Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong – A True Crime Hi-Lo Reader from Lorimer

mrbig Real Justice: A Police Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong – The Story of Kyle Unger, by Richard Brignall (2015, Lorimer), $12.95CAD, ISBN: 9781459408623

Recommended for ages 13+

I’ve got some teens at a few of my libraries whose reading levels aren’t always at age level, but giving these kids a younger level book isn’t always the answer. That’s what the term Hi-Lo is all about: high interest, low reading level. Reaching teens by writing deeper texts with complex themes and ideas, using succinct language and shorter sentences is the heart of Hi-Lo. There are some good hi-lo books out there – Saddleback has a good line of short chapter books available, as does Canadian-based Lorimer (distributed in the U.S. through Orca), whose chapter books are longer in length and seem to handle slightly more complex sentence structures and even deeper content.

Real Justice is a true crime series, with A Police Mr. Big Sting Goes Wrong detailing the true crime story surrounding the murder of 16 year-old Brigitte Grenier at a music festival in Manitoba, Canada. Unger, who was 19 at the time of the murder, was charged with her murder despite Grenier’s involvement with another concertgoer that evening. An entrapment sting operation led to his arrest and conviction for a murder he swore he did not commit until his acquittal thanks to DNA evidence 20 years later.

Brignall states his facts as objectively as possible and pulls no punches – the book gets somewhat graphic here – and offers an in-depth study of the case that true crime and nonfiction fans will appreciate. Further resources in the back offer a timeline and more reading for those interested.

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

YA Spotlight: Powerless, by Tracy Deebs & Tera Lynn Childs

Powerless

Powerless, by Tera Lynn Childs & Tracy Deebs (2015, Sourcebooks Fire), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492616573

Recommended for ages 13+

Imagine living in a society of superheroes. Being the daughter of two highly regarded superheroes – and having no powers at all. That’s 17 year-old Kenna’s life. Her father was killed by villains when she was a child, and her scientist mother will do anything to keep her safe. But when Kenna discovers a group of villains in the lab late one night, searching for a member of their group, she discovers that the heroes she’s looked up to all her life aren’t as heroic as she thought. Everyone has their secrets. Kenna’s about to discover hers.

Powerless is the first book in the new Hero Agenda series by accomplished YA authors Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs. This is a home run for any libraries taking part in the the CSLP Summer Reading program’s theme, Every Hero Has a Story, this year. We’ve got superheroes, villains, and a lot of blurred lines and secrets on each side. It’s a perfect read for teens!

I liked Kenna, the main character. She’s conflicted about her feelings toward the heroes in her life, being perceived as helpless because she’s powerless in a metahuman society. She’s always trying to prove her own worth, and is consumed with her status in hero society – even when forming an uneasy alliance with a villain. The other characters all have their own motivations and strong personalities, which propel the story forward and make it a fun read. There are also some strong parallels to draw between the story and what’s going on in the world today, with those perceived as “heroes” engaging in some pretty horrific behavior. There are some great book discussions to be had with Powerless.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of Sourcebooks Fire’s Spotlight Tour for Powerless, so check out Sourcebooks’ summary below, read the excerpt, and make sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance at winning the novel and some lightning bolt jewlery! You can check out GoodReads for more information on Powerless, and you can buy the book, which hits shelves tomorrow, at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Indie Bound. Make sure to check out the Hero Agenda website for more excerpts! Follow the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

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Summary

Kenna is tired of being “normal.”

The only thing special about her is that she isn’t special at all. Which is frustrating when you’re constantly surrounded by superheroes. Her best friend, her ex-boyfriend, practically everyone she knows has some talent or power. Sure, Kenna’s smart and independent, but as an ordinary girl in an extraordinary world, it’s hard not to feel inferior.

So when three villains break into the lab where she interns, Kenna refuses to be a victim. She’s not about to let criminals steal the research that will make her extraordinary too.

But in the heat of battle, secrets are spilled and one of the villains saves her life. Twice. Suddenly, everything Kenna thought she knew about good and evil, heroes and villains is upended. And to protect her life and those she loves, she must team up with her sworn enemies on a mission that will redefine what it means to be powerful and powerless…

Excerpt

“You never answered my question. What are you doing down here so late?”

