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.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

"Every book warns us at the beginning: All Rights Reserved. But I don't believe it. Every right will not be reserved. Our rights will not be reserved. We will be free..."

I used to love dystopian novels, but at some point over the last couple of years, I have grown tired of the genre. The bleak, futuristic visions of what could be inspired eyerolls instead of a desire to read the story. All Rights Reserved has an interesting premise, so I figured that I could give it a shot and see if dystopian novels have any future with me*.

The story is set in a future where new ideas are prohibited. Lawyers control the world, and everything is held under strict trademark and copyright laws. This includes all words and almost every gesture. People are free to use them until they turn fifteen. After that, they are fitted with a cuff that charges them accordingly. If for some reason their cuff fails, mandatory contact lenses shock their eyes if they try to speak.

Speth (It's a highly discounted name) is just about to turn fifteen and give her speech, a tradition for those coming of age. Right before the speech, her sort-of boyfriend Beeker kills himself by jumping off a bridge into traffic. In a moment fueled by grief, Speth decides that she will never say another word. Instead of a speech, she zips her lips, a gesture that is meant to belittle those in serious debt.

Now, Speth is known as the Silent Girl. That split second decision sparks a movement. Other young people follow her, and they start to be known as the Silents. Of course, there are consequences to revolution, even accidental revolution. Speth's sister, Saretha, is sued by a famous actress that she resembles. Because of the lawsuit, she can no longer leave the house for her job. The family is in debt because of an illegally downloaded song from a distant aunt. Their parents were taken into collection to pollinate crops with an eyedropper because almost all of the bees died. Speth could put an end to her family's troubles- her parents could come home, their debt would be erased, and Saretha could get her job back- if she would just give her speech. But she's gone too far to give up, and she realizes that it's about something bigger than her and her family.

All Rights Reserved ended up being a pretty good dystopian story. Like the best of its genre, it's all the scarier because it seems like it could happen some day soon. It made me think about having to communicate without speaking or making gestures. The idea seems mind-boggling. What is really interesting is how most heroines fight by actually fighting, giving speeches, doing things, but Speth starts a revolution by saying nothing. Young people follow her, and she is painted as their leader, but she never asked for it. She literally can't ask for it. (Part of me is amused at what the book might have looked like if it was narrated by a different character or outside narrator. "Speth says nothing. Speth still says nothing. Speth looks at me and says nothing...still.") This is the first book of a series, and while I like it, I'm still unsure whether I want to continue the series. Time will tell.

I received my copy of All Rights Reserved from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harlequin Teen. It's available for purchase now.

*I'm incredibly proud of this pun. So proud. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

"We're all messy. What kind of friends would we be if we demanded you only show us your prettiness? This isn't Instagram- it's real life. And real life is messy..."

Queens of Geek is a story about three friends from Australia visiting California for SupaCon, a comic books convention. It's narrated by the two girls, Charlie and Taylor. Charlie is a YouTube star who is gaining popularity for starring in a major horror movie. She is going to SupaCon for publicity, and also in the personal hopes that she can show she is over her ex (and co-star) Reese. Her fans still love "Chase," as they called them. They don't realize that Reese cheated on her and broke her heart.

Charlie brings her best friends Jamie and Taylor. Taylor has Aspberger's and anxiety issues. She is also head over heels in love with Jamie, who obviously likes her back. He is very sweet and sensitive towards her at all times. She is also very nervous about the future. They all plan to move to Los Angeles after graduating high school. Charlie will continue with her movie career, while Taylor and Jamie attend college. This makes Taylor anxious to no end. Leaving home freaks her out, plus she isn't even sure that she will get accepted to college.

SupaCon is meant to be their big celebration before graduation, but it also holds special meaning for Taylor. She is the number one fan of a series called Queen Firestone. She even made her own jacket so that she could cosplay it. Secretly, Taylor hopes that by meeting the creator of Queen Firestone, Skyler Atkins, it will mean that the future will be okay. Understandably, she is heartbroken when the plans fall through. Her friends urge her to enter the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, where the winner gets to attend the movie premiere and meet Skyler, but Taylor has her doubts. The thought of entering a cosplay contest and then being onstage for the trivia round with everyone watching is a bit overwhelming.

Meanwhile, Charlie is excited to meet one of her YouTube heroes, Alyssa. The girls share mutual appreciation for each others' work- and mutual attraction. It's exciting, but slightly dampened when Reese arrives. The production company wants them to play nice, but it's hard for Charlie. She has to balance her hurt from that heartbreak, plus anger towards Reese with her new feelings towards Alyssa and apprehension towards having another relationship in the public eye.

