Who’s That Girl, by Blair Thornburgh

WHO’S THAT GIRL, by Blair Thornburgh

Who’s That Girl is a young adult romantic comedy that will appeal to many. The main character is Natalie McCullough-Schwartz, who flies under the radar in her prep school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is smart (great at Latin,) and surrounds herself with other smart and quirky people. Her parents are delightful on the page, and her friends are interesting and well-drawn. She’s part of the Acronymphomaniacs—a group that enjoys acronyms—and it’s a good thing they do, because the acronym for their gay-straight alliance is OWPALGBTQIA. The principal members of the group are Nattie, Tess Kozlowski, Tall Zach, and Zach the Anarchist (who, of course, isn’t an anarchist at all.)

What’s refreshing about this book is that the main character, though a junior, has only had two almost-kisses in her life. The cast of characters is sweet and somewhat naive and they do well in school, and I’d love to see more books with characters like this. Of course, Nattie’s world changes when Sebastian Delacroix, an attractive and cool graduate who Nattie almost kissed, writes a song called Natalie that begins to get a bunch of airplay.

Nattie doesn’t know what to make of it. He texts her at times, but is always mysterious. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone by going to rock shows in an attempt to figure out what Sebastian actually wants from her, while at the same time trying to maintain her commitments to OWPALGBTQIA and her friends.

Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

The book is full of insider language and great moments of humor, and puts the reader right there with Nattie. While intended for high school aged readers and young adults, it’s safe enough for sophisticated middle schoolers to read, I’d wager.

There’s also a yurt.

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Thief’s Cunning, by Sarah Ahiers

Thief’s Cunning, by Sarah Ahiers

Thief’s Cunning is a Young Adult fantasy companion novel to Assassin’s Heart. The protagonist of this story is Allegra Saldana, the niece of Lea from Assassin’s Heart (if you read the first book, you know who she is.) Allegra feels caged by her overprotective family, and she never feels as if she truly fits in. When she finally gets her chance to go to Lovero, where her parents died, she’s excited to get answers about who she is.

When she arrives, she meets a love interest, Nev, and discovers the shocking truth about her origins (not a spoiler if you read the first book, but I’m going to let you discover it yourself.) Convinced she knows what she’s doing, Allegra vows to leave the only family she’s ever known.

But then…something else happens! I can’t really spoil it here, but it’s a doozy. Let’s just say a giant monkey wrench is thrown in Allegra’s plan, as events that are way beyond her control seem to be deciding her fate. She ruefully reflects that she’s trading one cage for another. Will Allegra ever call the shots in her own life?

Thief’s Cunning winds up being a page-turner, and even though I am friends with the author I was surprised at the resolution of the novel. It was very satisfying.

Craft-wise, I offer a real tip of the hat to the Sarah Ahiers for writing companion novels in first person in which the main characters are clearly different people. Lea’s robotic pragmatism and laser focus in Assassin’s Heart give way to Allegra’s emotionally expressive narrative. Allegra is rash, and in some ways petulant, a product of living a life of safety and protection. Yvain is the backwater town she longs to leave, Born to Run style. And when Allegra interacts with Lea, the characterization of her older and wiser aunt is spot on. Readers of the first book will agree, “Yep, that’s Lea Saldana alright.”

Setting also plays a big role in both novels. I loved the pomp and circumstance of Lovero, but found Yvain’s canal system especially compelling. Loved the Dead Plains, where the ghosts can get you. These places come back in Thief’s Cunning, but we also get the rich description of Mornia, with their underground dwellings – and the Mornians who have their own strategy for handling the ghosts.

I enjoyed both books immensely, but in some ways I enjoyed the ride with Allegra more – she’s more of a moody teenager compared to the cold and calculation Lea. Additionally, the EPIC plot

Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

really raised the stakes in a surprising and satisfying way.

If you recall from my review of Assassin’s Heart, I belong to the Zarella Family according to this quiz. Unfortunately for me, they are only the 7th ranked Family in Allegra’s time. Bummer. At any rate, I think it would be a pretty good idea to read Thief’s Cunning.

