Katie should be loving her life. She’s a hotshot young chef with her own restaurant (Seconds) and about to open a new one called Lucknow. There’s only one problem: her success has made her miserable. Lucknow is having construction issues. She doesn’t like the way the cutting edge chef she hired at Seconds is running her kitchen. (She also thinks it might have been a mistake to start “canoodling” with him.) But worst of all is when her hot ex-boyfriend Max shows up for dinner with a gorgeous girl on his arm. Suddenly Katie just wants to go back in time so she can make different choices: about Max, about Lucknow, about her life. That’s when a blond haired house sprite shows up in the middle of the night and leaves three things in Katie’s top dresser drawer: a notebook labeled “My Mistakes,” a red-capped mushroom and a instruction card that reads, “1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake anew.” Katie follows the directions and to her delight, they work. And when she finds more mushrooms under the floorboards of her restaurant, she is thrilled. Now she can correct every mistake she’s ever made! It’s easy! When the house sprite returns and warns her that she is only entitled to one mushroom and one mushroom only, Katie refuses to listen. Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. And Katie gets it until she can’t even remember why she wanted to change things in the first place. Maybe her life wasn’t so bad after all. But how can she ever get back to the way things were? This magically real stand alone graphic novel by the author of Scott Pilgrim reads like charming modern take on the Fisherman’s Wife. Both teens and twenty somethings will find many of Katie’s situations funny and familiar, especially when it comes to first loves, first jobs and first-time-out-on-your-own. A perfect gift for grads, first job seekers and anyone who’s ever wished they could change the past (which, let’s be frank, is ALL OF US.)
Sib is sweet, funny and completely under the thumb of her best frenemy, Holly. Lou is smart, sarcastic and so sad over the loss of her beloved boyfriend Fred she’s gone mostly silent. The two of them have been thrown together in a dorm with four other girls at a wilderness education program in the Australian outback. There they will hike, learn basic survival skills, gossip, sneak off with boys and try not to kill each other over who’s going to clean the hair out of the shower drain. At first, Sib is too busy managing her crush on hottie Ben and Holly’s subsequent jealousy to notice Lou. And Lou is too busy managing her grief and ignoring everyone and everything else to notice Sib. But as Sib begins to finally understand that Holly isn’t just a mean girl, she’s cruel and Lou begins to pull out of her depression, they discover that friendships can bloom anywhere–even in the middle of the wilderness. Author Fiona Wood tackles first kisses, first loves and THE First Time with a confidence and finesse that reminds me of one of my all time favorite reads, Saving Francesca. And since Fiona Wood thanks Francesca author Melina Marchetta in the acknowledgements, I think it has something to do with their shared Aussie author awesomeness. The dialogue is sparkly, the characterizations spot-on and the relationships complicated and real. You’re going to want to hike on over to your nearest library or bookstore and pack up a copy for yourself.
High school junior Lara Jean Song doesn’t know who is more surprised when the secret love letters she wrote to all her old crushes suddenly show up in their mailboxes: her or all the boys she’d loved before. Now Lara Jean is in the uncomfortable position of having to admit to old friend Peter and her sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh that in the past she nursed mad crushes on them both. It’s so awkward that Lara Jean proposes to Peter that they launch a “fake” romantic relationship so that Josh doesn’t find out the real truth: that she’s STILL nursing a mad crush on him even though he just broke up with her older sister Margot, who is convientely attending college in Scotland. Lara Jean thinks she’s salvaged the situation until the inevitable happens–she starts having feelings for Peter, and she suspects he might be having them for her, too. But she also still likes Josh. And with Margot coming home from college in just a few short weeks, Lara Jean knows she needs to make a decision before circumstances make the decision for her. While this sister love triangle may look and sound like a romance, it’s also a smart coming of age story about a girl not only figuring out who she LOVES but also who she IS. What does it mean to be the middle sister in a family where her Korean mother died too young and her white father is raising Lara and her two sisters on his own? Who do you talk to about your love life when your mother is gone and your oldest sister and dearest confidante is a million miles away? Funny, tender and true, this romantic family drama mash-up will be cherished by fans of Judy Blume, Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen.
