Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tetris: The Games People Play - Box Brown

It is, perhaps, the perfect video game. Simple yet addictive, Tetris delivers an irresistible, unending puzzle that has players hooked. Play it long enough and you’ll see those brightly colored geometric shapes everywhere. You’ll see them in your dreams.

Alexey Pajitnov had big ideas about games. In 1984, he created Tetris in his spare time while developing software for the Soviet government. Once Tetris emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, it was an instant hit. Nintendo, Atari, Sega―game developers big and small all wanted Tetris. A bidding war was sparked, followed by clandestine trips to Moscow, backroom deals, innumerable miscommunications, and outright theft.

In this graphic novel, Box Brown untangles the complex history and delves deep into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce. 

This is a very thorough and intriguing history of the game of Tetris, told in graphic novel format, and made accessible to audiences of varying ages and levels of interest. Though some may consider this to be a book that should focus entirely on Tetris (just look at the main title), the entirety of the book covers a lot of ground, from the origins of Nintendo, to card games, to, yes, Tetris. There is a lot of interesting background information that many might not know, which influenced the creation of Tetris as a world-renowned game of skill. There's actually a lot more intrigue, strategy, and espionage in relation to the development of the game than people might initially believe. Tetris is the story of a game that started a revolution, both in terms of gaming and psychology! I definitely Recommend this great graphic novel for those interested in gaming and history on subjects not normally covered in classrooms or lesson plans!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Education of Margot Sanchez - Lilliam Rivera

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES: Mami, for destroying my social life; Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal; Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal; This supermarket; Everyone else.

After “borrowing” her father's credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts. With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…. Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.


Margot lives a relatively privileged life. She goes to a prestigious private school, has rich friends with homes in the Hamptons, and doesn't always think before she acts. After stealing her father's credit card and wracking up $600 in charges, Margot's summer plans are put on hold as she goes to work at her father's supermarket, with her older brother (a rather obnoxious and hot-headed young man) and a number of his female "conquests." When she meets Moises (a young man working to stop gentrification in the neighbourhood), however, everything starts to change; Junior becomes even angrier, her father starts to get on edge, and she starts out on a new rebellious streak.

This novel is great in that it follows Margot's development from privileged and rather oblivious, to plugged in and very much aware of the complexities inherent in the mixed demographic in her community. Although Margot is not very appreciative of her family at the beginning, she certainly comes to better understand their motives as the novel moves forward. Even through the seriousness, there is a good balance of humour as well, making the novel accessible for a larger audience.

Another part of the book that I never thought about until I read another post, was the fact that the Spanish words and statements are not italicized. This may not seem that important, but it allows the English/Spanish mix within dialogue to flow more smoothly, and the Spanish is thus not treated as "other" within the text. Rivera's writing is compelling and the story is hopeful. There is so much to enjoy and appreciate here!


(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reader's Copy - Out Feb. 21, 2017)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Boy Called Bat - Elana K. Arnold

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Elana K. Arnold is amazing. I have known her mostly from her much more, shall we say, edgy young adult novels, but what is even more incredible is that she so seamlessly switches from a YA voice to the voice of a small child! I can barely believe it's the same person who has written A Boy Called Bat and What Girls are Made Of! Wow! Okay, now that that's out of the way...

I really hope to see this book rising up next year during Schneider Family award discussions, considering how subtly and expertly Arnold explores a brief time in the life of an autistic child. After his veterinarian mother brings home a baby skunk, Bat finds himself becoming ever more motivated to keep the kit as his own pet. Every time someone tells him it's not a great idea, he finds a way to show how dedicated he is and how much he cares for his new little friend. At the same time, Bat goes through day to day experiences doing his best to exist in a world whose rules he doesn't entirely understand.

What I really love is that while the main text of the novel does not directly label Bat as autistic, his actions, internal monologues, and ways of interacting with family members and peers is indicative of being on the spectrum. Bat is never really considered to be mentally disabled or disadvantaged in any way, being empowered by his teacher, Mr. Grayson, and his mother. And even though his father is not fully in the picture (his parents are divorced), he is not a stereotype, but rather a person who just doesn't completely understand how to interact with his son.

Bat's classmates, his sister, his mother, and his father, are all fully fleshed out characters within the text, and even though the narrative only takes place over a few short weeks, readers will find themselves fully immersed in Bat's life and everyday struggles. This is a really awesome book for young readers, and one that adults will find just as hopeful and necessary as children themselves. Bonus points for adorable accompanying illustrations from Charles Santoso.

