Monday, April 29, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

The year is 1919, and the world seems to be on the brink of the apocalypse. Young men are being shipped overseas to fight a world war, and coming home in a box...or worse. The Spanish flu is killing millions of people, striking without discretion or bias. It can hardly be a surprise that countless people turned to Spiritualism for comfort during these hopeless times. Spiritualism was a near-religious movement that involved the use of séances, spirit photography, and other means to contact people who have passed to the other side. The trouble was figuring out whether the Spiritualists were charlatans, or genuinely in contact with the dead.

At the beginning of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Mary Shelley (Named after the author) was just sent away to the east coast to stay with her aunt. Mary Shelley's father had been arrested for anti-American sentiments after he helped several young men avoid the draft. She is a minor celebrity, as a photograph of her with a spirit is used to advertise the spirit photography business of Julian, brother of her sweetheart Stephen. Mary Shelley is an odd girl who enjoys science and taking apart machines. She never believed that Julian's pictures were real.

Then Stephen dies in the war, and strange things occur. Mary Shelley sees his ghost, and he tells her the most peculiar things about birds pecking out his eyes. She starts to believe in spirit photography, even attends a séance. It becomes clear that wherever he is, Stephen is definitely not at peace. As much as she doesn't want to lose him forever, Mary Shelley is determined to do whatever it takes to put the boy she loves to rest.

I am definitely the target audience for this book. The time period, the vintage photos, plus the addition of Spiritualism equals a book that is practically made for me. I loved all the historical details, like how Mary Shelley's aunt cooked nothing but onions to keep away the flu and the creepy descriptions of people on the street in their flu masks. When I was in college, I actually wrote a paper on spirit-rappers and I have always been a creepy kid who loved reading ghost stories (And was creeped out by photos of ectoplasm in old black and white pictures). I sort of hoped that the pictures would make this similar to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but the pictures here didn't really have much to do with the story (They were still pretty cool to look at). This was still a great book, a mixture of history, love story, and ghost story. It makes me want to do some research and write a paranormal teen romance set at Roanoke (TM to me, don't steal!) or something less lame.

I received my copy of In the Shadow of Blackbirds from Netgalley, courtesy of Amulet Books. It's available now for purchase.

236 Pounds of Class Vice President: A Memoir of Teenage Insecurity, Obesity, and Virginity by Jason Mulgrew

High school was an incredibly tough time for me. It wasn't quite as bad as junior high, which was thankfully only two years, but it was still tough. I was the chubby greasy-haired girl who only wore stretchy pants and Disney sweatshirts. There are enough memories that I am repressing to write my own memoir. Sorry guys, I was trying to make this funny, but it comes off kind of depressing. I'd like to insert a joke here but I can't think of any...

This is my joke and not at all in reference to the author's weight.
Thanks, internet! Anyways, Jason Mulgrew actually wrote a book containing his high school experience, humiliations and all.

236 Pounds of Class Vice President shows the life of an overweight teenager in Philadelphia. The story starts out with Mulgrew trying to qualify for a state spelling bee in order to earn the dog that will be his companion and protector. From there, he tells about his attempts to get into a fancy private school, and his campaign for Vice President once he realizes that he may need some extracurricular activities for college after graduating. There's also stories about being a straight gay best friend, renting a summer house on the shore while still being underage, and an entire chapter on learning to masturbate. For a change of pace, there is also a list of the best foods exclusive to Philly, and a chapter on music discovery, Beatles to Elvis Costello.

All in all, this was short and fairly funny. As I said before, I can definitely relate to being an awkward teenager. Though even at my worst times, I was always thankful not to be a boy. Kudos to Mulgrew for writing down and sharing these memories, both triumphant and not-so-triumphant. Maybe someday I'll have the courage to do the same.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne

AKA Sympathy for the Bieber

I was attracted to this book for one simple reason: the cover is really shiny. Then, I took this book because it sounded interesting. After purchasing some concert tickets recently, I received a free subscription to Rolling Stone. Soon after, this issue arrived in the mail. At first, I was horrified. Then, the opportunity to learn about Bieber proved too much to resist. I have a strange fascination with what kids these days are into, so I'm always jumping at the chance to find out about One Direction (Adorable!), Wizards of Waverly Place (Actually pretty cute), and what have you. That article was really interesting, and it did make me a bit more thoughtful about the Biebs. The whole "swag" thing not withstanding, because that is unforgivable. I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but a lot of that article makes Bieber sound a little special needs, or like some sort of entitled toddler.

An interesting quote in the article: "No one's ever grown up like Justin Bieber...Ever, in the history of humanity."
No one except countless child stars throughout history, and now Jonny Valentine.

