Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fairy Interesting: OUAT - Quiet Minds

3.15 "Quiet Minds"

Tonight sacrifice hits our fairy tale friends once again as more father/son relationships get strained to the breaking point. Meanwhile Zelena feeds Snow suspicious orange juice and they finally find out that she is, in fact, wicked while Henry calls Emma out on her lies but only gets half-truths in return.

I honestly don't have a lot to say about this episode. The flashback was simply to get us caught up with why the present stuff was happening. Illuminating, but not particularly discussion worthy. I do love every scene that Belle and Neal are in together, but Belle's hair in the flashback was not working out. Another bizarre relationship that somehow works. I mean technically Neal is Belle's almost-step-son, and they pull that dynamic off well.

I loved that Emma told Regina to be careful, but Regina doesn't do much but flirt with Robin Hood. Maybe one of you can clear something up for me. I was sure that at some point Regina spent time with the merry men and (therefore) Robin after Tinker Bell set them up as "true loves" but maybe I'm remembering wrong? If it wasn't Regina, who was it (I know it was a female) who joined them?

I like the idea of them being "destined" for each other, but the story line is playing out very oddly, which is making me not like it.

That was a supremely awkward bro-mance moment between Hook and Neal. But then my sister pointed out that it is possible Hook knew that Neal's life was most likely lost and that's why he had to get his good-bye in. It was rather out of character so that would make sense. Especially if Hook knew (as he would) that there would be nothing he could do to stop Neal or save him.

Speaking of which, I can't handle the deaths on all my shows this second half of the season. I'm pretty sure they are all conspiring together to ruin my escapism with death and destruction. I really, really wanted to see things play out between Emma and Neal. I wanted to see more of him and Henry. Just more in general. I'm sad. Very sad.

There were a couple of great lines. I loved when Emma said, "A week ago Henry and I were playing video games and eating fruit roll ups. Now I'm chasing after the Dark One hoping he can help me find the Wicked Witch of the West." That line just wraps up the absurdity of the situation and why she is finding it so impossible to bring things up with Henry. How do you even begin to explain this - especially when she knows how she felt when Henry kept trying to convince her that fairy tales were real.

I also loved Neal's line, "I almost married a minion of my evil grandfather, Peter Pan, so I know what you're talking about." Ha. Just Ha.

I found it ridiculous that Neal suddenly doubles over the second that Emma learns about the symbol/key/price thing. Really?

An up and down episode for me. I want to know where all this goes, but can we please just chop Zelena's head off and move on?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

"Veronica Mars" fans have much more than a successful new film to celebrate, "Veronica Mars: Thousand Dollar Tan Line,"  is the first in a new series that picks up shortly after where the film left off.  The series is written by show creator and writer Rob Thomas with Jennifer Graham. 

Other new releases in mystery include "Rotten at the Heart," by Bartholomew Daniels, "Darkness First," by James Hayman, "The Murder Wall," by Mari Hannah, "Death on a Blackheath," by Anne Perry, and "A Private Venus," by Giorgio Scerbanenco.

There is also a lot of love in the air today with dozens of new releases in Romance today.  Some of the highlights include "Hope Ignites," by Jaci Burton, "Recklessly Royal," by Nichole Chase, "Waking the Dead," by Heather Graham, "Three Weeks With Lady X," by Eloisa James, "Blossom Street Brides," by Debbie Macomber, and "Shadow Spell," the 2nd novel in the "Cousins O'Dwyer" trilogy by Nora Roberts.

Swing by Science Fiction/Fantasy for "Last God Standing," by Michael Boatman, "The Burning Dark," by Adam Christopher, "The Barsoom Project," by Larry Niven, "Sunstone," by Freya Robertson, and "Lockstep," by Karl Shroeder.

Over in Young Adult, you can pick up "The Summer of Letting Go," by Gae Polisner, "The Winter Horses," by Philip Kerr, and "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender," by Leslye Walton.

