Month: September 2015

Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

rainreign Twelve-year-old Rose Howard loves following the rules. She obsesses over homonyms and prime numbers, and frequently shouts both out loud, especially when she’s upset.

Rose has Asperger’s syndrome, and she stands out in her small town of Hatford, New York because of it. Rose wants to “belong” in a world she can’t quite grasp. Her father wants her to “be normal.” Her teacher and school aide struggle to help Rose adapt. Only Rose’s uncle, Weldon, and her pet dog, Rain, accept her as she is.

When a super storm wipes out the area and the roads flood, Rain goes missing. When Rose attempts to track down her dog, she’s faced with a lot of situations that normally unnerve her (speaking to people on the phone, for example). When Rose finds out some startling information about Rain, she must make a tough decision. Should she listen to what her father tells her because he’s her father, or should she do what feels right?

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin is told in Rose’s first-person point of view. There are some interesting things about this narration because of Rose’s developmental disorder; for example, Rose refers to certain chapters before their happen by their chapter title name:

I will tell you more about the rain my father brought [Rain] home in another chapter, Chapter Five, which will be called “When We Got Rain.”

Homonyms in parentheses are interspersed throughout the narrative, reminding the reader of how Rose’s mind works:

When Rain and I are at home… Rain puts one (won) of her front feet (feat) in (inn) my lap.

I found the supporting characters of Rain Reign to be incredibly strong figures. Rose’s father, Wesley, is a single parent. Gruff and quick to anger, he shows obvious frustration at Rose’s outbursts and often pleads with her to be “normal.” This seems to stem from a feeling of helplessness in his situation. He is neglectful as a parent; he spends his time at the Luck of the Irish bar down the street. He gives Rain, who he finds behind the bar, to Rose as a present, in the  some love and trust from her. Wesley and his brother, Weldon, were placed in foster care when they were younger after a teacher found burn marks on Wesley.

Uncle Weldon is Wesley’s younger brother and Rose’s confidant. He is gentle and kind to Rose, and does not dismiss her like father does. Weldon encourages Rose’s love for homonyms and helps her works on the list of words she keeps. When Rain goes missing, Weldon offers to drive Rose around to various shelters. He is timid around his brother and does not want to step on any toes as far as Rose’s upbringing is concerned, but he’s always looking out for his niece’s best interest.

If you’re looking for a book with a lot of action and character development, this book may not be for you. Rain Reign is more of a character study, and while certain new character traits come to light, no one really changes. However, if you’re looking for a lens into a new perspective, and a story with a lot of heart, I recommend picking up Ann M. Martin’s book.

The suggested age range for Rain Reign is grades 4 through 6, but you’re never too old to enjoy a good middle grade novel, you know?

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

unlikelyevent After attending the Judy Blume panel at BookCon and getting my copy of In The Unlikely Event signed by Ms. Blume herself, I was eager to dive into this hefty novel by the author of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

(I wrote about the BookCon panel here. I loved hearing the author’s thoughts on her own work!)

I read In the Unlikely Event slowly, struggling to keep the characters straight as I went along, as the perspective switches frequently between a cast of children and adults. Despite this trouble, I persevered, knowing it would be worth it in the end. And it was.

I fell for Judy Blume’s newest novel not so much for the characters, who were complex but not necessarily interesting, but for the time they lived through. Blume’s descriptions of the 1950s in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a town not too far from my own, had me feeling nostalgic for a time period I wasn’t around for.

I wanted the giggly thrill of visiting a lingerie store to pick out stockings or nightgowns. I wanted to attend a party in someone’s dining room where I could purchase compacts or cosmetics. I wanted to be escorted to a dance at the Y, and maybe even get asked to go steady by someone’s football-playing brother. I wanted to wear a sweater set! The 1950s may have been a time of fear, of communists and conspiracies, but it is also a time that begs for wholesome nostalgia, in my opinion. Blume had me feeling this nostalgia most acutely.

In the Unlikely Event begins in 1987, when Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth for a commemoration ceremony of the tragedies that struck her town. Thirty-five years earlier (when Miri was fifteen), three airplanes had crashed in her town in a matter of months, sending the community into a spiral of grief and despair.

These plane crashes really happened, and they were a huge part of Blume’s own childhood (the author is from Elizabeth). Knowing that these crashes really happened had me scrambling to research, which I think is a mark of a compelling read.

