Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: Recipe for Hate

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to preview yet another YA novel. This one, Recipe for Hate by Warren Kinsella, will be published December 5, 2017.

Because it is set in and around Portland, Maine, which was a favorite vacation spot of mine for 10 years and is where my husband and I met the son we adopted, I really wanted to like this more than I ended up doing. I think it's because, as far as storytelling goes, the setting overpowered the narrative. While the plot could have happened anywhere, Kinsella made Portland practically one of the characters. I would feel much more comfortable recommending this to my high school readers if I didn't think they'd be bored by all of the setting descriptions interrupting the flow of the story.

Other than that, though, when I could downplay the interference of setting descriptions, the story itself was compelling. Part cultural history, part murder mystery, Recipe for Hate helps today's readers understand the punk rock movement and see that the racism of neo-Nazis has been around for a while.

I required a bit of suspension-of-disbelief with the main character X as the hero.  As a character, X was part The Outsiders and part Fonzie from Happy Days -- a tough underdog who was feared and revered by his peers and adults alike. The coincidences toward the end, of the punks using their acquaintances with bikers as allies and the police choosing to apply the law where it benefitted them, added to the surreal impossibilities of this being a realistic and not hyperbolic tale.

Readers will relate to the way the teens in this book think and are thought about by adults. They will be interested in reading how Kinsella describes the murders, the friendships, and kidnapping. This is where Kinsella's attention to detail allows readers' creative imaginations to flow - and Kinsella writes some great descriptive images. Unfortunately, then, the fact that this is all taking place in Maine intrudes on the narrative progression. I understood the importance of the plot occurring in "Small Town, USA." As a reader, though, I needed to know why it was so important that it happened in Portland. A map of Portland on the end pages would have been more useful, i.e., less intrusive, than precise details of streets in Portland.

As I said, I really liked the premise of the story  - I just wish I hadn't been grounded to Portland or encountered a demigod-like X. (p.s. - I'm still not sure why the book is entitled Recipe for Hate.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

NetGalley Badged Me!

NetGalley Badges!

My First Three Badges

10 Book Reviews... Frequently Auto-Approved... Professional Reader

10 Book Reviews Frequently Auto-Approved Professional Reader

Review: All the Wrong Chords

All the Wrong Chords 
by Christine Hurley Deriso
Publication date December 12, 2017

This book is spot on! I can't wait to get it for my high school library!  First of all, the characters had depth and believability. I understood their motives, which were well supported by the plot and background information. The main character, Scarlett, could be any teen who is drawn to the bad boy in spite of the overt and covert clues around her to stay far away from him. The storyline was well thought out and provided enough twists and surprises to maintain interest (hint, I speculated on the biggest surprise and was rewarded when I turned out to be correct.) The treatment of drug addiction and its stigma was well handled with sensitivity and a philosophy to not blame the victim. I highly recommend this title for all YA collections.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Review: Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink

Pub Date  

Read through

It took me a while to get "into" the story, but once I did, I was compelled to read. I think the fact that this is not only historical fiction but partially historical fact, as well as timely, makes it a good read.

I often wonder whether the notes afterwards should be read before or after reading the story. Since the book's syntax isn't too difficult, it might be a good suggestion for reluctant readers to read the notes as a motivator.

At the risk of making this into a book that teachers require in order to initiate discussions, I think it's subject matter might make for a good connecting read to studies of culture or terrorism.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Wendy Project

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne; publisher PaperCutz/Super Genius on July 18, 2017.

Here's what I told the publisher...  "Highly dependent on knowledge of the original Peter Pan story, but made quite relevant to today's teenage experience. Multi-layered nuances will make for deeper exploration than this story could be told in just words. Sometimes over-exaggerates the "clueless adult" stereotype."

Familiar enough with the Peter Pan story, I got through this graphic novel unscathed. However, I'd like a couple of more read-throughs to get to the bottom of a few parallels...

  1. Peter Pan and Mr. Peters
  2. Tinkerbell and Jenny Wren
  3. Captain Hook and the police
  4. The innuendo of the Lost Boys
  5. Any connection with the rock-throwing kids
Yadda yadda...

I would also like to explore the use of color, where it was or wasn't used, as well as which colors were used when and why.

The reader roots for Wendy, partially because the adults have been stereotyped as clueless, inflexible, and distracted. But there were also many times where I thought to myself, "That's EXACTLY what a teenager would think!" This made Wendy's story fantastically realistic (fantastical realism).

Little things made this a fun visual read, such as the onomatopoeia of the siren sound and the gestures of our first encounter with the police.