Will any of these books make your to-read list? Share with us and happy reading! Remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fairy Interesting: OUAT - The Tower

3.14 "The Tower"

In tonight's episode Charming faces his fears while Snow gets cozy with the evilest midwife ever. Regina and Henry share a moment with Regina acting distinctly un-evil-queen-like, and Rumplestiltskin is spinning crazy talk out on Dorothy's farm. In a brief and basically pointless flashback to the missing year, Rapunzel is locked in a tower and has to save herself.

I enjoyed having a Charming-centric episode as I feel like we haven't had one in ages, but there were just a lot of things that fell flat in the episode. Robin Hood's magical knowledge of the root that Charming charges after without thought, Zelena's awkward conversation with the Charming's in Storeybrooke, Hook's awkward conversation with Emma, Zelena's horrific giggles to Rumple that made me want to bang her head into a wall...
There were some real highlights though. One thing that has impressed me throughout the season is the way that Snow and Charming behave so parentally toward Emma. I mean, they're basically the same age and the Charming/Emma relationship in particular could so easily have an edge of creepiness to it. But the opening dream sequence was so brilliantly played and the filial love and pride Charming exudes is totally believable. I also, though it was a short bit, enjoyed seeing the actor get to play two different Charmings. I really appreciate it when an actor is given the opportunity to step out of the regular character, particularly when they do it well, which he does.

I love that Henry knows that something more is going on. His character is continually underestimated by everyone else and I would absolutely love it if he discovered the truth before they found a memory potion.

While I overall found the flashback to be redundant and rather pointless, I loved the idea of Rapunzel having gotten herself trapped rather than it being a result of her parent's thievery. I even like the concept of defeating your fears by facing it in physical form. I just felt like the flashback was merely info-dump so we would "understand" what was going on with Charming.

One thing came to light in this episode that illuminated an uneasiness I've had for some time. When Robin Hood tells Charming that the Nightroot is on the edge of Sherwood Forest not far from the castle everything clicked. I have no problems with there being different realms such as Neverland or Wonderland. But if this is so, then Robin Hood and his merry men and Sherwood Forest certainly belong in a different realm than the Enchanted Forest of fairy tales. I really have no issues with the blending of different tales and bringing in other characters than just fairy and folk tales, though I know that this annoys some people. What bothers me is the inconsistency. Robin Hood should not naturally inhabit the same world as Cinderella, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. Robin Hood's world should be separate. Which is why, as much as I don't mind having him there, I wish they had 1) not had Sherwood Forest nearby 2) had some explanation as to how Robin Hood and his men got exiled to the Enchanted Forest.

Okay, so that's off my chest.

Here are my questions about the Wicked Witch or Zelena that came up over the course of this episode.
1) How did she get Rumple's dagger? and where?
2) How did she know that Rumple had the Nightroot (and couldn't we have come up with a better name than "Nightroot"?) and where, precisely, in all that crowded, cluttered shop he kept it?
3) So now that she has Charming's courage does that mean he doesn't? And is she holding Rumple so she can learn from him how to get a HEART? And is she going to get Dr. Whale to do a lobotomy on someone so she can get a BRAIN and have a matching Wizard of Oz set?!

I thought it was so fascinating having Regina of all people be the one to tell Henry about the wonders of family and the joys of a small town where everyone knows you and is part of your life. It was amazingly sweet in a way that I hadn't anticipated. I'm liking her a lot more recently.

Hook on the other hand (heh) was getting on my nerves big time throughout the episode. I kept yelling at him to just back off and chill out. He is not helping his cause in any way shape or form and the brooding is getting in the way of him being the snarky brigand we all love. I hope we get some clarification on what he went through in the past year and that he works through this whiny broody stage before I'm ready to throw him back to Neverland for good.

As for next week, I only have one thing to say. NEAL.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

Sorry for the late post folks.  Unfortunately sometimes the internet is not our friend and we can't get online.  So, without further adieu, here's what's new this week.

In Mystery/Thriller, you'll find, "Missing," the latest from best-selling author Harlen Coben plus "Don't Look For Me," by Loren D. Estleman, and "Murder at Cape Three Points," by Kwei Quartey.

