March 27, 2015

Review: Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves

Things I'll Never Say Edited by Ann Angel
Stories by Ann Angel, Kerry Cohen, Louise Hawes, Varian Johnson, erica l. kaufman, Ron Koertge, E. M. Kokie, Chris Lynch, Kekla Magoon, Zoë Marriott, Katy Moran, J. L. Powers, Mary Ann Rodman, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ellen Wittlinger
Available now from Candlewick
Review copy

Ann Angel's first outing editing an anthology is an impressive venture.  She's gathered a wonderful mix of authors, from established award winners like Chris Lynch and Ellen Wittlinger to talented up to a debut author.  The authors aren't just diverse in their name recognition either.  THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY: STORIES ABOUT OUR SECRET SELVES dwells in those experiences that are hard to talk about, that people like to never think about.

It's fitting that it is a very diverse anthology, not only the authors, but also the main characters, who are black and white and Asian and gay and bisexual and transgender and suffering from mental illness.  Although not all of the stories are realistic, they do strive for a realism about the teen experience, and the multiplicity of points of view represented help support that anthology-wide tone.

I'll admit that the anthology started a little slow for me.  The usually reliable Ellen Wittlinger didn't knock it out of the park with "The We-Are-Like-Everybody-Else Game," the story of a girl with a mom who hoards and a friend who might not deserve the title (but one who does).  "Cupid's Beaux" by Cynthia Leitich Smith is charming, and a definite delight to me as a fan of her Tantalize series.  Will anthology readers who haven't read that series be a little lost?

"When We Were Wild" by Louise Hawes and "Call Me!" by Ron Koertge are both delightfully loose stories, slightly naughty and shaggy with narrators who struggle with their knowledge of their own cruelty.  Of the sadder stories, I think I liked "Easter" by Mary Ann Rodman best, for the way it captured loss and teenage confusion and dashed hopes.

"Quick Change" by E.M. Kokie is a little gem about a con artist in a family of con artists, and I want an entire novel about what happens next.  (Short stories have been made into novels before!  I can hope!)  "Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind" by Zoë Marriott is the standout of the collection.  It's an achingly lovely story set in a kingdom that isn't, about a dancer who cannot be matched, especially when furious.  Her bio in the back of THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY says that it is related to her novel SHADOWS ON THE MOON, which is now a must-read for me.

Honestly, I could tell you good things about almost all of the stories in the collection.  There were a handful that I didn't care for, but there were also two excellent stories and more than half of the stories were good-to-great.  I think that's a good ratio for an anthology.  With THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY, Ann Angel shows great promise as an anthologist as well as an author.

March 26, 2015

Review: Honey Girl

Honey Girl By Lisa Freeman
Available now from Sky Pony Press (Skyhorse)
Review copy

For a book from a small publisher, HONEY GIRL has been getting some strong word of mouth.  It came up in two totally unrelated forums that I frequent and I just knew that I had to read it.  Lesbian surfer girl?  Sign me up!  Of course, the problem with word of mouth is that the message can get a little garbled on the way.

I was sad when I started HONEY GIRL to discover that Nani Nuuhiwa doesn't surf.  She knows how to, but she doesn't, because she wants to be cool.  (And the consequences for being a girl that surfs can be way worse than a little social ostracism.)  I would've thought that the 1970s were more open to girl surfers; after all, Gidget was almost twenty years earlier!  But I do know progress can be slow.  Plus, the setting is so wonderfully done.

Lisa Freeman nails the setting.  HONEY GIRL takes place in a different time and place, one that doesn't exist any more.  It takes place on State Beach, whose denizens must follow any number of unspoken rules in order to be accepted.  Nani, moving to California from Hawaii, takes all the knowledge she learned from the coolest girl at her beach and puts it toward getting in with the locals at State.  It's historical Mean Girls.  Nani can be frustrating, with her dedication to a bunch of rules made mostly to keep girls in line, but it is such a true process.  Sometimes you have to color within the lines to gain social capital.

Nani is afraid of coloring outside the lines, not the least because she likes girls (as well as boys).  She's cool with who she is, but she knows what will happen to her if she comes out.  And maybe it's a moot point, since she falls pretty hard for one of the surfers.  (Even if she falls pretty hard for one of the girls on the beach too.)  She's got enough trouble from being mixed race, especially since her mother wants her to just be white since her father's death.

