books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

When Maggie starts at a public high school after years of homeschooling with her mother and older brothers, she’s startled by how different the outside world is.  The mysteries of the outside world are Maggie’s to be solved, but first she’s got to figure out why she’s still being followed by the morose, silent ghost she’s known since she was little.  This might mean Maggie has to branch way out of her comfort zone–and maybe even make some friends that aren’t her brothers.

This sweet graphic novel should work well for more advanced middle grade readers as well as high school readers.  Although it has elements of the paranormal in it, it’s firmly grounded in reality, with vivid secondary characters and a complex story that readers won’t want to put down.  The family dynamics, as well as the budding friendships Maggie forms with a couple of social outcasts, help to make this novel a standout.

Hicks’s illustrations fill panels with a monochrome-and-wash style that’s memorable and aesthetically pleasing.  Especially notable is how expressive Hicks makes her character’s faces.  Hicks is able to convey so much in her characters’ body language and silent glances makes the text all that much richer.  This is a text that is easy to read but one that is layered and complex.  There’s a lot of humor and heart here.

A quiet graphic novel that deserves all the praise it’s gotten.  This is one to push on reluctant and rabid readers alike–it’s that much fun.  Highly recommended.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks.  First Second: 2012.  Library copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nervous, home-schooled by her absent and much-missed mom and saddled with three adored older brothers—and a ghost—Maggie starts high school.

Largely but not entirely left by her doting upper-grade sibs (who had “first days” of their own) to sink or swim, Maggie starts off in lonely isolation but quickly finds two great friends in Mohawk-wearing, multiply pierced, exuberantly logorrheic classmate Lucy and her quieter (but also Mohawk-topped) brother Alistair. Simmering complications soon reach a boil as Maggie discovers that Alistair and her own oldest brother Daniel have some sort of bad history, and on a more eldritch note, a woman’s ghost that Maggie had occasionally seen in the nearby graveyard takes to floating into her house and right up to her face. Filling monochrome ink-and-wash panels with wonderfully mobile faces, expressively posed bodies, wordless conversations in meaningful glances, funny banter and easy-to-read visual sequences ranging from hilarious to violent, Hicks crafts an upbeat, uncommonly engaging tale rich in humor, suspense, and smart, complex characters.

Readers will definitely want to have, know or be Maggie’s brothers—but she herself proves to be no slouch when it comes to coping with change and taking on challenges.

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books and reading

Waiting on Wednesday: Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Add MediaAnother Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

Expected Release Date: June 11, 2013

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

(summary via Goodreads)

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this one that seems so appealing.  It’s going to be a tough read, I think, but it also looks really original and out of the norm for me, so there’s some appeal there for sure.  It doesn’t feel like a June release, as this one would be more apropos for October, but I’ll definitely be devouring it when it’s published.

What are you waiting on this week?

books and reading

The ALA Youth Media Awards

…were announced yesterday.  Book nerds all over the place have been all atwitter with the news.

You can check out all the winners here.  It’s a mixed bag of the expected and the unheard of.

I haven’t read a ton of them, to be honest.  There’s some talk about what John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars didn’t make the cut, but I’m not surprised at all.

The thing I’m most excited about?  An honor mention for Laura Buzo’s excellent Love and Other Perishable Items in the Morris Award.

pop culture

Viewed this Week (38)

Inspired by Ticket to Anywhere’s What I Watched, I post on Sundays about what movies and/or TV shows I watched the week before.  Some weeks will be epic, and some weeks…won’t be.  Let’s get to it!

TV:
Switched at Birth 2×3 – “Duel of Two Women”
Bunheads 1×13 – “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky”
Girls 2×2 – “I Get Ideas”

Movies:
Paranormal Activity 2, 3, and 4
Ted
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Thoughts on what I watched:
This week’s episode of Switched at Birth was compelling enough.  I’m continually entertained by this show and think that some of the actors get stronger every week.  I love Bay’s continuous struggle with switching to Carlton (and her tension with Natalie, who is excellent).  I’m less impressed with the totally predictable storyline between Toby and the pregnant chick whose name I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up.

Bunheads continues to be weirdly uneven, but I still really enjoy it.  It’s so fast-paced in its dialogue that it’s almost hard to keep up (even for this fast-talker).  But I love seeing Liza Weil in it, and I think Truly’s delivery nearly matches Michelle’s.  Definitely a show that continues to grow on me.