Those bright blue eyes sear into me as he takes a step back. “I have to go.”

His sudden evasiveness makes me suspicious, so when he starts to move past me, I sidestep into his path. “Excuse me,” I say, “but this is a secure level. Are you even authorized to be down here?”

“My dad,” he says, scowling at me. “He’s a security guard.”

A security guard? The facility might be so big that I can’t keep track of everyone who works in every lab, but I know all the guards by name. Especially the night guards, since I’m usually the last one here.

Travis and Luther are on duty tonight. Travis and his wife just had their first baby, a girl named Tia. Luther is old enough to be my great-grandfather and he never married.

I take half a step back as my suspicions turn to concern. “Who’s your dad?” I demand.

This guy definitely has the look of a villain.

What if he really is one?

He glances nervously over his shoulder. “He’s—”

I shake my head and start to walk away before he can finish the lie.

He reaches for me, but I shrug him off. My heart is beating way too fast. This could go way bad, way quick.

“Please, just listen.” He waits until I’m looking him in the eye before he continues. “You know me,” he says, his voice taking on this weird, hypnotic tone. “We’ve met before.”

His eyes start to burn brighter and brighter. Oh crap. He must be a villain, and one with a psy power. The vilest kind. Fear and anger collide inside me as I wonder what to do about him trying to mess with my head. How to play this? I can’t exactly tell him I’m—

Suddenly, the floor beneath my feet shudders violently, knocking me off balance. I lurch forward into Dark-and-Scowly’s arms. He catches me, grabs my upper arms, just as a concussion wave of air and sound hits us.

That sounded—and felt—like a bomb went off in the lab. If we weren’t a hundred feet underground and shielded by every protection science and superheroes can create, I’d think the supervillain Quake had struck. But that’s impossible.

Then again, impossible doesn’t always apply in the superhero world. After all, impossible didn’t keep Dark-and-Scowly from being where he doesn’t belong.

Suddenly, every alarm in the facility blares. I freak. The lab! All that research—Mom’s and mine—is priceless. The superhero blood samples alone are more valuable than anything else in the building.

Panic overrides judgment and I push away, but his grip only tightens. The jerk. A little super strength would be really useful right now.

“You can’t go in there.”

“Who are you?” I demand, struggling to get out of his grasp. If he really is a villain, I don’t want him near me or this lab. Not with what villains are capable of. “What have you done?”

He doesn’t answer. More pissed than ever, I fake left and pull right. He follows my fake-out, and as his hair swings with the momentum, I see the mark I’d been looking for earlier. Not under his right ear like the superheroes. Under his left.

Shit.

“You’re a villain.”

 

Author Biographies

TeraLynnChildsOne fateful summer, Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs embarked on a nine hour (each way!) road trip to Santa Fe that ended with a flaming samurai, an enduring friendship, and the kernel of an idea that would eventually become Powerless.

TracyDeebsOn their own, they have written YA tales about mermaids (Forgive My Fins, Tempest Rising), mythology (Doomed, Oh. My Gods., Sweet Venom), smooching (International Kissing Club), and fae princes (When Magic Sleeps). Between them, they have three boys (all Tracy), three dogs (mostly TLC), and almost fifty published books. Find TLC and the #TeamHillain headquarters at teralynnchilds.com. Check out Tracy and the #TeamVero lair at tracydeebs.com. Hang out with all the heroes, villains, ordinaries, and none-of-the-aboves at heroagenda.com.

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

Michael Buckley’s Undertow – We are definitely NOT alone.

undertowUndertow, by Michael Buckley (2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Group), $18.99, ISBN: 9780544348257

Recommended for ages 13+

Set in present-day Coney Island, Undertow presents us with a New York under siege. An aquatic warrior race, The Alpha, has arrived on the beach, and despite constant skirmishes with the police, military, and the local populace, they’re camping out on Coney Island beach. A tense agreement has the Alpha’s teenage children attending the local high school, causing riots, protests, and tension. Coney Island is a war zone. In the middle of this is Lyric Walker, a high school student with secrets of her own. When she’s chosen to help the Alpha prince assimilate, she never expects to develop feelings for him – or powder keg this will set off.

