Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman

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A charming, contemporary YA caper that pays homage to the films of Audrey Hepburn, written by the creator of “Clarissa Explains It All” (AKA the quintessential TV series of my childhood & early adolescence)? Of course I was destined to adore Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman! And I did — this charming book did not disappoint.

being audrey hepburnLisbeth comes from a broken home in the land of tube tops, heavy eyeliner, frosted lip-gloss, juiceheads, hoop earrings and “the shore.” She has a circle of friends who have dedicated their teenage lives to relieve the world of all its alcohol one drink at a time.

Obsessed with everything Audrey Hepburn, Lisbeth is transformed when she secretly tries on Audrey’s iconic Givenchy. She becomes who she wants to be by pretending to be somebody she’s not and living among the young and privileged Manhattan elite. Soon she’s faced with choices that she would never imagine making – between who she’s become and who she once was.

In the tradition of The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, this is a coming of age story that all begins with that little black dress…

Though a little older than most YA protagonists, Lisbeth is easily relatable for teen readers, as she struggles to figure out what to do with her future, find what makes her happy in this world, and cope with a tumultuous family life.

I cringed as Lisbeth stumbled through some rocky situations, and cheered for everyone of her successes, and then cringed some more as I watched her make typical 19-year-old mistakes (having been there, done that myself some years ago). But following her adventures did remind me, in a subtle way, of what I loved about watching “Clarissa Explains It All.” And while the TV show and Being Audrey Hepburn are quite different, Kriegman’s flair for capturing the adolescent woman so perfectly is still apparent.

Being Audrey Hepburn captures that impossible time between adolescence and adulthood, when you must find your path in the world and figure out what exactly you want out of life, and how to make it happen. Toss in some romance, a high society scandal, and plenty of personal drama, and you’ve got a rollicking, charmer of a novel.

Being Audrey Hepburn is in stores now.

Book Review: King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman

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Several years since the publication of King Dork have passed, but the new sequel King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman picks up right where we left Tom Henderson and his friends. That is to say, hating high school, trying to pick up girls, and concocting an ever-revolving list of band names and logos. (If you missed it, check out our interview with Frank HERE!)

king dork approximatelyFrom Frank Portman comes the long-awaited sequel to the beloved cult classic King Dork, of which John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, said, “Basically, if you are a human being with even a vague grasp of the English language, King Dork will rock your world.”
Aside from the stitches and the head wound, Tom Henderson is the same old King Dork. He’s still trying to work out who to blame for the new scar on his forehead, the memory loss, and his father’s mysterious death. But illicit female hospital visitations, The Catcher in the Rye, and the Hillmont High sex-pocalypse have made him a new man.
What doesn’t make you stronger can kill you, though, and tenth grade, act two, promises to be a killer. Tom’s down one bloodstained army coat, one Little Big Tom, and two secret semi-imaginary girlfriends. Now his most deeply held beliefs about alphabetical-order friendship, recycling, school spirit, girls, rock and roll, the stitching on jeans, the Catcher Code, and the structure of the universe are about to explode in his face. If only a female robot’s notes could solve the world’s problems, he’d have a chance. But how likely is that?
King Dork Approximately–it feels like the first time. Like the very first time.

As much as I loved King Dork, I feel like King Dork Approximately was a much more satisfying read. The most obvious difference is, perhaps, that this is Portman’s third novel — whereas King Dork was his first. But whatever the reason may be, Tom’s latest adventures are perhaps his funniest and most rewarding to read about.

Portman writes about Tom’s heinous high school experiences with his usual signature sarcastic wit. It’s amusing to think that Tom (and Portman, too) are not big fans of The Catcher in the Rye, when he has so much in common with Holden Caulfield. Tom may not run around calling everyone a “phony” in so many words, but he shares much of Holden’s disenchantment with the world and a similar style of criticism of everyone he meets.

Fans of the original King Dork will not want to miss what happens next for Tom Henderson – but new readers will delight in discovering Tom’s world for the first time. (Though I highly recommend you start with King Dork and read the two books back-to-back!)

King Dork Approximately is in stores December 9th.

Book Review: Penguin Christmas Classics

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Just in time for the holidays, Penguin has released a newly packaged set of Christmas classics in beautiful hardcover.

Christmas Classics - A Merry ChristmasPenguin Christmas Classics honor the power of literature to keep on giving through the ages. The five volumes in the series are not only our most beloved Christmas tales; they also have given us much of what we love about the holiday itself. A CHRISTMAS CAROL revived in Victorian England such Christmas hallmarks as the Christmas tree, holiday cards, and caroling. The Yuletide yarns of Anthony Trollope popularized throughout the British Empire and around the world the trappings of Christmas in London. The holiday tales of Louisa May Alcott shaped the ideal of an American Christmas. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS brought forth some of our earliest Christmas traditions as passed down through folk tales. And THE NUTCRACKER inspired the most famous ballet in history, one seen by millions in the twilight of every year.

Beautifully designed—with foil-stamped jackets, decorative endpapers, and nameplates for personalization—and printed in a small trim size that makes them perfect stocking stuffers, Penguin Christmas Classics embody the spirit of giving that is at the heart of our most time-honored stories about the holiday.

