Book Review: Derby Girl

Dear Potentially Cool Parental Folk,
If you suddenly realize you’re missing one charmingly sarcastic sixteen-year-old daughter, send a plane ticket. I’m ready to come home.

Derby GirlYou may know Derby Girl by Shauna Cross better as Whip It, the movie starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore.  The plot is the same:  Bliss Cavendar starts skating with a roller derby team without her parents’ knowledge after she accidentally picks up a flier one day.

This book.  What can I say?  The positive is that the voice is great.  The negative is that it’s all tell and very little show.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about the book than it serves as an outline of the movie (written by the author).  Everything the book lacks–character nuance, character development, clear plotting, dialogue–the movie fills in.  So my recommendation is to just skip the book entirely and see the movie instead.  The movie I enjoyed.  The book not so much.

YA Challenge:  18/75

Book Review: The Surrogates

Surrogates are a vain attempt to improve upon God’s already perfect will.  They represent the worst efforts of men to supercede God and become gods themselves.

The SurrogatesI picked up The Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele from the library because I didn’t have the time or money to see the film version starring my old man crush Bruce Willis.  Of course, I finally finished the book a couple of days before the movie became available at the library.  Ah well.

The book is about a world where surrogates (“android substitutes that let people interact with the real world without ever leaving their homes”–jacket flap) are the norm except someone or something is deep frying surrogate circuitry with a command to the owners:  “Live.”

What I Liked

– I love the deeper meanings the text explores about race, gender, and class.  Each chapter ends with media (academic papers, newspaper articles, advertisements) explaining a little bit about the world, which provides context, and that’s what really creates the conversation about the impact of surrogates.  People choose surrogates based on career aspirations, romantic interests, etc.  So a lot of their choice is dictated by whom people expect to see in those roles.  (For example, women who want to be pilots choose male surrogates.)  And, of course, not everyone can afford surrogates, and those people make up their own community (mostly, it seems, made up of religious zealots) who are, for the purposes of the narrative, anti-surrogate.

– The story is fast-paced and easy to follow.

– Character motivations are clear.

What I Didn’t Like

– I wasn’t really a fan of the artwork.  I think it’s well drawn and the moods are well set throughout (and I really appreciate that the chapter ending media is so distinct and slick), but I wanted a way, visually, to see the surrogates or real people marked.  And, yes, I realize the point is that the surrogates are so lifelike, but at the same time, I really wanted there to be a different feel or look applied to really play up the differences.

In conclusion:  Great story with interesting thematic elements that are really thought-provoking.

Book Review: Rapunzel’s Revenge

I guess I might’ve spent my whole life in that villa never learning the truth if not for that darn wall. Deep in my gut, I believed if I could just look over it, just see what was there, my dreams would make sense.  Everything would make sense.

Rapunzel's RevengeRapunzel’s Revenge written by Shannon & Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation) is a retelling of the Rapunzel story in which Rapunzel saves herself, teams up with a stranger named Jack, and sets out to free her birth mother and fellow countrymen from adoptive mother Gothel.

What I Liked

– Rapunzel is an awesome character.  She’s driven and determined, and she refuses to let her circumstances overwhelm her.

– There’s a lot of humor in the book–from making fun of Rapunzel’s ugly, ugly clothes to the banter between her and Jack.  There are lots of great moments and a couple of laugh out loud funny ones.

– I love that Rapunzel and Jack are more partners than anything.  Sometimes it seems as though he’s her sidekick and sometimes she’s his, but that’s because they both have different strengths and any given situation could favor one or neither.

– There’s some mystery around Jack.  I figured it out right away, but my daughter really enjoyed the twist when it was revealed.

– Mother Gothel’s motivation for locking Rapunzel up really surprised me–in a good way.

– I love the artwork.  Clear and crisp with great facial expressions.  It was as much fun to look at the pictures as read the text–as it should be with a graphic novel.

– Rapunzel uses her hair as a weapon.  I like that instead of it being the tool of her imprisonment, it becomes empowering.

