He snarks with her at dinners on occasion, and seems smitten with her. Kent lets her stay with his stepmother (Who hates her) and sister Lauren (Who loves her). After Evelyn admits the situation, Kent offers his services as a detective to help find Rose. He was kind of weird, but I really loved Mr. Kent. I also loved the boy-crazy, pyromaniac Lauren.

Evelyn also gets assistance from the gothic, glowery Mr. Braddock. He claims that Rose was taken because she has special powers, powers to literally heal. He also thinks that Evelyn has these powers. She doesn't believe him until she sees the evidence before her own eyes.

These Vicious Masks was fairly intriguing. I liked the idea of people in the proper Regency era hiding secret powers from their friends and relatives. I wasn't joking when I mentioned that Evelyn's rule-breaking was a shock. One can have an adventure and simultaneously adhere to the rules of society...though I guess that didn't end up working in Dark Days Club either. This is the first in a series, so it will be interesting to see where the story goes after the way the first book ended. I didn't really care for the ending myself, but I will probably read the next book to see how the story progresses.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

"You deserve this," he continued. "People are evil to the core. That's what the Epics prove. That's why you're dying out..."

In Steelheart, we were introduced to the Reckoners. They are the sole resistance to the Epics, normal people who developed super powers after the appearance of a star called Calamity. David joined the Reckoners to kill Steelheart, the Epic who killed his father.

The second book, Firefight, brought new revelations about the Epics. David encounters Megan again, AKA Firefight. Prof, the leader of the Epics (And also an Epic), is completely overtaken by his powers. David meets Calamity, and it turns out that Calamity isn't a star, but an Epic. There is a whole plan to turn David into an Epic by throwing him at Calamity in hopes that his initial transform will lead him to killing a bunch of people, but he ends up resisting. Megan was almost killed after being confronted with her weakness, but they figured out that by confronting the fear she could overcome it. 

Calamity shows the Reckoners after the devastating events at the end of Firefight. Quick, spoilery recap: Prof went full-on Epic. The remaining Reckoners keep on keeping on. David takes Tia's recon position (Tia was Prof's girlfriend, they haven't heard from her and assume she is dead) as they raid a weapons factory. The factory is run by Prof's old friend Knighthawk, who ends up helping them. Prof, now calling himself Limelight, has taken over a city made of salt that constantly moves around, collapsing and rebuilding itself.

David and the Reckoners plan to confront Limelight with his fears to get Prof back. Knighthawk manufactures tech that can replicate Epic powers through DNA. The Reckoners simply have to get Limelight's DNA, send it to Knighthawk, wait for him to create the tech, then use Limelight's powers against him. Since Prof was most afraid of using his powers and being overwhelmed, he should hypothetically stop being an Epic jerk and turn back into Prof.

They get an unexpected ally when the  Epic Larcener shows up at their hideout. Limelight has been looking for him because of his power to steal abilities and make Epics ordinary again. Limelight doesn't want to make friends, if you catch my drift.

There are, as always, some twists and turns along the way. Overall, I found Calamity to be a pretty satisfying conclusion to the series. Steelheart hooked me from the first sentence, and I've enjoyed my time in the world of the Reckoners.

I received my copy of Calamity from Edelweiss, courtesy of Delacorte Press. It's available for purchase now.

Wax by Gina Damico


"The town of Paraffin smelled of everything.
Everywhere.
At the same time. All of the time..."

Paraffin, Vermont is the home of the Grosholtz Candle Company. Because of them, the town smells like a little bit of everything all at once. There are lots of urban legends around the factory, especially about the Hollow Ones. The Hollow Ones are living people made of wax with a flame inside.

Poppy was the pride of Paraffin. She was a hit on the talent show Triple Threat until some misplaced pie and pudding en flambe took her down during a rendition of "The Hills Are Alive." She performed the song with a bleeding head wound and passed out, becoming a laughingstock instead. Now, she is the president of the Giddy Committee, a theater club, and pushing to perfect the Club's Broadway revue.

After a visit to the candle factory, Poppy encounters a strange old woman. Madam Grosholtz was the one who sculpted all the wax figures in the factory's museum, and she warns Poppy of the danger that is coming. She also offers to send someone as protection. Then there is a fire at the factory, in the older parts where Madame Grosholtz worked. She didn't make it out.

Poppy is also surprised when she opens the trunk of her car and finds a very alive, very naked wax figure of a teenage boy. Dud is a lot like a newborn baby. He doesn't understand a lot of things, and he is always learning. Poppy convinces her parents that he is a foreign exchange student that she forgot to tell them about.

Soon, Poppy has to figure out how to save the town. The factory's new owners have been making limited edition candles based on the citizens of Paraffin. Two scents are released a day, and the people each scent is based on are turned into a strange, waxen facsimile of themselves. It happens to the mayor and her son, as well as Poppy's nemesis Blake. Poppy and the Giddy Committee decide to out the revue on hold in order to defeat the wax army and save their town.

I have wanted to read one of Gina Damico's books for a while now, and I'm glad that I finally did. Wax was a lot of fun, and so incredibly funny. I loved the innocent Dud, chipper Poppy, and Poppy's sarcastic bestie Jill. Basically the entire Giddy Committee was fantastic, especially the fact that they are called the Giddy Committee. I love rhymes. If you're looking for a read that will make you laugh out loud, and don't mind some mild horror, then I would highly recommend Wax.

I received my copy of Wax from Edelweiss, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It's available for purchase now.


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 stuff...it'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.