Oh, I am so, so happy to have started the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series! Imagine the droll wit of Lemony Snicket and mix in some Jane E...moreOh, I am so, so happy to have started the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series! Imagine the droll wit of Lemony Snicket and mix in some Jane Eyre (governess story) and The Sound of Music (governess AND the word "incorrigible!"). Miss Penelope Lumley is a 15-year-old graduate from Agatha Swanburne's Academy for Poor Bright Females, and she travels to Ashton Place to become a governess for three children who have been raised by wolves: Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible. I dearly wished that I had someone to read this aloud to, as it was quite charming and hilarious and I could imagine how much kids would (and do!) love this. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book and hope the series will be just as long as A Series of Unfortunate Events (which I still need to read, by the way!).
Both books are fun and lighthearted, and I enjoyed both of them, but Darth Paper Strikes Back simply isn't as funny as The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. My husband can attest to the fact that I was laughing hysterically while reading that book, and while there were some funny moments in Darth Paper Strikes Back, they didn't even elicit a chuckle out loud from me. I'd still recommend the book, but it didn't wow me as much as the first.
In Libba Bray's new book Beauty Queens, the contestants of Miss Teen Dream, a beauty pageant similar to Miss America, are involved in a plane crash on...moreIn Libba Bray's new book Beauty Queens, the contestants of Miss Teen Dream, a beauty pageant similar to Miss America, are involved in a plane crash on a seemingly deserted island, left with only sparkly evening gowns and jars of Lady 'Stache Off. Should they continue to practice the interview portion and dance routines for the pageant, or focus on finding shelter and food sources?
Beauty Queens is an incredibly campy satire of pageants, standards of beauty, and action/adventure movies. You really can't take it too seriously, although there is a rather heavy-handed "message." It's all very over-the-top (think evil dictator named MoMo B. ChaCha, dangling prisoners over a tank of piranhas, quicksand, giant man-eating snake, etc. etc.). All of the contestants are various beauty pageant stereotypes: Miss Texas, the superficial girl who's been competing in pageants practically since birth; Miss Rhode Island, the secretly transgender former boy band member; Miss California, the Indian-American Valley girl playing up the ethnic angle; and Miss Nebraska, the farm girl who wears a promise ring to protect her from her wild sexual urges. It's obvious that Bray identifies with Miss New Hampshire, a wannabe journalist looking to enter the pageant to expose the hypocrisy within. As you might expect, Beauty Queens is heavily anti-pageant and very feminist, and it's not that I'm pro-pageant, but I would have appreciated more nuance to the writing. Maybe that's why I'm not a big fan of satire!
The "take-home" from Beauty Queens is very girl power: your sexuality is empowering and something to share when and with whom you choose, beauty, you don't need a man to be happy (so why do most of them end up with guys at the end??), beauty rituals, such as pageants are fake and unfulfilling. It's not that I disagree with any of those points, but found them very obvious and heavy-handed, even preachy. I also felt that there could have been a better way to represent different opinions/beliefs. Again, I think I'm just not into satire. ;)
Although I don't think I'd pick up Beauty Queens again, I still would certainly recommend it to teens, as I think that there's definitely an audience for it. The teen just like Adina (Miss New Hampshire), one who likes to question things, and who feels alienated from her superficial peers, would eat this book up.
In my opinion, there are few (slightly older) middle-grade authors that capture a kids's voice as pitch-perfectly as South Pasadena-based Lisa Yee. Th...moreIn my opinion, there are few (slightly older) middle-grade authors that capture a kids's voice as pitch-perfectly as South Pasadena-based Lisa Yee. They sound like a 6th or 7th grader realistically talking but are still well-written. They deal with real middle school issues (popularity, bullies, having crushes) and real world issues (job security, handicaps). And most importantly, to me at least, her books are hilarious. They have a huge amount of kid appeal but aren't SO kid-friendly that no adult would want to read it (see: Babymouse, Captain Underpants and other popular kids' series).
