The Girl at Midnight: A Review

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa GreyThe Avicen have lived beneath New York City for years. Bird-like creatures with feathers for hair, the Avicen can use scarves and sunglasses to blend in when they have to. The rest of the time magical wards make sure they remain hidden from prying human eyes. Except for Echo–the human pickpocket who considers the Avicen, at least some of them, her family.

Echo is used to fending for herself and she has the fierce, brusque persona to prove it. When she isn’t busy being reckless and stealing things around the world for the thrill of it, she is also extremely loyal.

When word surfaces of a way to end the centuries-long war between the Avicen and their dragon-like enemies the Drakharin, Echo jumps at the chance to help.

Legend suggests that the Firebird is the only thing with the power to end the war. The only problem is no one knows what the Firebird is or where to find it. But if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to enjoy a challenge in The Girl at Midnight (2015) by Melissa Grey.

The Girl at Midnight is Grey’s debut novel and the start to a trilogy.

The Girl at Midnight starts strong with a fantastically intricate world complete with magic, mythical creatures and a conflict that has lasted centuries. Both the Avicen and Drakharin make sense within the story and have complex cultures to match. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t make sense is trying to picture them while reading as imagining feathers as hair continues to be a sticking point.

Unfortunately the characters who populate The Girl at Midnight pale in comparison to the world within the novel. Most of the characters are defined by one carefully chosen trait and little else. Echo is slightly more developed although she too often comes across as a collection of eccentricities and behaviors (between her preoccupation with food, collecting words, hoarding books and throwing out pop culture references with zero context) that never quite rang true. The logistics of Echo’s living unnoticed in a library also begins to fall apart under any kind of scrutiny.

The Girl at Midnight is a decent urban fantasy in places but it also one that will immediately feel familiar to anyone well-read in the genre. Grey’s admirable world building only serves to underscore the predictable, lackluster plot and weak characters. Recommended for readers looking to discover new places (both real and imagined) rather than find their next engrossing read.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Deadly Pink: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande VeldeWhen Grace’s mother pulls her out of class Grace knows something is wrong. What she never would have guessed is that it’s Grace’s smart, talented, generally better sister Emily who is in trouble.

After working at Rassmussem as a game programmer for college credit, Emily has inexplicably decided to go into the game she was building. According to the note she left behind, Emily doesn’t plan to come out. Ever.

With time running out before the immersive reality game equipment does permanent damage to Emily, Rassmussem is running out of options to get Emily out of a game she clearly doesn’t want to leave. They hope Grace might be able to help.

But inside the game is nothing Grace expected. Her sister has taken refuge inside a game designed for little girls complete with frilly dresses and unicorns. Worse Emily wants nothing to do with Grace and she definitely doesn’t want to leave.

Grace always considered herself the average sister compared to Emily. But with her sister in real danger, this average girl will have to think her way out of this problem before it’s too late in Deadly Pink (2012) by Vivian Vande Velde.

Find it on Bookshop.

Deadly Pink is Vande Velde’s third novel featuring Rassmussem games with the first and second being Heir Apparent and User Unfriendly respectively.

Fourteen-year-old Grace is an authentic narrator with equal parts sarcasm and (especially later in the novel) ingenuity. While the game itself is not the most interesting, or well-developed, setting Vande Velde does an excellent job presenting Grace’s complicated relationship with her older sister.

Unlike Heir Apparent the focus of this book is more on the characters than the game play. With most of the non-playing characters playing minor roles in the plot, most of the story deals with Grace trying to convince Emily to leave the game.

While both sisters are well-rounded characters, the lack of setting and secondary characters for the majority of the novel is a major weakness. The game is never explained to Grace or the reader giving the effect of Grace running blindly through the game with little understanding of where she is supposed to go or how she is going to save Emily. Grace’s constant plodding through the game while never asking advice from anyone makes for a plodding plot that drags.

The story picks up in the last third of Deadly Pink as Grace comes into her own. Finally embracing her strengths andalso using the limitations of the game’s play to her own advantage, Grace proves at last that she is a heroine worth reading about. If the entire book had been like this small part, it would have been a definite winner.

Unfortunately the story falters once again with a rushed ending to explain Emily’s motivations to go into the game as well as a hurried explanation of what happens after the game is over.

If there are more Rassmussem stories to be told, one can only hope they will return to the style of Vande Velde’s earlier novels.

