Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen

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Genres: Comics, Humour
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of Andersen’s popular short comics as well as some illustrated personal essays that showcase an awkward twenty-something with anxiety navigating life, relationships and sweaters.

As with the previous collection most millennials will find themselves in Andersen’s work. The art style is simple and effectively conveys humour, and a realistic portrayal of the character. The leg hair is a nice and very relatable touch.

Unlike Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Happy Lump does have three longer pieces that combine comics and text to tell a story. One is humorous about the author’s habit of stealing sweaters while another is, while still funny, slightly more serious covering depression, anxiety and self-loathing.

Andersen draws comics that showcase little situations, everyday things where many people probably feel very isolated. People often think that they’re the only person who feels a certain way and I believe that Andersen has created a good dozen comics that will make people realize they are not alone.

Silly and fun, but will leave plenty of readers feeling immensely understood and connected.

For Fans Of: Hyperbole and a Half

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: February 16th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All of us, or none of us.”

There is no reason these four teens should ever be together. Andi, York, Boston and Sam belong together like dogs and vacuum cleaners – but when an accidental crime forces to band together they become closer than any friends they had before. They have to sort this whole mess out, and while they do they discover that none of them are exactly what they seem.

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is a fast-paced thrill ride from start to finish. The opening barely stalls a second before leaping into the exciting action-packed plotline. This is a book that is incredibly easy to tear through in one sitting. The timeline is a little less than twenty-four hours so all the events happen incredibly fast and nothing ever feels dragged out.

Despite the short timeline the characters get some fairly decent fleshing out with the exception of Boston. York, Andi and Sam all get complex backstories with at least one terrible tragedy each (which is a little ridiculous but makes for riveting reading). As the plot twists and turns, and as circumstances change we still manage to learn about and connect with this ragtag group of teens.

Sam’s relationship with her four-years-sober druggie mother is an interesting touch. The exploration of their relationship through Sam’s memories and the flash-forewards of Sam telling her the story are fascinating. The sort of love-hate relationship is what drives the heart of Sam’s character and her willingness to do almost anything for a certain fiddle.

Unfortunately, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It feels rushed, and it lacks the weight that the rest of the novel had and seemed to be building up to. It feels like a story suddenly cut off when there could have been more. The character arcs in the last few pages are messy and don’t make a lot of sense.

The book is a little over-dramatic, and the smidgeon of romance included was VERY unnecessary but this book is above all thrilling. There’s not a single slow moment. If it’s not a car chase then it’s diving into a character’s painful past.The characters make incredibly questionable decisions but the book never stops being fun.

For Fans Of: This is Where it Ends

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

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Genres: Non-fiction, Economics
Publisher: Portfolio
Publication Date: March 3rd 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You can make a lot of money with a good cat.” -Ty Warner”

Beanie Babies took the world by storm briefly in the late 90s. Everyone over a certain age remembers stories about people making enough money to buy cars and houses by selling rare stuffed toys. Bissonnette chronicles the rise and fall of the craze, examines the life of the man behind it and interviews the consumers who were swooped up in it.

The book is both fascinating and sad. The Beanie Baby craze is still a bit of a mystery today but there’s no question that Ty produced quality and affordable toys – and still does. The story of the founder’s life in unfortunately rather tragic. Bissonnette covers two of his relationships – both which ended poorly. His neglected childhood, bad relations with everyone around him and his insane passion for his product. Ty Warner is successful, even after the bubble popped, but if this book is to be believed he is far from happy.

The books flow is…a little strange. It tries to maintain chronological sense but jumps around a little too much. The beginning is slow and the book could do with a little more focus on the Beanie Baby side of things as opposed to Ty Warner’s personal life. It is fascinating but it seems to take up a bit too much of the novel. The photos were also all in the back of the book rather than placed where relevant and there were too few for such a visual toy. There is also a lot of overlap and repetition.

Despite this, it is an easy read for economic beginners and extremely informative. Bissonnette explains every term and idea he brings up very well. Someone with no prior knowledge of plush or economics will have no trouble understanding and following the story.