In Yee's super popular "Millie trillie" (the trifecta of Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-time, and So Totally Emily Ebers, in which the same events are told from three different perspectives), popular basketball player Stanford Wong (how I love that the main character of a children's book is a super-popular Asian-American star of the basketball team... who's failing math!) recalls how he used to be a loser, just like his old friend Marley. After receiving a question at a school author visit about Marley, Yee decided to tell his story, too. Marley is a geek. He's always picked last in PE, he's in AV club, and he gets good grades, especially in history, his favorite subject. He spends most of his time with his best friend Ramen (so called because he eats Top Ramen every day for lunch), a fellow geek who loves Star Wars as much as Marley loves Star Trek. It turns out that Marley is fast, very fast, from all that running away from bullies that he does every day. When an opportunity arises to move up the social ladder by becoming a jock--and ditching his AV friends--will Marley take it?
If you're a Millie fan, you'll delight in this book. It was fun to read about Stanford, Emily, and Millicent (Stanford and Emily are in the book more though), who all interact with Marley in the book. I also loved Marley's "Captain's Log" a diary of sorts recording his interactions throughout the day in the style of Spock or some other galactic commander. For example, after finding out that his new friend Max is actually a girl, and not a boy like he originally though, he writes, "Captain's Log: Major miscalculation of new crew member's origins." But you don't have to be a geek to love Marley's self-deprecating humor. It's a great, funny book that fits in nicely with the Millie Trillie (though it's doesn't take place during the summer between 6th and 7th grade, but rather the year following).
Just like in Silverstein's other books, there are a quite a few poems that don't make sense without the accompanying illustrations, and are thus not really ideal for, say, reciting aloud (Superstar, Wrong Way, This Hat, Transparent Tim). As a whole, this collection feels a bit more somber than Where the Sidewalk Ends or A Light in the Attic, but I haven't read either book in many years, so I can't really compare. But perhaps these poems just take on a greater poignancy when you consider that this is a posthumous work.
Favorite Poems (classic Shel!): The Lovetobutcants A Mouse in This House Growing Down Twenty-Eight Uses for Spaghetti Housebroken Henry Hall New Job Italian Food
I used to be a big fan of The Office, and some of my favorite episodes ("Diversity Day," "The Injury," "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," "Niagra") wer...moreI used to be a big fan of The Office, and some of my favorite episodes ("Diversity Day," "The Injury," "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," "Niagra") were written by Mindy Kaling, so I was interested in reading her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I enjoy reading her blog, The Concerns of Mindy Kaling, from time to time, and the excerpts I read online, like her essay on Chick Flick archetypes, had my interest piqued.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a mix of autobiography and Kaling's musings on life. There are chapters about her growing up (and adult life) of being a chubby girl, interspersed with thoughts on "the exact level of fame I want" (enough that, if you commit murder, you still cannot be convicted in a court of law), and even "photos from my Blackberry." Instead of a book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) seems like being best friends with Kaling, reading a blog, or listening to her stand-up comedy routine. I especially enjoyed her veiled references to other actors/writers/celebrities (about her ex's current girlfriend: "she was so young-looking she had played the daughter of an actress four years older than me on television"), since I enjoy blind items and the like. While I liked the book (and it even illicited a few snorts from me while reading), some of her anecdotes felt drawn-out and tedious (like an extra-long party story that starts to lose your attention).
It all feels very current, although the negative side of that is that it will get dated very, very quickly. I thought that books took a while between being written to publication, but there are mentions of Steve Carell leaving The Office, watching "The Help" in the movie theater, and other preeetttyy recent events.
