Tag Archives: Friendship

Big Nate: Silent but Deadly by Lincoln Peirce

You know those little “f” bombs that sneak up on you when you least expect it, then “poof” they make themselves known, catching you unaware. That’s what Lincoln Peirce does in his latest comic edition, Big Nate: Silent but Deadly, where the jokes catch you off guard, not quietly this time, but with a force which causes an explosive, deafening laugh that the reader can’t quite hold in.

It’s 6th grade (again) for Nate and his friends (there’s even an inside joke about an endless loop of repeating sixth grade, over and over!) and they are at it again with Nate combating his nemesis, teacher Mrs Godfrey, and trying to find ways to outsmart teacher’s pet & know-it-all Gina, such as a Fact Town Smackdown between her and Francis. Of course Nate and his friends are rooting for Francis – “You’re a geek, but your OUR geek!” With a look at Detention (Note on pass given to Nate: The Usual), Class Picture Day (Where Mr Galvin is asked to show us his teeth, and his dentures accidentally fall out – Response: “These scientists are so literal.”), and Romance (Gina has a crush on Chad whose C.Q. – Cuteness Quotient – is off the charts). Holidays are a hoot, from Halloween to Christmas (After taking Nate to buy a present for his sister, his dad quips – “And this is why gift cards were invented.”), to a Monopoly Marathon on New Year’s Eve playing by Nate’s Rules.

School is in the fun zone and there’s lots of chuckles when Nate attempts to be Student of the Month, interviews a teacher for the school paper, and finds himself outmatched at a school basketball game. Chad is able to outsmart a bully by opening Nate’s locker, knocking the jerk over with all the junk unexpectedly spewing out. Nate’s retort: “I might have to start charging a user’s fee.”

Nate’s talents as the Great Nose-Ini are explored as well as his ability to irk all the adults leaving them shaking their heads and lamenting, “I hate my life”, with even the Principal wondering “If could trade jobs with another” once he’s done dealing with Nate.

The one two punch of each cartoon is enhanced by the descriptive illustrations with facial expressions, or lack thereof, lifting the comedy up to the next level.

To sum it up is the line – “He’s confusing me.” To which I respond “Welcome to my world.” But in a good way.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn (The Worthingtons, Book #1)

The Earl of Worthington is a friend of Marcus and Sebastian from Ella Quinn’s The Marriage Game Series. After seeing how happy both men are in their marriage and the fact that their wives are expecting, Mattheus decides that it’s time that he, too, settle down. After being forced to stop at a nearby inn to escape a severe storm, he meets a lovely lady who seems to fit his intellectual needs, and after exchanging a kiss (obviously her first) he becomes even more mesmerized. When this same woman knocks on his door after hours and they spend an amorous night, he is determined to make this former virgin his bride. Yet the following morning she has disappeared and the innkeeper refuses to admit she ever existed. He unsuccessfully searches and ends up sketching her likeness in the hopes of getting his friends to identify the mystery woman.

Matt is right, Grace Carpenter is a lady of quality. She, too, was forced to stop for the night due to the same storm, even though she didn’t have much further to travel. When Worthington arrives, she was more than happy to share the parlor and spend an evening with a gentleman she has been in love with since her first season in London. Unable to wed due to the burden of a large set of siblings under her charge, she decides to experiment with one night of passion before retreating from society. Unfortunately, once is not enough and she pines for the love she has finally found and now must give up.

Little do the pair realize they have mutual friends and when Grace accompanies her younger sister, Charlotte, to London for her first season, she has a difficult time hiding her identity from her one night stand, who unfortunately resides directly across the street. It doesn’t take long for Matt to track her down and become irretrievably entangled in the lives of the Carpenter Family. He, too, has siblings of similar ages, including Louise who is also being introduced to society. Altogether the children (eleven in all), 2 Great Danes, a stepmother, a couple of cousins, aunts and uncles, and various employees, become entangled as the two lovebirds sort out the obstacles to their happiness. Marcus and Phoebe as well as Rutherford and Anna, are active participant in the antics with other familiar characters from the Marriage Game Series making an appearance, including the meddling dowagers who like to play Cupid.