The book could have done with some bits being cut and a more sensible organization – but all and all it’s an excellent coverage of the few strange years where Beanie Babies were a phenomenon.

For Fans Of:  Mouse Tales

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

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Genres: Young Adults, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 6th 2010

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.”

Mia is a cellist from a family of rock and roll lovers. Even her boyfriend is in a rock band, but despite their difference in musical preference Mia couldn’t love the people around her more. When she experiences a fatal car crash that robs her of her immediate family Mia has to make a choice. She has to decide if she wants to stay after so much has been lost.

The opening scene is one of the best-written accidents I have every read and while it was graphic it was also profoundly tragic despite the reader not having gotten to know the characters yet.

The contrast of present day while Mia decides to live or not and flashbacks of her life is interesting. It allows the reader to get to know the characters throughout the book while also immediately dealing with the tragedy. This lets the book stay fast paced with a sense of urgency while still developing Mia’s relationship with her family and her boyfriend.

I did feel the romance aspect was a little weak. Mia and Adam don’t really feel terribly in love to me and I hate that after about a year of dating he’s more moving to her than her family or her best friend. The story would have been much more powerful if she’d been moved by a family member or one of her mother’s friends who helped raise her. Romantic love is important but it shouldn’t be the defining thing in your life when it’s only been around for such a short time. There was some effort to make Mia seem like she considered everything but the ending could have been done a lot better.

The characters were also all a little too perfect. I can’t think of a single flaw any of them had. The thing about If I Stay is that it’s short. It ends before you can get tired of the perfect characters who feel a little less than real. It ends before the romance gets too ridiculous. It focuses on less than twenty-four hours of time and the memories Mia has of her life and then it ends.

It didn’t make me cry, but books rarely do. If I Stay knew what it was and didn’t overstay its welcome. It ended right where it should have and told a story with an interesting concept in between.

For Fans Of: Before I Fall

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Genres: Screenplay, Fantasy
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: November 18th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“See, they’re currently in alien terrain, surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet. Humans.”

Newt Scamander doesn’t intend to stay in New York for long but when a series of events leads to his case being opened and the magical creatures inside escaping an adventure ensues. Newt must avoid being captured by MACUSA (the American ministry) while trying to rescue his creatures from the dangerous New York City streets in 1926.

Why bother reading a screenplay when you can see the movie? An often asked question, but I submit that the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay is absolutely worth reading.

While the movie is definitely more exciting, I felt a deeper connection with the characters through the screenplay. The occasional thought or emotional direction included makes the characters feel real. There is also the benefit of being able to reimagine characters whose actors you didn’t particularly like while keeping those you adored.

Furthermore, the book’s design is stunning. The art from the cover is present inside the book as well. Whimsical drawings of magical beasts and delicate designs cover to cover. It isn’t often you see a book this beautiful put together when the images serve no purpose to the story but it is absolutely stunning. Even if reading the screenplay is superfluous to you this book is a necessary to own beauty.

It’s funny, fresh and a sort of grown-up version of the magic we all feel from the Harry Potter series if very much present. Of course this isn’t the story’s best form, it was always intended for the big screen. There are a few discrepancies about magic and the way it’s used that don’t seem to line up with the original canon but overall it’s a whimsical story with a charming and lovable new protagonist for the audience to root for.

At least for Potter fans this book is a must-have to complete your collection. Others might be better off seeing it in theatres and deciding just how much they love the story before deciding to invest in the screenplay.

For Fans Of: Iron Cast

 

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: January 12th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Steffi has selective mutism, but this will be the year she proves herself. Determined to speak in school helped along by her new medication. When she meets Rhys, a new deaf student, she discovers an opportunity to use a different language. As Steffi’s new romance grows she has to deal with a family who is a little too protective and a best friend who’s romance is not going quite as planned.

As far as representation goes, I think that A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a beautiful picture of both a socially anxious and deaf character. This is not a book that ends in a magical cure, and in fact in the deaf character’s case erases the want for a cure at all. It does explore the difference between the hearing world and the deaf world and the communities that come with them and how deafness or mutism can become part of who you are. Barnard has clearly researched well and presents the characters as realistically as possible.

