Blue Lily, Lily Blue

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Persephone stood on the bare mountaintop, her ruffled ivory dress whipping around her legs, her masses of white-blond curls streaming behind her.”
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Release date: October 21, 2014
Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves
Content: There’s swearing, lots of it, including f-bombs, but nothing felt gratuitous. There’s also violence and some adult drinking. Plus, it’s a complicated story arc that may prove confusing for younger readers. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when dealing with this series. I just want to throw it at everyone (especially people who come in the store. WHY WON’T THEY BUY THIS BOOK?) and say “READ THIS! THIS IS WHAT STORYTELLING AND WRITING IS.” It really doesn’t matter that I love the characters (“What [Orla] didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another.” Count me in on that.), and I am intrigued and fascinated by the people they meet. In this book, most especially, it was Jesse Dittley, the man who took care of the cave in the hills, who talked in ALL CAPS and called Blue an ANT. He was wonderful.

The basic plot that Stiefvater weaves is that Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are getting closer to waking their unknown king, Glendower. Blue’s mom, Maura is missing, gone off on a quest of her own. And Mr. Gray’s employer, Greenmantle (“Greenmantle had always liked the idea of being a mysterious hit man, but that career goal invariably paled in comparison with his enjoyment of going out in the town and having people admire his reputation and driving his Audi with its custom plate (GRNMNTL) and going on cheese holidays in countries that put little hats over their vowels like so: ê.”), has shown up in town, furious at Mr. Gray for defying him, determined to make him pay.

But, things don’t necessarily go right. (There is one more book, after all.) And Blue and the boys are possibly in deeper than they can handle.

What I love most (as evidenced by the frequency of quotes already), however, is the writing. It’s so drop-dead gorgeous. Stiefvater is a poet here, capturing so much — mood, character, events — with so little (even her use of swearing has Meaning.), it’s breathtaking.

If you haven’t picked these up yet, the series is almost done. Now is a good time to start. You won’t regret it.

Graphic Novel Roundup

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
First sentence: “In 1911, the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed ending two millenia of imperial rule over China.”
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Content: There’s some violence (graphic, obviously), but that’s about it. It’s a higher reading level, but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving this to the superhero loving 9- or 10-year-old. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the 1940s, the first Asian-American, Hing, was hired by a small comic press to draw a superhero. The producers/owners wanted The Green Turtle to be white but the way Hing drew The Green Turtle, you really couldn’t tell. It was a short-lived comic, and Hing never gave The Green Turtle’s backstory.

Which is where The Shadow Hero comes in: Yang and Liew imagine The Green Turtle’s origin story.

And what a story. Yes, this is a superhero comic: the kind of nerdy, unambitious boy who gets a super power, but not without great cost. Our hero is Hank Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants. All he really wants to do is run the grocery store in Chinatown with his father. But, Chinatown is run by the mob, people who extract “taxes” from the businesses. Hank’s dad forgets a payment once, and the mob comes down on him, hard, killing him in front of Hank. That spurs Hank (kind of; his mother had been pushing him to become a superhero for a while) into action: he’s going to take down the mob, going after the boss.

Like all of Yang’s work, this is wonderfully drawn, and the story is compelling. I’m not a huge superhero comic person, but I couldn’t put this one down. It’s definitely a story worth reading.

Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time!
by Scott McCormick and R. H. Lazzell
First sentence: “What are you laughing at, Mr. Pants?”
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Content: It’s a perfect beginning chapter graphic novel. Words are simple and large print, but the humor is abundant and the pages keep turning. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is one that our Penguin children’s rep (who has the most delightful Irish accent) RAVED about. She said, “Seriously: you just have to read it. It’s hilarious!” I put it off for a while, until she came again (there’s a sequel coming out), and reminded me: “You HAVE  to read this.” So, I did. And she’s right: you have to read it. It’s hilarious.

It’s the last day of summer, and Mr. Pants — a cat with two cat sisters and a human mom. No, I don’t understand, either — wants to go play laser tag. Except his younger sisters — Foot Foot and Grommy — have other ideas. Foot Foot wants to play with her new toy. Grommy wants to go to the Fairy Princess Dream Factory. Mom has to go shopping. The deal is this: Mr. Pants goes along with all this stuff (he doesn’t want to do, obviously), and they can go play laser tag.