Possible Pairings: Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Alter Ego by Robbie Cooper, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

Slide: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Slide by Jill HathawaySylvia “Vee” Bell has passed out often enough in class for everyone to know she’s narcoleptic. What no one would believe is that Vee doesn’t just pass out during her episodes.

When Vee loses consciousness she can slide into someone else’s mind. Most of the time when Vee slides she discovers secrets she’d rather not know like seeing her sister, Mattie, cheating on a math test or watching a teacher sneak a drink before class.

When Vee slides late one night she sees something much worse: the murder of her sister’s best friend, Sophie. While everyone else believes that Sophie killed herself, Vee knows the truth. Even if she has no way to prove it.

As Vee learns more about her sliding and unearths secrets about her friends and family, she’ll have to try to stop the killer herself before they strike again in Slide (2012) by Jill Hathaway.

 Slide is Hathaway’s first novel.

In this sharp mystery with a sly supernatural twist, Hathaway introduces a heroine with equal parts candor and spunk. Vee’s narration is frank and unapologetic making her easy to identify with and even easier to love.

At a slim 256 pages, Slide is a finely tuned page-turner filled with unexpected surprises for Vee and readers alike. Vee’s father and sister are well-developed characters with their own flaws and, more troubling for Vee, their own secrets. Similarly Vee’s best friend Rollins is an admirable foil to Vee and adds another dimension to the story as he and Vee try to untangle their newly-complicated friendship.

While Vee works to use her sliding to uncover the killer, Vee also comes into her own as she learns more about how she slides as well as how to simply be herself. Slide finishes with an ending that is as shocking as it is satisfying. Hathaway skillfully completes most story threads while leaving room for future installments in what will hopefully be a long running series.

Possible Pairings: The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten

Check back June 1, 2012 to see my exclusive interview with the author!

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom: A Review

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher HealyEveryone has heard of Prince Charming. But did you know that Prince Charming isn’t just one guy. True story: There are four Princes Charming. And those dumb bards never even bothered to get their names right in their songs.

Sure, Frederic didn’t do much beyond dancing quite well with a girl named Ella at a ball. And maybe Gustav didn’t come off all that well after his attempted rescue of Rapunzel since she actually had to save him. But Liam is a hero through and through; he had to fight to overcome a lot of obstacles to rescue Briar Rose. Even if his kingdom might not appreciate it. Then there’s Duncan. Maybe he was really just in the right place at the right time with seven dwarves to tell him what to do, but sometimes that is all it takes to save the day and get the girl.

Despite their heroics–or at least their important roles–each prince is relegated to the anonymous title of “Prince Charming” when their deeds are immortalized in song. Worse, the princes might not be so charming as each and everyone of them loses their princess.

Jilted and disgraced, each prince sets off in search of redemption. Along the way they stumble upon each other and an evil plot that will need all four Princes Charming (and some help from some other familiar characters) to foil.

At the beginning of the story these four princes don’t have much in common. Before the story is over Frederic, Liam, Gustav and Duncan might finally become the heroes they were meant to be in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (2012) by Christopher Healy (with illustrations by Todd Harris).

Find it on Bookshop.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is Healy’s first novel.

With a breezy, humorous narrative Healy creates a quirky take on a lot of traditional fairy tales. Healy recreates these heroes, heroines, and villains in a fresh style all his own. Readers familiar with the original texts will find a lot of funny new touches while others will be introduced to the fairy tales in a fun new tale.

While some of the changes to these stories have the potential to frustrate readers* most of them amp up the opportunities for hilarity and action–sometimes at the same time. Because of the silliness the characters sometimes read as younger than they actually are, but with so much humor that’s easily ignored. Filled with adventure, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is also a truly funny story sure to entertain readers from start to finish.

Although the ending is rushed in some aspects (perhaps to leave room for a sequel?), the overall journey of each prince is a sight to behold. As Frederic, Liam, Gustav and Duncan each conquers their own shortcomings these unlikely heroes also discover the importance of good friends and that it takes a lot more than fancy swordplay to really be a hero. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is an ideal choice for readers who like their fairy tales fractured, their stories amusing, and their adventures entertaining.

