Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads

Breaking the cycles: Artie and the Wolf Moon

Artie and the Wolf Moon, by Olivia Stephens, (Sept. 2021, Graphic Universe), $16.99, ISBN: 9781728420202

Ages 12-15

Artie and the Wolf Moon is, on the surface, a YA graphic novel about werewolves and vampires, but there’s so much more waiting for you here. Artie Irvin lives with her mom, a park ranger. She’s a burgeoning photographer who sneaks out one night, against her mother’s wishes, to take some photographs and discovers a huge wolf that somehow morphs into her mother! Confronting her mother, Artie learns that she comes from a long line of werewolves, but may be a “late bloomer” because she hasn’t shifted yet. Artie’s mom agrees to tell her about everything, including her late father, but when racist bullies at school lead to Artie shifting, her mom realizes it’s time to introduce her daughter to her family – and learn about what it means to be shifter.

Olivia Stephens has created a truly original werewolf story with origins in Black history, infused with the power of the wolf to guard and survive. I could read stories about every character in Artie’s family and still want to read more; I love Olivia Stephens’s storytelling and artwork so much. She creates realistic characters and her origin story reminds me of indigenous artwork with earth tones and primitive figures. She creates harrowing moments in the struggle between wolf and vampire and gives readers an incredible story of Black culture, community, family, and history. Fantastic storytelling and I want more.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Chronic illness, support groups, and… werewolves? Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses

Lycanthrophy and Other Chronic Illnesses, by Kristen O’Neal, (Apr. 2021, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683692348

Ages 14+

Priya is a 19-year-old who had her dreams laid out for her – studying at Stanford and a career in medicine – until chronic Lyme disease hit during her sophomore year of college. Now, back home and coming to terms with Lyme flareups and the possibility of her dream career falling away from her, she turns to Tumblr, where she finds friends in the chronic illness support group, “oof ouch my bones”, where the group bonds over their illnesses and shared humor. In particular, she connects with Brigid, whose snark and sarcasm, along with a penchant for morbidly interesting factoids, is just what Priya needs. But Brigid disappears for a few days, and Priya decides to drive to Brigid’s home in neighboring Pennsylvania and check on her: and discovers what may be a werewolf, and that the werewolf is most likely Brigid. Now, Priya has to figure out how best to support Brigid, whose desire to change her diagnosis and lead a “normal” life, is pushing her to desperate measures.

With plenty of dark humor and a cast of characters you’ll grow to love, this is not “Fault in Our Stars” with some hair on it. The discussions of chronic illness are real and raw, but there’s plenty of dark humor and a dive into the paranormal that will satisfy anyone who’s over “sick lit”. Priya is Southeast Asian, while the author is white; I think she was quite respectful to Priya and her family. Brigid and white, and Spencer, the comic relief from animal control who ends up being a supporting character, is Asian. Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses is entertaining YA with a fun plot. My teens will enjoy it.

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses has been selected for the Spring 2021 Kids Indie Next List.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Monstrous brings the science of monsters to you

Monstrous: The Lore, Gore, and Science Behind Your Favorite Monsters, by Carlyn Beccia, (Sept. 2019, Carolrhoda Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-5124-4916-7

Ages 10+

Okay, this is one of the best nonfiction reads I’ve read this summer. Eight movie monsters come together with witty writing, solid science and history, pop culture and myth, and amazing artwork to bring readers the “Science of the Monstrous”. Talk about electricity with Frankenstein’s Monster; whether or not science can make us immortal with Dracula (also, a spirited discussion on sparkly vampires); look at the zombie brain and pack a zombie preparedness kit while reading about zombie viruses; learn about math and whether or not you’re stronger than a dung beetle with King Kong; learn how to avoid – or, failing that, survive – a werewolf attack and read about the science behind the legend of werewolves; check out the ocean zones to figure out where the kraken dwells (and learn whether or not you’re about to be eaten by a giant octopus); talk evolution with Bigfoot while you scan a map of the US to see where your best chance of spotting him is; and, last but NEVER least, find out what kind of dinosaur Godzilla, King of All Monsters, is (hint: the awesome kind).

That’s the short of it. There is so much great stuff in here, I’d be here all day long if I tried to gush about how much I loved this book. I chuckled and snickered out loud behind the reference desk reading it, which brought some of my Library Kids over (the section on Why You Should Never Stress Your Mom Out made them laugh, which garnered a librarian look over the glasses from me). Everything in here is just pure gold, from the timelines like “The Monstrous History of Electricity”, where you learn that Thomas Edison used electricity on dolls to experiment with recorded sound (SO CREEPY), and a real list of radioactive creatures, like the wolves of Chernobyl and the cows of Fukushima. Carlyn Beccia’s writing is informative and whip-crack smart and funny – if I had a book like Monstrous available to me when I was in the middle grades, I’d probably be making freaky dolls talk to people in a lab today. Instead, I’ll figure out how to hold a program to let my Library Kids do it.