By now, it goes without saying that Tom Angleberger is very, very funny. When I first read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, I was laughing so hard my...moreBy now, it goes without saying that Tom Angleberger is very, very funny. When I first read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, I was laughing so hard my husband was wondering what happened to me. Fake Mustache is very funny, but it's more silly than funny. In fact, it's ridiculous. Zany. Absurd. The plot revolves around the titular fake mustache, more specifically, the Heidelberg Handlebar No. 7. It's an extremely lifelike (in fact, it's made with real mustache hair) mustache that seventh-grader Lenny Flem Jr.'s best friend Casper purchases, along with a "man-about-town" suit. Soon, a short, man-about-town with a mustache is robbing banks of billions of dollars, then an individual styling himself as "Fako Mustacho" is purchasing the Heidelberg novelty company, and announcing himself as last-minute candidate for president! Lenny, along with preteen celebrity cowgirl Jodie O'Rodeo, must stop Casper/Fako from taking over the world before it's too late.
So far, the delightful Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood is my favorite middle-grade series that is currently being publis...moreSo far, the delightful Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood is my favorite middle-grade series that is currently being published. It's droll, educational in a fun way, and has Jon Klassen's charming illustrations (which seem a little sparse in this volume). In The Unseen Guest, the adventures of Miss Penelope Lumley and her charges, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia Incorrigible continue, this time back at Ashton Place, where an Widow Ashton, Lord Ashton's elderly mother, has come to visit, along with her gentleman caller, an Admiral looking to use Widow Ashton's fortune to start an ostrich-racing business. Before he can do this, however, he first needs to locate his ostrich, Bertha, who has disappeared into the woods. The Admiral seeks to use the Incorrigibles' tracking skills to locate Bertha, but Penelope is nervous about sending the children back into the woods from whence they came. But in their journey into the woods, she discovers more clues about how the children came to be there, and how they survived, but more questions arise.
I really did enjoy The Unseen Guest, but it's more of a transitional book in the series (I believe it's the third book in what's planned to be a five-book series). It's not a standalone book. I found myself frequently confused by plot details that I couldn't remember from the second book, which I had read a year ago. It's the kind of book that you want to read immediately following the other books in the series, or you won't understand a thing. Nevertheless, Wood left enough plot twists that while I'm not dying to read the next book in the series, I'm very much looking forward to it.
I had really high expectations for Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire!, because it sounded so cute and charming, and plus, it was about bunn...moreI had really high expectations for Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire!, because it sounded so cute and charming, and plus, it was about bunnies, which are my favorite animals ever! When I started reading it, I really liked it, especially the human character, Madeline. However, the silly and cutesy parts of the story really started to wear on me. I'd say it ventures on parody, with bunny versions of Jane Austen and The Old Spaghetti Factory. After a while you start to wonder how many names you can stick Bunny into.
The story is about a girl named Madeline who lives on a small island in British Columbia with her hippie parents. Although most of the children on the island are home-schooled, she takes a two hour trip to Vancouver to attend school, where she hasn't made any friends, due to her scavenged clothes and general other-ness. When she learns that Prince Charles will be visiting her elementary school graduation, she desperately wants to go, but learns that she needs white shoes for a special performance, something she knows her parents will never pay for. But one week before graduation, her parents get kidnapped by foxes looking for information on where to find her uncle, Canada's top decoder. Madeline inadvertently enlists Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, amateur detectives, to help her find her parents, with varying results.