Christmas Classics - NutcrackerThe full set of books includes:

  • A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens
  • CHRISTMAS AT THOMPSON HALL: And Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope
  • A MERRY CHRISTMAS: And Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott
  • THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Nikolai Gogol
  • THE NUTCRACKER by E. T. A. Hoffmann

These five books represent the literary Christmas essentials: timeless stories that can be told and retold every year with renewed enjoyment, and passed down from generation to generation.

The new Penguin Classics editions are, simply put, beautiful. The delicate red hardcover books are sweetly sized and seasonally festive, and the coordinating foil and embossed jacket covers are just lovely. The inside pages are equally wonderful, with illustrations and decorative touches throughout.

Together or individually,the Penguin Christmas Classics would make a beautiful gift or collector’s keepsake. They are in stores now. Here’s a look at all five beautiful covers:

Christmas Classics - Nutcracker Christmas Classics - Night Before Christmas Christmas Classics - Christmas Carol Christmas Classics - Christmas at Thompson Hall Christmas Classics - A Merry Christmas

Book Review: Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter

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A witty coming-of-age story with friendship at its heart, cunning characters, and delightful prose, make Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Airplanes a real knock-out of a book.

paper airplanesIt’s the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn’t be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo’s jealous ex-best friend and Renée’s growing infatuation with Flo’s brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, PAPER AEROPLANES is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the heart-stopping power of female friendship.

This is the type of book every girl should read to know they are not alone in their experiences, and that every woman should read to remember what they fought through in their adolescence to become the person they are now. O’Porter’s writing is raw and emotional, and the fact that she was inspired by her own teenage journals just lends the book a real nugget of honesty that sets it apart from other books on similar subjects.

What’s lovely, as well, is the focus on a female friendship. Yes, romance is sprinkled throughout, and there are family issues that each character must cope with — but the real heart of Paper Airplanes is the bond between Renee and Flo. And this is oh-so-important for girls and women to remember: because as important as our romantic partners are, and as important as our family is — really strong, meaningful female friendships are also so critical. I don’t know where I’d be in this world with out my BFF — and Paper Airplanes just solidified her importance to me, while reading about the friendship between Renee and Flo.

Originally published in the UK last year, the U.S. edition is in stores now.

Book Review: Atlantia by Ally Condie

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There are three things I’d like you to know about Atlantia by Ally Condie:

  1. It is not about mermaids.
  2. It is a standalone.
  3. It’s wonderful.

atlantiaCondie’s first novel since her best-selling dystopian Matched trilogy is a brilliant tour-de-force of fantasy and science fiction, with a wildly unique spin on a classic premise: what if we were forced to live below the sea due to environmental catastrophe?

Atlantia doesn’t feel like traditional science fiction. It’s not bogged down by overly-complex world building, nor does it suffer from an over-abundance of gadgetry and wonder. In many ways, it feels very contemporary — despite its unusual setting and magical aspects. The story is easy and unassuming, as much as it is unique and captivating. Nothing about Atlantia feels forced. Condie has masterfully plotted and planned this story about life under the sea — and the world above that Rio longs for so desperately.

I expected good things from Condie; but Atlantia simply blew me away — it was so incredibly wonderful. Beautiful story-telling and writing, captivating characters, and a page-turning plot that kept me eagerly reading.

Atlantia is available now. Here is the official synopsis:

Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

Book Review: Misdirected by Ali Berman

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Ali Berman’s Misdirected is a charming examination of the different ways bullying can manifest, and how our own prejudices affect the way we approach the world and those with different perspectives.

misdirectedMisdirected is the story of fifteen-year-old Ben, who moves to a small conservative Colorado town where his atheism seems to be the only thing about him that matters to everyone. His classmates bully him for not fitting in, his teachers don’t understand him, and with his brother serving in Iraq and his sister away at college with problems of her own, Ben is left on his own to figure things out. Being a teen is tricky to navigate when you’re an outsider, and Ben struggles to find his place without compromising who he is. He rebels against his teachers, he argues with his classmates, and he rejects what others believe, bringing the reader with him on his enlightening journey as he learns the value of challenging accepted beliefs—including his own.

Religion, friendships, relationships, family, sexuality, war, and finding your place in the larger world — these are all issues every teen faces throughout their lives, and Berman does a lovely job of incorporating them all into her story in some way. We see Ben struggle to fit into a society that is less than welcoming when he refuses to share their belief system and values.

For the most part, Berman does a good job of offering a variety of perspectives on the hot button issues in her book — most notably religion. Tess — Ben’s classmate, neighbor & crush — especially proves to be a welcome voice of reason, both supporting Ben’s right to his own beliefs while standing up for her own, and rebuffing Ben’s own prejudices. But at times, Misdirected feels a little one-sided. Many of the other Christian characters felt one-dimensional and almost cartoon-ish in their zealotry and their refusal to accept Ben’s different belief system.The story would have felt more genuine had these characters been more fully realized.

The real success of Misdirected is Berman’s use of charm and humor to temper the more serious aspects of the story. Despite some heavy material, the book has an overall light-hearted feel, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience, despite any minor shortcomings.

