Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

July graphic novels: A Hawking bio and a witchy middle grade noir

Hawking, by Jim Ottaviani/Illustrated by Leland Myrick, (July 2019, First Second), $29.99, ISBN: 9781626720251

Ages 12+

If your science and biography sections don’t have an Ottaviani/Myrick section yet, you may want to get to work on that. This is the second collaboration the two have worked on; the first being Feynman, a graphic biography on physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman.

Hawking is in parts biography and science comic for teens and adults, moving easily back and forth between Stephen Hawking’s life story and explanations of physics, black holes, and the universe at large. The story begins with Hawking’s birth, 300 days to the day after Galileo’s death, wanders through his early adolescence as a teen who speaks “Hawkingese” and appears socially awkward; his marriage to Jane Hawking and his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, also known as ALS; his research and ultimate pop culture fame, and his later years, second marriage, and the degenerative path of his disease. First and foremost, this is a story about science; there are pages devoted to discussions between defining voices, including Newton, Faraday, and Einstein, about cosmology, light, and gravity. Jim Ottaviani captures Hawking’s voice – the graphic novel is narrated by a fictional Hawking – and shows up a glimpse of the man behind the legend. Award-winning illustrator Leland Myrick‘s artwork is unfussy, providing scientific sketches as easily as he captures Stephen Hawking’s wry smirk and his ability to disappear into a cloud of physics, even in a crowded room. The end of Hawking’s story will catch readers right in the feelings – I choked up a bit. An author’s note discusses how graphic novels are a good medium for narrative nonfiction, and I couldn’t agree more. Jim Ottaviani is an New York Times-bestselling author whose graphic biographies also include The Imitation Game (Alan Turing) and Primates (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas), so the man knows how to plot out a graphic biography. There is a nice list of references that will give interested readers even more material to look through.

I love graphic novel bios – they’re a great way to get tweens, teens, and adults interested in reading biographies, and the graphic medium allows for great explanations of topics that may be difficult in solid print (like physics!). If you have readers who have aged up from Science Comics, hand them Hawking. A definite must-add to your (growing!) graphic novel biographies.


Grimoire Noir, by Vera Greentea/Illustrated by Yana Bogatch, (July 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626725980

Ages 12+

This beautifully illustrated graphic novel has a few plots going on at once: set in a town called Blackwell, where all the girls are witches, a teen named Bucky yearns for power of his own – despite the fact that no witch can leave the town. Ever. Bucky’s younger sister, Heidi, is kidnapped, and Bucky joins forces with his estranged friend, a teen girl named Chamomile, to look for her. Within this main story are threads of other plots; the hostility Chamomile’s father, Blackwell’s deputy, has toward Bucky (who also happens to be the sheriff’s son); a coven of Mean Girls/The Craft witches called The Crows, who want to set plans in motion that will set them free to leave Blackwell, and a ghost of the very first witch, a child named Griselda, whose death at the hands of witch hunters set the curse on Blackwell’s daughters into motion.

The storyline has moments where the storyline becomes confusing to follow, but has some touching relationship bits that I’d like to have seen more about. The relationship between Chamomile and her father runs deep, and we only get a surface glimpse, for instance. Will we get more Blackwell stories from Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch? We can sure hope so; I think there’s a lot more to tell in a town with a history like theirs. Tween and young teens will enjoy this human, paranormal tale with a twist.


Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery is keeping watch

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery, by Allison Rushby, (July 2018, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763696856

Recommended for readers 9-12

Flossie Birdwhistle is a ghost, but that’s beside the point. She’s got a very important job as Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery; making sure her fellow souls are at rest and cared for. She’s a young ghost – she’s only 11- and while some may have something to say about that, she’s good at her job. Right now, her big concern is World War II, currently raging over Britain, and disturbing her dead neighbors. Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier up to no good, so she starts investigating, and learns that he’s somehow managed to bridge the gap between the worlds of the dead and the living. She has got to stop him before he – and the enemy army – can destroy Britain!

This is thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction with a nice dose of the supernatural. Flossie has a nicely sketched out backstory, and we learn just enough about her fellow ghosts and familiars to keep us satisfied and turning pages. I like how author Allison Rushby incorporated Hitler’s well-documented fascination with the supernatural into the story, making this a “what if” type of alternate history novel for younger readers, and I like Flossie’s determination and ability to think while under (often literal) fire. Mystery and ghost story fans will enjoy meeting Flossie and friends. Want to give readers a fun website? Let them visit the actual Highgate Cemetery’s webpage, where they can find war graves (including soldiers from WWII), take a virtual tour of the cemetery, and visit a few luminaries.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.


