Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In a Glass Grimmly

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
Publication Date: September 27, 2012

Childrens'/Tween, Ages 10+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 3.5 out of 5


"Step lively, dear reader...
happily ever after isn't cutting it anymore."
We all know the familiar tale of Jack and Jill and their journey up the hill. We have been told about the Emperor and his new clothes.  But there is so much more to the stories. First the frog, whose name is Frog, loses a leg to a spoiled princess. Then Jill runs away from home and rescues Frog on her way to meet up with Jack. Journey with the trio as they grow beanstalks, escape giants, meet mermaids and outwit goblins, all during a quest to find the Seeing Glass. In a Glass Grimmly weaves together familiar fairy tales with original work to make a new tale that is not for the faint of heart. Enter the fairy tale world with Jack and Jill and Frog, if you dare.

It is rare for me to review children's books, but when this ARC crossed my desk, I just knew that I had too. I am a fan of fractured fairy tales and other ways of looking at the familiar in a new way or seeing the other side of the story. Of course, the first thing I did was check out the first book, A Tale Dark and Grimm. I loved them both. What is fun about Adam Gidwitz is his narrative of the stories. He has taken traditional stories, and tried to go back to the true tale, all the while weaving together tales that we are familiar with to tell a new cohesive story. In a Glass Grimmly he has intertwined the Frog Prince, the Emperor’s New Clothes and Jack and the Beanstalk; and that is just the beginning. A Tale Dark and Grimm was based on the Brothers Grimm. For In a Glass Grimmly he has branched out to include the works of Hans Christian Anderson, Mother Goose and Christina Rossetti, just to name a few.

Even those these are tales, there is still a great lesson for us all to learn. This time, Jack and Jill are on a quest to find the Seeing Glass. When they run into the three ravens, the ravens try to convince them that they are not confused, but in fact are con-fused. They leave them with three pieces of wisdom. First "when you do what you want, not what you wish," second "when you no longer seek your reflection in other's eyes," and lastly "when you see yourselves face to face," these three lessons will get them what they seek. At first Jack and Jill are even more con-fused and continue on their quest, but then when it is all over they finally figure out what the ravens meant. Only by finally coming to peace with themselves and seeing themselves for who they truly are will they find happiness.

Since In a Glass Grimmly is a companion to A Tale Dark and Grimm, it doesn't matter in what order you read them. But read them both. Meet Jack & Jill and Hansel & Gretel. Gidwitz is a wonderful storyteller, who often made me laugh  even when talking us to Hell with the devil himself. I can only anticipate what story Gidwitz will tell us next.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys, Book 1 of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Publication Date: September 18, 2012

Young Adult, Ages 13+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 4 out of 5



"This is a story about becoming a man"
Blue Sargent has grown up among the world of the supernatural. Her mother, her mother's friends and housemates are all psychics. But not Blue. She functions as sort of an energy enhancer, making other's talents stronger and more certain. The only other certain thing in her life, as foretold when she was a young girl, Blue will kill her first love. But Blue, has no interest in boys, especially the ones from the exclusive prep school in town. "The raven boys," as she calls them. But, then on St. Mark's Eve she sees her first spirit, a young boy who calls himself Gansey. Then, almost by fate, she meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Noah and Ronan. Even though her mother has expressly forbidden Blue to have anything to do with him, she finds herself unable to stay away from the group. Caught up in their dangerous quest, Blue begins to question her previous notions and gets is exposed to supernatural things she never thought possible.

