Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tunnel Vision by Aric Davis

Under the ruse of a research paper, two high school girls investigate a 15-year-old murder case after they discover the victim was one girl's drug-addicted aunt. They get help when their paths intersect with kid-detective (now teen detective) Nickel.

Sorry - that's a lame plot summary, but I don't want to give too much away. I adored the first Nickel book (Nickle Plated) and one of the best parts about that character is that he's unique; he's a kid who can do what few adults would. That plays out in various ways throughout the story arc. This book's less gory than the first - but we still see bits and pieces of Nickle's tragic, horrific past in flashbacks. Plus, there's a bit of a time-gap between the books and apparently Nickle hasn't been on vacation.

Honestly, this is mostly the girls' story and they carry the bulk of the narrative. Unfortunately, that also makes the book feel a lot more commonplace and less fresh that the first, truly dynamic book.

I enjoyed this one, but I'm still hoping to see more of Nickle's story in the future.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Almost Everything by Tate Hallaway

In this third (and final?) book of the Vampire Princess of St. Paul series, the animosity between the vampires and witches comes to a lethal head: the vampires can't survive without a sacrifice - and it has to be a witch. The witches wonder if it wouldn't be better just to let them die. And the half-vampire, half-witch teen at the center of this series is trying her hardest to find a fair, moral settlement for all sides.

It's too bad this is the end of the series, because it's finally a fully fleshed out story with suspense, drama, and resolution too. The other books (Almost Final Curtain and Almost To Die For) were entertaining, but this one's really quite good. I wasn't sure I believed Ana could pull off her plan - and actually, she doesn't. But I won't give away any more than that!

Hallaway has written herself an "out" to the finality of the series; she could easily spin it off into a new trilogy or series. I'm surprised to find I actually hope she does.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, art by Zack Giallongo

What happens after the zoo closes? Well, in the Stratford Zoo the animals put on plays.

This is a wonderful reinterpretation of the Shakespearean tragedy in a graphic novel format as depicted by animals. Macbeth the lion starts eating everyone in his way toward becoming the king. But it takes lots of ketchup, and is giving him indigestion. His upwardly ambitious wife is played by a serval (I think) - bringing new meaning to Lady Macbeth's famous spot problems.

The gory parts of the play get deflected by the antics of the audience full of animals - a strategically placed elephant ruins the viewing of the "best scene in the whole play." A couple of young chimpanzee act as comic relief and narrators to some of the audience reaction.

I'll bet this graphic novel still makes sense if you don't know Shakespeare - but it's even funnier if you do. In all, it's a wonderful adaptation for a wide variety of ages.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

After saving a unicorn (accidentally) Phoebe is granted a wish - and after trying all the usual work-arounds angling for more wishes, she settles on wishing the unicorn to be her best friend.

The socially awkward kid and smartass unicorn are wonderful pair. Nothing really happens in this graphic novel, and it's perfect just the way it is - it's mostly the pair talking, observing the world, and hanging out. And while Phoebe is a fourth-grade girl, I'd say the satire level and snark make it a book for a slightly older, preteen-through-adult readership.

I cannot wait for more Heavenly Nostrils (the comic series, taken from the unicorn's name), and will certainly be checking out the online comic's back issues. Pick this one up for sure! A truly hilarious graphic novel.

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

In this third book in the Fox and O'Hare series, our favorite uptight FBI agent and her handsome rogue con are working to 1) clear his name in a bunch of international thefts he didn't do, 2) bring down a major player in the drug-smuggling world.

They find an ingenious way to tease a crook out of hiding, then take him for everything he's worth. There's lots of Hollywood theatrics that make the con work, and the usual cast of characters joins the job: Kate's retired Special Forces dad and his undercover buddies, drive-the-wheels-off-anything Willie, eccentric Method actor Boyd. plus a few new faces too.

It's a light read, but also hard to put down. I've loved every one of these books, and this one's the best yet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

El Deafo

by Cece Bell

It's a graphic novel! The main character is deaf! It's an autobiography! 