It's a really cute story. I know I've said it before, but I will repeat: I love geeks in love. So this book was basically perfect for me. I really like that there's a lot of inclusive elements to the story. We get characters with various ethnic backgrounds, various sexual preferences, and characters with mental illnesses/disorders. It could seem a little "After School Special," but the book handles it well. It doesn't clobber you over the head with it, it's just that some people are multi-racial/bisexual/have anxiety...and they are also people. It's a pretty cool message, and a pretty cool book over all.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Scooby Apocalypse, Volume 1 by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, Illustrated by Jim Lee and Howard Porter

I loved Scooby-Doo when I was younger, absolutely loved. Come on, there was a talking dog, and a bunch of teens who chased after monsters and ghosts in their multi-colored van. I always loved guessing who the "monster" was at the end of the episode. There were many versions of Scooby-Doo, and I think I watched all of them. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, that weirdly 1980s A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo movies where they met the Harlem Globetrotters and other guests, even the Laff-A-Lympics. I was fairly obsessed with the character*, and I never even smoked any drugs whatsoever.

 The Scooby Apocalypse series seemed pretty intriguing, and my library's website had the first volume. It's sort of a grittier story. Velma works at a secret underground facility, the Complex. She and the other scientists have developed nanites and secretly slipped them into all of the people everywhere. It was supposed to make the population more peaceful, but she found out that they really are meant to control their minds.

Velma decides to inform the general public. She contacts a journalist to get the new out, one Daphne Blake of Daphne Blake's Mysterious Mysteries, a show that airs late at night on the Knitting Channel. Daphne and her cameraman Fred meet with Velma, who takes them back to the Complex to show them her evidence. On the way, they run into her fellow employee, Norville "Shaggy" Rogers. He's a dog trainer who is very close to Scooby, one of the dogs whose brain was enhanced for the smart dog program. All four of them, plus the dog, are in the facility's Safe Zone when the alarm goes off. The nanites have somehow been activated.

 What greets them outside the Safe Zone is terrifying. People have been transformed into monsters. The monsters have been killing and eating those who haven't transformed, and killing and eating other monsters. The gang ends up escaping the Complex in an experimental vehicle known as the Mystery Machine. They travel around, encountering more monsters, gathering supplies, and trying to contact other Complex locations to figure out a plan of action. In the meantime, they are being hunted by the monsters and a group of smart dogs looking for Velma to fix their implants and for revenge against Scooby, led by a dog named...Scrappy-Doo. That made me laugh. 

Scooby Apocalypse was definitely a unique take on the series. There's a pretty interesting mystery behind what is going on with the monsters. I'm not sure if I will keep up with the series, but I'll definitely consider if/when the next volume is on the library's website.

* My first ever compact disc** purchase was a compilation of Scooby-Doo themes called Scooby-Doo's Snack Tracks. It included a remix of the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? theme, which I thought was awesome at the time. It probably wasn't.  (Never mind, it's amazing: #sarcasm...kinda)
** I am an old :(

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

"Darkness grew where it would and took what it wanted. It staked its claim and never let go.
And no one else could pry you free of it..."

This collection of short stories features so many amazing authors (April Genevieve Tucholke, A.G. Howard, Marie Lu, Megan Sheperd, Cat Winters, Carrie Ryan...and that's just the ones I've read) that I HAD to read it. I was a teensy bit nervous that they would scare me too much, but there wasn't anything I couldn't handle. Basically just the right amount of scare for me. It's also really cool how every story lists inspirations at the end, such as other stories or books, movies, or songs.

Among my favorite stories was Carrie Ryan's "In the Forest Dark and Deep." It's about a girl named Cassidy who used to have tea parties in a clearing in the woods with the March Hare, who is not a harmless little rabbit. I also really loved Megan Sheperd's "Hide-and-Seek," about a girl playing a game with Death. I really wished that Jonathan Maberry's zombie story, "Fat Girl with a Knife," had been longer. I'd probably even read it as a full length book. Finally, A.G. Howard's "Stitches" was full-on weird and also full-on amazing.

On the other hand, I wasn't a fan of Tucholke's own story, "The Flicker, The Fingers, The Beat, The Sigh." It's a little predictable, and one of the several stories that feature boys who suck. Though you have to admit that boys do often suck, they suck especially hard when they're being murdery and rapey and the spawn of Satan. Guess that's why they call them "Monster Boys."

This was definitely a good collection. My biggest complaint is that I wished most of the stories were longer. For a decent dose of horror and chills, I definitely recommend Slasher Girls and Monster Boys.

