A Cat Named Tim and Other Stories

  • Author/illustrator: John Martz
  • Publisher: Koyama Press
  • Intended for: Ages 3 to 5
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves a cute, silly, entertaining book.

Cat Named Tim coverI’ve been waiting for this book to be published for some time now. I saw the cover for the book a while back and, as you can imagine, with a title that has the word “cat” in it and a cover that features a cat that cute, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

It is a mostly wordless collection of stories about different animals, in a cross between a picture book and a graphic novel. The first set of stories is about Doug & Mouse, the next is about Tim, then Connie, and finally Mr. & Mrs. Hamhock.

Cat Named Tim interior 1The stories are easy to follow, even without words, and each of them are truly fun. Martz does a brilliant job of setting up action, making it exciting along the way, and then delivering an unexpected result that will have kids laughing. That’s what I love so much about this book—the fact that it’s unpredictable. Take, for instance, one of Tim’s stories. We see him trying to putt a golf ball into a hole. He makes it into the hole, but as soon as the ball goes in, it shoots out with a gush of water. And on the next page we see why it was shot out—because Tim was golfing on top of a whale! Great set up, nice execution, and perfect reveal.

Cat Named Tim interior 2Each of the stories are perfectly silly and absurd—just as they should be for this age group. I think kids will love reading this book over and over. The adorable artwork with its great use of colors and simple shapes adds to the overall kid-friendly feel of the book. And it can’t be said enough…the artwork really is fabulous. It’s crazy cute and while each image looks simplistic, there are still plenty of details that add to the entertainment value. Highly recommended.

Cat Named Tim interior 3

Cat Named Tim interior 4

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  • Author: A.S. King
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company                   Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 15+
  • Perfect for: Teens! Anyone who likes a politically-charged novel.

Glory O'brien coverA.S. King is one of my absolute favorite young adult writers. I read Everybody Sees the Ants years ago and was blown away. I had stayed away from her earlier novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, for a stupid reason…I didn’t like the title and I didn’t like the cover. Together, they didn’t make me want to pick it up. Until I read Everybody See the Ants. Then I went back and read Vera Dietz and it is now one of my favorite YA novels ever.

So I was pretty excited that the author had a new book coming out and was excited to get a copy of it for my birthday.

I’ll admit that most of the way through the book I was thinking, “This book is just weird.” Because I’ll tell ya…it is a little weird. It’s weird in that the main character, Glory O’Brien, drinks the remains of a mummified bat with her best friend just days before she graduates high school and this allows her and Ellie to have special powers. When they make eye contact with people, they can see things about the past and future of these people. Glory sees some really disturbing stuff about a second Civil War in the United States and how laws are passed saying that women are no longer allowed to work (that way they don’t have to be given the same pay as men), which leads to the kidnapping and trading of women and children, which leads to nothing good, as you can imagine.

So as I said, I’m reading the book and thinking it’s just strange (although well-written and compelling to read). But then I finish it and realize something. A.S. King has done it again! Somehow the author is able to write such honest truths about teens (and adults) and life and friendship and fragile emotional states and make it interesting and never didactic.

In the book, Glory O’Brien is at a crossroads because she is about to graduate high school and doesn’t know if she has a future. She has been dealing with the effects of her mother’s suicide—who killed herself when Glory was just four years old—and wonders if she is destined to have the same fate. Ellie, who has been her best friend since childhood, lives on a hippie commune across the street from Glory and Glory is wondering if she even wants Ellie as a friend anymore. Her father, a former artist, just sits on the couch all day as he works from home answering IT calls. And no one will talk to Glory about the huge elephant in the room—her mother’s suicide.

Once Glory drinks the bat and begins having these transmissions from people, she realizes that she does in fact have a future and she is in charge of it! It all stems from something her mother wrote that makes all the sense in the world to her: Not living your life is just like killing yourself, only it takes longer.

I think A.S. King’s writing gets right to the heart of so many things that teens are struggling with: the nature of friendships and who is propelling you forward and who is holding you back, what to do with yourself when the future is wide open, and how to deal with issues that feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

Even with all of these heavy things running through the novel, there is something there at the end that she beautifully writes into all of her novels…HOPE. It’s that glint of a silver lining in life that she gives to readers and she always finds a way to incorporate it into her books. So at the end of another A.S. King novel I had a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, a smile on my face, and her ideas running through my head. I heart A.S. King.

The I Hunt Killers series

  • Author: Barry Lyga
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company                   Pub date: 2012, 2013, & 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 14+
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves a good thriller. Anyone who likes a serial killer novel.

I Hunt Killers coversSo, I just finished reading Blood of My Blood, the third and last book in the I Hunt Killers series. As I’ve said many times before, I am not particularly good at reading books in a series because I have a hard time waiting for the next book, and of course I forget about 80% of what happened in the previous books so trying to pick up where we left off is frustrating to me.

When I picked up the first book in the series, I Hunt Killers, I didn’t really know what the book was about. Of course the title told me something (!) but I didn’t know it was about serial killers and I didn’t know it would be kinda graphic. I picked it up because Barry Lyga is a wonderful writer and have loved everything he’s written.

I used to love reading scary books and watching scary movies—back in high school. But something happened after college. Don’t know what it was, but for some reason I could not longer stomach scary stuff. So I was completely surprised that I actually enjoyed these books—a lot. They’re very well written and I would say they’re never scary or overly gory. You are definitely on the edge of your seat as you read the books because they are a heck of a thrill ride, but I feel like the author tempered any potentially scary parts with either comic relief or momentum (in that you are so interested in finding out what happens that you keep turning pages instead of being scared).

What I think sets these books apart from other thrillers is the fact that the characters are so well drawn—they honestly feel like real people to me. Lyga doesn’t rely solely on plot to make the books interesting—you truly care about the characters. The main character is Jazz, the son of Billy Dent—one of the most infamous serial killers in history. Jazz’s closest friend is Howie, and his girlfriend is Connie. They are very realistic characters and I won’t go into great detail about them, but what I think Lyga did extremely well is give Jazz a great ongoing inner turmoil. What he carries with him at all times is the wonder if he’s destined to be a serial killer himself because not only does he have the genes, but he was also raised by his father—who was constantly teaching him ways to be a killer. So he’s got both the nature and the nurture going on…is it too much to resist? (I ain’t gonna tell ya.)

The first two books were so good that I couldn’t read them fast enough. I remember being mad…literally mad when I got to the end of the first book and realized that this was just the first book in a series. ARGH! I really wanted to know what happened next. The book was that good. The second book, Game, was totally engrossing as well. Same great characters, and now with a new plot twist. A really good read (although the ending…again…the story just stopped, instead of having a real ending…boy was that frustrating.) And then…the third book…Blood of My Blood. In my opinion it’s good, but not great. Mostly because the ending was so…ehh. There is a big twist toward the end and it really is shocking, largely because it’s kind of unbelievable. I don’t want to give away anything so I won’t go into specifics, but…I’ll admit to being disappointed.

While the series has this unfortunate ending , I don’t think it ruins the series as a whole. I would still recommend it highly because the writing is really good, the story is compelling, and the characters are interesting and complex—even the supporting characters. And maybe you’ll like the ending better than I did.