Over in Science Fiction/Fantasy you'll discover the 40th "Discworld" tale, "Raising Steam," by Terry Pratchett, "The Pilgrims," by Will Elliot,  and "The Lascar's Dagger: The Forgotten Land," by Glenda Larke.

Run over to Romance for "His to Possess," by Opal Carew, "Beyond Grace's Rainbow," by Carnel Harrington, and "Without A Summer," by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Over in Young Adult, you can pick up "Elusion," by Claudia Gabel, "Side Effects May Vary," by Julie Murphy, and "Starling," by Fiona Paul.

Are any of these books on your "to-read" list?  Share with us and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.  Happy Reading!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fairy Interesting: OUAT - Witch Hunt

3.13 "Witch Hunt"

Tonight Emma and Regina team up to solve the mystery of who enacted the curse, Little John devolves, but adds wings, and Henry is still clueless while the wicked witch of the west offers to be Snow White's midwife. Meanwhile, in flashbacks we discover the connection between Regina and the new big bad and Robin Hood and Regina flirt outrageously. Plus, in a welcome reveal, everyone's favorite crazy man isn't so dead after all.

The theme for the second half of the season was succinctly summed up by Robin Hood when he told Regina "We all get a second chance, Regina. You just have to open your eyes to see it." We've seen this idea before, but it is coming out really strongly now with Regina's chance to do right, Emma's opportunity to be the savior again, Regina's second chance with Henry, Hook's chance to try to build something with Emma (though the look on his face when she asked about Neal was so heartrending), and even Rumple's second life, whatever form that takes.

I'm not sure what I think about the whole wicked witch story line. We needed another big bad, that's for sure. Regina has completely lost her cred in that department. When she and Emma pulled the con in the meeting I was rolling my eyes so hard I'm pretty sure I sprained something, so I was really glad that she was just acting. I know I said before that I like her better evil, but as I started to see with the first part of the season, I think she's found her groove in being conniving and manipulative with a purpose other than revenge. Which is why I'm disappointed that she's all steely determined at the end of the flashback. Fortunately it's the flashback, so we'll get to see more of the good/conniving Regina in Storeybrooke.

I never thought I would feel so much for Regina as I did when she sees Henry and he doesn't know her. The look on her face was played absolutely perfectly and I could just feel her heart breaking. (on a side note, that houndstooth suit Regina was wearing in Storeybrooke was amazing and I totally want one like it).

On a happier note, Robin Hood's son Roland is absolutely adorable and it was a great moment seeing Regina protect him. I loved the weird banter/talk/flirt/stuff that was going on between Robin and Regina as they made their way into the castle and I really hope they continue to build something with that.

As for the revelation about the connection between the two wickeds I saw it coming pretty much as soon as Regina said it was a blood curse that had been overridden. That became pretty obvious. I am a little curious as to Zelena's back story, but I'm afraid we won't get any more than what we got tonight. And I'm also afraid that we will. Of course, what we find out fits well with the dysfunctional family drama/revenge motif - Zelena was abandoned by her mother, yadda yadda, now she wants to destroy someone. I have to say I'm finding this line a bit overused. As in wasn't there any other motive she could possibly have had?!

There were also some hilarious lines - all within a fairly short space of time.
I love how crazy they find the idea of flying monkeys. When Neal said, "Okay, you're acting like that's normal," all I could think was, yes, flying monkeys are hard to believe after everything else you've gone through in your life.

Other winning lines:
Grumpy: "One you drop a house on, one you throw a bucket of water on."

Regina: I don't care if the lollipop guild is protecting her." This one made me actually laugh out loud.

On another side note Zelena's eyes in Storeybrooke look so green I have to wonder if they're fake, but Charming's eyes are outrageously blue, so I could potentially buy that they're not.Are her eyes really that green? Because they look kind of fake, but Charming's are so ridiculously blue I could believe they were actually that green.

And what's with the flying monkey bites. What, is it like a werewolf?! Which brings me to the only line I've ever liked coming out of Dr. Whale's mouth: "I'm a doctor, not a vet." Very nice Star Trek nod there.