The winner of the week was Girls, though, because the scene between Donald Glover and Lena Dunham where they argue and subsequently break up was one of the best things I’ve ever seen (and apparently most of it was improvised).  I knew it was going to be golden when Dunham quoted

a Missy Elliott lyric and then flat-out denied it.  It only got better from there.  Dunham’s Hannah is unbelievably psychotic when it comes to denying her own shortcomings, and watching her go on the defensive is so, so worth it.  I love this show.

Paranormal Activity: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We watched Ted this weekend because I promised J. we could.  I actually thought parts of it were very, very funny, but it lost steam about halfway through.  Mila Kunis is so very pretty, though.

Both J. and I hated Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I found the entire film incredibly problematic.  I doubt I’ll review it, but know that the racism and sexism underlying the film made it hard to watch.  There’s a ton of literature on the topic, and I encourage you to check it out.

What did you watch this week?

pop culture

Movie News and Blather

Time for another installment of movie news and blather, where I bring you all the movie news that’s fit to print (or at least what I find interesting).  Without further ado or preamble, let’s get right into it!

1. Spring Breakers Trailer looks just like you’d expect it to.

I’m not going to lie: this movie looks dumb.  It looks really, really stupid.  But it’s getting some buzz because it’s Selena Gomez’s first R-rated movie, and she’s been very vocal about making sure parents know it’s not for kids.  Well, duh.  I don’t even know if I’ll see it, but I do like some of the other people in it.  Plus, James Franco doing a weirdly accurate impression of what I can only assume is Kevin Federline? It looks so awful, though!  What do you think?

2. If I Stay is definitely going to be a movie, and it has a lead actress now.

MTV’s Hollywood Crush is reporting that Chloe Grace-Moretz has been cast as the lead in the adaptation of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay movie.  I didn’t love this book as much as a lot of other people, but I’ll definitely be checking out the movie, whenever it ends up getting released. (HollywoodCrush)

3. The Brass Teapot Trailer looks ridiculous, entertaining.

I’m not a huge fan of violence in movies in general, even when it’s a little slapstick, but this one looks interesting.  A couple down on their luck discovers a magic teapot that gives them money whenever they hurt themselves.  It’s a totally weird concept, but it’s got an interesting cast and looks like it might actually be funny.  I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

4. Anne Hathaway is going to be in The Taming of the Shrew

According to The Wrap, Anne Hathaway, she of the polarizing celebrities, has been tapped to play Kate in an adaptation of the Taming of the Shrew.  This is my favorite Shakespeare play of all time, so of course I’ll be seeing it, but I know that everyone and their mother will have an opinion about Hathaway taking on the role of the persnickety heroine. (The Wrap)

5. New trailer for The End of Love

This film, written and directed by Mark Webber, is about the relationship between a man and his young son after the death of the child’s mother.  Webber stars in the movie, and it features his real-life child.  The film also has Shannyn Sossamon, Aubrey Plaza, and Amanda Seyfried.  It definitely looks a little earnest and even the trailer seems to meander a bit, but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it, because I will.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Watch that Ends the Night by Alan Wolf

John Jacob Astor is bringing his new teen bride home after a honeymoon in Egypt, and he’s hoping to avoid the media scandal when everyone finds out she’s quite pregnant.  A Lebanese refugee and her brother are traveling to family in Florida, where a new life awaits them.  A professional gambler tries to take the passengers for all their worth.  A captain sets sail on his final voyage before retirement on the biggest ship ever created.  And out in the ocean, an iceberg floats along, waiting for its moment.  Twenty-four voices come alive in Allan Wolf’s verse novel about the infamous Titanic.

In this lyrical novel, Wolf brings to life the events of the Ship of Dreams and its doomed maiden voyage.  The history of the event comes to life in this beautifully written and unusual novel.  Although it reads as though it were an oral history, Wolf imbues his characters with enough depth to keep things interesting and amps up the drama as events move towards the inevitable collision.

It’s clear that Wolf did an enormous amount of research for this novel, and it pays off.  Each character is fully realized and absolutely human.  They are all just telling their stories.  There’s no agenda here, and no judgment: Wolf simply wants to provide an accessible record of events for readers unfamiliar with the historical event.  Each voice is all the more meaningful because readers realize what fate awaits them in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

This is absolutely a great read for fans of historical fiction.  Readers looking for more information about the Titanic but not wishing to get bogged down in dry facts will be rewarded as this one is rife with information without ever feeling didactic.  Unusual perspectives (like those of the iceberg and the ship rats) provide more color into a story that is already brimming with memorable characters.

Recommended.