My Library Kids love the grossest history and science stuff out there, which I challenge myself to find on a regular basis; one of their favorites is Carlyn Beccia’s They Lost Their Heads!, along with Georgia Bragg’s How They Croaked and How They Choked, so I predict this book will disappear shortly after I say, “Hey, guys! Look what I’ve—“.

Long story short, Monstrous is a guaranteed win for your science collections, your STEM collections, and for your horror/monster/burgeoning goth fans. Check out author Carlyn Beccia’s webpage for more about her books, her art, and her social media links. Monstrous has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Out-There Nonfiction

There is such great nonfiction being published these days. Nonfiction used to conjure pictures of boring textbooks with walls of words, with a handful of old black and white photos. Today? Nonfiction includes video game guides, crazy stories about our bodies, animals, planets, and the freaky ways famous people died. And that’s just scratching the surface. Kids’ nonfiction sports full-color illustration or photographs, text that understands how kids read and learn, and takes all interests into consideration. Series nonfiction, like the Who Was/What Was series from Penguin makes history compulsive readable, and No Starch Press has full-color STEM and tech books that teach kids everything from coding in Scratch to explaining the sciences using manga comics. I love building a good nonfiction section; these are a few of the books on my current shopping list.

Behind the Legend series, by Erin Peabody/Illustrated by Victor Rivas and Jomike Tejido, little bee books
Good for readers 9-12

 

This series is so good. I’ve read Werewolves and Zombies, and love the way Erin Peabody weaves history with pop culture to present a paranormal guide that kids will love reading and learn from. There are black and white illustrations throughout; cartoony, bordering on downright freaky. Zombies delves deeply into the history of slavery and its ties to the rise of the zombie legend and the practice of voudou; Peabody also talks about the walking dead being very old news; they were showing up in Mesopotamia long before Robert Kirkman ever thought up Rick Grimes and his band of survivors. Werewolves talks about the history of animal lore and famous “were-beasts” in history, like the Gandillon siblings – a French brother and sister who were convinced they were wolves and acted accordingly. Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo, and Twilight all get a shout-out in this fun look at werewolves. There are further sources for kids who want to read further. Other Behind the Legend books include Dragons, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot. This is an absolute must-add set for kids who love themselves some pop culture paranormal reading (and half the price of most series nonfiction, library-bound books).

 

Don’t Read This Book Before Bed, by Anna Claybourne, (Aug. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2841-1
Good for readers 9-12

The kids in my library love creepy. Most kids do, right? It’s that safe scare, the adrenaline rush, the squeal of the “eeeeeewwwwwww!” that you can make while safely in your seat, surrounded by family, friends, or your stuffed animals or action figures. It’s being able to turn to your friend and say, “Look at this!” and watching your friend freak out, too. NatGeo knows this, and Don’t Read This Book Before Bed (which is exactly what kids will do) is chock full of freaky stories that will keep them reading and saying, “NO WAY!” Think of it as the Lore podcast, for kids. Haunted castles? Check. Freaky dolls? (Robert the Doll, profiled in here, actually has both a podcast and episode of Lore dedicated to him.) Check. Aliens and fish people? Right this way. Each story has a “fright-o-meter” to let readers know how scary this is going to get, and quizzes help readers figure out their phobias (I love a good flow chart), test whether or he or should would be a good ghostbuster, or take apart the mysteries of science. My library’s copy is rarely on the shelf.

 

50 Wacky Things Humans Do: Weird & Amazing Facts About the Human Body, by the Walter Foster Jr. Creative Team/Illustrated by Lisa Perrett,
(Dec. 2017, Walter Foster Jr.), $14.95, ISBN: 9781633223967
Good for readers 7-10

Our bodies do some wild stuff. A sneeze moves at about 100 miles per hour. (Think about that, next time someone doesn’t cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze near you.) If someone tickles you and you put your hand on theirs, it’ll send a message to the brain that stops the tickling sensation. Wrinkly bathtub fingers help us grip things better. Readers will learn all of this and more in 50 Wacky Things Humans Do, written in a similar vein to the chunky, digest-sized NatGeo Kids fun fact books. Wacky Things features one fact per spread and one colorful, fun illustrations; good for intermediate-level readers.

 

Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment, by Carla Mooney/Illustrated by Alexis Cornell,
(Nov. 2017, Nomad Press), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-61930-601-1
Good for readers 9-12

Nomad Press has enjoyed shelf space in my library for a while. They have great science project books and consistently win awards because they blend hands-on projects with text readability. Evolution is a great update to Nomad’s collection and my science projects shelf. First of all, the book is in color; my Nomad books have normally been black and white, and this is as eye-catching on the inside as it is on the cover. The book progresses from a basic overview of evolution and how it works, through natural selection, species and speciation, through to classification and human evolution. Twenty-five projects allow kids to map early human migration; find sidewalk fossils (awesome for my urban library kiddos), and research an endangered species and create a plan to save it. There’s a glossary, lists of resources, and an index. I love this new direction Nomad seems to be taking and want to see more! Great for library shelves.