I don't often read books of the "paranormal" sort, so I thought I'd try something different, and since the film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire...moreI don't often read books of the "paranormal" sort, so I thought I'd try something different, and since the film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is about to be released (have you seen the trailer? It actually looks kind of awesome.), I thought I'd try it. And although it's paranormal/horror, it's also a parody, and a weird version of historical fiction and biography, so it's not rooted enough in horror to turn me off. For those who haven't heard of the parody paranormal genre, author Seth Grahame-Smith first wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in which he inserted zombies into the classic story of P&P. He even shares the writing credit with Jane Austen. In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith takes the life of Abraham Lincoln, as we know it, from being born in a log cabin to Mary Todd to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, and, well, inserts vampires into it. Although some of it feels forced, it does kind of make sense that slavery be a vampire institution, and that Lincoln's endeavors to eradicate it stemmed from his hatred of vampires. Nearly all the significant deaths in Lincoln's life are attributed to vampire attacks. A clever use of photoshop adds fangs, all-black eyes (a sign of being a vampire, apparently), and other features to historical photographs. Real historical quotes are used, as well as fake or altered ones, and it's hard to separate the two. (Although some of Lincoln's dialogue feels a little too 21st century.) I'm not sure if I'll end up reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I wasn't in any way disappointed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.(less)
Bossypants might be one of those rare (to me, anyway) books where the audio version is an improvement over reading a hard copy. (I think, anyway. I've...moreBossypants might be one of those rare (to me, anyway) books where the audio version is an improvement over reading a hard copy. (I think, anyway. I've only read excerpts of it online.) That's because Tina Fey is a performer, and of course, when a performer performs their own work, it's entertaining, not to mention the way it was intended to sound/look/etc. I'm not all that familiar with Fey's work, other than her hilarious Sarah Palin impression, having only seen a handful of episodes of SNL and 30 Rock, but found the book entertaining enough that I decided to start watching 30 Rock on Netflix. It wasn't the slam dunk that I expected, however. I found Bossypants teetering towards the edge of boring quite a few times, particularly during the first two discs (it's a five-disc audiobook, about five and a half hours). Fey's short stories are about a range of topics, and I found the ones about showbiz (starting 30 Rock, her interview for SNL, and the weekend that she first portrayed Sarah Palin on SNL, filmed a segment for 30 Rock with Oprah Winfrey, and planned her daughter's Peter Pan-themed birthday party) and motherhood (breastfeeding vs. formula, whether or not to have a second child as a working mom, etc.) the most interesting. "A Mother's Prayer for Her Daughter" is the story that's been circulating around the internet, and it's very funny, in my opinion (if you read the comments in the link, clearly a lot of people don't think so).
That brings me to my next point: audience. Because the stories that I liked the most were about motherhood (and I'm not even a mother!), I thought that this would make a good Mother's Day gift. But if your mother is anything like mine, she really doesn't like cursing, and there's a fair amount of it in the book. I also see this as more of a book that will appeal to women, given that it makes jokes about losing your tampon string and other things that proooobably won't interest men.
As I said earlier, there were some chapters that had me laughing out loud, and others that were hard to get through. Most of the chapters about her childhood and college years I found uninteresting. There's a chapter about her father, in which she uses the sentence "That's Don Fey" far too often, that feels like it's trying and failing to be a David Sedaris story. Then there's the story of climbing a mountain with her one-sided crush. That was sort of amusing, but pretty drawn out. A lot of times, people's personal stories are a lot more interesting if you know them well as a person. So I'd recommend some of these more uneven chapters to someone who's a big Fey fan. Otherwise, there are plenty of hilarious ones to satisfy someone interested in some humorous short stories about the "woman's experience," as Gender Studies as that may sound.
I am continually impressed by how Tom Angleberger is able to pull out more books in the Origami Yoda series. I mean, Darth Paper Strikes Back was just...moreI am continually impressed by how Tom Angleberger is able to pull out more books in the Origami Yoda series. I mean, Darth Paper Strikes Back was just inspired, and now The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee? That's just hilarious. If you're not familiar with the Origami Yoda series, it's about a group of middle schoolers who put together a case file proving the existence of origami. Let me explain: in the first book, a weird kid named Dwight makes an origami of Yoda and Yoda starts giving advice to other kids. The advice is really apt and much more wise than what the kids would expect of Dwight, so the kids start putting together a case file, sharing their experiences of how Origami Yoda helped them with their problems. The reason I file this under "graphic novel" is that each chapter in the case file has little doodles that really do look like middle schoolers drew them. Basically, as I said in my The Strange Case of Origami Yoda review, it's like what kids read after graduating from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Anyway, in this case, Dwight has been expelled from school and is sent to a private school. Tommy and the other kids are worried about him--he isn't making weird jokes and saying the word "purple" randomly, and he's not even taking out his origami Yoda anymore! In fact, Dwight's become... normal, and that's the last thing they want him to be. In the meantime, the kids are floundering without Origami Yoda's sage advice, and Dwight throws down an Origami Chewbacca to his neighbor, Sara. Chewbacca is a cootie-catcher/fortune teller, and Sara also makes "Han Foldo" to translate for Chewie, since, you know, we don't speak Shyriiwook. Chewie starts to give really good advice, too... is he using the Force, like Origami Yoda? But Chewie didn't even use the Force in the movie! As usual, this has Tommy's and Harvey's comments at the end of each chapter. I thought this book was really, really funny--maybe not as much so as the first book, but more than the second. What's next--Origami Boba Fett?