On the island of Guernsey in 1994, Renee and Flo may go to the same school, but their paths rarely cross. Flo’s family has fallen apart after her parents’ divorce and she lives in misery under the thumb of mean girl Sally. Renee plays pranks and gets in trouble to distract herself from the fact that her sister seems to have stopped eating solid food since their mother’s death and her grandparents refuse to do anything about it. Then Flo’s father dies suddenly, and Renee is the only one who truly understands what she’s going through. Their shared tragedy quickly makes them fast friends. But the world still keeps keeping on after the worst has happened, and even as their friendship blossoms, Flo still has to deal with nasty Sally and Renee still has to manage her awkward attraction to Flo’s hot brother Julian. The difference is, now they have each other. This warm, humorous ode to female friendship back in the good old days before Facebook will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever felt true love for a best bud. Despite the drop of some fast and furious revelations at the end that seemed a bit hasty to me, I was drawn in by British author Dawn O’Porter‘s breezy dialogue and spot-on depictions of teenage girl relationship woes. You’ll want to download this UK import pronto or just nab a 1994 nostalgia print copy from your local library or bookstore.
Three sisters left alone for three days in a wintery cabin, each visited by a mysterious stranger who lures them into the snow. A beautiful young bride who makes a grisly discovery in the walls of her new husband’s grand house. A jealous man who commits murder in the dark of the forest and then is visited by the victim of his crime. These are a few of the deliciously creepy, folklore-gone-wrong stories written and illustrated by the incredibly talented Emily Carroll. Mostly inked in red, black and a chilly cobalt blue, these graphic vignettes about love, death and revenge ooze with tension until they quietly detonate, usually in a silent moment of terrifying realization or a shocking splatter of crimson blood. Though I have read through the collection over half a dozen times by now, I just can’t stop poring over the gorgeously gory pages in fear and fascination. This assemblage of gothic-themed dread is a boon to my YA horror peeps who are always looking for a good literary scare, and to any nervous reader who’s ever been convinced that they just missed being snatched on the way back to bed by the something that lives under it. Because as the fanged shadow warns Red Riding Hood at the end of her journey through the forest, “You must travel through these woods again & again…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…but the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.” Here’s hoping that the wolf never gets lucky and you relish these darkly delightful tales as much as I did. Want a taste of Emily Carroll’s disturbing visions? Read this interactive horror story and try not to shiver uncontrollably at the end.
Most of us have heard of or read the story of the last royal family to rule Russia, about their immense wealth, sheltered lives and horrific end. But Candace Fleming tells the familiar history in a compulsively readable way, by including parallel narratives of real peasants and revolutionaries whose brutally poor lives provide a stark contrast to the opulence of the royal Romanovs. While the difference between the imperial family and the people they ruled seems cruel and extreme to us today, Fleming does an thorough job of showing that the Romanovs were products of their time period, who truly believed that the peasants were happy farmers who lived robust country lives. But this convenient belief couldn’t be “…further from the truth. Most peasants had never slept in a proper bed, owned a pair of leather shoes, eaten off of a china plate, or been examined by a doctor.” In fact, Fleming notes, “Many peasants were so poor, even the cockroaches abandoned their huts.” But Nicholas Romanov was willfully ignorant of the fate of his people because he had been raised to understand that his family had been divinely chosen to rule, an understanding that eventually led to the fall of czar-ruled Russia. I was surprisingly riveted by a story where the end is never in doubt. But Fleming’s detailed descriptions of the royal children (son Alexie was a holy terror in the school room, daughter Anastasia was nicknamed “dumpling”) and their luxurious surroundings juxtaposed against the rise of the disenfranchised revolutionaries made for obsessive reading. You also won’t want to miss the fascinating portrait of one of the most radical rock stars of history, the famous charlatan Rasputin, who wormed his way into the royal family and almost refused to die. I finished the entire book in two days, and I bet you will too when you nab your own copy from the nearest library, bookstore or e-reader.
The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell et. al.
Neil Gaiman‘s Newbery award winning novel about a boy being raised by ghosts and a kindly vampire guardian has been transformed into an edgier, sophisticated two-part comic that captivates and surprises on every page. Haven’t read the novel yet? No worries, you can easily pick up the full story from Russell’s lavish adaptation (He’s the same artist who created the Coraline GN). This time Russell invited a small army of talented illustrators to join him, and the results are phenomenal. I especially loved Tony Harris and Scott Hampton‘s version of The Hounds of God, which was my very favorite chapter from the novel and stars the stalwart, secret canine Miss Lupescu. The full color spreads bring the busy graveyard and surrounding community to glorious, riotous life and quickly help readers differentiate the living from the dead. The beautifully wrought Danse Macabre chapter that finishes off the first volume is not one you will forget anytime soon. Don’t wait too long to dig it up at a library or bookstore near you.