In spite of all of these avenues to explore in this brief but compelling story, I'm still not sure to whom I would recommend this book. It's multi-leveled layers make it as easy or difficult as a reader chooses to make it, but I'm not sure who that reader might be... fairytale readers? graphic novel readers? fantasy readers? I'll try 'em all and see what sticks.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Comic Book Story of Video Games

The Comic Book Story of Video Games by Jonathan Hennessey and Jack Mcgowan, published by Ten Speed Press, publication date October 3, 2017.
This is my first non-fiction review, so be gentle on me :o)  
I'll begin by saying how surprisingly interesting I found the subject to be; I intended to read this to see if my high school Manga-loving students would like this. I've decided that, even if they wouldn't, the robotics-, engineering-, and coding-type gamers would! There were so many interesting factoids in the telling of this history. (I'm tempted to leak a few to you here, but I wouldn't want a spoiler alert tagged to this review.) Suffice it to say, that in 181 pages of story, I annotated 24 or so places with 'interesting factoid.'

The vocabulary might be a bit elevated for some high schoolers, but those with an interest in this topic will probably glean or look up the meanings of the unknown terms; it doesn't happen often enough to turn off a reader. There were a few places where I felt a chronological disconnect to the unfolding of the history, almost as if the author thought the relevance of a fact was more important in deciding its placement than pure chronology; if only that were always the case... at least twice I needed to reread sections because I thought I had 'missed' something, but rereading didn't clarify the information placements. Still, it was historical, so I tried just to absorb the significance of the information without the need to strictly enforce the chronology.

The storytelling depends heavily on Moore's Law without ever explaining it. (see if you, too, don't know Moore's law.) There were also a few places where I would have liked to have been told the source of the information being touted as fact since I practice a healthy skepticism of weighted adjectives that appear alongside data.

The distractions described were fairly minor to my overall enjoyment of the history of video games (hint: my first personal awareness of video gaming coincides with page 87 or so). I thoroughly enjoyed the many pop culture, political, and historical gaming evolutionary connections the author made throughout the story. Psychology, marketing, politics, war, engineering, computers, electricity, culture... the author included something with which a multitude of readers could engage. (Simply put: something for everyone.)

My enjoyment was OBVIOUSLY enhanced by the clever, detailed, and engaging drawings in this graphic novel. At least twice I full-stopped reading just to appreciate the humor and allusions the drawing provided to heighten the experience. The pictures were not merely embellishments; they sometimes were the story! Some of the best pictures were enough to jog my memory, explain something new, or complete a written explanation. Note: The cover doesn't do the inside any justice:

I'm looking forward to recommending this title to my non-fiction readers as well as my computer, gaming, coding, and Manga-ing students (and teachers!)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Fix Me

From NetGalley:

Fix Me by Lisa M. Cronkhite; Publisher: North Star Editions; publish date: November 28, 2017

If Pen hadn't called Jenelle, how would Jenelle have gotten into the story? Was that a supernatural occurrence or coincidence?

Even simple things interrupted my flow of the story, like some problems with the school the author created:
  1. No punishment for cutting from school
  2. Baloney that the librarian would let Pen off without a pass - twice
Factual applications of the use of drugs, even a made-up drug - don't match what would be expected… Drugs don't last as long as the author purports (up to 8 weeks in bloodstream). Even though this is fiction, I was distracted from the more realistic time frame of 3-6 weeks in urine and 3 days in blood.

Other drug side effects the author created weren't used consistently: for example, recurring visions of unknown people, even when a person is not currently high. But Pen has been on for a year, so wouldn't that mean that Pen would have had extra-Nate visions before now? What about the inconsistency of when Pen becomes nauseous and vomiting?

The police scenes are so unrealistic. Pen and her friends are minors taken to the police station without a guardian or a lawyer!

And why would the rehab let Pen out immediately after she just had what they think is a reaction to the meds they’ve put her on?

I don't think the story knows what it wants to be. Ghost story? Mystery? Realistic fiction with hallucinations? It wasn't the story that was a mystery; it was the editing. Ouch...sorry...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Munro vs the Coyote

From NetGalley:
Munro vs. the Coyote by Darren Groth, Orca Book Publishers, publication date: October 17, 2017

I have to admit I'm not sure about the coyote. Why a coyote? Dunno. Don't care. (Well, I do, but ...) Regardless, I LOVE this book! Kept me interested the whole time. I loved going on Munro’s journey of wellness, of er . I enjoyed the characterizations of the main characters and the supporting characters; they all felt real and purposeful and relevant to the story. Darren Groth’s backstories and dialogue gave real dimension to each character’s role. Even Munro’s Canadian parents took the journey with him, and I rooted for them all to succeed. The storytelling provided real tenderness and conflict, doubts and supports, humor and fear. I highly recommend this book for high school libraries and public library YA collections.