Peculiar. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think of Who Could That Be At This Hour? It's the kind of book that's very unique, very styl...morePeculiar. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think of Who Could That Be At This Hour? It's the kind of book that's very unique, very stylized, but rather strange. It has this cadence to it that could be off-putting to some, but is quite unique, and I mean that in a good way. Probably the first thing you'll notice about this book is the illustrations, by a cartoonist known only as Seth. They really set the tone, as they remind you of a old-timey cartoon, and lend a sort of film noir quality to the proceedings. Who Could That Be At This Hour?, part of Lemony Snicket's first new series since A Series of Unfortunate Events, follows... well... Lemony Snicket. This is a "semi-autobiographical" series about how Lemony Snicket got involved with VFD (so, there's a bit of continuation from A Series of Unfortunate Events) as a twelve year old boy. It takes place before the Baudelaire children were born, so don't expect to see them pop up, although there will be little winks and nods to fans of that series (I know this only from reading reviews, as I *still* have not read it).
Lemony Snicket begins his apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson, who was ranked dead last on his list of potential mentors. It is revealed that he has chosen Ms. Markson precisely because she was ranked last, though the exact motive hasn't been revealed (though we can guess that it's because he then has more latitude for personal investigation). Ms. Markson is a bizarrely inept detective, who even tries to masquerade as though she and Snicket are husband and wife, even though he is a child. For their first case, they are asked to steal a statue of the "Bombinating Beast," a vicious-looking seahorse-like creature that was supposedly stolen from one rival family by another. Theodora thinks it's a simple case, but when Lemony starts to investigate, he discovers that it's anything but. There are a ton of eccentric characters, like Moxie, a young reporter who uses words like "gimcrack" (a word which I am intent on incorporating into my vocabulary henceforth). There's a librarian character named Dashiell Qwerty. And there's lots of the big words with asides as to their definitions, like A Series of Unfortunate Events (again, I haven't read this series, but I am familiar with the style). This is a great read that should please ASoUE fans, but will take a reader that appreciates its various (charming!) eccentricities.
David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors. If you asked me in college what my top five books were, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in C...moreDavid Sedaris is one of my favorite authors. If you asked me in college what my top five books were, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim would have been on there. He's certainly an author whose work I seek out whenever I hear word of a new release. And when I was carrying around Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, a number of strangers stopped me to ask how the book was. While I certainly enjoyed reading it, I've started to notice certain patterns in Sedaris' writing that delighted me when they were novel, but I've gotten used to. And maybe I had a bit of a keener eye after reading Tenth of December, but there was more satire that I'm used to from Sedaris. Actually, Sedaris' fiction always fell into the satire genre, but I really didn't enjoy it in Holidays on Ice, so I never bothered to read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, especially since it got mixed reviews. But surprisingly to me, I really enjoyed Sedaris' four works of fiction, the "Etc." in the "Essays, Etc." subtitle. In the forward to the book, Sedaris writes that he's been approached many times over the years by high schoolers participating in forensics, a subsect of debate in which teens recite several pages of text. So Sedaris created the etc. for them, which I think is pretty cool. These stories aren't marked as fiction (as opposed to the essays, which are all nonfiction), so at first it's a little confusing because you think it's about Sedaris' life until you get to the part where a wife, husband, or child is mentioned, all of which Sedaris fans will know that he doesn't have. My favorite piece is "Mind the Gap," about an American teen who spends a week abroad and comes back with an affected British accent and the complete. With just a few sentences Sedaris reveals just how deluded she really is. Hilarious, and perfect satire.