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reader's Copy - Out March 14, 2017)

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Beast is an Animal - Peternelle van Arsdale

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village. These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

This book is seriously creepy. There's a mix of gorgeous imagery and folk tale literary allusion, combined with strong characterization for both the "good" and "bad" individuals within the narrative. The Beast is an Animal is painted with rich colours and van Arsdale keeps readers guessing through minimal description and withholding bits and pieces of necessary information until just the right moment. The overall book is a delicious fantasy tale that will satiate the appetites of many young adult readers from a variety of backgrounds.

There is a religious element to the story that feels somewhat overly "black and white" which I use here purposefully because the religious figures literally wear black and white. The didacticism of this religious element combined with the similarities to Christianity make this aspect of the narrative bulky and unnecessarily instructional. The development of a series of names with contemporary pronunciations was also a bit strange to me. With names like Alys ("Alice") and Pawl ("Paul"), I wondered why the author didn't just go full-on and create new names without the obvious connections to contemporary naming conventions.

These quibbles aside, I still found the book to be engaging and spooky, with some truly evocative imagery throughout. The Soul Eaters were particularly intriguing, and their overall role was not what I expected it to be. I think a lot of readers who enjoy fantasy and non-traditional storytelling will find much to love in van Arsdale's novel.


(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reader's Copy - Out Feb. 28, 2017)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.

"I've seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I've Tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

Now I am that person, and I'm too afraid to speak."

This book is not on hard to read in some ways, but it's a necessary book to read! Thomas's narrative explores Black Lives Matter and the way that the system is rigged against people of colour in ways that are much more subtle and nuanced than often happens in the real world, through battling left-wing and right-wing news sources. The emotion and humanity that Thomas brings to her characters will cause readers to flinch, despair, hope, and search their own minds and hearts.

I have been reading a number of debut novels recently, and I'm continually amazed by the talent and potential of new authors in the YA scene. Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give is beautiful, gripping, raw, heartbreaking, and honest. The characters are all so well-rounded they feel real and the setting is totally immersive. 

I know this is a short review, but I don't think I can do justice to this fantastic book.

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from and Advance Reader's Copy - Out Feb. 28, 2017)

Monday, February 6, 2017

What Girls are Made Of - Elana K. Arnold

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now Nina is sixteen. And she'll do anything for the boy she loves, just to prove she's worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of?

Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are. She's been volunteering at a high-kill animal shelter where she realizes that for dogs waiting to be adopted, love comes only to those with youth, symmetry, and quietness. She also ruminates on the strange, dark time her mother took her to Italy to see statues of saints who endured unspeakable torture because of their unquestioning devotion to the divine. Is this what love is?

Until now, I didn't realize how destructive the old poem was: "Sugar and spice and everything nice; that's what little girls are made of." But then I read this novel, and I saw Elana Arnold's author note:
Hearing this nursery rhyme when I was a little girl, I remember feeling smug. I was a girl, and therefore I was made of the good stuff; boys, on the other hand, were made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails--slimy, icky, dismembered, even. Now, though, I read it differently. 
...I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed--sugar and spice and everything nice--yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. 
And it reads to me now as a warning rather than as an assessment. It's an imperative: to be a girl, one must be sweet and delicious.
I had the privilege of speaking with Arnold at the latest NCTE (2016) and we had a chance to discuss some of the many assumptions about female protagonists, namely the expectation of masculinized strength and bad-assery that is expected in order for a female character to be seen as feminist or "strong." What about the characters who are not sugar and spice? Or those who are actually weak in some ways? Are they not worthy of being seen as great female characters as well, for some reason?

Nina is not a typical "strong" female character, though she is well rounded and is put through a variety of trials and tribulations. She uses short stories that weave together seemingly disconnected subjects in an effort to untangle the meanings of life and love and sex. She encounters compassionate nurses at Planned Parenthood who help her navigate pregnancy, abortion, birth control, and the emotional landscape involved therein. She has to deal with the consequences of her actions after bullying a girl the year prior to the events of the novel. And she is also trying to figure out her own mother, who is herself a complicated individual, with a rather tragic past.

As with all of Arnold's books, the action is swift and the novel focuses mostly on characterization and setting rather than a complex plot (though that is not to say the plot isn't well-constructed). Nina is certainly an intriguing character, though as noted, she is not necessarily what some would call "strong" in the expected sense. I think there is a lot to think about here and I hope this book gets the critical and popular attention it deserves.

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out April 2017)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book and TV/Film Pairings

I've recently started to see some interesting connections between stuff I've been watching, and stuff I've been reading, so I figured I'd point out a few and see what other links you can all come up with!