All of the characters in Blume’s novel react to these tragedies differently. Miri becomes fearful, but also conscious of the conspiracies at play. Her uncle is a newspaper reporter who receives quite a bit of attention thanks to his articles on the crashes, and Miri latches onto his inquisitive nature, questioning everything about the crashes as she in turn has questions about growing up and becoming an indvidual.

(Would it really be a Judy Blume book without this questioning? This maturing? Reading about Miri’s personal journey made me nostalgic for Blume’s young adult books.)

Miri’s best friend, Natalie, becomes strange and terrified, believing her body is being used as a host by a young woman who perished in the first plane crash. Miri’s mother, Rusty, clings to others for comfort, while trying to protect her own daughter.

There is romance in this story, and there is heartbreak, too. There is growth and death. There are life lessons you don’t mind taking because they’re administered by Judy Blume, who has always made growing up seem a little less scary.

“Life is a series of unlikely events, isn’t it? Hers certainly is. One unlikely event after another, adding up to a rich, complicated whole. And who knows what’s still to come?”

Have you read In the Unlikely Event yet?

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Critters in Literature: Fish

I love fish! Literature, apparently, doesn’t love fish nearly as much much. I really had to scour for these aquatic friends in fiction. And expand the scope to include both dolphins and whales. But that’s okay! I had to give the critters under the sea some love because I am a card-carrying Pisces.

So check out some iconic fish from literature. And then if you haven’t before, look at our posts on bears, turtles, rabbits, and elephants.

The Koi Fish from Chinese legends
There is an ancient tale in China about koi fish who swim upstream, against the current and all odds. Undeterred, they even try to jump up a mountainous waterfall, even if it takes hundreds of years. The koi fish who make it are transformed into dragons for their strength and determination. Fun fact: the useless Pokemon Magikarp, which evolves into the dragon Pokemon Gyrados, is based on this legend.

hitchhikers

The Babel Fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
If you’re running around the galaxy, it’s probably safe to assume your average alien isn’t going to speak the Queen’s English. Luckily, there is a slippery little fish that feeds on brain neurons and has the ability to translate any language. You just have drop it into your ear canal and let it live in your brain. No big deal.

The Dolphins from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Humans are the third smartest creature on planet Earth. Dolphins are number two. The dolphins try to warn the humans about Earth’s nearing destruction, but are misinterpreted by their human handlers as “amusing attempts to punch football or whistle for tidbits.” Still, the dolphins were fond of the humans so they left them a parting message, “So long and thanks for all the fish”.

catinthehat

Goldfish from The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
The unnamed goldfish in The Cat in the Hat seems like a real killjoy, but when you think about it, he’s pretty much the only sane one. The children just let the cat come into their house and trash it. Did no one teach these children about stranger danger?

rainbowfish

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Rainbow Fish is a very shiny, pretty fish, but doesn’t want to share his scales. So everyone is upset with Rainbow Fish and ostracizes him, until he learns not to be vain and selfish. Apparently, some people think this is a political message about socialism. Also bizarrely, there was a television series based on this story. 

pinocchio

The Dogfish from The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Pinocchio’s father Geppetto is swallowed up by this enormous dogfish sea monster, and then Pinocchio is too, when the wooden boy puppet goes looking for his father. In the Disney adaptation, the sea monster is a giant whale named Monstro. We can also get biblical and source the story of Jonah and the whale, but suggesting the Bible is fictional online will likely get me a lot of hate. 

There aren’t too many fish I left out. Unless you consider the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish from Dr. Seuss as being worthy of their own characters! It seems most of our fictional fishy friends are in other media, such as the adorable ones of “Finding Nemo”. Let that be motivation to you, BiblioSmilers! Write the next great novel about a fish!

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

morehappythannot The New York Times called Adam Silvera’s debut novel, More Happy Than Not, “mandatory reading,” and I’m inclined to agree. This novel turned everything I thought I knew about the young adult scene on its head, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I meet. So if you see me in the next year or so and ask me what you should be reading, here’s your answer.

Aaron Soto is a sixteen-year-old boy living in the Bronx of the near future. He lives in a housing project with his mother and older brother, all three of them skirting around their grief and disbelief over Adam’s father’s suicide and Adam’s attempted suicide.  Why should they live with their feelings when there’s a procedure that wipes away your memories? The Leteo Institute offers a memory-wiping (“memory relief”) procedure for those who have gone through trauma. In Aaron’s own community, one friend underwent the procedure after his twin brother was killed, effectively wiping out all memories of his sibling’s existence and their shared childhood.