But of course, what you're REALLY reading Sedaris' work for is his stories about his life, whether that's his observations of the differences between the US and European healthcare systems, a painfully tragic tale of finding and taking home sea turtles as a boy, or his quest to find his boyfriend Hugh a stuffed owl. You can't really say that most of his essays stick to a particular topic; they meander from his father's rejection of him to what Europeans think of Obama to shopping at Costco with his brother-in-law. There isn't really any essay that just sticks with one topic, other than "Dentists Without Borders." What Sedaris is known for is his hilarious family (there's a story in one of his previous books about how his sister Amy Sedaris dressed in a fat suit to trick their father), who don't get a lot of exposure here (not that I blame them for not really wanting to be in the spotlight), and his absurd adventures (in Me Talk Pretty One Day, he writes about his attempts to get rid of a turd in a story called "Big Boy," which is what made me love Sedaris in the first place). There isn't a ton of that here, and it's more of his observations and a lot of daydreaming about the absurdity that might have been had ("A Friend in the Ghetto"). That isn't necessarily a criticism, although it's not my preference. Still, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is worth a read if you're a die-hard Sedaris fan. However, I'd recommend my two favorites, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim over this one.(less)
I wasn't really sure that the world needed another Bridget Jones novel, and to be honest, I'm still not really sure after reading this book. If you do...moreI wasn't really sure that the world needed another Bridget Jones novel, and to be honest, I'm still not really sure after reading this book. If you don't want to know anything (life changes galore) about how our lovably bumbling heroine is doing now, do not read on...
There are lots of changes afoot in Bridget Jones' world. First and foremost: she's a mum! Not only that, but she's decidedly middle aged at 51 years old, though she's still lying about her age. And lastly, the gallant Mark Darcy has died several years prior in a tragic land mine accident in Darfur, leaving Bridget a widow. Until now. I'm convinced that Helen Fielding did this to Mark Darcy simply so that Bridget could go back to her amusing dating adventures, this time involving a 29-year-old "toy boy." This time, Bridget's dating life is defined by texting and Twitter, including some rather amusing conversations that do make the book a bit dated (lots of pop culture references, as the book takes place in the years 2012 and 2013!). I was pleased to see that Bridget is just as bumbling as ever, because that was one of the things that I always loved most about the character: she reminds me of me (I do a lot of embarrassing things myself!). And she's just as funny as ever.
I read the first two Bridget Jones books when I was in high school, and it's interesting now, as I'm closer to the age that Bridget was in the first book to read the series, because the thing that I never understood was how Bridget would always complain about how fat she was, when her weight, which admittedly fluctuated quite a bit, hovered around 130 or 140 most of the time. Also, while she made quite a few mistakes down the line, she has obviously achieved at least a small amount of success as a writer (a subplot of Mad About the Boy finds Bridget pitching her screenplay of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler to a movie studio, which she mistakenly calls Hedda Gabbler and credits to Anton Chekhov--I feel like I've made a variation of that error once upon a time...). What I've realized now, in an "oh, duh!" moment, is that Bridget Jones is actually beautiful and talented and (we already knew this) hilarious, which is why she's able to attract that "toy boy" of hers. She's just charmingly insecure. If you've read the first two books, you'll completely recognize the plot structure, which is formulaic in its take on Pride and Prejudice. But hey, why mess with a good (and laugh-out-loud-worthy) thing?
Bottom line: Bridget is back and funny as ever! Read if you miss Bridget, Daniel Cleaver and the gang and want to know what she's up to now.(less)