 

 

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 Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Could Dracula make it in today’s world? Monster Science gives you the scoop.

monster scienceMonster Science, by Helaine Becker/Illustrated by Phil McAndrew, (Sept. 2016, Kids Can Press), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771380546

Recommended for ages 8-12

Monster Science takes a look at some of our favorite monsters – Frankenstein’s Monster, vampires, Bigfoot, werewolves, zombies, and sea monsters – and, using science smarts, discusses the plausibility of these monsters’ ever being able to exist in our world. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should really start stockpiling food and weapons for the upcoming zombie apocalypse, or stared for a little too long at those blurry pictures of Bigfoot and Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster,  you’ll love this book.

The book devotes a chapter to each monster, provides background info, incorporating the history of the monsters, and using science, history, literature, myths and legends, helps readers work through whether or not these creatures could have ever existed or could exist today. There are colorful, cartoony illustrations, seriously groan-worthy jokes, and pop up facts throughout the book, and a quiz tests finishes up each chapter and challenges readers to remember what they’ve just read. There are enough gross facts – the stages of decay; electric shock bringing making dead body parts jerk and move, dead people who sat up at their own funerals – presented with a humorous bent, to delight middle graders who want something fun and gross to read, yet will also give them some cool facts to bring to their science class.

This is the kind of book I love booktalking to kids, because my awesome nonfiction selections are sadly underappreciated. When I put a coding book out, I get interest, because I have a library full of Minecraft mouse potatoes, but when I try to get them excited about science, I usually get eyerolls, or – zounds! – blank stares. A book like this will help me explain how wonderful and gross science can be! We can talk about The Walking Dead (no, they’re not old enough to read the comics, but you know they’re watching it at home), we can talk about Dracula and Frankenstein, and I can terrify them with repeated viewings of Mad Monster Party and the Groovie Ghoulies, because ’70s monster claymation and cartoons are aces with me, but they leave the kids bewildered. They don’t know what they’re missing.

In all seriousness, the book is fun leisure reading and a good companion to science, history, or ELA classes. There’s so many interesting facts, presented in a fun, light, manner, that kids will end up reading and remembering more information than they can imagine. Add it to your library collections, or make it a fun gift for a monster fan you know and love.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Return to Augie Hobble – A Supernatural Notebook and a Werewolf?

augie hobbleReturn to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith (May 2015, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626720541

Recommended for ages 9-13

Augie Hobble lives and works at Fairy Tale place, an amusement park managed by his father. The park – and Augie, to be honest – have seen better days. He’s bullied by the local jerks who come to the amusement park and by some of his coworkers, he’s just flunked Creative Arts and has to redo his project, and he can’t get his crush to notice him- but the kind of weird girl at the amusement park does.  Some some crazy, hairy thing shows up in the area and drools on Augie, and he swears that’s it: he’s turning into a werewolf. All of a sudden, things take a turn for the even worse, and Augie starts looking at the weird happenings in a completely new light.

I’m a huge Lane Smith fan, and was looking forward to this book. I thought I’d get a fun, wacky story about a kid and a werewolf, be it paranormal or comedy. What I got was a story that seems to have everything but the kitchen sink thrown in, with a lot of disjointed storytelling and multiple “what the heck was THAT?” moments. There’s a story about friendship, grief and loss, paranormal/supernatural, and tween romance, but it’s all thrown together and doesn’t have a cohesive narrative to pull it all together. I was really disappointed in this one.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk, Teen

All Hail Gail Carriger! Waistcoats and Weaponry concludes the Finishing School saga!

cover47801-mediumWaistcoats & Weaponry, by Gail Carriger (2014, Little Brown Books for Young Readers), $18, ISBN: 9780316190275

Recommended for ages 13+

If there is one writer I fangirl for these days, it’s Gail Carriger. I discovered her Parasol Protectorate series a few years ago, and was immediately hooked. There’s paranormal adventure, steampunk fabulousness, including airships, mechanicals, and loaded parasols, and most importantly, fierce fashion. And tea. A lot of tea. What’s not to love?