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No Parking at the End Times, by Bryan Bliss

NOTE: This is the same review I posted on Goodreads.com.

noparkingWhen I like a book, I try to post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and my own site. Sometimes it’s hard to think of three ways to say the same thing. So here’s what I think:

I stayed up to finish reading No Parking at the End Times  in one sitting. Abigail is learning to deal with living in a van after her parents are duped into selling their house and following “Brother John,” who predicts the end of the world. When it doesn’t happen, Abigail’s parents still believe, and continue to give what little they have to the charlatan pastor. She must decide to run away with her twin brother or try to keep her family intact.

What’s really great about this novel is that Bliss does a wonderful job with character motivation. The reader might be tempted to say, “Well, yeah, her parents are crazy, she’s got to go,” but Bliss writes so elegantly that you can understand her motivation for staying. Not only that, but the parents are not cutout villains. You can even understand their motivation for following some crazy “World is Ending” pastor.

Though Abigail begins to question her faith in God, this book handles religion with care. It’s not snarky, like some books can be, when discussing the topic with teenagers. Abigail does have the opportunity to examine faith through a critical lens – does God really want them to be suffering and homeless? Should they really put their faith (and resources) into one religious leader? Bliss leaves room for complexity in tackling these questions.

Overall, a great read, and like I said, I was unable to put it down.

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Signed copy. I'm kind of a big deal.

Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Website | @brainbliss

How to Eat an Airplane, by Peter Pearson

howtoeatanairplaneHow to Eat an Airplane is the best etiquette book I’ve read in a while. It begins, “If you want to eat an airplane, there are a few things you should know.” Rather than advising against eating the airplane, however, author Peter Pearson details the steps one must take in arranging a dinner party, where the reader and his or her guests will eat the airplane. If eating an airplane is to be done, it should be done properly.

This picture book is rife with wordplay (“Be sure that you have knives, spoons, and forklifts,”) a feature that delighted my children. There are also groan-worthy puns and jokes for the Dad joke demographic. The fun-loving illustrations (by Mircea Catusana) are a perfect match for the text. And even though the book might be described as absurd, it’s actually based on a true story (see the author’s note.) The back matter gives interesting facts about airplanes, giving the picture book a very complete feel. It’s a book that my kids keep coming back to.

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Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

assassinsheart

Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Assassin’s Heart is a Young Adult fantasy about Lea Saldana, a seventeen year old assassin who belongs to the top family of assassins in Lovero. In total, there are nine families of assassins, and they are allowed to legally “clip” people because their city’s patron goddess is the goddess of Death and Resurrection. The families earn money for their jobs, and they provide a service as well. When they kill a person, they guarantee a rebirth for him or her; the alternative is that they would wander around as a ghost, angrily looking for a new body.

The families compete for jobs, and are rivals. So when Lea’s family is murdered by the Da Vias, she sets out on a path of vengeance. She intends to repay the Da Vias by murdering all of them, but she’ll need help. She travels to Yvain to find her disgraced uncle, Marcello.

Lea is a very skilled assassin, but the limits of her abilities are tested by assassin families, crooked lawmen, ghosts, and her stubborn uncle. The book is hard to put down when Lea is faced with challenge after challenge. She proves herself a capable protagonist – someone worth rooting for.

The world building in this story is incredible. Cities develop around a deity (and the gods and goddesses are active in the story) and the implications of that completely make sense. There are ghosts who kill people and try to take their bodies (something that has important implications for how the residents in the world order their lives.) Now, throw the political intrigue of nine rival assassin families into this world, and you’ve got a well textured story.

I keep thinking about the world in Assassin’s Heart, long after I’ve put the book down. For what it’s worth, I belong to the Zarella family, according to this quiz.

Go read this book. Seriously.

I'm in the acknowledgements. I'm kind of a big deal.

I’m in the acknowledgements. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Sarah Ahiers Writes | @SarahAhiers