Saturday, January 20, 2018

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third volume in Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series picks up shortly after the events in Every Heart A Doorway. And all I can say is, wow!

Rini, a resident of the land of Confection, is in for a surprise when she lands in the turtle pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. The visiting teen thinks she's got a simple quest ahead of her: Find her future mother, Sumi, and return with her to Confection so Sumi can fulfill the prophecy and save the land. But Sumi has been dead for several months, murdered by Jill, another resident of the home. Jill committed this, and several other crimes, as a desperate attempt to reopen the door to the sinister world in which she and her sister felt most at home. Now Rini and four other Waywards must travel to the land of the dead and beyond in hopes of finding Sumi, somehow resurrect her, and bring her home. And they better hurry! Otherwise history will rewrite itself completely and Rini, the land of Confection, and maybe other worlds will all doomed.

This series just gets better and better! And Beneath the Sugar Sky is a very satisfying addition to what is shaping up to be a truly excellent fantasy series. It's also quickly becoming one of my favorites. In this book, we readers get a more in-depth look at worlds only alluded to in previous volumes. The world building, the characters, the creativity...it all combines to create a story that's pretty extraordinary.

Absolutely recommended! But....for ultimate enjoyment, read the series in order. 

--AJB 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Foolish Hearts, by Emma Mills

Foolish Hearts was such an enjoyable novel to read!

Prior to reading this novel, I had not read anything or heard of anything written by Emma Mills. Until a friend handed me the book and I started reading it and I'm happy to say that I absolutely loved it!

I could go on endlessly about the author's style of writing. The writing and the story flowed so well, the characters were likable and everything was extremely relatable. Not only was this an extremely accurate "coming of age" story for teenagers but at the same time, some of the event/emotions that the characters are feeling can relate to any age. It definitely is a suitable novel for a variety of ages and I think that many will get enjoyment from it.

Additionally, in attribution to the author's style, the humor within this novel was legitimately laugh-out-loud funny. Believe me, it actually had me laughing out loud and wanting to tell people the jokes that I read. They were unique, creative and a direct representation of the author's personality.

Overall, I just can't get over this novel or the level of the author's writing. The writing style in combination with an incredible story made for the perfect "recipe". I could go as far as comparing the style of writing of this author resembling a female John Green and I mean that in the highest esteem. Definitely recommend this novel and I know for certain that I will be on the look out for more that has been written by Emma Mills. *JK*

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Misfit City, by Kiwi Smith

The tiny coastal town of Cannon Cove is known for two things things: The first is its record abundance of cloudy/rainy days. The second (and by far the biggest) is it was the was where the 1980s cult classic movie, The Gloomies, was filmed. Other than that, nothing exciting ever happens. Which is why Wilder is so anxious to leave for college. In fact, the further away she can get from Cannon Cove, The Gloomies, and the constant stream of (annoying) tourists, the better.

Then Captain Denby, the town recluse, dies and donates a trunk to the local museum. A trunk that just happens to contain an ancient treasure map that, if sources are correct, was created by none other than the legendary (and infamous) pirate, Black Mary. Wilder, along with friends Macy, Dot, Karma and their dog Pip set off to translate the map and see where this adventure might lead. Maybe to treasure! But predictably there are some very bad people after the map as well. Which means Wilder and company find themselves deeply involved in what could be the most exciting (and dangerous) adventure of their lives so far.

The story ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, so we can (hopefully) expect the adventure to continue. And the sooner the better!

Misfit City is the first installment of a fun new graphic novel series by Kiwi Smith. The references to real-life 1980s movie The Goonies are obvious and intentional. I will tell you that I am a HUGE fan of this movie. It's one of my favorites and something I can happily watch again and again. So it goes without saying that I was very excited about this book! But despite the pirate treasure-themed plot, Misfit City is not an exact reboot of the film (but with a female cast). And it is the differences that make it an awesome read. 

I'd recommend this for readers who love series featuring strong female characters, like Lumberjanes and Giant Days. Fans of The Goonies won't want to miss this either. --AJB

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cast No Shadow, by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

Greg lives in Lancaster, a town known for tourist trap oddities. Like the world's largest hairball (sorry, but eww!) or Miss Star's Psychic Karaoke. But perhaps the biggest oddity of all is Greg, who was born without a shadow. But being the local freak is the least of Greg's worries. Ruth, Greg's father's girlfriend, has moved in. And Greg takes this to mean his mother (deceased) is being forgotten, erased. Also, Greg's best friend Layla has began dating his nemesis. Needless to say, Greg is dealing with a lot of personal drama, a lot of feels, and none of it is good. Greg is beginning to think NO ONE gets him. 

Then Greg meets Eleanor while exploring the old, abandoned Turner Mansion, and finally feels like this is someone he can be friends with. Maybe more. The only catch is Eleanor is a ghost, doomed to haunt the house until the end of time. And Greg is the only one who can see her. So that adds to his weirdness in the eyes of everyone else. 

Just when Greg is finally feeling happy for the first time in a while, his shadow is unleashed. And this is no ordinary shadow, but a destructive force determined to destroy the town. There's only one way to stop it, but it will require a big sacrifice.