Much like Babymouse, this is a gold mine for hilarity. There’s also some gender-bending going on; Mr. Pants is your typical “boy”, but he’s also accepting of his sisters’ likes. (Which, I think, is typical for a boy with sisters. Ask me, sometime, about the summer I was into Little House on the Prairie. I was Laura, and my brother was Mary.) It’s everything a beginning chapter book needs to be: colorful, funny, interesting, and good.

This One Summer
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s a half-dozen f-bombs as well as mild swearing, and one of the minor characters gets pregnant. It’s in the teen graphic novel section for those reasons.

Every summer since she was five, Rose and her family would go to their cabin by the beach. She has her best friend there, Windy, and enjoyed the days playing, exploring, hanging out. But this summer is different. Rose is 13 (I think; she seemed 13) and she and Windy are talking about growing up (boobs were a big topic). And her mother and father are fighting. Quite a bit. Rose gathers from eavesdropping that much of it surrounds their failed attempt to have another baby. Which just makes Rose feel unwanted.

Add on top of that their observance (mostly from sneaking around) of an unfolding drama in the little town where their cottages are: a boy who works at the convenience store got his girlfriend pregnant and doesn’t want to accept responsibility.

It’s an interesting graphic novel, one that I think I didn’t like as much as I could have, solely because I was not the right age. But the 12-to 14-year old crowd, especially girls, would relate. It’s about changing, and accepting the future, and figuring out friends, and understanding the world. And it’s perfect for its target audience.

Just not for me.

Just Call My Name

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
First sentence:
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Others in the series: I’ll Be There
Content: To say that this is intense is an understatement. Violence, yes, but also psychological intensity. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

When we last left Sam and Riddle, their father was safely behind bars and they were living with Emily Bell and her family. A happily ever after, right?

Well, only Holly Goldberg Sloan would take a happily ever after and turn it into a nightmare.

First, there’s the whole issue of security: Sam and Riddle (especially Riddle) were controlled and abused for so long that it’s difficult for them to trust their own decisions, to get back into “real” life. They’re suffering, and much of that is the residual affects from the years spent with their father. It doesn’t help that Emily and her family (well, except for her brother, who’s resentful) are super nice. Sam and Riddle don’t know how to handle super nice.

And then their happily ever after starts unraveling. First, it’s Destiney Vance, one of those girls that just screams trouble. Sam just knows it: like calls to like, and he understand’s Destiny’s hard life. But, she won’t be gotten rid of, and sticks to Sam and Emily (and Emily’s former boyfriend, Bobby) like glue.

Which is a good thing, because their dad, Clarence, finds his way out of jail and is coming for the boys. And the Bells.

Few authors have the power to completely wreck me emotionally, and yet keep me turning pages at an ever more furious pace, dying to know: WHAT NEXT? Sloan is one of those authors. She captures the inner lives of all the characters, deftly balancing between Sam, Riddle, Emily, Jared, Destiny, Robb, and Clarence. You wouldn’t think it would work, but Sloan pulls it off not only well, but spectacularly. It probably would have been even more powerful if I’d read the first book right before, but even though I didn’t, I was able to immerse myself in this story, my heart simultaneously aching and pounding as I read about Sam and Riddle and their not-so-happily ever after.


Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green and David Levithan
First sentence: “When I was little, my dad used to tell me, ‘Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.'”
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Content: There’s a lot of swearing in this one. A. Lot. So, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I think the last time I read this, four years ago, I cheated on the review. It’s like I had nothing original to say. And perhaps, because I read it when everyone else was reading it, I didn’t.

So, I decided it deserves a proper review.

Will Grayson (1) is one of those people who just kind of goes with the flow. His best friend, for better or worse, is Tiny Cooper — who is anything but tiny — and he is the sort of person who creates drama. In fact, he’s written a musical, aptly title Tiny Dancer, about his life and is staging  it.

Will Grayson (2) is on medication for clinical depression, and by any account is less than enjoyable to be with. He has exactly three friends (sort of) but is harboring a crush on his on-line friend, Isaac. So when Isaac suggests that they meet up in Chicago, WG2 jumps at the chance

Except, Isaac isn’t real. And, WG2 meets WG1 (and Tiny) instead. And, lives were changed. Mostly for the better.