Posted in Uncategorized

Gothic YA: Madeleine Roux’s House of Furies

House of Furies, by Madeleine Roux, (May 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062498618

Recommended for readers 13+

Teenage runaway Louisa Ditton tries to avoid life on the streets in 1800s England, telling fortunes for a the cost of a meal and a night’s lodging, when she’s offered employment as a maid at Coldthistle House, a boarding house in Northern England. She gratefully accepts the offer, but very quickly realizes that Coldthistle House is a strange place; from Mr. Morningside, the owner, down to Mary, a fellow maid who reminds Louisa of someone from her past, everyone is… different. When she discovers that Coldthistle House is more than just a boarding house – it’s a house of judgement, where the staff wield their own judgement on their guests, Louisa decides she needs to act: she’s convinced that Lee, a lodger traveling with his uncle, is an innocent. Is Lee as genuine and blameless as Louisa thinks he is? Can Louisa trust anyone at Coldthistle House? And who are the mysterious Residents?

I gobbled up Madeleine Roux’s Asylum books and was excited to see a new book from her. House of Furies doesn’t disappoint. Louisa is a conflicted Gothic heroine, stuck in a situation she’s terrified of but committed to the friends she’s made there and keeping her potential love interest, Lee, safe from harm. The cast of characters is rich, from the handsome, mysterious Mr. Morningside, to Gram, the crone-turned-head of Coldthistle who rescues Louisa and brings her to the boarding house. Similar to her Asylum series, the author includes photos and excerpts from a supernatural text that figures heavily into the plot. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, and while I was left satisfied – not a lot of loose ends dangling – I wanted to find out more about everyone at Coldthistle, and to see what Louisa planned on doing next.

Think Penny Dreadful for this audience: have the graphic novels out; display and booktalk with Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s series and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. There are an incredible number of resources on Pinterest that will help you create gothic displays and give a nice, creepy feel for any events or booktalks you plan for this one. Could be a great summer reading program!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sideshow Stalkers and Secrets: Freeks

freeksFreeks, by Amanda Hocking, (Jan. 2017, St. Martin’s/Griffin), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250084774

Recommended for ages 14+

Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow isn’t your run of the mill carny act: the performers are all special. They have necromancers, firedancers who make their own fire, levitating trapeze artists, and supernaturally strong men. Nineteen year-old Mara travels with the sideshow, where her necromancer mother reads tarot cards, but she’s torn between the familiarity of the sideshow and the family atmosphere around her, and the desire to live in a real home. She worries for her mother, who’s showing fatigue from years of communicating with the dead. And when the sideshow pulls into Caudry, Louisiana, she meets Gabe, a townie who has secrets of his own, but embraces her despite knowing almost nothing about her. And then, the attacks start.

It starts when Blossom, a runaway who travels with the sideshow, disappears. Next, their strong man is mauled by a beast that no one seems to see. Is the town – not terribly friendly toward the “freeks” – up to no good, or is there something hunting the supernatural performers? Desperate to save her sideshow family and herself, Mara starts her own investigation and opens herself to the power that her mother has tried to keep at bay for most of her life.

Freeks is a slow build, with Hocking giving us little shakes and scares to start, but when things take off, hang onto something. There’s solid worldbuilding and great character development. The YA romance aspect of it takes over every now and then, but it’s a YA romance set in a carny/suspense universe. Paranormal romance fans will love this one for sure. Pair with Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers for more paranormal carnival storytelling (and its sequel, The Pack, to be published this year!).

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The reluctant necromancer: Eight Rivers of Shadow

8riversEight Rivers of Shadow, by Leo Hunt, (Aug. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689940

Recommended for ages 12+

In this sequel to 13 Days of Midnight, Luke Manchett and his girlfriend, Elza, are dealing with the aftermath of discovering that Luke’s father was a necromancer who passed along his Host of spirits to his son and his deal with the devil to banish them. He and Elza are trying to just blend into the background and get back to a semblance of normalcy when an American exchange student named Ash shows up. She’s got white hair, wears only white, and she’s just… off. Luke and Elza do some investigating and learn that Ash is much more than she seems to be; desperate to save her sister, she drags Luke back into the world of demons and deals. This time, though, stakes are even higher, and Luke must head back to Deadside to make things right again.