There must be a way to reverse the process because I can't imagine we would have permanently lost so many people. Especially if Neal was taken. But I have a feeling something else is going on with Neal. Having him missing is good for the Emma storyline, but I have a suspicion he's going to come into play with Zelena's resurrection of Rumple.

And can we talk about that for a moment. First can I just say how overwhelmed with joy I was to see Rumple in Zelena's little tornado cellar. Second can I just say how ridiculous it is that Zelena has basically Dorothy Gale's house. Third can I just say that I was pretty certain after last week's episode that we hadn't seen the end of Rumple and I am very glad to be proven right. But he's definitely more unhinged than normal and Zelena obviously has some sort of nefarious purpose in mind considering that she brought him back from the dead or whatever.

I'm continuing to enjoy the new flashback set up, but I'm also hoping they don't drag things out too far. Today virtually nothing happened in the flashback except Regina moping. Here's hoping they make better use of that missing year in future episodes.

All in all an interesting episode that was mostly exposition to reveal things that will hopefully pay off in future episodes in a bigger way. What did you think? Were you as eye-rolly as me at the sisterly reveal? Are you upset over Rumple's return? Shipping Robin Hood/Regina or totally against it? And do you think Henry should get his memory back soon? Do tell!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

10 Things About Amanda Cerreto and Fall From Grace

I have a very special 10 Things post for you today! Rather than the typical list, I'm going to give you 5 things I loved about the book and 5 things you should know about the author.

Amanda Cerreto and I met in grad school in, of all things, a creative writing workshop class. Our shared love of books, young adult, and writing quickly made us friends and I was thrilled to hear that she was publishing a book this year!

Since I had the inside scoop, I asked Amanda a few questions, which she was happy to answer:

1. If you had to tweet a summary of your book, what would it be?
Part mystery, part love story, and part paranormal, Fall From Grace will keep you guessing and appeal to all ages!

2. Where did you get the idea for Fall From Grace?
Shortly after graduating college, I was lying awake in the middle of the night and the idea of Jack just popped into my head. I grabbed my laptop and wrote the prologue, and then from there I began writing different scenes. Once the idea started to shape, I added scenes from Grace's POV and it kind of snowballed from there!
Originally, I never had the idea to create a paranormal element to the book. I was innocently writing the car-crash scene from Jack's perspective, and it just worked its way in. Then, of course, I had to re-write half of the book, but it took on a mind of its own and wouldn't be denied!

3. Can you talk a little bit about your publishing journey?
It took nearly two full years to write, edit, and workshop Fall From Grace. I queried agents left and right, and in return received about thirty standard form letters. I took a breather, edited some more, and tried again, this time expanding to small independent presses. Twenty queries and six manuscript requests later, I had some personalized rejections and four somewhat promising letters, all saying the same things: "We would take this on and publish it if the market were not so saturated with this genre."
I thought that was the end of it, but I found myself unable to stop thinking about my story. I wanted people to read it, even if it couldn't be done through the traditional route. As a result, I spent many months researching self-publishing and decided to give it a go. It was a huge learning process, and at times incredibly tedious. However, it was great to have creative control over the entire process.

4. What author or book do you think has had the greatest impact on you?
This is a tricky one, because there are so many great books and great authors out there. If I had to pick one that had the greatest impact on me, I would have to pick L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. I first read it in elementary school, and recently re-purchased the entire series because the books I had growing up were so worn out. Anne was such a great role model for young girls: she was fiery and self-assured, she owned up to her mistakes, and her dramatic flair was amusing and relatable. It's a book (and a series) that can be re-read over and over, and it has impacted me differently depending on what stage of my life I was in. Now that I'm closer to getting married to my own high-school sweetheart, it will be interesting to see how I read the series now!
Rebecca T here - I love that you picked L.M. Montgomery! She's my favorite author and I agree with so many things you said here. So, there you have it - if you haven't read the Anne books (or any of Montgomery's others) you have two strong recommendations on something to read after you finish Fall From Grace.