Admittedly it took me a while to get into Cast No Shadow, mainly because the narration was really confusing. Was it Eleanor? Greg's shadow? Greg? Some unidentified and all-knowing third-person observer? It wasn't obvious to me until much, much later in the book. And that took away from my enjoyment of the story, somewhat. Additionally, some of the action sequences didn't translate so well to print/still pictures, leaving me with a "What just happened here?" sort of feeling. But despite all that, I DID end up enjoying the story. And BONUS: Happy Ending for Everyone (The final scene literally shows the characters walking off into the sunset. I guess to show they all have perfectly normal shadows). 

I'd recommend it. --AJB

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Eight Days on Planet Earth, by Cat Jordan

Eight Days on Planet Earth is down-to-earth yet it's magical, funny, and a little heartbreaking.

Matty Jones has grown up knowing the field he lives next to is a little different. Matty's father claims that a spaceship landed there on the night he was born. But Matty's father has since run off with his brother's sister, leaving Matty and his mother alone, so Matty isn't all that inclined to listen to what his father believes. When a strange girl suddenly appears in Matty's field claiming to be from another planet, waiting to be collected by a spaceship, Matty knows it can't be true. But there is something so ethereal about Priya  that she starts to change Matty's view on life, the universe and even love.

It wasn't until I reached the very end of this book that I actually started to understand it. For most of this story I expected a spaceship to land in Matty's field and colllect the celestial Priya. But this book is actually a contemporary novel - real life, real world issues. It is just like it claims in the synopsis - about life, the universe and love. The ending of this book is beautiful but it also has a surprising twist. I didn't see it coming and it changed everything about how I viewed this book, the characters and their actions. The surprise is actually the best part, so I'll stop here.

This book is written from Matty's perspective across eight strange and life-changing days, which enables the reader to burrow into Matty's head and heart.
Eight Days on Planet Earth wasn't what I was expecting, but instead was a delightful and moving surprise. It is perfect for readers who enjoy contemporary novels about romance, family, self-discovery, tearjerkers and that something special that is just a little otherworldly. *JK*

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mug Meals, by Leslie Bilderback

Some time ago, we reviewed Leslie Bilderback's Mug Cakes. This cookbook, which specializes in one-serving treats using nothing more than a mug and a microwave, was so popular the author followed it uo with Mug Meals. 

This cookbook teaches you how to make everything from breakfast (and second breakfast, if that's your thing), snacks, soups, full meals, and desserts. Each recipe is supposedly quick, easy to make, and is perfect for one person. While some of the recipes seem like they would be exactly this, others I have to raise an eyebrow at. For example, the ones that require the maker to cook pasta in the microwave. This is, indeed, a messy endeavor and not really something you'd want to risk in your parents' kitchen (I microwaved pasta a few times in college, before I moved someplace that had an actual kitchen. Trust me when I say cleanup of this dish is more trouble than it is worth). One good thing is each recipe comes with variations to account for vegetarian chefs, allergies, flavor preferences, and substitutions when certain ingredients just aren't available.

Overall, this book seems as though it is very versitile, and several recipes look like they'd be pretty tasty. I wouldn't mind trying a few of them sometime.

--AJB 

Monday, November 20, 2017

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), by Philip Pullman

Prequels are tricky. Especially prequels to awe-inspiringly awesome series that were penned decades after the final volume of the original was published. Any fan of the original Star Wars trilogy will tell you this (Jar Jar Binks? Really? Was that nerve-grating annyoance really necessary? I ask you...)

So as much as I was thrilled to learn about La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in Philip Pullman's new Book of Dust series, a part of me was very nervous. This series was to be an expansion of the original His Dark Materials/Golden Compass trilogy. Which I absolutely adored, by the way. To me, this trilogy was better than Harry Potter (Rowling), Books of Pellinor (Croggon), Raven Boys (Steifvater), and The Alchemyst (Scott) series combined. I love, love, love everything about it. And to this day it's my "go to" series and the one I measure all other series against. 

So yes, I was extremely thrilled when I learned of La Belle Sauvage, which was supposed to be set when Lyra, the main character in The Golden Compass, was still an infant. 

And yes, I was also extremely nervous. Would the new story be as good as the original? Would it make the original better? Or, like the Star Wars prequels, destroy it somewhat (or a lot)? 

I almost didn't read it.

But then I did. And I'm so glad I did! 

This new story focuses on 11-year-old Malcolm, whose parents run the inn near the nunnary where infant Lyra Balaqua is being cared for by the kindly sisters. Malcolm finds himself pulled into political intrigue involving the child, who even then is prophecized to be The Chosen One. Not your typical hero, Malcolm is rather ordinary. But he is brave and curious and observant and exceptionally likable. He accidently becomes a spy, saves Lyra from the evil Magisterium, and ends up being a key player in how the girl ends up at Jordan College. In that, this story is more like Star Wars: Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace (thankfully!). No more spoilers, though. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this story. Pullman did an excellent job returning the reader to the world of Oxford. The details! The world building! The characters! Everything! Reading it, I almost felt as though I never really left this world. I would absolutely recommend this book, both to fans of the original trilogy and to those simply looking for something awesome (because even if you haven't read The Golden Compass, you will want to do so after reading La Belle Sauvage). 

--AJB