What I Didn’t Like

– I would’ve liked to know just a little more about Gothel besides her being evil.  You know, just a smidge.

In conclusion: The book is a lot of fun and a great read.  It’s also great for the tween set or anybody who really enjoys adventurous stories.  My daughter read it, immediately reread it, and then bought it when she saw it a the book store (I checked it out from the library).  I think she really appreciated that Rapunzel is such a badass female character.

YA Reading Challenge:  17/75

Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The one thing he longed for more than anything else was…CHOCOLATE.

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryWe went to see a high school production of Willy Wonka, which was such great fun and so much better than I remembered either of the movies being.  Then, when we got home, we watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory–the first movie adaptation–and I still didn’t like it that much.  So I went online to see what the differences between the book, the movies, and the play are and found out (via Wikipedia, of course) that Roald Dahl (allegedly) hated the burping scene in the first movie, so I immediately put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl on hold at the library so I could investigate the differences for myself.


It is so much fun. I love Dahl’s storytelling style.  It’s so much like listening to someone tell you a story that they’re making up as they go along.  So conversational and fun.  I’m sure this would make an excellent audiobook.

I was surprised to learn that the Oompa Loompas really do sing throughout the book.

Also?  I totally understand why Dahl allegedly hated the burping scene.  The whole point of the book is that Charlie is not like the other kids and his parents are not like the other parents.  Even though he’s poor and hungry, he doesn’t break the rules.  What’s really hateful about the scene in the movie (original flavor–I can’t remember how it happens in the Johnny Depp version) is that Charlie’s grandpa says, “Let’s try it while no one’s looking.”  Which is a dick move and again disrupts the integrity of both of the characters.  I think there’s a way to show Charlie was tempted if that’s what the movie people wanted without having him drink it or his grandfather be the one to encourage it.  Not to mention, it makes the ending (of the movie) ring false because none of the other children get a chance to apologize.


The book is so amazingly fun.  Read it.  Screw the movies.

Book Review: The Losers: Ante Up

It’s like…sure, we’ve always played the game like we had nothin’ to lose–but it feels like we lost everythin’.  We were soldiers, man.  We were a part of somethin’!  But now…

The Losers:  Ante Up by Andy Diggle and illustrated by Jock is a double cross revenge story.  The first issue of the collection is available as a free download on the website, but I preferred traditional paper so I checked it out via ILL.  I was interested in the book because of the hotness that is the movie, which I sadly haven’t seen yet.

What I Liked

– I am a fan of badassitude and between Clay, Aisha, and Cougar, the characters have that in spades.

– The art reflects the mood of the story.  It’s hard to get a physical read on the characters, although they all have distinctive characteristics.  Even when they’re in sunlight, there are a lot of shadows and dark areas.  It adds to the feeling of mistrust and danger.

– The plot is pretty straightforward.  They’re trying to find Max so they can get their identities and their lives back.

What I Didn’t Like

– I know I just said the plot is straightforward–and it is–but it took me quite a few pages to get my grounding in the story.  That may be because…

– Even though the artwork suits the story, I’m not really a fan of it.  Aside from the three characters mentioned above (and the one blond guy whose name I can’t remember), it was hard for me to really get a read on the characters, which left me feeling disconnected from the story.

– The book is really violent.  Lots of blood spurts, brains on the pavement, etc.  Not so much a fan of that, which was all shown in pretty clear detail.

In conclusion:  I still want to see the movie, even though I know who the bad guy is–mostly for the pretty, pretty cast.  The book doesn’t make me want to see it more or less than I did before, though.  And I am not at all interested in reading any more of the books in the series.

Book Review: Killing Mr. Griffin

That Griffin’s the sort of guy you’d like to kill.

Killing Mr. GriffinI picked up Killing Mr. Griffin at the library book sale because I remembered there being a movie with a similar title and plot (Killing Teaching Mrs. Tingle; the two are not related).  Plus, it’s Lois Duncan!  She of I Know What You Did Last Summer fame.  Right-o.  The basic plot is that Jeff’s offhand remark about wanting to kill Mr. Griffin is picked up on by his friend Mark.  They kidnap Mr. Griffin (because killing him is wrong, see?) to scare him, and then, well, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong.