Aaron has a scar shaped like a smile on his wrist, but he doesn’t have much to be happy about: his father killed himself, his mother is overworked, and the neighborhood he lives in is poor. While the support of his girlfriend, Genevieve, is a comfort, it doesn’t always seem like enough. He’s never quite sure of how he’s supposed to act.

But then Thomas shows up, and Aaron’s whole world turns upside-down. Thomas is not like Aaron’s friends from his project; Thomas is sensitive, and funny, and likes the same comic books as Aaron. Aaron starts finding more and more  excuses to hang out with Thomas, until he realizes he’s falling for his new best friend. In a neighborhood where being gay is enough to get you jumped, Aaron struggles with this new realization. Maybe there’s hope for him, still, if he can just get his mom to agree to a Leteo procedure. But is the process of erasing memories enough to change a person?

“Memories: some can be sucker punching, others carry you forward; some stay with you forever, others you forget on your own. You can’t really know which ones you’ll survive if you don’t stay on the battlefield, bad times shooting at you like bullets. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have plenty of good times to shield you.”

You may think: “I’ve seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This kind of seems like the same thing.” But aside from the idea of a memory-wiping procedure, More Happy Than Not is entirely unique. Its diverse cast of lovable (and not so lovable) characters, realistic, gritty setting, and surprising plot twists make this a story all its own. I wept, unabashedly, through the last third of the book, because the writing is so good and the characters are so easy to care for.

Have you read Silvera’s debut yet? I’d love to hear what you think! If you haven’t had the chance to pick it up yet — do it now. You won’t regret it.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot

notebooks of a middle school princessWho didn’t grow up with Meg Cabot’s the Princess Diaries series? The series is follows Mia Thermopolis, who is just an awkward high school girl until she discovers she is heir to a small sovereign European nation. Mia has to bumble through princess lessons with her crazy grandmother, being in the gossip magazines, AND going through all the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.

Well, after ending the book series a number of years ago, Meg Cabot brings us back to the lives of royal Genovians again. This time, we meet Olivia Harrison, who is a completely average twelve-year-old from the suburbs of New Jersey. And… A princess.

It turns out Mia has a half sister.

Olivia goes through some of the same stuff as Mia did. She has to deal with a bully, she feels like there isn’t anything special about her, and she’s not at all popular. But unlike Mia, Olivia has some attitude. She’s not at all intimidated by Grandmere and thinks Grandmere’s poodle posse is the coolest. For a middle-grade novel, she is surprisingly well-rounded and fresh. Olivia loves art, animals, and wants to get her hands on a phone so she can finally text her best friend Nishi. Oh, and eat things with gluten, since her aunt only lets the family eat rice cakes.

I also really enjoyed how Meg Cabot was able to play with some very mature themes in a middle grade novel—multiculturalism, blended families, and families who don’t always have your best interest at heart. She framed the story well and linked overarching themes back to the beginning of the book.

It was too short but I suppose that is a common problem in great middle grade novels, you want them to go on and on.

I’m really looking forward to if they adapt this one to a Disney movie because Mia and Olivia’s father isn’t alive in the movies. I thought they cut out the father because you can’t say testicular cancer in a Disney movie, but Meg Cabot revealed the truth at BookCon. They cut out the father to give Julie Andrews his lines (and totally Disney-fy the acerbic Grandmere in the process). I still suspect my theory plays into it, so any retcon will be interesting!

Oh, and now I need to go back and reread the entire Princess Diaries series, since Meg Cabot also wrote Royal Wedding, a book about Princess Mia, Genovian politics, and and her wedding to Michael! I’m not sure if Meg Cabot’s going to write more about Princess Olivia but I hope so. If you love the Princess Diaries, then you really have to read about the latest addition to the Genovian family.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

boymostlikelyto Published on August 18th by Dial Books, Huntley Fitzpatrick’s The Boy Most Likely To is an exciting companion read to My Life Next Door.

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To . . . find the liquor cabinet blindfolded, need a liver transplant, and drive his car into a house.

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To . . . well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

Tim’s wild ways have finally caught up with him. Though he went through rehab and is now a willing participant in the AA program, his father still insists he get out of the house and turn his life around before Christmas. If he can’t get things together by Christmas, his college fund will be given to his sister, Nan, who has Ivy League dreams.