The first thing that caught me about Undertow was this amazing cover. Look at this artwork – if you’re a New Yorker, like me, seeing a refugee camp sprout up with a broken down Demo’s Wonder Wheel and a busted Cyclone in the background is already reason enough to pick this book up, but this cover is gorgeous, eerie, and demands your attention.

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The plot reads like District 9 meets Escape from New York, with a dash of romance thrown in. I couldn’t put this book down. I like Michael Buckley’s writing to begin with- I enjoyed The Sisters Grimm and the N.E.R.D.S. series, so I was happy to jump into another one of his worlds. I’m so glad I did. Mr. Buckley creates a deep, multilayered narrative with complex characters and motivations. We’ve got a warrior race reduced to living in squalor on the beaches of Coney Island while humans join street gangs to answer the perceived threat in their own vigilante fashion. Why are they here? If they’re a warrior race, where’s the invasion? Are they playing at something? Added subplots include a domestic violence story, a principal with his own agenda, and a governor who’s willing to hand the city over to street justice, to create an intense story that will leave you not-so-patiently waiting for the sequel.

Make this a beach read this summer – but just keep an eye on the water while you read.

Posted in Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

Kami Garcia does it again with Unbreakable

unbreakableUnbreakable, by Kami Garcia (Nov. 2014, Little Brown Books for Young Readers) $18, ISBN: 9780316210171

I initially had some trepidation about whether or not I’d enjoy reading Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures, having lumped it in with the sort of paranormal romance I really didn’t enjoy. I gladly ate those words, so I was thrilled when I had a copy of Kami Garcia’s Unbreakable show up on my Nook (thanks, NetGalley!).

Kennedy is a pretty ordinary teen until she comes home one night to discover her mom, dead. The doctors say heart attack, but it turns out to be something far creepier than that – a demon has it in for Kennedy, something she finds out from the two brothers that save her on the night before she’s supposed to head to boarding school under the care of her aunt.

No, the brothers aren’t Sam and Dean, fellow Supernatural fans, but MAN, do I love this book like I love a good Supernatural episode.  There are secret societies, demons, and families of demon hunters passed down through the generations to be found here. I love paranormal when it’s done well, and Kami Garcia seems to know all the right buttons to push. I’m a Supernatural fan, so I got into this book right away.

Don’t think for a minute that this is a rip-off of the CW show, though – there is a strong story here, with characters that you’ll love. Everyone is descended from a demon hunter, with their own strong story to tell. Kennedy is the main focus, because she’s the only one who hasn’t been privy to this information – something I hope we find more about as this series progresses.

There’s something for everyone here – a search that takes us through the story, good paranormal spookiness, a solid plot that promises to unfold and keep us informed and teased at the same time, strong, badass female characters, and a love triangle that doesn’t get too sappy (thank goodness).

I can’t wait to get Unbreakable on my library’s bookshelves, and I’ve already told the friends that I raved Beautiful Creatures to that they need this book. Go get it now!

Posted in Science Fiction, Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Caragh M. O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers is an unsettling YA thriller

cover46937-mediumThe Vault of Dreamers, by Caragh M. O’Brien, (Roaring Brook Press, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439382

Recommended for ages 14+

In a not-too distant future, environmental upheaval and economic collapse have left many Americans in poverty. For creative teens who want a way out, the Forge School is the answer. A school for the most creative minds, and a reality show all at once, The Forge School/The Forge Show accepts students and keeps 50 out of 100 based on their “blip rate” – how many viewers watch their feed. After making it past the first cut, students’ popularity allows them banner ad income that they can receive, upon graduation, along with opportunities for success. Rosie Sinclair, aspiring filmmaker, is a student at the Forge School, and has discovered that the school has some big secrets. What is going on while the students sleep?