Three Weeks to Wed is a wonderful introduction to the Worthington series which runs in between debutanrsbooks 2 and 3 of the Marriage Game Series. In fact, by the time Robert romances Sabrina, Matt and Grace have already been wed. While there is a bit of excitement when a no good uncle turns up looking for his inheritance, most of the tale revolves around an introduction to all the characters and the details surrounding the preparations necessary for launching two young ladies into society. I personally enjoyed reading about the shopping excursions, designer gowns, and elaborate repasts, as well as the antics of a group of lively children. The entire courtship takes place over a three week period, prior to the official start to the season which begins in Book 2 of the series. Luckily the couple decide to quickly wed because they go at it like rabbits, every chance they get, more lustful than romantic. However, having a head start on the family situation and the peccadilloes of the numerous characters should make the remainder of the series more enjoyable. Quinn has created a universe where, as a fly on the wall, the reader can vicariously enter The Ton of Regency England. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

What makes Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson so special is not the story, although the plot is full of subtle wit and unforseeable plot twists, but the rich and quirky characterizations of the personalities living in the small town outside London, England.

At first Major Pettigrew seems kind of opinionated and stuffy, but his relationship with Mrs. Allie, the shop keeper of Pakistanee descent, softens his attitude, and making him endearing to the reader. We find ourselves rooting for the Major as he attempts to surreptitiously woo the widow while remaining a perfect gentleman.

To make the enjoyment even more complete, add in a couple of obnoxious, money grubbing in laws, a son who pursues prestige over tradition, a Lord willing to sell out the entire village in order to maintain his decadent lifestyle, a crass, egocentric American Industrialist whose annoying behavior threatens to ruin every gathering he attends, and a woman’s group who between gossiping sessions run many of the social events expounded upon in the novel.

In short, the Major finds himself having difficulty dealing with the death of his brother and Mrs. Allie, the local shop keeper, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is able to comfort the man. There is a spark between the two and as they both deal with their own personal challenges involving the embarrassing indiscretions of various family members, they find a moments relief and even joy in each other’s company.

A major focal point in the tale is the story of the two matched rifles, Churchills, which were presented to the Major’s grandfather by an Indian Maharaja, as a reward for protecting his daughter from harm by some rebels. While the Major expected to inherit the pair, his father gave one to his brother with the expectation the two would be reunited upon one of their deaths. No such stipulation was written into the will and much to his horror, his sister in law is mentally spending the money to be earned by selling the family heirloom(s). The Churchills seem to drive the plot forward, somehow relating to the various interactions of the characters throughout the plot.

While there is a bit of action, along with a few plot twists, most of the story focuses upon the life of the Major as he pursues his interests (such as plotting the ways he can keep both Churchills) while trying to advance his relationship with the alluring Mrs. Allee. His clever, deprecating remarks to the questionable comments of his fellow townspeople result in numerous laugh out loud moments, a personal barometer of a book destined to be a favorite. The contentious relationship between father and son also inexplicably brings a smile to my face as despite their different viewpoints on life, they reluctantly share a love which goes beyond kinship. Kudos to Simonson for a superb debut novel as well as to Peter Altschuler who was the spectacular reader of the audiotape.

My five star rating shouldn’t be a surprise and I hope the movie version lives up to the cleverness of the author’s original text.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey

Three families, linked by the childhood friendship of the mothers, have made it their practice to spend their summers together by hosting various “house parties” at each of their estates in Kent. This summer, one of the three has died over the winter months, but the tradition continues. There is the Chively family including daughter Imogene and son Percy plus a St John’s water dog, Jasper. The kindly Beeswanger’s have a daughter Emily along with younger daughters (Hardly) Harriet and Pauline. The third family, minus “Aunt Clara” consists of Mr. Tabard and his son Jake.

Emily and Imogene have just experienced their first “season” with The Ton. This summer, potential beau Ernest Steeple has been invited to join the party, bringing along his younger brother Benjamin. The steadfast Ernest has been taken with the quiet charm of the shy Imogene who’s headstrong father would like nothing better than to see his daughter wed to this eligible young suitor. However, it’s the charismatic Ben who makes an impression with his attentions to all the women, grabbed onto by a hopeful Emily who fancies herself in love. Imogene, by contrast, needs time to be sure that Ernest is the one for her. While she enjoys his company, she’s not sure if that quite qualifies as a love match.