Misdirected is in stores November 25th.

Book Review: Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, illus. by Zdenko Basic

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The holiday season gets a steampunk twist with Zdenko Basic’s new illustrated steampunk christmas carolversion of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol tells the time-honored tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, whose encounters with the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come lead him to examine his bitter existence. Haunting steampunk illustrations by acclaimed artist Zdenko Basic accompany the original story, transforming this Christmas classic like never before. Images of steam-powered machinery, a chilling industrial London, and ornate mechanical gears come together as Scrooge travels through his life on Christmas Eve night.

Additionally, Charles Dickens’ celebrated short stores, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” and “A Christmas Tree” are included and paired with equally enchanting steampunk illustrations. Those of us who cherish each holiday with Dickens in our hearts—the man who has linked the Christmas spirit with love, forgiveness, and charity—will treasure this rare collector’s edition for this Christmas and many to come.

I’m a big fan of Basic’s previous steampunk-illustrated editions of classic works, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed by A Christmas Carol. The book itself is stunning – a gorgeous hardback with a beautiful jacket and case cover, plus copper-foiled page edges and full-color interior illustrations. And Basic’s work is lovely, as ever. But a lot of the imagery in this book rely heavily on photographs for the characters, and I feel like that took away some of the charm and appeal of a steampunk Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that can be told in so many different ways, and it’s always fun to see different twists on the classic holiday tale. Whatever your personal taste may be regarding Basic’s illustrations, this steampunk version of the tale is another fun chapter in the ever-expanding collection of Christmas Carol adaptations.

You can preview some of the pages from Basic’s Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol here, and purchase it now.

Book Review: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

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A fresh new science fiction twist, heart-pounding action, and a romance so powerful it endures across multiple dimensions — that’s the core of A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book in Claudia Gray’s spellbinding new Firebird Saga.

AThousandPieces_hc_cEvery Day meets Cloud Atlas in this heart-racing, space- and time-bending, epic new trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray.

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.

In some ways, A Thousand Pieces of You feels like several books in one — that’s how fully-realized each alternate universe is that Marguerite visits. The action starts off right away, and keeps up at a thrilling pace throughout the entire book. But it’s the tantalizing mystery of the Firebird technology, and what’s really going on across the multi-verse that keeps you hooked.

Gray has crafted a truly brilliant story on every level. She has wonderful, enchanting characters. A thrilling and fast-paced plot. A smart science fiction angle. Romantic tension to die for. And a mystery that’s just bursting through at every turn. A Thousand Pieces of You is the complete package.

And while all of these elements really shine, I feel like the romance deserves a little extra attention — because it is so noteworthy and all-encompassing. Because this isn’t just the love between two characters; it’s the love between two characters and every version of themselves across infinite alternate universes. It’s an insanely romantic notion, and Gray employs it perfectly in A Thousand Pieces of You. There is love and loss and love again, and it’s heartbreaking and swoon-worthy all in one. I ached with the romance and the tension between her characters.

A Thousand Pieces of You is in stores now.

Book Review: Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

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A beautiful tribute to love, friendship, family, and Charlotte’s Web, Joanne Rocklin’s Fleabrain Loves Franny is a charming and whimsical read that will appeal to readers of all ages.

fleabrain loves frannyThis gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness.

Rocklin has captured the essence of childhood friendship and imagination. With Fleabrain Loves Franny, she pays homage to Charlotte’s Web — while giving her own smarter-than-usual insect a life of his own.

But while her unique and magical friendship with Fleabrain offers the book much of its charm, the real appeal of Fleabrain Loves Franny is seeing Franny overcome the challenges of her illness. After recovering from polio, she is left unable to walk — and many of her friends refuse to see her, fearing she is still contagious (she’s not).

As much as Fleabrain Loves Franny is a whimsical account of a girl’s friendship with a brilliant flea and his magical serums, the book is also an historically accurate look at the polio epidemic and the hard work that would eventually lead to the March of Dimes foundation, the polio vaccine, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming at once, Fleabrain Loves Franny is certainly SOME BOOK! It is in stores now.

Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

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A gritty, fast-paced adventure awaits readers within the pages of The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, a story made all the more frightening when you learn it’s based on a real place.

walledcity_final cover730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

Inspired by China’s Kowloon Walled City, Graudin’s story takes place in a similarly walled-in city where crime runs rampant and the police have no jurisdiction. Following three teens seeking asylum from the crime-ridden city, The Walled City sets up a fast-paced race to freedom.

Graudin’s story has a lot of the grit and toughness you’d expect from a dystopian world — but The Walled City is far more frightening than any imagined future, because it’s based on something that has already happened. And it’s through Graudin’s characters that this seedy world comes to life.

Dai, Jin, and Mei Yee are all beautifully realized characters with their own challenges, hardships, and traumas — but they come together in an unlikely alliance with the shared goal of escaping the Walled City. Seeing them unite and overcome their struggles is what makes The Walled City such a beautiful, and ultimately uplifting story — despite so much heartache and loss.

The Walled City is in stores November 4th.