Vault of Dreamers is one of those books that takes a few chapters to build as O’Brien builds a solid story. We learn about Rosie’s background and the backgrounds of other students; we see family dynamics come into play, and we understand the motivation for many of these students to take part in a reality show that not only films you everywhere but the bathroom and shower, but a school that distributes sleeping pills to the student body on a nightly basis to assure that they will have a full 12 hours of sleep for maximum creativity. By the time the story kicks into high gear, we see what Rosie risks in order to learn Forge’s secrets: she’s putting her future and the future of her family on the line.

By the time we understand all of this, the story goes white-knuckle, non-stop. Is Rosie an unreliable narrator? Who can we trust? The reader is just as thrown off as Rosie is, and the need to know what was going on consumed me. The reality show setting will click with teens who have grown up with reality TV and popularity based on “likes” and approval ratings.

The ending nicely sets up a sequel, and even as a standalone work, offers a conclusion that will fuel some great discussions. You may howl in frustration, but you’ll be waiting for the next installment of this series.

The Vault of Dreamers will be published on September 16, but you can pre-order it from Amazon now.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Neil Gaiman’s Hansel & Gretel – A WhatchaReading Review!

I was lucky enough to review an advance copy of the upcoming Neil Gaiman/Lorenzo Mattotti graphic retelling of Hansel & Gretel for WhatchaReading. Check out my excerpt here:

I’m on a fairy tale kick these days. Call it an occupational hazard – my secret identity is that of a not-so-mild mannered children’s librarian, after all – but lately, a good fairy tale just hits the spot. I’m not talking unicorns barfing rainbows, though – I’m talking proper Grimm Fairy Tales, which is really where horror movies probably began.

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Actually, the Grimm Brothers get a lot of credit for freaky-scary fairy tales, but most fairy tales in their original aspects have some gruesome aspects to them – Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off their toes to try to wedge that glass slipper on their feet in the original tale. Puss ‘N Boots used subterfuge and murder to get his pal a castle and lands of his own. Shards from the Snow Queen’s frozen mirror pierced people’s eyes and hearts and froze them from the inside. (Both Cinderella and Puss were written by Charles Perrault, and The Snow Queen was written by Hans Christian Andersen.) Fairy tales were kind of like terrifying Aesop’s Fables back in the day; the Middle Ages parenting way of saying, “If you cross without looking both ways, you’ll get hit by a bus!” but a lot more creative.

Check out the rest of my review at WhatchaReading, and make sure to pre-order your copy today!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Egg and Spoon – Gregory Maguire spins a rich Russian fairytale

egg and spoonEgg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire (Candlewick, Sept. 2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9780763672201

Recommended for ages 12+

Gregory Maguire is renowned for creating his alternate versions of fairy tales, most notably, Wicked. In Egg and Spoon, he creates a sweeping Russian fairy tale, encompassing historical figures such as Tsar Nikolai Romanov and Rasputin, and fantasy favorites like Baba Yaga, the Phoenix/Firebird, and the Slavic Dragon, to create a sweeping tale that goes from the impoverished Russian countryside all the way to Saint Petersburg and beyond.

At its heart is a tale reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper: a young peasant girl named Elena meets a spoiled rich girl named Ekaterina, when Ekaterina’s train breaks down in Elena’s village. Elena’s mother is dying, her brothers have been called off either to military service or employment, and her father is dead. She wants to go to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar to send her brother home to help care for their mother. Fate intervenes, and the two girls swap places, where each learns about the other girl’s life by living her life. Baba Yaga shows up, because the chaotic seasons are causing her distress, and she ends up becoming Ekaterina’s guardian as they proceed to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar what’s going on in the world.

The tale, narrated by a prisoner in the tsar’s tower, looks at magic in the everyday world, and what a stabilizing force it is. There are themes of family, friendship, and morality all at play, with a lot of humor – Baba Yaga is hilarious here – and conflict.

My only concern here is that at almost 500 pages, middle graders may balk at reading this. Teens will enjoy the story, and it’s a book that really should be on every library shelf. This one will win awards, there’s no question. The writing is beautiful and there are some incredible themes explored. A semester-long unit on fairy tales for older students would really be enhanced by using this book, and book groups for all ages will never run out of material to talk about.