Ernest’s goal is to ascertain if he can get Imogene to say yes to a marriage proposal. Ben, an apprentice architect, has a different sort of problem, he cannot draw a straight line. Normally this would not be an issue, but when building structures it is necessary to be able to accurately complete sketches. Imogene has the talent he lacks and her art work is full of the outdoors including the numerous ruins which are scattered throughout the countryside. Noting that Imogene is giving art lessons to Harriet, Ben confesses his need for her expertise as an instructor to help him hone his currently nonexistent skills. She happily agrees to be of assistance and the foursome spend the summer days whiling away the hours enjoying country life. Unfortunately, “accidents” keep occurring, each one becoming more dire. Somehow Ben seems to be the target of these continuing mishaps and since nobody could be that clumsy, sabotage is suspected. Yet who and why is someone trying to injure this young man? Answers need to be found and decisions made which will effect the future for everyone concerned.

While the premise for Suitors and Saboteurs by Cindy Anstey sounds promising the delivery left a lot to be desired. The mundane details (full of unnecessary minutia which doesn’t advance the plot) along with the stilted boring dialogue made reading this Regency Romance an interminable act of tedium, despite the occasional delivery of a few clever conversations thrown into the mix. About 100 pages too long, Anstey should have focused on the mystery eliminating irrelevant, nonessential points and needless repetition which bogged down the storyline. Please don’t compare this one to works by Jane Austen – not even close and an insult to a beloved author. We don’t want the intended audience of young adults who read this book to think that this is the best the genre has to offer.

A generous three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang

Anda’s family has just moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, not far from the Grand Canyon, and now she finds herself at a new school. She’s an ordinary teen, kind of on the chubby side, finding a place with the group of kids who play Dungeons and Dragons during their free period. Since computers are her thing, Anda is taking a programming course where Liza McCombs from Australia comes to speak with the females in the class. She’s in the process of organizing a guild, exclusively for girls, to play Coarsegold Online, a MMRPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game). It seems that women players have a tendency to hide their gender behind male avatars, afraid to show their true selves for fear of discrimination. This guild is looking to induct women into its fold if they pass the three month initiation. Anda is all in, as long as her mom lets her use her credit card to pay the twelve dollar a month fee.

Anda’s avatar, Kali Destroyer, represents her inner voice – bold, beautiful, with bright red hair and skills galore. She soon levels up as she masters the game play. Inside the MMRPG, Kali teams up with Sarge (Lisa) and they begin to destroy the Gold Farmers who are illegally mining for valuable objects which are then sold to other players for profit. Unfortunately, the profit is a big business, and the Gold Farmers are actually abused Chinese workers who are forced to work long hours for little pay. Anda befriends Raymond who wants to learn to speak better English. He’s about her age and works the overnight shift, but his previously injured back is causing problems. Thinking she can help she advises he go on strike to get some health care (just what her own dad’s union is doing with his company). Unfortunately, this advice only gets Raymond fired. To top it off, Kali Destroyer has been earning money by her antics and her mother cuts her off from the Internet, afraid that she’s in danger. Liza also suspends her (and Lisa) for not following the gaming rules. Anda feels responsible for Raymond’s troubles and looks for ways she can contact him and help him out of his difficulties.

Disclosure: I’m not a gamer, although my son has enjoyed the gaming experience participating in various leagues although not an MMRPG.

There are a lot of positives in the graphic novel, In Real Life by Cory Doctorow. Number one is the colorful illustrations by Jen Wang and the fact that the characters are portrayed as real people, not ones with Barbie Doll looks. Anda has insecurities, but grows stronger as Kali Destroyer, building confidence to the point where she proudly dies her hair red. The girl power is a plus. There is also a bit of a lesson, details given by Cory Doctorow in a forward, letting the uninitiated know about Gold Farmers, a real phenomena. Anda’s attempts to assist her friend are noble, even when they backfire. After all, this is a book for teens who need to know that they have a voice in this world. However, the resolution to the storyline, although rectifying the situation, is unrealistic at best. I also question the entire premise that a school would allow someone like Liza to solicit gamers to her league.