The actual romance aspect is gaggingly sweet. It’s important to note that romance is not written as a cure for Steffi’s condition, although Rhys does support her. This is an issue in many books dealing with mental illness. That said, the relationship is well written and adorable. The sex is VERY real but a little male focused, young adult novels tend to see female orgasms as a nice bonus and not something that should happen in any good sexual encounter.

All in all Barnard has produced a beautiful second novel that is relatable and an absolute joy to read. Her writing style keeps readers interested and her portrayal of BSL (British Sign Language) is enchanting. Barnard writes teens who are silly, lovable and realistic. She includes families and friends giving both of them large parts to play instead of shrinking the world down to the two lovebirds.

Of course, the relationship has issues. Both Steffi and Rhys have boundaries they have to deal with, family and friend issues, but even at the worst moments the book keeps a light and fun tone. This is a pure joy romance and certainly not a tear-jerker. Everyone needs an upbeat book now and again.

A little over the top and cheesy, but full marks for representation and feel good romance.

For Fans Of: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication Date: September 6th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It is not such a hard thing, is it – to die for your friends.”

Aelin is ready to claim her throne. With her band of loyal friends she works to gain allies while fighting enemies on every side. As Aelin discovers the depth of her magic and the strength of her love, she also discovers something else – she doesn’t have much time.

Aelin is the main character, but I’ve always seen her as the weakest point of view in the books. Empire of Storms gives quite a few other characters their own voice and it is so much better for it. The world feels vast and Aelin’s quest feels huge because of all the other places we’re seeing. Lysandra and Manon definitely hold the book up for me.

The biggest issue with me for this novel was coupling off. I loathe when novels have to give every prominent character a romantic partner. It’s not realistic that the eight most important characters all find love within their own tiny group. A group of eight people who (mostly) started out hating each other becoming a group of four couples is ridiculous. Maas tries her best to write the relationships realistically (for three our of four) but it just feels wrong.

The story starts a little slow – but once it picks up the action is non-stop. There is some absolutely stunning character development and some big reveals that will leave lovers on the series breathless. The ending is absolutely beautiful and perfectly sets up for the final book in the series – and also gives Aelin a little more interest as a character which she was desperately lacking.

There are some pretty terrible sex scenes, weak romance and sometimes the characters seem off – but it is an epic story. Manon’s chapters had me on the edge of my seat and the ending left me thrilled.

Throne of Glass has never been my favourite fantasy series, in fact, it’s not even my favourite Sarah J. Maas series, but Empire of Storms is a cut above the rest and I think that this series could actually end on a high note.

For Fans Of: Cinder

Rat Queens Vol. 2 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: May 6th 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The power is our own and the credit horribly misplaced.”

Rat Queens Volume Two collects comics six through ten of the series. Dee’s past comes back to haunt her, and an apocalyptic threat comes to Palisade.

Rat Queens remains a strong and satisfying series. The pacing stays quick and the story is never stale. Volume Two brings even more insight into the pasts of several characters and further develops the relationships between them. There’s a light sprinkling of romance and a heavy dose of friendship.

The art remains as captivating as ever with honest portrayals of both male and female bodies. There’s gore, nudity, and of course some cute romantic fluff. Rat Queens is visually stunning with detailed and complex art on every page. Stjepan Sejic takes over for Roc Upchurch about halfway through, but I am a fan of both styles.

Though the offensive party girl theme of the first volume is toned down, the humour is still very much present. Volume Two presents a softer view of the characters, looking deeper in their psyche while keeping up the action of the first.

Rat Queens is definitely a series world and Dungeons and Dragons player or general fantasy enthusiast’s time. I’m excited for Volume Three – but I have some concerns about different illustrators coming on board with styles that I’m not quite fond of.

For Fans Of: Dragon Age: Asunder

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

Genres: Children’s, Contemporary
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1st 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the author in exchange for an honest review.