Cece was an average kid until she contracted a disease at age four which left her profoundly deaf.  This occurred in an era when technology was just beginning to be useful in aiding comprehension of language.  Ms. Bell does a wonderful job creating showcasing her childhood struggles and successes. 

Cece makes her way through school with a specialized hearing aid. She quickly discovers her ability to hear her teacher anywhere in the building - even the bathroom.  She uses that power to create a secret identity for herself; she becomes El Deafo. 

This is a great read for anyone who enjoys superheroes.  I'd also recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

Corporatized magic for profit, professional kidnapping and ransom scams, and high-risk tourism are all factors in the fantasy quest (sorry, no, not a quest, didn't fill out the paperwork - it's just a business trip) of this novel, the third installment of The Chronicles of Kazam series.

When magician The Once Magnificent Boo gets kidnapped, our heroine and intrepid orphan Jennifer Strange turns the ransom negotiation into a multi-tasking trip to also save the world's last two dragons by locating a mythical stone for a crooked magician. And she might find a way to sneak in a date, too.

The first two books in this series (The Last Dragonslayer and The Song of the Quarkbeast) to me felt a bit incomplete ... like they were building to something. Yes, THIS is what they were building to! Fforde has found his groove with this third book, and he's not done because this one ends with the start of a whole new world for the magicians of Kazam. I won't ruin it for you.

I seriously loved this book, and I couldn't have said that for the first two. But I've really come to love these characters, and the storyline in this one is full, rich, and satisfying. Best yet!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Liz Emerson may be the most popular girl in the junior class, but she's also a mean-queen diva who has decided to end her life but make it look like an accident.

The book moves back and forth in time - from Liz's childhood, to now in the hospital, to months ago, to last week, to 8th grade, to the day of the accident. How on earth did her life get to the point where she can see no other way?

Wow, this is a wonderful book - tough, but also fair in illustrating how broken many otherwise perfect-seeming people can be. Does she deserve to live? Could this have been avoided? Why would you even want to be her friend?

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Duncan is one of the world's biggest superfans of an obscure 80's musician nobody's ever heard of, and he runs a website dedicated to cracking the mysteries of Tucker Crowe's art and life. His long-time girlfriend Annie runs a tiny museum in their forgotten English seaside town. When a new album of old Tucker Crowe music is released, every thing changes: Duncan loses touch with reality, Annie gives up on Duncan, and the reclusive Tucker Crowe steps into the real world.

Hornby is widely known for his music geekiness (he also wrote "High Fidelity" about a record shop, which was eventually was turned into a John Cusack film), and this book is a wonderful multi-faceted look at fandom.

These are characters you enjoy spending time with, and their eccentricities are of the real-world kind. You probably know someone (or are someone) like these people. Nobody's got it all together - not by a long stretch - yet you find yourself rooting for them to get their shit together and SUCCEED just like you would a friend.

I listened to the excellent audiobook version of this novel recorded by three readers: American Bill Irwin, and Brits Ben Miles and Jennifer Wiltsie. Since the book is told in three voices, it was fun to have an audiobook read that way too. Later in the book it gets slightly odd, as there are conversations between the characters - for example, you hear Annie in Duncan's section, so that guy was mimicking the voice of the woman reading her sections. Not terrible, just a bit unusual.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Finn's just a regular high school junior - he plays baseball, has a funny best friend, and gets along mostly fine with his family. He's had epileptic seizures since he was 6 and was hurt in a freak accident that also killed his mother, but he deals with it pretty well.

Oh ... and his father wrote a famous sci-fi novel that pissed off a whole bunch of religious people. And it may have featured Finn (characteristic scar and all) as one of the destructive carnivorous beings from another dimension bent on taking over Earth.

Not a lot happens in this book - it's more character-driven and deals with Finn's asserting his independence, falling in love for the first time, and trying to figure out his place in the world (without eating people and taking over, like in Dad's book).

I have LOVED every Andrew Smith book, and this one's also wonderful. Perhaps it's not so over-the-top like Grasshopper Jungle, but a great read and worth the time none the less. It's funny and heartbreaking, there are moments of suspense and mistaken identity, but mostly it's simply about becoming Finn.