First let me just go on record and state that I do like Maggie Stiefvater. I love the Werewolves of Mercy Falls (I just finally got my hands on The Scorpio Races the same day this ARC landed on my desk) and I really enjoy listening to her speak in person. Good storytellers are just that, whether they put pen to paper or just say it out loud. But this story just blew me away. I read so much and watch so much, that sometimes you can just figure out what is going to happen. That did not happen with The Raven Boys, at all. I don't even really want to say to much for fear of spoiling one of the incredible plot twists. Just know that I loved it! 
I wanted to finish it last night, but against my better judgement I let my husband talk me into coming to bed. Well, an hour later after tossing and turning, I gave up and took the book back downstairs with me. I couldn't put it down! I am so glad that there is more to follow, but now its time to put patience to the test and wait for the next one.
If you love the supernatural and all those things that just can't be explained and are tired of the vampire/zombie craze, introduce yourself to Maggie Steifvater. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Other Normals

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Expected Publication Date: September 25, 2012

Young Adult, Ages 13+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 3.5 out of 5



"This is a story about becoming a man"
Perry Eckert is just like any other fifteen year-old boy. Well, one whose parents are divorced and now dating their divorce attorneys and a brother who is in desperate need of rehab. Perry has found an escape from reality in the form of the role-playing game, Creatures & Caverns. In fact, if C&C is all Perry ever does again it would be just fine with him. Convinced his parents aren't paying attention, he starts skipping classes to play with a boy named Sam, a friend from a neighboring school. But, his parents concerned about his recent behavior and his lack of social skills decide to ship him off to summer camp at Camp Washiska Lake. But Perry is in for more than just the dull summer he bargained for when he stumbles into the world of the Other Normals. Turns out the world of C&C actually exists, and with the princess captured, Perry is in a unique position to help rescue her! But first, he has to face his real life and learn how to connect with other people. Only then can he help the Other Normals save their world.

What a fun adventure! Overall, I just really enjoyed this fun ride. I have spent a lot of time with teenage boys during my life, and have even observed them playing games like the one Creatures and Caverns was inspired from. Even if they aren't into role-playing games, this is a great book for boys of all ages who like a little bit of fantasy mixed in with their reality. Which is good, because the reality keeps changing in Perry's actual world as a result of his Other World adventures. It is hard enough to be a teenager as it is, but when you feel like you don't fit into to your world it is easy to become obsessed with with another. Then to find out that your "dreamland" actually exists? Its like Christmas! to Perry discovering the world of the Other Normals is the best thing that has ever happened to him. This is a world were he knows what to do and how to act. For the first time in his life he feels brave and confident. Its not hard to be the hero here. He also starts to fall for Ada, which makes it that much harder for him to complete his mission back at home.

It is not hard for me to see this book becoming a movie, in fact I hope it does. Even though octopus/human hybrids are not new, I loved the description of the way they moved around on land and would love to see it on a big movie screen. It also doesn't hurt that they are some of the bad guys.

But now that there is unrest and a possible revolution brewing in the world of the Other Normals, will there be a sequel? I hope so!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

Expected Publication Date: September 18, 2012

Young Adult, Ages 12+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 4 out of 5


"This is madness. This is the United States.
This doesn't happen here. But, it IS happening."

Radley Parker-Hughes is in Haiti helping at an orphanage after the earthquake when the President of the United States is assassinated and the American People's Party takes over. Radley sets out for home and her parents, but the United States she lands in is unrecognizable. Landing in New Hampshire, Radley's parents aren't there to pick up her, but she doesn't have the proper documentation to cross state lines into Vermont. So Radley decides to walk all the way home. But after days on the road when she finally arrives at her house, her parents are no where to be found. Feeling unsafe and afraid, she does the only thing she can think of and sets out for the safety of Canada, wanting nothing more than the safety of her parents and their love.

What an amazing story! I sat and read this on my lunch break yesterday, the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Connecting the two together made for an incredibly powerful reading experience, and one that I was just not prepared for. The United States that Radley comes home to could have so easily happened, and after 9/11 so many Americans were afraid that it would. I believe that it still easily could. Radley shows so much strength of character at the age of 17, even though she is in shock for most of the story. How many of us would give up high school to spend months down in another country in poverty?