When Wren’s father dies her world ends. Suddenly her mom, who is always mad, is dragging her from city to city. Wren desperately wants to discuss her pain with her mother and more than anything she wants to stop moving every time her mother breaks up with a new man. As Wren struggles to come to terms with the loss she overcomes several other difficult issues and discovers who she is.

Be Light Like a Bird covers very serious subject matter, but Schroder has written it in a way that is appropriate and useful for younger readers. Wren’s journey dealing with loss, lies and fitting in is an excellent story for young readers. It will particularly resonate with younger readers who have also recently experienced a death and are struggling to deal with it.

Wren is relatable, likeable and just a little quirky. It’s easy to cheer for her as well as sympathize with her pain. Wren’s mother, unlike many adults in children’s fiction, is a complex character. She is not supportive of Wren, she makes mistakes but she is not a bad person. She is clearly dealing with the loss in her own negative way and it would have been easy for Schroder to cast her as a monster instead of a real, believable person. I am pleased that she chose the latter. Too often adults in children’s and YA novels are either all good or all bad and robbed of being actual people.

I did find that the book felt a little dated. In a way it felt sort of nostalgic but it was noticeably not present day. It might be more difficult for a child in the present to empathize with Wren when her world seems so far off from the one we live in now. There is a definite lack or present pop culture or technology – which can be seen positively as well because it makes the book timeless. However, I’ve always felt contemporary is better when it’s firmly rooted in a certain decade. As well, the secondary characters felt a little flat and stereotypical.

The weaving of Wren’s sorrow and the plot about saving her favourite nature spot was masterful. The way the nature plot was tied up actually surprised me with a clever twist. I thought Wren’s grief was tied up a bit neatly but because it’s a children’s novel a neat ending was probably the way to go.

I did find the excitement in the plot a little lacking, it was a very subdued story. There could have been more focus on Wren and her mother and less on the popular girls at school but overall I think this is a charming read for young readers.

A beautiful book about grief, forgiveness and letting go.

For Fans Of: Louder Than Words

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 22nd 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Given enough time, everything changes.”

Kate Weston isn’t the most popular girl in school, but her life is still pretty great. A spot on the soccer team, close friends and a certain childhood friend she’s falling for. Everything changes when the picture of Stacey turns up online. Seeing her former friend passed out and slung over a guys shoulder make Kate uncomfortable but when rape accusations start surfaces her whole world starts to shift.

What We Saw tells an all too familiar story. A book that calls to mind Steubenville and the numerous other high school athletes involved in sexual abuse stories. It’s a particularly poignant read when it seems like a new case is appearing in the papers every week.

The choices to tell the story from a classmates perspective, instead of the victim’s is a powerful one. Kate isn’t directly involved, but she knows the people who are. Her whole town is up in arms about the case because of how it affects their pride and joy – the basketball team. I wish that I could say the story was told over-dramatically or that this would never really happen but it’s painfully real. Everything described could happen and often it already has.

The thing I particularly love about this book is that while it does not excuse the perpetrators, it does examine the culture that led them to decide to commit their crime. Various objectifying song lyrics are quoted, the victim is shamed for what she wore, boys will be boys, and even negative connotations in certain films and musicals are brought up. These are all dealt with. Most strikingly is the way it showcases all the boys as beloved athletes and because they’re talented and good for the town the girl must be lying.

Putting the brilliant message aside all the characters are well-rounded and believable. They all have several interests and different beliefs. The romance is organic and feels exactly as a high-school love story should. There is a particularly well-written sex scene that is absolutely honest and doesn’t use any of the usual romance novel cliches.

I did find the start a little slow, and Hartzer’s writing style wasn’t quite my cup of tea. There were times when Kate’s long monologues had me zoning out but I believe that this book is important. The message and story in this book are powerful because it lets you see this story on the inside. A story that happens again and again in the media. Yes, there are bits that are cheesy or ridiculously preachy – but this is a story that people need to read.

What We Saw is a haunting portrayal of how a rape rocks a small town and how quickly people can turn on a victim when justice might inconvenience them.

BUY THE BOOK

For Fans Of: The Truth About Alice