Jonny is an almost-12-year-old music star. He was discovered on Youtube at the age of 9. His debut album was a huge success. Now, his second album has dwindling sales, and his cross-country tour hasn't been selling as expected. Jonny, despite his young age, is very knowledgeable about his image and all the work he has to put into maintaining it. So, he mostly eats healthy food, or does lots of cardio whenever he cheats. He'll give those vague answers about how he loves all girls so that he doesn't alienate chubby girls from his fan base. He knows all about marketing himself, mostly thanks to his manager/mother Jane. It's part impressive and part sad how savvy Jonny is. About the only normal thing about him is his obsession with video games and masturbating (Which, I really didn't need to hear about. It's bad enough that I have to know that Beliebers have a nickname for his penis. It's enough to make me stab knitting needles into my ears).

The main conflict occurs when Jonny finds a letter from his father seeking visitation. Jonny has never even met his father, but he finds messages from someone claiming to be him on a fan website. He decides to write back, though it's difficult because he isn't even allowed to use the internet without supervision. Lesser conflicts involve a staged romance with rising starlet Lisa Pinto, a friendship with the indie band opening for his concerts, and the difficulties of singing in a flying mechanical heart (That may end up dropping you to your death). Also, there is the big decision of whether to record a new album and keep touring next year or attend school like a normal kid.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine ended up being very good. I felt the necessary feels about how Jonny's life is both very good and very bad. It makes you take a second look at child stardom and fame, makes you question whether everything is just prepackaged advertising. Finally, here is an article that includes clips of Jonny's hit single, Guys vs. Girls. Just as a little treat to end the review.

Free Press sent a copy of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine to my bookstore. Thank you, and I hope you still consider B&N store 2298 when you have any ARCs you are looking to distribute.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

I'm going to start out with the thing that bugs me the most about Wasteland. I don't care how special you think you are or how much you don't feel like working, Esther. Your sister slaves her days away, earns your food, and prepares your food. Yet for some reason, it's perfectly okay for you to just go off and play games all day? Um, no. Katniss Everdeen didn't head to the woods just to play four square or capture the flag with Gale, she hunted down food so her family wouldn't starve. Honestly, Esther, I'm glad that you were exiled, because you should have just done your job!

Wasteland takes place in some post-apocalyptic world, where shopping malls and houses stand in ruins, and food and water are scarce. In the story, Prin is a city full of children and teenagers. Nobody lives past the age of 19, so sixteen and seventeen year olds are considered over the hill. Everyone has a job to do in order to earn food and water rations from the Compound. (Everyone, that is, except the super special snowflake Esther, who prefers to play games with her Variant* friend.)

Levi is in charge of the Compound, but he knows that the food and water are running out. He wants to find a spring located under Prin, then buy the city from the people. After that, I'm not exactly sure what he'll do.

A new guy in town, Caleb, runs off some Variants for Prin. They think he's awesome, and he teaches them to fight a little. Caleb is looking for his baby, who was stolen after an attack by some Variants. Levi doesn't like Caleb and turns people against him. There's a war and stuff.

By now, all these dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories are kind of bleeding together. The more I write about it, the more I feel a great amount of dislike for Wasteland. I think it started from all that anger at Esther and just grew from there. I had high hopes, but alas I just did not like this book.

I received my copy of Wasteland from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

*Variants are these savage people who are enemies of Prin. They're wild people or something?

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

It all started with Abby Sinclair. She was a 17-year-old girl who had been working at a camp for the summer. She left on a bicycle to meet her boyfriend, and just vanished.

Lauren sees a poster for Abby, then she sees Abby herself. After Abby comes Fiona Burke, Lauren's former neighbor who disappeared when she was 17. After Fiona, there are more and more girls. All of the disappeared, all at the age of 17.

It feels as though the girls want something from Lauren. They want her to save them. Somehow, Lauren knows that Abby is still around to be saved. By saving Abby, she can save all the girls, and hopefully get them to leave her alone.

It's difficult to classify 17 & Gone. I had a difficult time connecting with the story enough to like it. It was okay for what it was, another Teen Psychological Drama.

I received my copy of 17 & Gone from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dutton Juvenile. It's available for purchase now.

Hysteria by Megan Miranda

"Over my dead body," she had said back then...
Apparently two years ago, my mother had lied. Apparently, any dead body would do.

This is a book about one of those less-seen teenage problems. Mallory stabbed her boyfriend Brian to death. Things go downhill from there. Her parents seem afraid of her, her mom even hides the knives. Brian's mother shows up and stalks her so much that they have to file a restraining order. Mallory's parents decide to send her to Monroe, the boarding school that her father attended. It seemed like a good chance to make a fresh start, but Mallory's past won't stop following her.

She tells us what happened through flashbacks, as the memories come back to her. In the present, she is haunted by strange noises and visions of Brian. I know that I gripe/brag about this too much, but the reasons behind this were pretty obvious.