100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

"Of course she's right; I am pathetic. But it's not like I want to be this way- the heaviest 120-pound girl in the entire state of Florida..."
Molly hasn't been okay since her meltdown at her swim team's regionals. She had been suffering from depression before then, and is still struggling. Because of it, she doesn't want to get her driver's license or think about what she will do after high school. All she enjoys is working at the tropical fish store, FishTopia, with her friend Alex. They watch Golden Girls and eat lo mein, and Alex is the only person who treats her like she's normal.

In order to help her daughter, Molly's mother is trying a self help book called A Baker's Journey: 100 Days of Cake. She has been making a new cake every day. Most of the time, Molly pretends to like the cakes, but she really never does. 

Other than Alex, Molly's other bright spot is her therapist, Dr. Brooks. She has a huge crush on him, and he seems to like her as well. She talks with him about Alex, and he's sort of dismissive, almost jealous. What made me uncomfortable with this book is how Molly and Dr. Brooks cross the line between patient and doctor. We also never see him receive consequences for his misconduct, which is upsetting.

The big turning point comes when we learn FishTopia has been sold. Molly is devastated. She works really hard to get new customers, even throws a big benefit party to save the only good things in her life: FishTopia and her relationship with Alex.

100 Days of Cake sounded really good, and I love contemporary teen books that deal with mental illness. Molly was cool, but I was a bit frustrated with her at times. The therapist plot was pretty icky. What I liked about the book was how even though things get somewhat better at the end, Molly still has her mental illness. Just like in real life, it's not going to be miraculously cured. Yet we can still have a happily ever after. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

"Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite."

Geekerella, to no one's surprise, is an adaptation of the beloved fairy tale Puss in Boots. I kid, I kid, it's Cinderella. Oh, we have such fun at my blog!* Anyways, in all seriousness, this is such a fun book. I love how nerd culture has become more mainstream, and I love how there are so many great YA books celebrating it. And I really loved Geekerella, even though the name is silly.**

 Our Cinderella is named Danielle, or Elle. She is forced to deal with a bitchy stepmother, Catherine, and two evil stepsisters, Calliope and Chloe, after her father's death. Elle works at the Magic Pumpkin, a vegan food truck, with green-haired Sage. Her life is somewhat awful, between being forced to do chores at home, being mocked by the twins' country club friends at school, and basically ignored by Sage at work. Her one safe place is Starfield.

Starfield was a television show Elle used to watch with her father. She is so involved in the show that she runs a blog called Rebelgunner. Starfield is set for a movie reboot, and Elle tunes in for a big announcement on a morning talk show. To her disappointment, the lead role of Prince Carmindor goes to teen heartthrob Darien Freeman. She writes a fairly scathing review of the casting, and it even gets picked up by national publications.

Meanwhile, Darien is a famous actor, but also a giant nerd at heart. Prince Carmindor is his dream role, he has loved Starfield long before he was famous. His manager/father Mark, schedules him for an appearance at ExcelsiCon, thinking that he will enjoy it. Darien hasn't enjoyed cons since his ex-best friend betrayed him, so he decides to text someone from the con to cancel.

 Elle's dad actually created ExcelsiCon. His number is still listed on the website, and Elle has his phone because Catherine refuses to get her a new one. When Darien texts her, she gives him a hard time about cancelling, and he decides to attend after all. The two end up texting back and forth about Starfield and life and stuff. They start to fall in like, maybe even love. The only issue is that they don't actually know who they're texting. She has no idea he is Darien, and he has no idea she is the critic from Rebelgunner.

ExcelsiCon has a cosplay contest where first prize is a trip to the premier of Starfield in Los Angeles, and Elle has her eye on it. Her dream is to pack up the neighbor's neglected dachshund and drive far away from Catherine. While cleaning the attic, she finds a trunk with her parents' old cosplay costumes, and she decides to alter her father's old Carmindor uniform to fit her. Sage is an aspiring fashion designer, and agrees to serve as fairy godmother by altering the costume. The girls also start to become friends, and Elle introduces her to Starfield.

Everything comes together at ExcelsiCon. It's pretty amazing, actually. The book isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn adorable. Elle and Darien were pretty squee-inducing. What can I say, I'm a sucker for nerd love. My only problem is that I really wish that Starfield was a real show, because I kinda want to watch it.

* Please don't judge me too harshly. I know, it's kind of obnoxious and dumb, I'm sorry. Pretend it never happened.
** Seriously, this is one of those titles where I dreaded someone asking what I was reading. I would just cringe. I loved the book, but would rather die than have to say that title out loud.