I haven’t read 13 Days of Midnight, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage here, but Leo Hunt does put a wealth of background info into this story so that new readers aren’t completely lost. There are ghosts and demons aplenty here for paranormal fans to enjoy. Luke is sympathetic enough, getting pulled along a road he doesn’t want to be on in order to save his reality; my big wish is that we’d have gotten to Deadside sooner. If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll enjoy this sequel; booktalk them together, and display and talk this up with Labyrinth Lost, which also features a protagonist with power she doesn’t want, and a trip beyond the Veil.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fearless Vampire Hunters? Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov

henry-hunterHenry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov (Henry Hunter #1), by John Matthews, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510710382

Recommended for ages 8-12

Tween sleuth Henry Hunter and his sidekick, Adolphus (Dolph, for short) head to Transylvania to investigate the vampire myth and its relation to the Beast of Snagov in this new series debut. Henry is an adventure seeker, a tween millionaire with absentee parents who let him do just about whatever his minds sets itself to; Adolphus is his chronicler, much like Watson to Holmes. Henry reads about the Beast of Snagov – a creature more terrifying than Dracula himself, and who’s rumored to be the origin of the vampire myth – and decides that he and Dolph need to investigate. Off they go to Transylvania, where they’ll investigate the historical Vlad Tepes – Vlad the Impaler, the model for Count Dracula – and meet an interesting ally in the process.

There are secret societies, supernatural creatures, and a very nice tribute to Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm in this fun supernatural mystery series. Kids will get a kick out of Henry Hunter and Dolph. Kids get to vicariously enjoy an adventure without parental intervention, with unlimited resources, and a teamup with a supernatural force in her own right. The characters are light and fun, and there’s some good information about Bram Stoker and his literary creations as well as the historical figure that birthed a legend, to be found here.

The kids in my library love mystery and supernatural/spooky books, so this will be a fun addition for me. I’ll mention Dracula and Lair of the White Worm, and display with the usual spooky suspects: Goosebumps, Cornelia Funke’s Ghosthunters series, and Angie Sage’s Araminta Spookie series. Originally published in Australia, Henry’s got another book in the series, Henry Hunter and the Cursed Pirates, so interested readers can keep their fingers crossed that he makes his way to our shores.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

My Daddy is More Powerful Than Yours: Jack Death

jack-death_1Jack Death, by M.L. Windsor, (Sept. 2016, Creston Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9781939547286

Recommended for ages 8-12

Lots of kids have Secrets in this story, but Jack’s got a really big Secret: his dad is Death. Like, THE Death. He tends to keep to himself until the day his best friend, Booger Reynolds, is eaten by a troll – that sets him off. He’s determined to find out how the troll escaped its enclosure, and ends up making a friend along the way: his neighbor, Nadine, who’s got a pretty big Secret of her own. Together, the two stumble upon a high-level conspiracy to kill off half their town’s residents in this hilarious, morbid, and compulsively readable debut by M.L. Windsor.

Jack Death takes place in a supernatural world where many of the residents are supernatural hybrids, belonging to either Golden or Black bloodlines. Golden bloodlines are descended from cutesy types like fairies and pixies, while Black bloodlines are descended from less desirable creatures, like ogres and trolls. Jack and Nadine are both great middle grade characters: very likable, adventurous, and with big secrets that they struggle with. Being Death’s son, Jack doesn’t have any manifested powers to speak of, but the Grim Reapers that only he can see seem to be concerned about him and drop hints that Death is holding onto a pretty big Secret of his own about his son. The omniscient narrator – Jack’s Guardian Reaper – is morbidly funny, reminding me of Roald Dahl with a twist of Lemony Snicket. The  conspiracy to kill off the Goldenbloods uncomfortably parallels the Holocaust, including a roundup of the town’s Goldenbloods, herding them into a darkened warehouse to meet their fate.  The story is a smart parable about genocide and racism with important side discussions about bullying, friendship, and keeping secrets. The ending leaves me hopeful that there will be a sequel; I enjoyed meeting these characters and would love to see them in action as they develop into adolescents. Most of the diversity in this book covers the two bloodlines, but there is a reference to Nadine and her dad being of Asian descent.