5. What is your favorite dessert?
Brownies, for sure! I do not have a very sophisticated palate; my food preferences generally match up with a 7 year-old :)
Another great choice! You can see why we're friends. We could just sit around eating brownies and reading Anne of Green Gables all day.

Thanks Amanda! It was great to hear a little more about the book and you. If you want to follow Amanda, you can find her author page on Facebook and she'll be adding more to her author website soon.

Now it's time for my list of 5 things I loved about Fall From Grace:

1. The alternating viewpoints. Okay, so I think I have pulled this out every time I review a book that does this, but it can be hard to pull off while still telling the story that needs to be told and Amanda does a great job of using Jack and Grace to move the story forward and give us information and keep certain things hidden when necessary.
2. The unraveling of the situation. The basic premise was pretty clear to me from the beginning, but there were enough twists and turns and slow revelations to keep me intrigued throughout the whole book. Even though I thought I knew what was going to happen, Amanda really did keep me guessing until it was all revealed.
3. Jack. I really liked the twist on angels and guardian angels with Jack. I won't spoil anything, but I really liked the way Jack's character, in particular, developed and the way Amanda crafted her mythology.
4. Grace. She's a strong female character who is dealing with a horrible situation - her two best friends died in a car crash while she was driving and she is the only one who survived. The anger of her classmates, and the indifference of her parents really could have crushed her, but she pushes forward, holding onto strands of hope and works really hard not to let bitterness and anger overtake her completely.
5. The ending. I really liked the way that it ended. It was a hard ending to pull off satisfactorily, but I think Amanda nailed it.

So if you want to read Fall From Grace you can get it from Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million or check out the posting on GoodReads.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

Happy Tuesday everyone!  Here's to another week of great new reads.

Start out in Mystery for the 14th "Joe Pickett," novel, "Stone Cold," by C.J. Box plus "A Flash of Green," by John. D. MacDonald, "The Set Up Man," by T.T. Monday, and "Death Bed," by Leigh Russell.

Step over to Science Fiction/Fantasy for "Night Broken," by Patricia Briggs, "The Fell Sword," by Miles Cameron, "The Raven's Shadow," by Elspeth Cooper," "Mentats of Dune," by Brain Herbert, and "No Hero," by Jonathan Wood.

Race over to Romance for "Mad Love," by Colet Abedi, "Wicked Earl Seeks Proper Heiress," by Sara Bennett, and "Flashes of Me," by Cynthia Sax.

"Ask Again Later," by Liz Czukas, "The Edge of Water," by Elizabeth George, "Don't Even Think About It," by Sarah Mlynowski, "The Mirk and Midnight Hour," by Jane Nickerson," "The Winner's Curse," by Marie Rutkoski, and "Ruins," by Dan Wells.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us! Happy Reading and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fairy Interesting: OUAT - New York City Serenade

It's ba-ack! After an excruciatingly long hiatus our favorite fairy tale (and not-so-fairy-tale) characters have returned. Are we ready to find out what happened in the past year? Will Emma slap Hook again? Will Henry remember? Let's dive into what happened in tonight's episode.

3.12 "New York City Serenade"

So tonight the band of characters find themselves back in the Enchanted Forest, Emma gets proposed to by a flying monkey, and Hook gets handcuffed.

I thought this was a great "premier" that sets the show up for a new direction and helps solve some of the issues from the first part of the season.
1. Henry's rapid growth is mitigated a little bit by the passage of a year, but he's gotten even older, hitting that growth spurt period and making him look a lot more mature.
2. The boring-ness of the flashbacks. Let's be honest - the flashbacks haven't been interesting for most of this season. Now we can still get the flashback, which has been a big part of the set up of the show, but it will be going back to this "missing" year in the Enchanted Forest as we find out how the Wicked Witch took over and what happened to our fairy tale cast.
3. Regina's storyline. For the first time in a long time I'm getting excited about the possibilities opening up for Regina. She's claiming her "self" - someone who can be manipulative, but who isn't truly evil. The thing that excites me the most is the return of Robin Hood and the pursuit of what was hinted at before.
4. Snow's pregnancy doesn't have to be hidden anymore. Thank goodness, because any more of those ridiculous cloak looks would have driven me crazy. Except I just realized that in the flashbacks they're still going to have to do the same thing. (also, did you notice that Aurora has managed to find Snow's giant white pregnancy cloak)

Speaking of Aurora - I was really upset with how weak she was in this episode. I really despise the way she behaves around Phillip. Instead of being a strong, intelligent woman, she becomes this damsel-in-distress who can't do anything on her own. I understand her concern for her child, but the Aurora I enjoyed before would never have sacrificed everyone else for her own safety.