*By readers, I mean me. It took me most of the story to get over Healy’s reinvention of the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Before getting into slight SPOILERS explaining my frustration let me also point out that I literally watched the movieSleeping Beautyevery day for at least a year when I was little. My mother was terrified the tape would break. So, I am understandably very invested in these characters. That said, I was dismayed that Sleeping Beauty’s prince was named Liam instead of Philip. Worse, Briar Rose is a truly horrible person. While I greatly enjoyed Gustav and Rapunzel’s updated storyline it was very hard to let Sleeping Beauty go.

Possible Pairings: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley, Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, We Are Not Eaten by Yaks by C. Alexander London, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

The Wicked and the Just: A Review

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson CoatsCecily’s father ruins her life abruptly and irrevocably when he announces his plan to move them to Caernarvon in occupied Wales. The King needs good Englishmen to manage the newly-acquired Welsh lands and teach the primitive Welshman how to behave. Cecily wants none of it but at least she will finally be the lady of the house. Even if it is a house among barbarians.

Unfortunately for Cecily her initial misgivings about Wales are confirmed when she discovers the native Welsh speak something that barely sounds like a language as well as being impudent and rude. Though they are at least Christians–supposedly. In addition to being saddled with a surly Welsh servant girl she cannot dismiss, Cecily is also looked down upon by the local honesti who consider her little better than the Welsh peasants.

Gwenhwyfar is equally unhappy as servant to the brat. While she scrambles to find enough food for herself and her family, Gwenhwyfar watches Cecily leading the life that rightfully belongs to Gwenhwyfar and the other displaced Welshmen. The English took everything from Gwenhwyfar and her people. Now all she can do is watch and try not to starve.

As the English take and take, frustration grows among the Welsh. As tensions rise both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar will be caught up in the disastrous moment when the tension finally has to break and there will be justice for those who deserve it in The Wicked and the Just (2012) by J. Anderson Coats.

The Wicked and the Just is Coats’ first novel.

Set in the years of 1293 and 1294 Coats expertly* captures a volatile period in history for Wales.

While I enjoy a great many historical novels, I usually do not gravitate toward medieval period books. In addition to being a period I know little about, it is also not always an area of high interest. That said, there was something about The Wicked and the Just that made me want to read it.

Perhaps you already know why 1293 marks an important time for Wales in history. I did not. I have to say going in knowing nothing save that Welsh is unpronounceable when I try to read it made for a dramatic finish to The Wicked and the Just. An ending, I might add, that completely took me by surprise.

With segments told from both Cecily and Gwenhwyfar’s points of view, the book is well-rounded and examines the tensions within the Welsh town of Caernarvon from every angle. While that makes The Wicked and the Just an excellent look at the period, it does not make for many likable characters. Every character has redeeming qualities, but each one is also very nasty. There is justice for those who deserve it, but there is also name-calling, pettiness, and plain old cruelty along the way making for a mid-point where almost no character warrants much admiration.

Coats ends the book with a historical note explaining the politics of the period that Cecily and Gwenhwyfar either ignored or only alluded to during the actual story. While historical events are explained and relatively resolved, much is left up in the air for the characters. While the lack of closure makes sense given the content of the story, I must admit it does leave quite a few questions about what happens to Cecily and Gwenhwyfar as well as some other secondary characters.

Coats’ writing is clear and hauntingly evocative of the period in this story of many, many displaced people. As much as any book can, The Wicked and the Just brings medieval Wales to life.

*I’m not kidding when I say expertly. In addition to being a fellow Master of Library Science, Coats has a master’s degree in history.

Possible Pairings: Black Potatoes by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Hourglass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hourglass by Myra McEntireFor the past four years Emerson Cole has seen strange things–things that shouldn’t be there–Southern Belles, Civil War soldiers, and other apparitions from the past. Without obvious cues from clothing, it’s hard for Emerson to tell if people are part of the here and now or a window from the past; it’s hard for Emerson to convince herself she isn’t losing her mind.

Pills helped. For a while. So did being away from her small Southern hometown at a boarding school where she didn’t need to think about the hallucinations or the loss of her parents. But with her scholarship gone Emerson finds herself back home facing the undesirable prospect of a senior year spent with the people who watched her lose her mind the first time.

Emerson knows she is beyond help, but agrees to one last consultation with a man from an organization called the Hourglass. Her brother, Thomas, assures her this one will be different.

Turns out Thomas was right about that.