Tim moves into the garage apartment at his friend Jase’s house. Where Tim’s family life is pretty nonexistent, family life at the Garrett house is the only thing that exists. Mr. Garrett is recovering in the hospital after a car crash, so all of the family managing lands on his wife; however, Mrs. Garrett is overworked, pregnant, and worried about her husband, so the brunt of the duties falls on nineteen-year-old Alice Garrett.

Where Tim is reckless, Alice is over-prepared. Naturally, the two of them have a connection that confuses and frustrates them both. But The Boy Most Likely To is not a simple, straight-forward summer romance story. No: there are a lot of serious elements at play here. When a mistake from Tim’s past forces him to own up and grow up really fast, he questions the choices he’s made so far and how he should approach his future. Alice, who is struggling with her own future plans, must decide where and how she fits into Tim’s life. But wait: isn’t he just her brother’s friend who lives in the garage? Or is he a whole lot more?

The Boy Most Likely To asks you to forget what you know about cliches and high school superlatives, and instead to re-examine what makes a person who they are. The Boy Most Likely To is about the definition of family, self-love, and responsibility.

And for those of you crossing your fingers for a bit of summer romance: don’t worry – you’re not totally missing out. Fitzpatrick writes some swoon-worthy moments.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Review: Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra

gonzogirl Cheryl Della Pietra spent a few months in 1992 as the editorial assistant for Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist and literary icon. Her main job as an assistant was to get Thompson through his day and make sure he was sitting in front of the typewriter by 2 AM to work on his novel, Polo Is My Life.

(Note: Polo Is My Life was unfortunately never published. After all of these new works from Harper Lee, Dr. Seuss, and F. Scott Fitzgerald – think we’ll ever get this “new” Thompson?)

Della Pietra’s debut, Gonzo Girl, is a fictionalized account inspired by her time as Thompson’s assistant.

Gonzo Girl appealed to me specifically because in eighth grade I insisted on focusing my journalism class project on Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Fear and Loathing in Las VegasThe Rum DiaryHell’s Angels, and countless other titles. He was this fascinating figure that I wanted to know, and this writer that I wanted to be just like. (I don’t think I quite grasped the method to his madness at that age.) My appreciation for Thompson grew as I got older, and I don’t think there will ever be another writer quite like him. Reading this debut fictional account based on the experiences of someone who was there and someone who knew him appealed to me immensely. I couldn’t pick up my copy fast enough.

Even if you’re not familiar with Hunter S. Thompson’s work, you’ll get sucked into Cheryl Della Pietra’s storytelling and the wacky, complex, larger-than-life character of Walker Reade. Alley Russo is a college graduate and an aspiring novelist who is hoping to win and keep the job of Reade’s assistant on his compound in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Reade is a legend on the literary scene and in the town he inhabits, and tourists are constantly vying to buy him a drink or take his photo.

Reade surrounds himself with drugs, alcohol, firearms, and a posse of famous (and infamous) friends; the party never stops at the compound. Alley’s main responsibility as Reade’s assistant is to make sure he sits down in front of his typewriter at 2 AM each night to work on his next novel. This task is a Herculean effort, and Alley soon learns that she needs to keep up with Reade’s lifestyle just to get to 2 AM each night. Alley’s transition from tame post-collegiate to coked-up bartender / chef / sidekick clothed in a new wardrobe of outlandish outfits (picked out by her employer) is insanely exciting to witness. Reade’s compound is like another planet, and Alley needs all of the coffee and “Mexican aspirin” she can find to get by. This is a coming-of-age story of a different kind; Alley battles romantic feelings for an actor, struggles to figure out who she wants to be post-college, and comes to terms with her own writing and desire for fame through Reade’s lens.

Walker Reade is moody, unpredictable, and casually cruel, but as her time at the compound continues, Alley begins to understand the man behind the myth. Yes, this book is full of hilarious moments, as well as some incredibly terrifying ones, but the takeaway for me after reading Gonzo Girl was this: Hunter S. Thompson was , despite his image, a man with real feelings and real problems, and there were people lucky enough to have known him and to have called him a friend. Cheryl Della Pietra brings this idea to life with Gonzo Girl, a touching portrait of an artist and his protege.

Arguably, one of Thompson’s most famous quotes from Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas is:

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

Gonzo Girl is a debut novel worth getting in line for. Enjoy the ride.

I was given a finished copy of Gonzo Girl in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Touchstone.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.