Jack Death is a fun middle grade novel that will open up some good discussions. I’d booktalk this and display it with the Series of Unfortunate Events series; throw in some David Walliams and Roald Dahl to talk about dry humor, too.

Creston Books has a link to a Curriculum Guide for Jack Death and the author’s webpage has links to her newsletter and information about her tour schedule. Here’s a quick excerpt.

jack-death_2 jack-death_3

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

Not Your Ordinary Circus: Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers

9781634502016_a39a9The Wanderers, by Kate Ormand (Sept. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634502016

Recommended for ages 12+

Sixteen year-old Flo lives with a traveling circus group. She’s getting ready for her first performance- a performance she’s a little nervous about – when she realizes she’s being watched. Her circus is being watched, and she’s terrified The Hunters have caught up with them at last.

You see, this is no ordinary circus, and Flo’s no ordinary girl. This is a circus of shape-shifters, and The Hunters are tracking them, and anyone like them. When The Hunters finally make their move, Flo and a small group of friends find themselves on the run, relying on contacts their elders have made over the years. They’ll learn about the  secrets and lies they’ve been raised to believe, and worse, they’ll learn that they may have had a traitor among them all along.

When I first started The Wanderers, I wasn’t really sure where this was going to go. I thought I was going to get a shape-shifting teen angsty romance with some conflict from supporting characters, which isn’t really my wheelhouse. I’m very happy to say that wasn’t the case. The overall story is established fairly quickly, and when the action hits, there’s no slowing down. I was trying to figure things out, but Ms. Ormand is three steps ahead – let the story take you there. There’s a morality play deftly woven into the storyline that will break your heart as you strip away the layers of deceit, with a strong pathos for this ragtag group of refugees that can’t seem to find sanctuary. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open – I’m interested to see if we’ll meet these characters, or their shadowy nemeses, again. Teens and tweens interested in speculative fiction, adventure, and romance will enjoy this one.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Dead Boy by Laurel Gale – An Unconventional Kid, An Unconventional Friendship

DEADBOYDead Boy, by Laurel Gale (Sept. 2015, Random House Children’s), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553510089

Recommended for ages 9-13

Crow is a boy who should be in 6th grade by now. He’s lonely and wants a friend, but he’s stuck indoors by his overprotective mom, who worries that the outside world will take Crow away from her once they discover her secret: Crow died two years ago.

Crow doesn’t remember much about how he died; he just sort of died. But he remembers waking up to his mother’s tears. Since then, he’s been a bit stinky, has a bit of a maggot problem, and tends to lose body parts. All Crow wants is a friend, and maybe not to stink so much. When an eccentric girl named Melody moves in next door, she’s fascinated by Crow. She’s undeterred by his mother’s efforts to keep her away – keep everyone and everything away – from Crow, and at last, Crow finally has a friend. When they go wandering one night, they discover a creature, the Meera, that has deep ties to Crow and his family – and another family in the neighborhood. Can Crow learn the Meera’s secrets, save one of his former classmates, and maybe – just maybe – be a real boy again?

This was a great read for middle graders who like a touch of the macabre in their fiction. If your kids have read and enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Graveyard Book, or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, consider introducing them to this one. I’d like to pair this book with A.F. Harrold’s The Imaginary for a heck of a book discussion. (Hmm… I see a really interesting book display forming in my brain.) Laurel Gale gives us such an empathy toward poor Crow, at the same time letting us cringe and chuckle at his… well, deadness. I felt his yearning for a friend and his loneliness, his frustration with his mother, who keeps too many secrets “for his own good”, and the desperation to know what happened to him. Melody is a great sidekick, a friend with some wild theories that aren’t too off the mark. We get some great comeuppance for mean girls and bullies, too.

At the same time, we see the toll that the loss of a child takes on a marriage, and the lengths that parents will go to in order to keep their children safe and happy. It’s a bit disturbing at times, but it’s an honest look into a parent’s psyche that will make for some great family book group discussions. Read this book with your kids, with your classes, and let the dialogue flow.

Laurel Gale ‘s author page features Dead Boy and some basic contact info for the moment; hopefully, as the book gets closer to publishing date, we’ll get some more resources.