Michael Weaver isn’t like the other people who tried to help Emerson. He is good looking and he isn’t much older than Em herself. He listens. He believes her. He doesn’t think she’s crazy at all.

Her past, her future–it all comes back to the Hourglass and her strange connection with Michael. If Emerson can make sense of the secrets and get at the truth about her visions it might change everything for both of them in Hourglass (2011) by Myra McEntire.

Hourglass is McEntire’s first novel.

Emerson’s narration is crisp and frank. McEntire has created a heroine here who is endearing, sharp, and quite entertaining. More importantly, Emerson is a survivor–even at her lowest and most damaged she remains strong. And Michael is a male lead who can match her par for par (sometimes literally).

Hourglass is sweeping, urgent and filled with extremely dramatic twists and turns. As much as this story is romantic and a fantasy it’s also a page-turner with a few surprises and a lot of suspense. Hourglass is an irresistible debut that resolves beautifully but also promises more stories about Emerson and her world.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Myra McEntire.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Malice by Pintip Dunn, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Out Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Exclusive Bonus Content: How cool is that cover? I love it because it nods to a dress Emerson wears early on in the story while capturing the topsy turvy nature of her relationship with her visions. It’s one of the coolest covers I’ve seen on a 2011 debut. Props to cover designer Alison Klapthor and Lissy Laricchia who took the cover photo. Nicely done.

Mostly Good Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Mostly Good Girls by Leila SalesViolet Tunis has a plan for her junior year at the prestigious Westfield School. This year isn’t just going to be different, it’s going to be perfect.

This year she is going ace her PSATs, get straight A-minuses (or better) in all of her classes, and improve the school’s literary magazine to the point where it doesn’t completely embarrass her. She’s going to pass her driving test, get famous, and do many awesome projects with her best friend Katie. She will also make Scott Walsh fall in love with her.

Unfortunately for Violet, things don’t go according to plan. At all.

Instead of having a perfect junior year, Violet has the exact same problems she always has struggling to keep up with Westfield’s high academic standards (and competition) and failing miserably at sounding like a sane person when talking to boys.

On top of that, the literary magazine is a disaster and her editorial board is possibly filled with illiterates. Her driving teacher is mentally unstable. And her best friend Katie might be losing her mind.

Everything always comes so easily to Katie. She makes being pretty and smart and successful look effortless. So why is she suddenly making all of the wrong decisions? And if even Katie is falling apart, what hope does Violet have? More importantly, if Violet doesn’t have Katie by her side, does any of it matter?

All Violet knows for sure is it’s going to take a lot more than her Junior Year To-Do List to get things under control in Mostly Good Girls (2011) by Leila Sales.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mostly Good Girls has a lot going for it. Violet is a quirky narrator with a voice that is almost as distinct as her sense of humor. Interestingly, this book is also the first one I have ever read where the teenagers talk exactly like I did as a teenager.*

Violet and Katie and their friend Hilary are all well-developed and come alive on the page. They are all so real, so unique, and so exactly like I was a teenager. It was refreshing to be able to see my own experiences reflected in this crazy, hysterical book.

My love for Violet, Sales’ beautiful writing, and the book’s wonderful setting is almost enough to make me love this book unconditionally. But I also wanted more from it.

The beginning of the novel is, simply put, genius–filled with witty snapshot-like chapters about Violet’s life at Westfield. Snapshots that, I might add, could have been from my own high school. The actual plot, the plot you’ll see on the book jacket, doesn’t come up until about halfway in. At that point, for me, the story lost some of its verve.**

While the book remains authentic and charming I probably would have been just as happy with more snapshots about Westfield and less about Katie’s crisis. That might be me.*** The ending offers some semblance of closure although a lot about Violet’s life does remain up in the air.

Mostly Good Girls is an exceptional debut from a masterful author. Leila Sales is definitely going places and Mostly Good Girls is definitely a must read for anyone looking for an antidote to the vanilla, artificial high school experiences so often seen in books and movies.

*I have never before, and probably never will again, read a book where a teen character says, “Indeed.”

**Part of that might have to do with my never having the “Violet and Katie” kind of best friend experience. Who knows?

***Or maybe it’s just that at that point the plot diverged to something different from my high school experience and what I really loved here was that the book was so very similar to my high school experience.