Given all that, I feel that the intended YA audience will enjoy this book, especially the fact that an average high school student becomes the hero, no matter how impracticable the ending. Gamers need to have their existence avowed.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Since The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is a murder mystery of sorts, it’s difficult to summarize without resorting to spoilers. Suffice it to say that daughter Laurel Nicolson witnessed her mother Dorothy murder a man when she was sixteen and now that her elderly mom is on her death bed, the sixty plus year old daughter decides this is her last chance to discover the truth. Her brother Geoffrey, a babe in his mother’s arms, was celebrating his second birthday, so he only has a vague feeling that something untoward happened on that date. Now, fifty years later, Laurel decides it’s finally time to clue him in so they can work together to figure out the details of their mom’s past.

Moving back and forth through time, from the present (2011) to the strife of wartime London (1941) to life as part of a loving family with five children (1961) and various years in between, the plot unfolds giving us bits and pieces of the tale – like a giant jig saw puzzle which has just enough blank spaces so that the big picture remains unrecognizable. Unfortunately, it takes way too many pages to discover the truth, and not until the disconcerting ending does the story finally come together.

While there are some obscure clues at the beginning of the book, by the time their relevance is revealed we’ve forgotten the details. With a slow start which doesn’t pick up until much later in the narration, I feel the main problem is the characterizations. The self absorbed Dolly is just plain unlikeable and at times her actions are despicable. She’s not the only one portrayed in a bad light. Laurel, a famous actress, is not a warm and fuzzy figure, even if the reader is sympathetic to her quest. Her numerous siblings are one dimensional, although the quirky Geoffrey has been fleshed out a bit. While the main focus was developing the convoluted plot (there’s a lot of tragedy along the way providing some sort of logical explanation for the evolving action), I felt more time should have been spent providing some depth to the secondary personalities. In my mind, any book over four hundred pages needs to justify the extra length and despite the surprise ending, this one fell short.

Four stars (just barely and only because of the “twist”) but it could have been so much better with a little tweaking.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

In the past, the mass media has presented only one type of norm, the perfect family situation with a husband, wife, and two to three somewhat “ordinary” children. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t match this utopia, so those on the “outside” are made to feel inconsequential for not meeting this ideal. Recently there has been a turnabout with books, television, movies, and even the news, celebrating a diversity of practices. With this change has come an acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community who continue to fight for a positive affirmation. While we aren’t quite there yet, it’s important that literature for children reflect this dynamic so the next generation grows up with a receptive perception of these “alternative” lifestyles which are actually quite common place. Even more important is to develop a prevailing existence of role models who reflect the reader’s intrinsic sensibilities so that they, too, can proudly hold their heads high without hiding their innate psyches.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is just such a book. Taking place in Paris where the first mega department store is going to open, the King and Queen of Brussels are visiting their French cousin with their sixteen year old son, Prince Sebastian. The King is pushing for his son to marry, even at this young age, to secure the future throne. He is even being allowed to choose which of the eligible ladies would suit him best, as compared to his parents’ arranged marriage. Sebastian, however, has a secret which he fears will embarrass his family and any future spouse. He loves fashion, and not just any fashion, but women’s clothing – the more outlandish the better! So when he sees an unusual, but creative style garment at his introductory ball, he sends for the seamstress with an eye for such spectacular design, so she can develop similar avante garde creations for himself to wear.

Frances is excited to design for royalty, even if the fabulous dresses are for the prince. Together they go out into society, he under the persona of Lady Crystallia who becomes a trendsetter in the Paris Fashion World, she as his designer. As Sebastian’s fame grows, so does his worries of being discovered, forcing him to distance himself from Frances despite their budding attraction and close friendship. Although she loves Sebastian for who he is, she also needs to pursue her dreams of becoming a noted couturier.

How this tale is resolved is heartwarming, despite some emotional drama. Will his parents reject a son who does not meet their expectations? Can society accept a cross dresser as royalty? Does Sebastian need to suppress the Lady Crystallia inside or can he continue going out in public showing his authentic self? Can he find true love outside the normal aristocratic channels? And can Frances develop avant garde creations using her genuine talents or must she suppress her inner genius and conform to the norms dictated by the rules of French Fashion?

This is some heavy stuff for a graphic novel, beautifully written and illustrated by Wang who is often able to advance the storyline just with her drawings, letting the expressive faces tell the tale without any words. The color pops, the fashion stuns, the storyline surprises, the ending positively resolves a touchy subject. The cartoon like illustrations lend themselves towards middle school, although older students will also appreciate the gender fluid, transvestite subject matter.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.