Thursday, September 29, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

In a different author’s hands, this story would be something else entirely. It would be tearful from beginning to end and every character would learn deep, meaningful lessons. But, as Greg Gaines says, this book is not about that. Greg did not learn anything from being friends with Rachel. All it did was lead to the Worst Film Ever Made, and utter humiliation.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is what you get when an author realizes it is not realistic to have every cancer story in the universe end in personal fulfillment. In a sea of tear-ridden yet heartwarming cancer stories, this book provides a much needed change of pace. The book is also very funny, which is something not often found in cancer stories.

Greg’s mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl who was just diagnosed with leukemia…and with who Greg has an awkward history. Like I said before, Greg learns nothing from this forced friendship. At least, he learns nothing besides emotional denial and self-loathing and an uncanny ability to laugh himself out of uncomfortable situations.

In watching Greg not learn anything, however, the reader discovers a lot about how people respond to personal hardships outside of the metaphor-filled teen fiction world.

If you do not like laughing in the midst of difficult times and extreme cynicism, this is not the book for you. But truly, this book is necessary for finding a more realistic perspective. Sometimes people do not have personal triumphs when they encounter pain.

For laughs and something completely different from every cancer book trying to follow in the footsteps of The Fault in Our Stars, pick up this book now. I like The Fault in Our Stars a lot, but this book—Me and Earl and the Dying Girl—is something far better.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is available in print and digital formats.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows

One day three teen fiction authors decided to retell the story of Lady Jane Grey, best known as the Nine-Day Queen, and one of my favorite books was born. My Lady Jane is the story of a stubborn, book-loving, 16 year old “spinster” who is forcibly married to a stranger to secure a trustworthy follow-up monarchy for her dying cousin, King Edward VI.

While the real Lady Jane Grey was in fact married off to stranger Lord Guildford Dudley (named Gifford in this book) to secure the crown, the remainder of the book beyond that plot point takes many liberties with the story of Jane’s brief reign. The biggest difference is the inclusion of a bit of magic: many humans can shapeshift into animals.

The story also includes many laugh-out-loud hilarious moments. Lord Gifford, better known as “G,” has a very secret nightly occupation. For pages I anticipated something quite scandalous, only to laugh for five minutes straight after discovering his “dark” secret. Much of the book has comical twists like that moment.

There is a lot to praise about My Lady Jane. Crazy, unexpected twists are prevalent. The teen fiction standard of containing an exhausting love triangle is non-existent. The three voices of the book (Jane, G and Edward) are each written by a different author, and also get interrupted by their respective authors with hilarious narrator add-ons. The book also contains a rare "midlogue," which is exactly what it sounds like, and far more brilliant than any prologue or epilogue I ever read. The premise of the book sounds so absurd, and yet it works so well.

For read alikes, I can only recommend more of the same from these three authors. Two more Jane books are in the works: My Plain Jane about Jane Eyre & Charlotte Bronte, and My Calamity Jane about the famed American frontierswoman. These two books cannot possibly come fast enough. For a read alike that is already published, pick up the classic The Princess Bride and continue your laugh fest.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Nature's Day: Discover the World of Wonder at Your Doorstep by Kay Maguire & Danielle Kroll

If you decide to read this book, expect to experience exactly what the title depicts. Each purposeful word and bright, colorful graphic is designed to enchant the reader with nature. The real wonder in this book lies in how successful it is in evoking that feeling.

The layout is simple to follow; it goes through a seasonal cycle beginning with spring and ending with winter. A welcome page starts off the new season. The following pages then explain the animals, plants, people and other sights that may be found in specific locations. Each season focuses on these spots: a backyard, vegetable garden, forest, farm, fields, pond, orchard and street. These locations are not centralized in one area of nature, so this means the book is making efforts to depict a variety of places.

The words are highly descriptive; many words highlight one of the five senses. You can hear the birds calling, see the light appearing at dawn, feel the leaves of a growing carrot, taste a variety of seasonal meals and smell the strong scent of fresh garlic. Furthermore, each description is accurate. One description focuses on the movement of helicopter seeds, and captures the exact appearance of the seeds when they leave trees.

The illustrations are as important as the words, and help move the reader’s eyes from one written description to another. There is such delight behind each word and graphic that one cannot help but admire the effort that went into designing this book. Nature’s Day is classified in our library catalog for children, and the simplicity makes this appropriate, but I would also recommend it to adults. A lot can be learned from this book’s wonder.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Nightmares! by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Charlie has horrible, terrifying nightmares. These nightmares are so awful, in fact, that he sneakily drinks some late-night coffee in order to avoid falling asleep again. His dreams are unlike any we find familiar; each of his dreams feel real. The nightmare world and the waking world become blurred as Charlie begins to experience nightmares in the real world as well.