What was truly incredible about the story and the way it was written, was actually the very thing that annoyed me so much in the beginning. At times the story and narration seem so disjointed and jumpy, with little connection between points and pages. About 25 pages in I was really starting to get disappointed, but I kept trucking and the deeper I got the more frustrated I became. But, then like that silly "light bulb" moment, it suddenly became clear. We live in a world today of constant contact and communication, there is actually an overabundance of information available constantly at our fingertips. So how isolated would you feel if it was all suddenly gone? No phones, no internet, no news and no one you feel you can trust. The writing made me feel as disconnected as Radley was. By the end, I wanted her to be reunited with her parents as much as she did. You don't know whats going on because there are no phones, no internet. Radley is cut off from the world, and very alone.

Interspersed throughout the story are photographs taken by the author. They are beautiful, but often not relevant to the story at all. I'm not sure what her intention was, maybe to give us a sample of what Radley's mother's pictures were like. Radley brought a few with her on her journey to have a small part of home with her and to bring her comfort. As we went through the book, it felt like we were looking at mom's pictures with her. The only thing that truly disappointed me, was the layout of some of them. Any yearbooker can tell you not to place eyes, heads, limbs etc in the gutter of the book. Its like riding a roller coaster, they must remain inside the margins at all times to avoid ruining a stunning photo.

I would use this story for a teen book club in a heartbeat, and even though it isn't historical or true, I also wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to an American History teacher. Four years ago when I was a yearbook professional, there was an AP US History teacher who was married to one of my literary magazine advisers. Every year her husband would let his each of his classes vote to decide what topics they would study for the last nine weeks of the school year. That spring in 2008, they chose 9/11 because they were too young when it happened to remember or understand the true magnitude of that day. They didn't understand "the fuss," as they put it. But they wanted to learn, so that's what they studied. That is a story that has always stuck with me. I was a sophomore at JMU, I can tell you everything about that day. But, these kids, were only 10 or 11, they don't understand. Its too big for them, and probably the same for all those who will come after them. Safekeeping is truly a book written for their generation. It is written in such a way, that even though the story has nothing to do with 9/11, it captures the emotion and the reality of the world you know changing suddenly overnight.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kissing Shakespeare

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle

Expected Publication Date: August 14, 2012

Young Adult, Ages 14+

ARC copy used for review.

Personal Ranking 3 out of 5

"What if Shakespeare never became the Shakespeare?"

Miranda has spent her whole life immersed in Shakespearean theatre. Both of her parents are famous Shakespearean actors, and it is her dream to follow in their footsteps. Now cast in her schools production of The Taming of the Shrew as Katherine (one of her mother's most famous roles), she refuses to connect with the character to spurn her mother, and feels like she bombs opening night. Caught up in her pity party, she gets swept away by Stephen Langford, an exchange student from England. Only, Stephen needs her help in ways Miranda never dreamed possible. Waking up in sixteenth century England, Stephen and Miranda set out on a quest to save Shakespeare from throwing away his destiny. Miranda takes on the role of a lifetime by assuming the identity of Stephen's sister, Olivia. Only by becoming Olivia, does Miranda find herself, and love where she never thought possible.

Earlier in the year I read a bunch of Shakespeare inspired titles. [my Shakespeare, Remixed post] The twist with Kissing Shakespeare is that instead of retelling a classic tale in a modern way or writing from the point of view of a minor character, she took new characters and introduced them to Shakespeare himself! Imagine a world where Shakespeare doesn't exist? His influence still haunts us today, but what if it never was? That is the reality that Stephen Langford has set out to make sure never happens. He recruits Miranda's help because of her "worldly" experience. But, Miranda isn't as worldly as he thinks, in fact, she is still a virgin. She has spent her life trying to gain her parents acceptance, but as a daughter and as an actress. So when Stephen whisks her away to sixteenth century England, she fights him at first until she realizes, without Shakespeare she might not even exist! So, he turns her into his sister and sets "Olivia" on the path to seduce Shakespeare and persuade him from becoming a Jesuit priest. But the more she becomes Olivia and the closer she gets to Shakespeare, the more she figures out who "Katherine" is and who Miranda truly is. 

I was truly enchanted with Kissing Shakespeare. I thought the plot was well paced and sad when it ended. Sometimes you just want the happily ever after and true love to prevail! I look forward to Pamela Mingles next book.