Nani, in other words, is dealing with a lot.  Her summer is something to behold, as she both comes closer to her original goal and to realizing who she really wants to be.  HONEY GIRL is a coming of age story with an immersive sense of place and a heroine caught between her strong sense of self and the knowledge that who she is inside will never quite fit in.

March 25, 2015

Review: Smek for President!

Smek for President! Sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday (my review)
 By Adam Rex
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

SMEK FOR PRESIDENT! is a belated sequel to the much-beloved THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY.  I don't mind Adam Rex waiting until he had a good idea to write a sequel, although I suspect SMEK FOR PRESIDENT! was partially prompted by the imminent release of Home, Dreamworks' animated adaptation of THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY.  The movie is mentioned within the book itself as a fictionalized version of Tip's adventures, much like what was done in Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries novels after the release of the movie starring Anne Hathaway.



SMEK FOR PRESIDENT! isn't quite as sharp on the social commentary as the original, although it is the perfect time for an election parody as the US presidential election starts to kick into gear.  The story starts when Tip and J.Lo (a little human girl and her alien friend) head out to New Boovworld for a holiday - without letting Tip's mom know.  What follows is an adventure with the cutest billboard ever (I wish all advertising were so friendly and helpful), time travel, and some rather inept presidential candidates.  One of those candidates is Dan Landry, the man who took credit for Tip's accomplishments.

I loved spending time with Tip, J.Lo, and the rest of the returning cast again.  Rex knows how to write a hilarious adventure that incorporates real-world issues at a perfect level for the rather young audience.  I particularly liked Tip's struggle with the fact that know one knows she saved the Earth.  Yeah, she would've saved it anyway, but who doesn't want a little credit?

If you enjoyed THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, don't miss SMEK FOR PRESIDENT!  And definitely don't forget to read the book before going to see the movie.

March 24, 2015

Review: Get in Trouble: Stories

Get in Trouble By Kelly Link
Available now from (Penguin) Random House
Review copy

GET IN TROUBLE: STORIES is a collection of nine stories by Kelly Link, who is perhaps best known for her short stories (beyond even her skills as an anthologist and small publisher).  I'd read two of the stories: "The New Boyfriend" in MONSTROUS AFFECTIONS and "Secret Identity" in Geektastic.  Neither were my favorite story in either anthology.

I feel like GET IN TROUBLE leans hard on the Kelly Link formula.  Her mix of the ordinary and fantastic is nearly unmatched, but much of this collection feels like she's resting on her laurels.  GET IN TROUBLE opens promisingly with "The Summer People," a sharply drawn tale that carefully breaks down both an Appalachian town and an aging estate full of fae.  It hints at danger and dark fates while also focusing on the blooming friendship between two teen girls. 

The second story, "I Can See Right Through You," killed all momentum to me.  It is set through the point of view of the demon lover, an aging movie star who once played a vampire going to see the woman who played his love again.  There's hints of good stuff in the story, but the conceit of calling him the demon lover through the whole story drove me nuts.  Although the story has a pretty juicy payoff, it's not as good as an actual incubus showing up to make the repetitive epithet worth it.

My two favorite stories after "The Summer People" were the final two in the collection.  "Two Houses" takes the classic plot of a bunch of people telling ghost stories to each other and takes it to a predictably meta but chilling place.  I love a good creepy intelligent computer.  "Light" is a story that takes place in a world where most people have a normal shadow, but some have no or two.  It focuses on the main character Lindsey, recently divorced and a recovering alcoholic, and her gay brother who has moved back in with her.  The setting of the story keeps revealing new strange details of this world (perhaps too much for one short story), but it goes down smooth and with no lingering unpleasantness.

I like Link's worth, but GET IN TROUBLE is not an essential collection.  If you're a fan, go ahead and get this one from the library.  Otherwise, stick to the first story (and maybe the last two).

March 23, 2015

Movie Monday Giveaway: Digital Download of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Battle of the Five Armies I don't know about you, but I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in theatres.  I'm not sure breaking it into three movies was successful; it felt like there was very little to happen in this movie except for a big battle.  It's action all the time, no rise and fall.

However, it might work better when you watch all three movies together.  And with your own download of the last movie in the trilogy, you can do just that!





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