Possible Pairing: Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Easy A (movie)

Exclusive Bonus Content: The design for this book is really worth mentioning. Cara E. Petrus did a great job on the jacket which features a fabulous plaid print and a striking pair of legs with shoes that are lovely (if I could wear heels I would need to hunt them down for myself!). Does the cover relate to the plot? Maybe not. Is it still awesome? YES! I also loved the layout of the text with memorable chapter titles and a typewriter-esque font.

Swoon at Your Own Risk: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Swoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney SalterYou could say Polly Martin wrote the book on love–specifically on why to avoid it all costs. Despite all of the sensible advice from her grandmother’s syndicated advice column Miss Swoon and the cautionary tale of her own mother’s divorce, Polly’s junior year was filled with dating disaster after disaster. After disaster. And a few more disasters besides.

Polly has learned her lesson and is trying to focus on making her life a boyfriend free zone and making up to her best friend for spending the better part of a year focusing on guys instead of, you know, being a best friend.

The only problem is that Polly’s exes keep turning up in all the wrong places. A misguided job application has her working with Sawyer at the Wild Waves water park where he keeps asking her about her feelings. Running for student council to impress Hayden has landed her the unenviable position of planning the senior prom.

Then there’s Xander Cooper who seems determined to become Polly’s next ex boyfriend. Except Polly is done with boys. For real.

Polly is surrounded by people, especially ex boyfriends, who think they know her. Except Polly has spent so much time trying impress or please other people that she isn’t even sure who she is herself anymore. But maybe a self-declared relationship failure really can find herself and fall in love while working at a Western-themed water park in Swoon at Your Own Risk (2010) by Sydney Salter.

Swoon at Your Own Risk is a light, summery book that packs a punch and won’t disappoint readers looking for a book with some depth. Salter writing effortlessly brings to mind summer and madness of a water park during summer vacation to create a setting so vivid readers would be advised to keep their inner tubes handy.

Beyond that, Polly is a really astute character and one of my favorite narrators so far this year. Emotionally, Polly is a mess. She can’t tell where her own interests end or where her efforts to pursue boys starts. In a lot of ways Polly does everything wrong; she does things she dislikes to attract boys and she pretends she isn’t smart to avoid attention and she avoids talking about her feelings like nobody’s business. But even at her lowest, Polly is endearing and so incredibly smart that readers are willing to follow her crazy journey throughout the book to see where it all ends.

The amazing thing is all of Polly’s crazy mixed emotions and motivations are conveyed so clearly with Salter’s writing. Her narrative voice is strong and original, tossing around SAT vocabulary words and chemistry(?) references in the same breath as she explains how important it was, at the time, to be interested cars so that she could have something to talk about with a boy.

As the title might suggest Swoon at Your Own Risk is part romance and part humor. But it’s also a lot more. And it’s really clever. Salter has  has created a delightful story and introduced a complex heroine that is a breath of fresh air.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Exclusive Bonus Content (because I haven’t gushed enough yet): I also really, really, love the cover because I think it so perfectly captures the essence of this book. And I also need you all to know that Xander is amazing. He’s like the coolest male lead ever. He does origami and he writes in a notebook and I really wish I knew someone like him.

Finally, I also want to take a minute to mention how cool the structure of the book is. Polly’s first person narration is interspersed with excerpts from Miss Swoon’s advice column, a certain character’s notebook, and one of Polly’s coworker’s gossip blogs. That’s a lot of different voices and formats to juggle and Ms. Salter makes it look absolutely effortless.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A (book and movie) Review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff KinneyEleven-year-old Greg Heffley knows he’s going places. unfortunately, to get there he has to pass through middle school–that cruel, no man’s land where everyone is mashed together irrespective of maturity. What diabolical mind created this strange limbo where kids who haven’t had their growth spurt mingle daily with giants who shave twice a day?

Not to worry, Greg has figured out most of the ins and outs of surviving middle school already. The key lies in walking that fine line between keeping a low profile and earning the school’s admiration as one of the Yearbook Favorites. Now if only Greg could get his best friend Rowley on board with his grand plan to put the cool into middle school in Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007) by Jeff Kinney.

Find it on Bookshop.

To call Greg self-centered would be an understatement. He is one of the most self-absorbed characters I have ever read. And yet, as is the way, Greg does have a certain charm. His daily trials and tribulations are also quite funny.