A lot of what there is to be said about this book is about the format. Green wrote WG1 and Levithan wrote WG2, and at the beginning, you can tell. It’s jarring traveling back and forth between the Will Graysons, but after they meet things become easier. And more fluid. I love how Tiny goes back and forth between the Wills but still ends up being Tiny. I also love the inclusiveness of this novel. That being gay is not an Event. It’s more who you are. And that’s okay. I also love that there’s a terrific example of non-romantic love. (Watch this video for what I mean.) While it’s not my favorite John Green book, I found myself touched by the end, by Tiny’s inclusiveness, and by his friends’ ultimate desire to help him realize that he matters. And by extension, that we all matter.

I’m glad I had an opportunity to reread it.

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders

by Geoff Herbach
First sentence: “Shortly before midnight on June 15, Gabriel Johnson, a sixteen-year-old from Minnekota, MN, was apprehended outside Cub Foods by Officer Rex McCoy.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, none of it strong. I put it in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore primarily because I like to keep the YA section toned down. Also, because that’s where all of Herbach’s other books are. I’d say, depending on your kid, it’s good for as young as 7th graders.

In high school, there are two types of people: the jocks and everyone else. Gabe is everyone else.  Actually, Gabe is a band geek, and a mostly friend-less loser. He’s been going downhill since his mom ran off with a Japanese guy a few years back, and his grandpa moved in. It’s not just that he has only two friends, it’s that he’s overweight. Massively so. In fact, everyone (including his friends) call him Chunk. And he’s okay with that.

Gabe spends his days chugging Code Red, primarily because the money in the school’s soda vending machine goes to support the band that is Gabe’s lifeline. He figures he can chug 5 bottles of the stuff, if the money goes to fund his program. Then he finds out that a Super Sekrit school board meeting took away the vending machine money from the band and gave it to the Brand Spanking New dance team. Which makes Gabe mad. Eventually.

There’s more to the plot, of course, but it’s more about Gabe gaining self-respect than any eventual result. You know from the start — the whole book is his confession; a one-sided conversation with a Mr. Rodriguez — that he’s gotten arrested for doing something. You assume it’s for stealing money out of the vending machine. But, things are more complex than that.

Part of the charm of this book is the format; I was entertained by hearing only one side of the conversation, and imagining what Mr. Rodriguez’s side was. But, it was also Gabe. He was such a loser to start with, and it’s empowering to see how he regains control over his life, in spite of the people — from his friends to his father — who are trying to hold him back. Everyone needs a summer in which they find their best selves, and this story of Gabe’s was a truly fun one.

The Riverman

by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “Every town has a lost child.”
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Content: There’s some alcohol usage and talk of murdered children. Also, it feels really adult in its sensibilities. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m not happy with that. On the other hand, it’ll languish in the YA (grades 6-8) section too, so I might just leave it where it is.

Alistair Cleary  is the kind of kid who blends in. He’s not popular at his middle school, but he’s not reviled, either. His best friend is a gamer — which is quite unusual, since it’s the fall of 1989 — but Alistair has managed to escape certain geek doom. He’s content to slide through life. Until Fiona decides that it’s Alistair who needs to write her sad tale down.

And what a tale: Fiona insists that she’s been going to this imaginary land, Aquavania, which is absolutely real. She’s added months to her life in her trips (which become years later in the book). And that her friends in Aquavania — who also happen to be real people in the Solid World — are disappearing because someone called the Riverman is sucking their souls away.

I had Issues with this book. It compelled me enough to finish it, sure, but it was one of those books that I threw across the room when I was done. I’ve been trying for days to figure out how to write about my issues, and to boil my problems with the book down into a neat, concise package, but I don’t think I can. There will be spoilers.

My initial problems come from the incongruity between the cover and the book itself. The cover screams middle grade, but the content is very… adult. On some level, I feel like Starmer should have gone all the way, made this incredibly dark and sinister, used the metaphor that he was building — that Aquavania is a crutch for Fiona, who uses it to escape horrible things in her life — and made it an adult book.