The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf. Candlewick: 2012. Library copy.

books and reading

Waiting on Wednesday: Absent by Katie Williams

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Absent by Katie Williams

Expected release date: April 30, 2013

Forever is a long time to be stuck in high school.

Seventeen-year-old Paige is dead, the victim of a freak fall from the roof during Physics class. Now she’s a ghost, permanently bound to the grounds of her high school. It isn’t all bad, she can find out everyone’s secrets, which can be amusing—for a while. But then Paige hears something that isn’t amusing at all: the rumor spread by the most popular girl at school that her death wasn’t an accident—that she supposedly jumped on purpose. Paige is desperate to stop the gossip, but what can a ghost do? Then Paige discovers something amazing. She can possess living people when they think of her, and she can make them do almost anything. Maybe, just maybe, she can get inside the girl who’s responsible for the stories. . . and have a little fun turning the tables while she’s at it.

(summary via Goodreads)

This isn’t necessarily my usual type of book, but Kelly @ Stackedbooks.org gave it some positive buzz on one of the Circulating Ideas podcasts, and now I’m looking forward to it.  If it’s done well, which Kelly said it was, it should be a really interesting and intriguing read.  I’m always willing to read a paranormal title as long as it’s done well and keeps the ridiculous love triangles at bay.

What are you waiting on this week?

pop culture

Viewed this Week (37)

Inspired by Ticket to Anywhere’s What I Watched, I post on Sundays about what movies and/or TV shows I watched the week before.  Some weeks will be epic, and some weeks…won’t be.  Let’s get to it!

TV:
Switched at Birth 2×2 – “The Awakening Conscience”
Bunheads 1×12 – “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor”
House of Lies 2×1 – “Stochasticity”
Girls 2×1 – “It’s About Time”
New Girl 2×12 – “Cabin” and 2×13 – “A Father’s Love”
The Carrie Diaries – 1×1 – “Pilot”

Movies:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thoughts on what I watched:
Not being in school and throwing my back out provided me ample time to watch a fair amount of TV this week.  My top TV priority remains Switched at Birth, which continues to be my biggest guilty pleasure show (that really shouldn’t be all that guilty).  This week’s episode continued the trend of being interesting and on point.  Daphne’s subtle awakening to her own privilege and what that means, as well as Bay’s realization that attending Carlton won’t sit well with everyone, were two of the episode’s strongest points.  I also like that Toby is getting more screen time but remain convinced that Nikki’s topless photos weren’t illegal because that woman is literally 30 years old (JK guys she’s like 19 but whatever).

Bunheads continues to improve for me, as this episode was also pretty strong (although I want some more dancing!).  I loved seeing Liza Weil cameo as Truly’s sister, and the four main ballerinas grow on me every week (although I’m still not sure why Boo is the favorite, as the other girls are equally as interesting to me).  I still think Sutton Foster is great and love watching her react to things onscreen.

J. and I are maybe two of the only people I know who love House of Lies, so we were stoked that the second season premiered last Sunday.  We stayed up (okay, I stayed up) late to watch it, and I have to say that I was kind of disappointed.  While I’m glad it got renewed for another season, I’m already nervous about the direction the show is taking and hope it can get back on track.

The second season premiere of Girls, however, did not disappoint.  I thought the whole thing was great from start to finish (and love that Donald Glover has a guest starring role).  I know there are a lot of criticisms of the show, and while I agree with some of them, I also think it’s one of the most daring shows on the air right now.

Somehow, I got a week behind on New Girl, so this week I caught up by watching both episodes back-to-back.  Both “Cabin” and “A Father’s Love” were really funny, but I think Olivia Munn’s exit was handled clumsily.  There were some great lines in both episodes (including Nick making a joke about Jess’s eyes being 2 or 3 times the size of a normal human’s), and the scene where everyone is tripping on Absinthe was hilarious.

I watched the premiere of the CW’s The Carrie Diaries (but based on the numbers, I was pretty much the only person who did), and was less than impressed (and the bar wasn’t set very high to begin with).  It’s fine enough, I guess, but it’s no Sex and the City, and I actually think Anna Sophia Robb was a mistake, in terms of casting.  She has none of the charm or charisma needed for the role.  I’ll keep watching, but it’s definitely something I watch in the background while I make dinner.

My mom and I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and found it entertaining but ultimately kind of uneven.  Even setting aside Emma Watson’s incredibly uneven American accent, the film as a whole felt half-baked.  There were things I liked and I enjoyed it, but it’s the kind of film that fades from memory quickly.