In Scott Westerfeld’s marvelously meta two-books-in-one, you get to have your cake and eat it, too. First readers are introduced to Darcy Patel, the eighteen year old wunderkind who pens a fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo and quickly gets signed to an agent and hired by a publisher to write (what else?) a trilogy featuring a teenage girl who can see ghosts. Next, we meet Lizzie, the ghost whisperer of Darcy’s novel, or more specifically, a psychopomp. After faking her own death during a terrorist attack, Lizzie can now enter the afterworld and talk to dead people. She promptly falls for Yama, the sexy god of death, and attempts to avenge the murder of her mother’s long dead best friend, a little girl ghost named Mindy. Back in the real world, Darcy has moved to New York City, landed a Chinatown apartment and a new writer-girlfriend named Imogen and is working hard on her revisions of Lizzie’s story. As she continues to craft her novel, Darcy finds herself fighting against the demons that are familiar to all writers: doubt, failure, insecurity. She worries about her shrinking book advance, whether or not she’s inappropriately stolen from Hindu culture and the fact that her publisher wants her to change her unhappy ending. How will Darcy end Lizzie’s story? In the best way possible for a sequel, of course! I can’t express how captivating it is to both read a story and also the story of the story behind the story at the same time! The parallels between Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds are fun to find and follow, and careful readers will also recognize some of their favorite real life YA authors personalities in some of Darcy’s new writer friends. This ambitious, high-wire act of a novel manages to be both an insightful and fascinating look into the working world of YA authors and a sly send-up of the field’s most beloved genre, paranormal romance. References to YA Heaven, the Printz Award and fantasy trilogies will read like delicious inside jokes and delight YA aficionados to no end. If you are dedicated YA reader, writer or lover of otherworldly romance with a healthy sense of humor, I can’t recommend this tome highly enough. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you September 2014.
The highly anticipated movie version of Gayle Forman’s heartbreaking novel IF I STAY opened this weekend and yours truly was there to feel all the feels and cry all the tears. I knew what to expect. I read and reviewed this tragically romantic tome back in 2008 and had no illusions about how much the movie was going to break my heart. But what I didn’t anticipate was just how hard I was going to crush on actor Jamie Blackely who played Adam. Oh my stars, talk about feeling all the feels–Jamie brought Gayle’s emotionally wounded rocker to nuanced and stunningly handsome life on the big screen in a way that felt entirely authentic. I’m still swooning over the way the tears gathered in his big brown eyes. That’s not to say that everyone else, including the talented Chloe Grace Moretz, aren’t also amazing, it’s just that I was distracted. So if you’re ready to swoon, weep, and swoon again, waste no time in securing a ticket to this sorrow-and-hope-filled film. Here are some additional IF I STAY vids & links to whip your tear ducts into shape.
“In a Balm of Space and Time, Healing” An NYT article where Gayle shares some of the real life inspirations for IF I STAY.
I do not know if these hands will become
Malcolm’s–raised and fisted
or Martin’s–open and asking
or James’s–curled around a pen.
With a beginning that is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ DAVID COPPERFIELD, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson guides readers through her early life using lyrical prose poems that evocatively describe the people and places that influenced her illustrious writing career. As her family moves from Ohio to South Carolina and eventually Brooklyn, New York, young Jackie never loses sight of the one thing she wants more than anything else: to become a writer. Every heads-up penny found/and daydream and night dream/and even when people say it’s a pipe dream…!/I want to be a writer. Even when reading doesn’t come as easily to her as it does to big sister Dell, Jackie doesn’t give up and is encouraged by the picture books by John Steptoe she takes out from the library. I’d never have believed/that someone who looked like me/could be in the pages of a book/that someone who looked like me/had a story. When she can’t make the words work, (Words from the books curl around each other/make little sense/until/I read them again, the story/settling into memory.) Jackie memorizes stories and quickly moves on to creating her own. Her first book is a stapled collection of butterfly poems, but we already know it will not be her last. Even though Brown Girl Dreaming covers Woodson’s childhood, I don’t know if I buy that this book is only a children’s title. Her clean, lyrical poems have a classic feel that can easily be enjoyed by readers of all ages. And anyone who’s ever yearned to be a writer will especially appreciate the longing that comes through on every page. This achingly wistful, heartfelt tome is a both a personal story and a universal one. It is the origin story of one writer and all writers. And it pairs beautifully with Marilyn Nelson’s How I Discovered Poetry.
I keep writing, knowing now/that I was a long time coming.