But, even though that is the set up for most of the book, Starmer doesn’t follow through. He pulls what I have come to think of as a bait-and-switch, a “HA! It’s Really REAL” moment. For which he has given us no basis in the rest of the book. Our narrator, Alistair, believes Fiona is making it up. He believes in the dark understory, so I do too. And so it’s incredibly unsatisfying (for me as an adult; would an older kid?) to have the rug pulled out from underneath you.

I’m sure there I have other complaints (did it really need to be set in 1989? REALLY?), but that’s the main one. Going in, I didn’t know what to expect, but by the end I hoped for a lot more than what I got.

Reality Boy

by A. S. King
First sentence: “I’m the kid you saw on TV.”
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Content: A lot — a LOT — of language, and to say Tasha isn’t nice is to grossly misunderstand her. There’s also sex, but none of it is graphic. Or even titillating. It’s in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this one since I finished it. Like other books I’ve read recently, I’m not sure this one boils down to a “like” or “dislike”. There was just so much going on that was SO horrific that when I was finished I didn’t want to run around saying to everyone that you HAVE to read this book. That said, I finished it basically in one sitting, because I couldn’t tear myself away.

When Gerald was five, his parents (his mother, mostly) decided that he was a Problem Child and wrote to the Network Nanny show to get them to come help Solve the Problem that was Gerald. And so the Network Nanny came, and he was shown crapping on national TV on the table, in his mother’s shoes, in all sorts of places. And, 12 years later, he still hasn’t lived it down. His nickname is “Crapper”. He’s in Special Ed (because someone who craps on the table MUST be developmentally delayed). He’s in therapy for anger management. And he given up all hope of having a future; his only goal is to stay out of jail.

As the book progresses, though, you come to realize that Gerald isn’t a problem child, that he’s just been labeled that way. And that the situation — from his parents who DON’T DO ANYTHING to his teachers who DON’T DO ANYTHING — has rendered Gerald completely helpless. The book is basically his awakening: the realization that it’s HIS life and if he wants to change it, he CAN. That he doesn’t have to be a victim, doesn’t have to conform to his mother’s expectations of him (which are low, to say the least). And that’s empowering.

Its not an easy read.  Gerald’s family is beyond messed up. But King’s writing is not without compassion towards Gerald and his eventual girlfriend, Hannah. There are moments of hope, breaks between the bleakness that make it easier to get through the moments — with his sister Tasha, especially, who is the driving negative force in Gerald’s life — that are hardest to get through. There is hope, in the end, as well. It’s not a happy book, by any means. But it is a powerful one.

And for that reason, it should be read.

Grasshopper Jungle

by Andrew Smith
First sentence: “I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy highly recommended by our publisher rep.
Content: Weeelll….. sh*t is Austin’s favorite word, and all grasshoppers do is “f**k and eat”. Which gives you a pretty good idea of the language. And Austin and Robby smoke. There is some drinking and one very unsexy sex scene (and talk of masturbating and erections and sex). It’s in the teen section of the bookstore, but I know I’m going to find it difficult to find a parent willing to buy this one for their kid. (That’s not to say the kids won’t like it. They might.)

The short version, the one I’ve been pitching at work (after I realized it was more than “grasshoppers and sex” — though it is that), is that it’s what would happen if Holden Caulfield found himself in a Stephen King novel. Austin — he’s the 16-year-old, sex-obsessed boy whose head we’re living in — is confused and lonely (even though he has a best friend and a girlfriend) and angsty and more than a little self-absorbed, much like Holden. And yet, the setting is so utterly antithetical to our character: a strain of mutant bacteria gets out and starts changing people into six-foot-tall praying mantises whose sole purpose in life is to eat — everything, including each other — and procreate.

Who dreams up these sorts of things? (Well, Stephen King and Andrew Smith, obviously.)

At any rate, it’s nothing like what I expected. I think with all the advance buzz — not just from our rep, but also Publisher’s Weekly, and just the reviews on Goodreads — I expected something, well, amazing. And I got… well, a sex-obsessed, selfish, confused 16-year-old boy. I can deal with that, for the most part (I did make it through Winger after all), and I appreciated Smith for giving us a confused sex-obsessed boy; Austin’s not only confused about life, but also about his own sexuality: how can a person be in love with — and desire — both of his best friends at once?