What did you watch this week?

books and reading · pop culture · reviews

Book Review: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Throughout Caitlin Moran’s humorous memoir, she interweaves observations about women’s lives today with anecdotes about her own experiences in becoming a woman.  Nothing is taboo or out of bounds for Moran, who covers issues such as Brazilian waxes, abortion, pregnancy, weddings, and popular entertainment without even pausing to catch her breath.  Equal parts funny and thought-provoking, Moran’s memoir is sure to delight while it also inspires.

Except that Moran spends too much time trying to delight, and not enough time actually thinking about her arguments and the kind of message they send.  It isn’t that Moran hasn’t done her homework–because it’s clear that she has–it’s more that she seems to subscribe too often to the classic white-feminist viewpoint and completely ignores intersectionality.

This is too bad, because Moran has some good stuff present in her humor-memoir-manifesto.  She doesn’t shy away from any topics, and her honesty is refreshing.  There are whole chapters that are particularly effective, including the one on abortion, which is searingly honest.  Her anecdotes about her childhood growing up in a poor, large family also lend humor and color to the book.

But there are so many moments where Moran goes off the rails that it’s hard to remain on her side throughout the book’s pages.  Moran tries so hard to hit all the marks of feminism while also remaining pithy and cool, and while this in and of itself gets a little grating, it’s her blind spots when it comes to intersectional feminism, transgenderism, and cissexism that are the most jarring in a book that’s supposedly a call to arms for all women.

Moran tends to see issues in a very black-or-white way.  While this is partially put into place to add to the humor of Moran’s book (and she is very funny), it’s also quite polarizing.  Of course, reader sensitivity will play a role in how all of her statements are taken, but the fact remains that her humorous tone often comes off as a little too dismissive:

Even the most ardent feminist historian…can’t conceal that women have basically done fuck-all for the last 100,000 years. Come on — let’s admit it. Lest stop exhaustively pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious and creative, on an equal with men, that’s just been comprehensively covered up by The Man. There isn’t.

It seems odd that Moran is making the argument that women have done nothing in the history of humankind.  While she is clearly exaggerating, it is this same kind of dismissive attitude that is so often applied to the histories of people of color by white people.  It is a slippery slope, and it’s also kind of offensive.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of Moran’s lack of empathy for marginalized groups.  Take, for example, Moran’s distinction between stripping and burlesque dancing:

With burlesque, not only does the power balance rest with the person taking her clothes off…but it also anchors its heart in freaky, late-night, libertine self expression: it has a campy, tranny, fetish element to it.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and whether or not the reader agrees with Moran about burlesque being so different from stripping is beside the point when one unpacks the offensive, loaded terms she uses to describe burlesque.  This sort of language is rife with cissexism connotations and feels particularly insensitive, given what Moran is trying to accomplish.

Not all readers will have the same reading experience, and many will enjoy Moran’s very British take on the current state of women’s issues.  However, anyone who is interested in a dialogue about intersectional feminism will have to look elsewhere, as Moran turns a complete blind eye to it in her memoir (and hasn’t been great about it on Twitter, either).

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Ebury Press: 2011. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris

Kate Grable has scored an internship shadowing the county medical examiner as part of her school’s pre-med program (we’re assuming that high schools have pre-med programs, I guess).  When he’s arrested for murder, she’s left with the bodies.  Then her brother Jonah finds a dead gamer girl, and Kate starts to realize that someone is killing kids–and whoever is doing it is really, really hairy.  Is it a werewolf?  Kate’s skeptical, but if she doesn’t solve the mystery, kids are going to keep dying.

Harris’s follow-up to the frequently funny Bad Taste in Boys starts where the first one left off.  In this very short, very entertaining novel, readers are treated to more of Kate’s geeky science-nerd desire to know what is going on.  Readers also get more time with Kate’s funny younger brother and Kate’s eclectic group of friends.  There’s a lot of the same stuff here, and when it works, it works well.  This is fun, frothy horror-humor.

The novel is definitely campy, but its tongue-in-cheek approach makes readers aware of the fact that the novel knows just how campy it is.  The plot starts rolling right away and doesn’t let up, which should keep even the most reluctant reader hooked.  There aren’t a ton of other titles like this for contemporary YA fans, so this one should stand out in that respect.

Funny, smart, and accessible for younger readers, this one should work for fans of the first in the series and anyone looking for a lighter side to their humor.  The novel is so fun that even the fact that the plot is far-fetched doesn’t really matter.

Bad Hair Day by Carrie Harris. Delacorte Press: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.