For a middle grade book, Nightmares! has a fairly standard plot. There are fantastical elements, comedic bits and plenty of lessons to learn, as much of the book’s plot revolves around overcoming great fears. There is also an evil stepmonster who might be a witch and an awesome but spooky purple mansion for good measure.

The villains—the nightmares—make up the best parts of the book with a silly understanding of the real world and the best evil plot. Right above never dying on their evil to-do list is trying Krispy Kreme donuts. Eating at Krispy Kreme is the ultimate to-do item.

Some of the book is frustratingly simple when attempting to build suspense. I found that many mysterious identities were easy to figure out, yet Charlie and his friends would fail to recognize them. In the end, however, this book is intended for late elementary and middle school readers. For its target audience, the book has the right amounts of suspense and laughs.

In the end, this book is surprisingly good. Jason Segel is not an actor I would expect to contribute to a children’s book, but I should not be surprised. Many celebrities these days are unexpectedly writing excellent children’s fiction. Nightmares! is available in print and digital formats.

For a read alike, try Almost Super by Marion Jensen. This book involves superpowers instead of fantastical nightmares, but it has the same young humor and basic life lesson elements.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is largely recognized for her best-selling children’s books, but did you know she’s also a fantastic author for adults? Her sort-of memoir, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, chronicles her adult life in a unique style.

The book is organized into chapters titled with classic subjects one would find in a school curriculum: Geography, Social Studies, Romance Languages, Science, etc. She provides lighthearted and funny observations per subject, and Rosenthal takes the obscure thoughts that many of us have thought of at least once in our lives and gives them life.

It is unlike a conventional memoir which provides structured anecdotes of the author’s life from youth to adulthood; Rosenthal instead gives the reader a collection of snippets of life with her family, exchanges with complete strangers, and short musings on the stuff of life. 

The memoir is creatively styled in an engaging, clever way with images, diagrams, and a purposeful placement of blank pages. Not only does she captivate readers with a non-linear format, but also makes her book digitally interactive, meaning she provides a number for readers to text in the introduction and throughout the book gives people a chance to text in a word or picture.

I would strongly recommend checking out Amy Krouse Rosenthal's many children's books even if you're not a parent, such as The OK Book, but for those looking for similar adult non-fiction reads, you might enjoy Hyperbole and a half : unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook by Lindsay Landis

If you are like me, you spent your childhood sneaking spoonfuls of cookie dough out of the bowl when there was a batch waiting to be baked. After my mom’s hundredth time chastising me, I took it upon myself to start baking unsupervised so I could eat all the cookie and cake batter. I’ve never gotten sick, so I like to think I grew immune to raw eggs (knock on wood).

The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook will please all the cookie dough lovers. The collection of over 40 recipes feature egg-free cookie dough in creative ways. Lindsay Landis’s recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough truffles was the recipe heard around the world and led to the launch of the cookbook in 2012.

The cute, pink, almost pocket-sized cookbook reinvents cookie dough. They are decadent and range from cookie and brownie recipes to warm and gooey breakfast staples like Cookie Dough Stuffed French Toasts (I’ve made this one and let me tell you . . . the breakfast game has changed!) to cold summer treats like Invisible Cookie Dough Ice Pops.

This book offers delicious recipes that will be a hit to share with friends and family. That is, if you don’t eat all the cookie dough first! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Simple Matters by Erin Boyle

It seemed like the past year’s lifestyle trend has been all about decluttering and simplifying one’s life. I jumped on the bandwagon and borrowed a copy of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up hoping to make some sense of my clutter. I opened the pocket-sized book, read a couple sections, closed it and never experienced the magic. My life was not changed. Months later I found myself standing in a brand new house with the same pile of junk all around me, so I decided to try again.

Erin Boyle’s Simple Matters renewed my sense of minimalism. In her book she takes the time to express her intent of sharing her lifestyle. In the last paragraph of her introduction she simply states: “Living simply requires conscious acts.” That line sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The book is divided into nine easy chapters on topics such as decluttering, organizing, wardrobe, and bath and beauty. Simple Matters helps the reader learn to make purposeful and simple decisions about their home and life. Marie Kondo emphatically encourages the reader to throw away what doesn’t spark joy whereas Boyle inspires the reader to make more meaningful and slow choices. Decluttering a home is not a quick project nor is choosing the right type of furniture or cooking utensils.

Erin Boyle includes her personal tips and favorite home pieces, and also includes recipes for natural cleaning and beauty products. She emphasizes on the quality of what one brings into their life and makes the idea of living more minimally welcoming.