But, reading through the Goodreads reviews, I stumbled upon one from Kellie at Stacked that made points that I think had been at the back of my mind while reading this book. Nominally, it boils down to this: a woman couldn’t have written a book like this about a girl talking so frankly about sex or her vagina and have it receive the same amount of buzz and acclaim that this one is getting. And secondly: Austin treats girls and women as objects.

The first point, I can see and understand and am a little bit miffed about. It really does go back to this “boy books” and “girl books” thing we (publishers/sellers/parents) have gotten into. We “need” this book because boys “need” this book (because they’re not reading anything else). But that least me to point number two, which is what was bothering me while I read the book. I had chalked it up to being inside a 16-year-old boy’s mind, which is not a comfortable place. But, looking back, it’s really because, to Austin, all women (well, perhaps all people) are a means to an end: sex. He says he “loves” his girlfriend, but honestly, he just wants to jump her. And this — at my very core — bothered me. (In fact, when Robby finally confronts Austin and tells him he’s selfish, I cheered. More of that, please.)

I was talking to a friend at work about this and she pointed out that maybe, just maybe, it was meant to be satirical or ironic. That perhaps we, as readers, were meant to see that Austin is a complete jerk, and find humor in that. Or at the very least, self-reflection.  Perhaps. All I found was discomfort.

There were other things I was disappointed in: Austin’s circular telling of his own personal history, his constant repeating of people’s names (yes, I know Shann’s name is Shann Collins and her stepfather is Johnny McKeon, can you PLEASE stop already?), and just the general uneven pace of the narrative. That said, there were things to admire: actual sentences that made me laugh aloud. Or the fact that Austin’s (and Robby’s for that matter) sexuality was just a thing, and not an “issue”. Or six-foot-tall unstoppable praying mantises.

But I don’t think the positives outweigh the negatives on this one.


by Andrew Smith
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I said a silent prayer.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy picked up at ABA Winter institute for me. Yes, I have taken that long to get to it.

Ryan Dean (yes, that’s his whole first name) West has a lot going for him: he’s a junior at Pine Mountain, a boarding school for troubled rich kids (his dad’s a high-powered Boston lawyer) in the Pacific Northwest. He is first string winger (think running back in football, but more intense) for the rugby team. He’s pretty smart.

But there are some downsides: he got transferred into O-Hall this year because he was caught hacking into a cell phone account at the end of last year. And, to top it all off: hes only 14.

And when you’re in O-Hall with all the delinquent football and rugby players? It’s not going to be a stellar year.

Add to that some major girl drama (he’s in love with his best friend, Annie, but snogging his roomate’s girlfriend), late night poker games (let’s just say that Ryan Dean is not a good drunk), and lots and lots of testosterone-induced fights. Let’s just say, I was impressed that Ryan Dean — who was decent human being underneath all the 14-year-old boy nonsense — survived until Thanksgiving.

I’m of two minds about this book. On the one hand, I can sum it up in two words: sex and rugby. Actually, the sex is all in Ryan Dean’s mind: he’s incredibly immature, and objectifies EVERY girl, and EVERY situation becomes about sex. In other words: he’s a normal 14-year-old boy. But unlike Carter’s Unfocused One-Track Mind which I couldn’t get through (and which is the best comparison to this one), I found myself endeared to Ryan Dean. Maybe it was the underdog element. Maybe it was because although he was annoying, he was almost mostly harmless. Maybe it was because he really did mean well, in the end.

Because, I found myself compelled by this. I was invested in Ryan Dean’s drama. I loved the camaraderie of the rugby team. I enjoyed Ryan Dean, dork that he was.

My only real problem was with the ending. See: Ryan Dean becomes good friends with the rugby captain, Joey, who also happens to be gay. Joey’s sexuality isn’t a big deal for Ryan Dean (though he feels the need to comment that he isn’t a lot), but it is for other guys in O-Hall. And in the last 20 pages of the book, it takes a sharp left turn and stops being a fun boarding school drama, and becomes Something More. Not that I minded something more, it was the sharp left turn that threw me. It didn’t work. I didn’t feel pain, or anguish, or anything at all at the end, because I was flabbergasted that a fun and entertaining book so suddenly became Serious. It came off as bad pacing and lack of focus rather than anything more substantial.

It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it did take some of the shine off. Which is too bad, because I was having fun with it before then.