Neal was breaking my heart in this episode, but it was neat to see him bonding with his "stepmother"? Belle and seeing Robin again. And, though I missed Rumple terribly, even in this one episode, I loved the hint we got that he might not be gone for good.

And talk about breaking my heart. Hook's eyes in this episode did more acting than most of the characters in this episode.

I absolutely adore the way Emma and Henry interact in their alterna-world. It's so wonderful to see them in a happy, healthy, good relationship with each other and I really hope that doesn't get lost. I do like the idea, however, that it will now be Emma trying to convince Henry that all of this is real and that fairy tales exist in a sort of strange reversal of the first season.

I would like to go on record saying that I never trusted Walsh for one second. I knew something was off and that he was most likely working for the Wicked Witch, but I wasn't quite expecting him to be a flying monkey.

I have another comment to make, but I don't want to spoil anything so if you haven't watched Harper's Island you should absolutely go binge watch it on Netflix and then come back and highlight the next section because I can't keep myself from making this next comment: When Walsh met Emma in the restaurant I yelled at the TV, "It's Henry from Harper's Island! Look out! Don't trust him, he's a serial killer!" And then I danced when it turned out she actually shouldn't have trusted him at all.

The best line of the night went to Emma when she says to Hook, "Drink the thing the crazy guy just gave me? No thanks." Love the snark.

I was surprised at how quickly (and easily) Emma remembered everything and I am very curious as to who made that memory potion for Hook. I want to know what happened to him after he left the band of fairy tale misfits in the Enchanted Forest. More fodder for future weeks I suppose.

I'm also very curious about why/how they all ended up back in Storebrooke. Other than wanting to reuse the sets. But where will this storyline go? The flashback of the missing year will be pretty obvious - unraveling everything that happened and how they got there. But what is the end goal of returning them? Just to get them out of the Enchanted Forest? What will drive the story in the present? I'm really quite curious.

All in all I thought it was a very promising start to the rest of the season and I'm a lot more excited for next week than I anticipated being.
What did you think? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? What do you want (or not want) to see in the rest of the season?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

Everyone is familiar with the idion, "March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb."  It certainly seems to be ringing true in our area as we experience below freezing temperatures this week but there are also a lot of new books to roar about this week.

Best-selling author, David Baldacci, releases his first novel for Young Adults with "The Finisher."  Other new releases in the genre include "Searching for Beautiful," by Nyrae Dawn, "Steadfast," by Claudia Gray, "16 Things I Thought Were True," by Janet Gurtler, "Panic," by Lauren Oliver, "Exposure," the 4th "Virals" novel by Kathy Reichs, and "The Winner's Curse," by Marie Rutkoski.

Moving to Mystery/Thriller you'll find "The Black Eyed Blonde," by Benjamin Black, "Murder in Pigalle," by Cara Black, "City of Darkness and Light," by Rhys Bowen, "The Bootlegger," the 7th "Isaac Bell," novel by Clive Cussler, "How to Paint a Cat," by Rebecca M. Hale, and "Bone Deep," by Randy Wayne White.

Slide over to Science Fiction/Fantasy to discover "The Weirdness," by Jeremy P. Bushnell, "Black Moon," by Kenneth Calhoun, "Honor Among Thieves," by James S.A. Corey, "The Emissary," by Patricia Cori, "Notes from the Internet Apocalypse," by Wayne Gladstone, "Ghost Train to New Orleans," by Mur Lafferty, "Words of Radiance," by Brandon Sanderson, and "The Barrow," by Mark Smylie.  