Mallory has a hard time fitting in at Monroe. Everyone heard about her "incident," so most of the kids avoid her. The major exception to this is Reid, a friend of her family. They actually get a little romance going, which is a nice distraction from all the psychological, crazy, murder stuff.

Then, one of the other students is killed, and it looks as though Mallory did it. At this point, she finally gets it together to figure out what happened with Brian, what is going on now, and who killed the other kid.

This wasn't too bad. The premise sounded amazing, and I love a boarding school story. Unfortunately, it ended up a little too meh. I was disappointed because I ended up really liking Miranda's previous book, Fracture. It's possible that I've just experienced an overload of Teen Psychological Drama.

I received my copy of Hysteria from Netgalley, courtesy of Walker Childrens. It's available for purchase now.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Point Your Face at This: Drawings by Demetri Martin

I really like Demetri Martin. I really like his new book as well. But, while it is an appropriate number of pages for Cannonball Read, I don't feel right about counting it because it's all drawings. Don't get me wrong, the drawings are awesome and clever and some are pure genius.

I definitely recommend Point Your Face at This as well as This Is a Book. Sometimes I get a desire to look at one of the pictures or read an essay, then just one more, one more, and then two hours pass. This is good stuff.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

I originally wanted to read this book because I have a fear of dolls, so it sounded like a good creepy book. After reading the description, it still sounded pretty good. Plus, there might be dolls hidden and waiting to pop out and stab you, as dolls do. Now, I can tell you with full knowledge that there are no actual dolls in this book (Dolls being used as a term for girls). Just FYI for those seeking/avoiding books with actual dolls.

Anyways, with that out of the way, City of a Thousand Dolls is about a city of girls that grew of necessity. The kingdom enforced birth limits of two children, so there ended up being a whole lot of unwanted girl babies. They were all going to waste and being murdered by their parents, so the City was established. In the City, the unwanted girls are taught a trade (Beauty, Seduction, Healing, Assassin-ing) and then married off, apprenticed, or sent on their way to make it alone.

Nisha is different from the other girls because she was left at the gates at age 6, not as a baby. Because of this, she can't truly be a part of any House. Instead, she serves as errand girl for the City's Matron. Also, she talks to the stray cats that also occupy the city. (I have always been crazy about cats, so this was a big positive for me.)

There is even a boy interested in Nisha. He's a minor noble, and she hopes that he might purchase her during the big presentation ceremony/auction. Then, a girl turns up dead, and another, and another still. Nisha takes it upon herself to stop the killings. Some important political figures are planning to use the investigations to overthrow the Matron, maybe even dismantle the City.

Again, I am disappointed that this wasn't a post-apocalyptic tale where dolls have become sentient and murder folks. It wasn't too bad. I always love an assassin. The mystery wasn't horribly predictable. I had issues* with some plot developments near the end, but otherwise it was a good book.

*SPOILERS Nisha was really mad when the boy said he couldn't marry her after she sustains a permanent injury, but he offers to take her on as a mistress. I thought the guy made some legitimate points. It does still suck that he did that, but I understand. Also, she ends up dating her cat?!? The cat ends up being a shapeshifting human, which would be all kinds of weird, but it's still creepy to me. END SPOILERS

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

“You can be Han Solo," he said, kissing her throat. "And I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you.”

Eleanor and Park first meet on the bus. Eleanor transferred late in the year, after everyone already claimed their seats. Nobody wants to give up their single seat, especially for a girl like her. She's tall and chubby, with big red hair and strange clothes. Eventually, after much hesitation, Park lets her sit next to him.

At first, they ignore each other. Park reads comic books, then he notices Eleanor reading over his shoulder. He starts to bring titles to read with her, and even lends her comics to read on her own. Eventually, they start talking about comics, music, and more. It's adorable stuff, stuff that made me laugh and feel all happy inside.

The book also deals with very unhappy subjects. As the book progresses, we find out about Eleanor's horrible stepfather. I won't get into too many details, but he was the reason that Eleanor moved away for a year. At school, she is being bullied. Her clothes are taken from her gym locker and someone writes crude things on her books. Park is hesitant to be with Eleanor because of the bullying, afraid to become a victim himself. In time, he only wants to be with her and he tries to get the other kids to back off, to varied success.

I love how Eleanor & Park is so different from a lot of YA fiction. I have seen a lot of manic pixie dream girls and Mary Sues (By which I mean Bella Swan), but not many with whom I can relate. A lot of the bullying and the trauma of the bus actually happened to me. I was, and still am, the chubby girl. Because of this, I fell in love with Eleanor & Park. It's two misfit teenagers falling in love over The Watchmen and The Cure. It's being in high school and falling in love and growing up and happy endings and sad goodbyes, all rolled up into a book, a book that you should definitely read.

I received my copy of Eleanor & Park from Edelweiss, courtesy of St. Martin's Press. It's available for purchase now.