1) Exo (Fonda Lee) / Colony (TV Series)

2) The Boundless (Kenneth Oppel) / Snowpiercer (Film)

3) Diary of a Haunting (M. Verano) / The Enfield Haunting (Miniseries)

4) Illuminae and Gemina (Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman) / Battlestar Galactica (TV Series)

5) On Bullshit (Harry G. Frankfurt) / Fox News (Sorry, couldn't resist!!)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Short - Holly Goldberg Sloan

Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she'll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn't ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive - one of the adults with dwarfism who've joined the production's motley crew of Munchkins - and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia's own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn't want to fade into the background and it's a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

This is a big-hearted story about a young girl who is coming into her own, discovering her potential, while learning about how little it matters to be tall or short. Julia and her friend Olive work together on the production of The Wizard of Oz, and Julia begins to understand that it's important not only to have dreams, but also to allow others to act as guides for potential futures.

Julia also learns that age and talent are not mutually exclusive, finding out that one of her neighbours is actually a very accomplished costumer and dancer. Together, all of the characters work to put on a terrific production and become friends, even what things (at times) don't always seem to go as planned!

In her signature emotionally complex and yet accessible narratives, Sloan makes Short a story that is anything but small. Young readers, particularly those who love drama and theatrics will appreciate the level of detail that Sloan includes about positions and technical specs (some might find it a bit overwhelming or even confusing, but it does all work in the end.) Short is a wonderful middle grade novel that has a lot of potential to reach a large audience of young readers!


Monday, January 30, 2017

Strange the Dreamer - Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around--and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? 

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries--including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Laini Taylor knows how to write an epic story! As I started reading, I had no idea what I was in for. Lazlo Strange, a young librarian and dreamer, starts off the narrative, introducing readers to the mysteries of Weep, the city with no name, the city that has had its history swept from the world. Lazlo's efforts pave the way for the events of the rest of the novel, slowly building up expectations for when readers are finally introduced to the greater cast of characters, and the city with no name.

When the Godslayer shows up and Lazlo becomes part of a quest to remove the last remnants of the gods from Weep (the godspawn), he brings his dreams with him, creating a link between the hidden dimensions of the children of gods and those sent to destroy the last vestiges of their existence. The stakes are high, the plot is suspenseful, the characterization is superb... I can't wait for the next in the series or trilogy or duology or whatever it happens to be.

One thing that I love very much about this book is that one of the main characters, Lazlo, is a librarian. Taylor's love for books, libraries, teachers, and librarians is evident throughout the novel, from Lazlo's love of storytelling, to the significance of storytelling and collecting tales from throughout the world, to the dedication that Lazlo proves over others in his peer group because he is a lover of stories rather than simply a scholar in love with collecting information. This is a glorious thing, the true appreciation of stories and storytelling, and I was very happy to see the role and the respect for this shown within the pages of Strange the Dreamer.

I am, of course, annoyed that this is only book one and that I need to wait what is likely to be a while before the next book comes out. However, I am glad that I have had the opportunity to begin this journey and to dig into this new world of Taylor's imagination. I look forward to the continuing story of so many of these lovable (and nasty) characters!

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out March 2017)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World - Kelly Jensen (Ed.)

Let’s get the feminist party started!

Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist. It’s packed with essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia, politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular YA authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. Altogether, the book features more than forty-four pieces, with an eight-page insert of full-color illustrations.

Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.

As someone who recently finished a degree in women's and gender studies, I have come to see the varied and nearly infinite interpretations of feminism, both as a big, broad concept, and also as a part of larger intersectional discussions relating to race, class, gender, geography, etc. Often in books about feminism, one particular interpretation is favoured or examined, and worse, made almost entirely inaccessible to the average human being. What Here We Are does so well is make various intersectional feminist perspectives accessible to a general audience, and even better, to a teen audience.

This collection is a necessary inclusion in libraries, classrooms, and homes everywhere, particularly in this time when women's rights and bodies are under attack in communities around the world, and through government legislation. These authors each tell essential truths about what feminism means in various contexts. Not only is this an essential read for the new year, but it is an anthology that I Highly Recommend!!

Kody Keplinger     Courtney Summers     Erika T. Wurth     Brenna Clarke Gray, 
Mikki Kendall     Angie Manfredi      Lily Myers     Becca Sexton     
Allison Peyton Steger     Anne Thériault      Shveta Thakrar     Kayla Whaley     Sarah McCarry     Malinda Lo     Ashley Hope Pérez     Nova Ren Suma      
Daniel José Older      Wendy Davis     Matt Nathanson     Mia DePrince     
Alida Nugent     Constance Zaber     Brandy Colbert     Siobhan Vivian
Rafe Posey     Jessica Luther     Michaela DePrince     Amandla Stenberg
Suzannah Weiss     Zariya Allen     Risa Rodil     Wendy Xu