Run by Romance for "Theirs to Cherish," by Shayla Black, "A Simple Hope," by Rosalind Lauer, "Hidden Agendas," by Lora Leigh, "Need You Tonight," by Roni Loren, "Reaper's Vow," by Sarah McCarty, and "Four Years Later," by Monica Murphy.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us!  Remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

First Things First: The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Happy March  and welcome back to "First Things First."  Each month I'll be reviewing the first book(s) in a long-standing series.  This month, I took a break from mystery thriller and re-visited my friend Alice McKinley.  "The Agony of Alice," is the first novel in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" series.

"Life, Alice McKinley feels, is just one big embarrassment. Here she is, about to be a teenager and she doesn't know how. It's worse for her than for anyone else, she believes, because she has no role model. Her mother has been dead for years. Help and advice can only come from her father, manager of a music store, and her nineteen-year-old brother, who is a slob. What do they know about being a teen age girl? What she needs, Alice decides, is a gorgeous woman who does everything right, as a roadmap, so to speak. If only she finds herself, when school begins, in the classroom of the beautiful sixth-grade teacher, Miss Cole, her troubles will be over. Unfortunately, she draws the homely, pear-shaped Mrs. Plotkin. One of Mrs. Plotkin's first assignments is for each member of the class to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings. Alice calls hers "The Agony of Alice, " and in it she records all the embarrassing things that happen to her.

Through the school year, Alice has lots to record. She also comes to know the lovely Miss Cole, as well as Mrs. Plotkin. And she meets an aunt and a female cousin whom she has not really known before. Out of all this, to her amazement, comes a role model -- one that she would never have accepted before she made a few very important discoveries on her own, things no roadmap could have shown her. Alice moves on, ready to be a wise teenager."

Not only did I love "The Agony of Alice," I've read and love this entire series.  While "The Agony of Alice," was first published in 1985 and is geared for middle grade readers (age 9-12) I didn't stumble upon it until 2011.  I read "I Like Him, He Likes Her," which details Alice's freshman year in high school and featured the novels: "Alice Alone," "Simply Alice," and "Patiently Alice."  After I devoured that, I had to put first things first and see where the Alice series began.

While I read the entire series as adult, I found Alice's story to be very relate-able to my school days and in turn, I think tweens and teens could easily relate to her. Alice isn't a privileged Upper East Sider like the "Gossip Girl" gang, nor is she full of secrets and scandals like the "Pretty Little Liars" crew or in love with a vampire.  Alice is just a normal girl dealing with everyday life.  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor doesn't shy away from describing Alice's life experiences such as puberty and the awkwardness that comes with it.  There are many instances throughout this book and the series that I really empathized with Alice and recalled similar experiences.  

As as adult I was also able to appreciate the life lessons in this series.  As Alice grows up and enters high-school, the relationships she and her friends engage in turn more serious and in some instances more physical.  Naylor does of good job of showcasing the realities and consequences of sexual relationships without coming off as preachy.  

However, this series isn't all awkward moments and life lessons.  There are plenty of comical moments too such as when Alice's fashion challenged brother Lester tries to help her with back-to-school shopping, the pranks Alice's friends play on Lester, and Alice's attempts at playing matchmaker for her father and brother.

I also loved Alice's relationship with her father.  Mr. McKinley reminds me a lot of my dad.  He's easy-going, loves music and he and Alice can talk about anything and everything. 

Last Fall, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor concluded the series with "Now, I'll Tell You Everything," which followed Alice from her college years until she turned 60.  It was a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic series.  I laughed and I cried just as I had through most books in this series.  You may also want to rewind the clock a little further and explore the prequel novels "Starting With Alice,"  "Alice in Blunderland," and "Lovingly Alice," which follow Alice from 3rd Grade through 5th. 

If you haven't met Alice McKinley, I highly recommend you do and that you share the books with the teens and tweens in your life.  She's been a great friend to me and I'm sure she'll be one to you too.

If you've read any of the books in the "Alice" series, I'd love to hear your non-spoilery thoughts below.