As a character Greg is one of those anomalies–not quite bad enough to be a villain but not always nice enough to warrant his spot as protagonist. Although they would probably attract two very different audiences, Diary of a Wimpy Kid reminded me a lot of Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. Georgia Nicholson, like Greg, is one of the most self-centered characters I have ever encountered. But, and perhaps this is a credit to the respective authors, it kind of works. I’m waiting for the day I find a cross-over fan fiction where Greg’s family moves to England when he is a bit older and he and Georgia meet and start to date. It’s a match made in heaven. Can anyone else hear the tinkling sound of wedding bells?

The book is a fast read and, honestly, popular enough with kids and parents that I don’t really need to say anything else about it. A blend of cartoons and narrative, this is one of those books that sells itself.

As if this book series wasn’t popular enough, there is also a movie version. Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out on March 19 and I was, amazingly, one of the people who saw it on opening day (this never happens). I wasn’t over the moon about the book, but it was kind of fun.

I’m over the moon about the movie.

The idea of a novel in cartoons being recreated as a live action movie is worrisome at best, but in this case, it works really really unbelievably well. Director Thor Freudenthal blends the actors and live action of the film almost seamlessly with integrated snippets of Kinney’s original art brought to life in animated form.

The actors themselves were also fabulous. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the cast consists of children. Talented actor children who I fully expect to be going places when they get older. Zachary Gordon and Robert Capron really brought Greg and Rowley to life.

The movie also added a different spin to a lot of events in the book–it removed some of the hard edges (and hard knocks) from Greg’s story in a way that ultimately made the story tighter. The actors also made a lot of characters that fell flat on the page more dimensional and approachable for me. Steve Zahn was a kinder, gentler father than the one we see in the book. Similarly Devon Bostick was kind of brilliant as Greg’s villainous older brother Rodrick. His exploits and tricks are so much funnier (and more diabolical) in the movie than they were in the book.

Call me crazy, but this might be the movie that turns out to be better than the book.

Possible Pairings: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrich, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Sucks to Be Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Suck to Be Me by Kimberly PikeAfter finishing Kimberly Pauley‘s debut novel Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe) (2009) I found myself of two minds as to whether or not I liked it. For that reason, this is sort of an anti-Chick Lit Wednesday review

Pauley–previously known for her own book review site–has created a very interesting premise here: Mina Hamilton is having a hard enough time with high school and being seventeen in general when things get even more complicated. Mina already knew her parents were vampires. She has, in fact, known that for all of her life. What she didn’t know until recently was that she would have to decide if she wanted to join her parents among the undead or not. Mina also has to attend a series of vampire classes to help in her decision-making process. The entire idea is fascinating. Even the chatty, notebook style blurb for the book helps to draw readers in to this funny story. Mina is also, in many ways, a very real character–aside from the whole vampiric parents side of things, of course.

Any yet . . .

She is also possibly one of the most shallow characters I have ever encountered. At the beginning of the novel Mina is so busy lusting after her cute classmate Nathan as to be entirely oblivious to the true object of his affection. Matters only worsen when Mina starts her vampire classes and meets the even better looking Aubrey. At this point in the plot Mina has so many stars in her eyes that she once again misses the completely, painfully obvious fact that Aubrey’s interest in her comes from motivations that are anything but romantic.

Sucks to Be Me features a popular vampire myth (and the vampire reality care of Mina) at the beginning of each chapter. Pauley had the potential here to create an entirely new set of vampire lore here. Instead the writing about the ins and outs of vampirism was remiss. Most of the new vampire facts (they can go out in the sun, they can eat food) are left unexplained either because Mina does not know the answer or because she tuned out while someone else was explaining it. While world building is more traditionally associated with sci-fi novels, it feels negligent to base a novel on so many facts while explaining none of them.

Pauley’s inclusion of instant messages written in chatspeak was equally frustrating. I don’t text message and I write instant messages in full sentences. I know that is not true for most people. But I feel certain that having lines like “& he jetted prtty fast outta there. didn’t evn drnk the coffee” does little to add to the novel’s authenticity or tone.

This book reminded me a lot of ghostgirl, another book with a promising plot whose writing fell short of expectations. It will also likely appeal to Twilight fans looking for a funny vampire story. For my part, I was excited about Sucks to Be Me when I first saw it, but by the end my enthusiasm was lukewarm at best.

Possible Pairings: Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (television series)