What I Liked

– The characters are A+, and I really like the way the narrative is structured.  It’s in third person and switches perspective throughout.  So not only do we get inside the heads of Jeff, Susan, Betsy, and Dave, but we also get to see what Mrs. Griffin thinks and Mark’s adoptive parents think and Dave’s grandmother thinks.  It works really well to set the scene for the book and to show the effect the teens’ actions have on the people around them.  I also like it because it shows that people recognize something isn’t quite right, even if they can’t put their finger on what’s wrong.

– Mr. Griffin!  Mr. Griffin speaks to my SOUL as a teacher of composition on the college level.  He leaves the university to teach high school English because:

Ask them to write about something, and they can’t make complete sentences, much less spell anything over two syllables. […]  By the time they’re in college, it’s gone too far.  They’ve had twelve years without disciplined learning, and they don’t know how to apply themselves.  They haven’t learned to study or to pace their work so that projects get completed on time.  They fall asleep in lectures because they expect to be entertained, not educated.

So what will he do differently?

I’d teach, damn it!  I wouldn’t baby them or play games with them.  I’d push each one into doing the best work of which he or she was capable.  By the time they finished a class with me, my college prep students would be able to handle university work. [And for those who aren’t college prep?] The others would graduate with a knowledge of what disciplined work is all about.  That should stand them in good stead, no matter what they decide to do.

SUH-WOON.  Mr. Griffin, will you marry me?

Of course, I probably would’ve hated him in high school, truth be told.  It seems like nothing his students do is good enough.  At one point, his wife tells him he needs to be more encouraging to the students and less of a hardass.  He tries, in his way, but then he gets kidnapped.  And dies.  Ah well.

– I also like how the kids are affected by their actions (or not, in the case of Mark).  And how everything just spirals more and more out of control.  I also like how Susan knows the thing to do is immediately get help, but it’s believable how she’s shut down and why she shuts up.

– The definition of a psychopath is very clearly laid out in the text.  I’ll let you guess who it is.

– The book is so 1970s.  It’s kind of awesome.

What I Didn’t Like

– There is a pretty big plot point that is NOT resolved.  That drove me batty.  I guess we’re supposed to come to our own conclusions about it, but I really wish it had been specifically addressed at the end.

– Also, the resolution is mostly exposition, and I really would’ve liked to see some of the stuff happen on page.  It makes sense that it doesn’t, but it was very much “and then this happened and this happened and this happened” instead of “LET ME SHOW YOU WHAT HAPPENED.”

– I am not so sure I believe the consequences for the characters.

In conclusion:  An intriguing and intense read.  I really wanted to know how everything was going to go, and even with that one loose end, everything is wrapped up satisfactorily.

YA Reading Challenge:  16/75

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series by J.K. Rowling, and this was probably my favorite of the books to listen to as an audiobook (read by Jim Dale).  I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t read the book since it first came out or if it’s because I wanted to get to the ending and that awesome last line or what.  Or maybe it’s because so much was happening.  Or perhaps because the reading of Hermione was so much less annoying.  I don’t know.  But it seemed to go much faster than any of the other books.

I also don’t know if it’s just that rereading the last book makes me want to go back and see the clues from the earlier books, but I’m seriously considering rereading the whole series (in standard book form) again this summer.

Although I did have some problems with Jim Dale’s narration (his Hermione and Luna are both problematic and annoying), the audiobooks are a great way to experience the story.  My daughter wouldn’t read the books because they made her eyes hurt, but, by the end, she was sneaking a read because she didn’t want to wait to listen to the story to find out how it ends.  Plus, listening to HP has made us seek out other books to listen to in the car.

Also, please let us talk about how much J.K. Rowling rocks in general.  I mean, seriously.

YA Reading Challenge:  15/75