 

 

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

Welcome to the Dark House: where reality turns deadly!

darkhouseWelcome to the Dark House, by Laurie Stolarz (Hyperion, July 2014). $16.99, ISBN: 9781423181729

Recommended for ages 14+

Imagine your favorite horror movie director emails you about a contest – where YOU can be in his next movie. All you have to do is tell him about your worst nightmare. For six winning contestants, it’s the chance of a lifetime. For the seventh – a girl named Ivy Parker – it’s the chance to finally rid herself of a real-life nightmare that’s haunted her since she was a child.

Seven fans of horror director Justin Blake find themselves part of his next movie, based on his Nightmare Elf series. They all have secrets – some darker than others. That’s the price of admission. But shortly after settling in and getting to know one another, the group starts experiencing strange things – one member has gone missing. There are strange messages and bloodstains showing up. This is all part of the movie, right?

I loved this book. It’s a great, old-school slasher movie brought to YA, updated with a splash of reality show drama. We get a good backstory for each of the characters (within reason – read the book to see what I mean) – their personalities, their motivations, their secrets – and their interactions with other characters. These folks don’t gel together and become instant BFFs; there are personality clashes and internal issues that affect their actions and interactions. Set within the larger-scale story of Justin Blake’s contest, it’s a great character-driven story. Not all the characters are likable or even sympathetic. I appreciated that.

The book is a horror novel, so expect violence and mind games. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll love this book. If you’re an old school slasher movie fan like I am, you’ll recognize a lot of the tropes that make those movies (and the experience of watching them) so much fun. The book’s ending will hopefully leave you like it did me – wondering when we’ll find out more.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Horror, Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

The Wrenchies – adolescence is terrifying.

wrenchiesThe Wrenchies, by Farel Dalrymple (:01 First Second, Sept. 2014). $19.99, ISBN: 9781596434219

Recommended for ages 14+

In a dystopian future, adolescence is terrifying. Only the kids are safe – adults live in fear of the Shadowsmen, a group of mindless monsters who hunt down teenagers and attack them with horrifying, tentacular fingers that penetrate their minds and leave them changed – walking nightmares. The Wrenchies, a gang of kids who band together against the Shadowmen, meet Hollis, a sad, lonely boy who has a charm of sorts that allows him access to the Wrenchies’ world, a parallel universe from his. The story also includes a subplot with a man named Sherwood, who is somehow tied to both of these universes and to the Shadowmen.

I didn’t love the Wrenchies – more often than not, I was lost as to what was going on. It took me a good part of the book to realize that there was a parallel universe, and I never really felt that I “got” the entire story. I just didn’t connect with it, nor did I connect with Dalrymple’s style of art. This would be a great read for a teen/YA post-apocalyptic fan who prefers a less linear storyline. There’s violence and language aplenty, which may give some parents pause – it wasn’t an issue for me, but my younger ones don’t usually seek these types of books out.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen

Peek into the mind of a teen with The Isobel Journal

isobelThe Isobel Journal, by Isobel Harrop (Capstone, August 2014). $16.95, ISBN: 9781630790035

Recommended for ages 12+

The Isobel Journal is a real-life journal from Isobel Harrop, “just a girl from where nothing really happened”. She lives in Britain, and shares her journal here with readers, who get a glimpse of her thoughts on herself, her friends, otters, and love. It’s filled with her artwork – she loves to sketch – and tidbits about her family and friends. I like her sketches, juxtaposed over photos, like the pages featuring her dog and cat. They’re fun pieces that bring art and life together.

Isobel is a teen girl – she likes to collect things, like photos and ticket stubs, and stick them in her journal. She likes to draw on herself. She daydreams, she explores. She’s got a fun, friendly sensibility that comes right through the page. Some reviewers have called this book random, but isn’t that the point of a journal? Isobel invites readers into her world, and in so doing, brings readers together – because what feels like not far too long ago (but in actuality, is), I was a teenage girl doing the same things, and reading this journal made me smile and think about that.

The Isobel Journal is a fun, quirky book that teen girls will get a kick out of looking through. Take a look at the book trailer!