Monday, May 13, 2013

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

Many people dream of running away and joining the circus. This book makes that dream a reality and helps one girl find out where she's supposed to be.

Lexi's world is turned upside down after her father dies and she's left homeless, penniless, and betrayed by her friends. With nowhere to go, she tries to find her mother who abandoned her as a child. She's led to the Europa circus, only to learn that her mother had come and gone with no forwarding address. Now that she's stranded in a new state, she pleads for a job with the circus and soon finds herself bonding with the cast and crew, from the trapeze sisters Lina and Liska to falling in love with two of the workers. Just as she finds her spot in the circus, her former best friend Eli suddenly appears, forcing her to confront the things she was avoiding surrounding her father's death. She knows that life in the circus is not her destiny, but does she have the strength to face reality?

I really enjoyed this novel. While life at the circus seems a bit cliché or stereotypical, there's nothing to say that's not how it really is. For the first half of the novel the chapters switch between now and the days leading up to her father's death. The transitions are relatively flawless and help build Lexi's inner-conflict without coming flat out and saying the problem. Each chapter started with a lyric from a song. This was interesting but the most of the songs were a little too obscure for me to make any connection with.

This book was a quick and enjoyable read. It seems a bit like a fluff book, but it has a lot of depth in terms of what you think you know about people and letting go of the things that will hold you back. This is well worth the read.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Who Done It? An Anthology conducted by Jon Scieszka

Since this book is an anthology, it is a collection of work from multiple authors. Even with that in mind, a collection of over 80 author's alibis might be a bit excessive and tedious.

This anthology focuses on the world of alibis after the murder of editor Herman Mildew. A number of well-known young adult and children's fiction authors were invited to a party thrown by Mildew, except the host was shortly found murdered and everyone is a suspect. Every entry in the anthology, then, is the author's alibi as to why he or she did not murder Mildew, even though everyone had motive. The man was cruel, insensitive, obsessed with stinky cheese, pickles, and toenail clippings, and an all-around jerk. Yet all eighty-plus authors claim they did not murder the man.

The book was put together with the support of an organization called 826NYC which helps support students and their writing. It seems as though this organization does a similar anthology with these students where they brainstorm an idea and then each individually write stories around that idea. I love the concept, but I didn't really feel like it worked with this book. To be exact, there are 84 stories or alibis in this collection. After a while, they all blend together. There are only so many things that can be said about someone who in an insensitive editor and has a thing for cheese and pickles. At the same time, these are alibis, not necessarily fully developed stories, so most entries are only three or four pages.  Personally I've never been a fan of short stories to begin with, but these being only alibis felt exceptionally short and too underdeveloped to amount to anything really memorable. That's not to say, though, that none of these entries were good - there were a number that made me chuckle - but there simply too many.

Maybe my prejudice against short stories doomed this anthology from the beginning. I really did like the concept of this book, though. The number of authors that I recognized definitely adds to the allure of this collection. I really liked the collaboration of so many well known writers. That being said, the overall total of entries might leave a reader feeling a bit overwhelmed.