When she announced she was writing a YA series that takes place in the Parasol Protectorate universe, I was jubilant.  The Finishing School series: Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, and now, Waistcoats & Weaponry, take place at a finishing school for young ladies. But it’s not just any finishing school: the ladies are taught to be covert assassins as easily as they’re taught to properly bat their eyelashes and set a proper table. If you’ve been following the series, you know that Sophronia left off with a pretty major benefactor last book. He’s alluded to here in Waistcoats, but Sophronia is front and center in this book. She’s working out her feelings for both her friend, Soap, and Felix, a wealthy Duke’s son who’s been flirting outrageously with her. She’s still trying to figure out what Monique – and, by extension, a vampire hive – is up to. And when family drama strikes at her friend Sidheag, she has to be there for her. She’s got a full plate, and watching her juggle it is nothing short of brilliant.

Husband

I love Sophronia, and seeing her develop as a character throughout these three books has been a delight. She goes from being a headstrong young girl who likes to find out how things work, to a headstrong, determined young woman who exudes an air of polish when she needs to, but is never afraid to pull on a pair of trousers (gasp!) and get right into the thick of things to find out what she needs to know. She’ll take on a vampire or a werewolf if it means helping her friends, but she’ll always think things through and try to come to the best situation for everyone involved. It’s also tremendous fun to see the storylines developed in The Parasol Protectorate come full circle here; Finishing School takes place about 15-20 years before, and events discussed in the first series find their origins here, as do several key characters.

I’m sad to see Finishing School dismissed, but I can’t wait for Prudence, her new series, to hit stores next month. Pick up the Finishing School series. You’ll be so glad you did. And make sure to stop by the Finishing School website, where you can take some lessons of your own, and download an educator’s guide to the series. THERE’S AN EDUCATOR’S GUIDE TO THIS SERIES. Why wasn’t I taught this stuff in high school?!

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Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger (Little, Brown, 2013)

etiquette and espionageRecommended for ages 13+

Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series, kicks off her YA Finishing School series, set in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate series, with Etiquette & Espionage.

Fourteen year-old Sophronia is driving her society lady mother crazy. She climbs trees. She takes apart things to figure out how they work. She lines her books with rubber from a dumbwaiter in the house. Fed up with Sophronia’s antics, she sends her to finishing school – Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, to be precise.

What neither Sophronia nor her mother bet on, though, was that this is no ordinary finishing school – when they say “finish”, they mean “finish” – the students learn how to curtsey and flutter their eyelashes, but they also learn about poisoning, espionage, and weapons placement. Sophronia is learning to be a spy and an assassin in addition to being a lady. But she also stumbles into a mystery involving one of the students as soon as she boards the coach to school – what is really going on at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, and what does her newfound nemesis have to do with it?

While I am a big fan of the Parasol Protectorate series and went into this series with high hopes, I was a little let down here. I understand that this is the first book in a new series, with much to be established, but I felt there was an overall lack of plot to drive the story forward. It seemed more a collection of “look what Sophronia’s got herself into now” moments, with some vague subplot surfacing to give her an archenemy in future books.

The dry humor is there, though, and that kept me reading. I love the way Ms. Carriger writes, and I enjoy her stubborn heroines who can lock horns with a werewolf and then stress about their state of dress and look for a cup of tea. I enjoy the Parasol Protectorate universe, and there’s paranormal and steampunk aplenty here, with werewolves, dirigibles, and automatons for all. There are a few pleasant surprises for Parasol Protectorate fans, too.

If you’re a fan of Carriger’s, you’ll at least enjoy the universe and references. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Posted in Fantasy, Media, Science Fiction

DVD Review: Hellboy: Blood and Iron (Starz Home Entertainment, 2007)

Recommended for ages 12+
For those unfamiliar with the Hellboy comic book and movie series, let me provide a very quick overview: Hellboy is a demon from Hell, brought to earth by Nazi occultists during World War II. He was saved by the Allies and raised as a son by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, and later went to work for the secret international Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), founded by Professor Bruttenholm. His two closest friends and partners are Liz Sherman, a human who can create fire with her mind, and Abe Sapien, an amphibious humanoid.

In Blood and Iron, the BPRD is asked to investigate a haunted mansion purchased by a billionaire who wants to make money from it as a tourist attraction. They learn that the mansion is haunted by ghosts, witches, werewolves and hellhounds and that the evil undead Hungarian countess and vampire Erzsebet Ondrushko, who Professor Bruttenholm has tangled with before, is back to cause more trouble. Ondrushko appears to be based on the real-life historical figure Elizabeth Bathory, and Greek mythological figures Hecate, goddess of the crossroads and witchcraft, and harpies are also thrown into the mix.

 
Mike Mignola, Hellboy creator, was one of the screenwriters on Blood and Iron and the cast who plays the characters in the movie voice their characters in this animated film. Fans of the comics and the movies will be happy here; there is plenty of paranormal activity, snappy dialogue and character interaction, and wild fight scenes and gunplay. While some of the imagery may be rough for younger viewers – there’s not direct graphic violence, but there is blood and some implied torture – older ‘tweens and teens have played more violent video games. Parents, watch it first, then use your judgement.