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Friday, October 23, 2015

REVIEW: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Slasher Girls & Monster Girls is an YA anthology of scary stories edited by April Genevieve Tucholke.  Thirteen notable teen authors lend their prowess to some downright terrifying stories that will have general fans and more cowering in a corner with a blankie and flashlight at the ready. This is a fantastic go-to volume for year-round reader's advisory.  I know I get teens wanting something 'scary' all the time.  Let's face it, for YA readers there often aren't a lot of truly scary titles. I often recommend anything by Brenna Yovanoff or the Asylum series by Madeleine Roux if they want something beyond R.L. Stine and aren't quite ready for Stephen King.

Personal standouts within Slayer Girls & Monster Boys:

  • "Verse chorus verse" by Leigh Bardugo - a teen superstar lands herself in 'rehab' but sinister things happen that make this a not so sweet retreat to get her life on track.

  • "Sleepless" by Jay Kristoff - inspired by Hitchcock's Psycho, readers are in for a creepy treat. Full of Kristoff's trademark edgy humor.

  • "Dark, scary parts and all" by Danielle Paige - set in high school and heavy with Frankenstein and Dracula allusions.  The school outcast encounters bullying and other drama with a surprise supernatural twist.

  • "Fat girl with a knife" by Jonathan Maberry - a short story about a high school outcast but what happens when the bullied girl is your best defense at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

  • "Girl without a face" by Marie Lu - great, creep imagery.  This one will give readers chills!

  • "Stitches" by A.G. Howard - super, super creepy! A young girl agrees to dismember her father over time as part of his penance for other deeds.

Each story is inspired by a song, film or another literary reference. By far my favorite was "Sleepless".  In fact, a week later, I'm still pretty creeped out!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#YAlit #teen #anthology #shortstories #bookreview #horror #scary #slashergirls&monsterboys
Verse chorus verse /Leigh Bardugo

Monday, October 19, 2015

REVIEW: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Set some 14 years after the zombie apocalypse that ended the world, 15 year old Benny Imura has lived within the protected fences of Mountainside nearly all his life.  Benny must now find a job within town or face the reduction of his food rations.  When other opportunities don't pan out, he reluctantly agrees to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his brother Tom, whom Benny sees only as boring and cowardly.  However, their first trip outside into the Rot and Ruin begins to open his eyes to just how dangerous the world still is and that Benny knows little about his older sibling.

Violent events inside Mountainside lead Benny and Tom on a crucial rescue mission.  During this high stakes operation, he learns some truths, meets others who will impact his future and ultimately begins to discover more about himself and how he wants to fit into this world. Will he stay within Mountainside's fences and pretend everything is fine? Or, will he take a stand and acknowledge that he and others can stop more innocent people from being hurt?

What I liked...

Everything!  But to elaborate:
  • Characters - Benny is a well developed but evolving teenager.  He, like all the other protagonists, come across as memorable and authentic.  I absolutely adore Tom! What a multi-layered mentor.  Nix is also a force to be reckoned with and her continued development throughout the series always holds my interest.  There are plenty of others but I have to mention Lilah. I'm awestruck by her each and every time. The fierceness. The pain. I think she might be one of the most fascinating characters written in any genre that I've come across. Maberry is also top-notch at developing memorable villains.  They come to life and nearly jump off the page with their diabolical plans.
  • Story - the premise is just plain awesome.  What do you do when you are are teenager who has grown up after the zombie apocalypse? Get a job, of course! I love Benny's and Chong's failed job attempts.  The story builds beautifully. As readers, we watch Benny mature with the rise and fall of the major plot points.  The story is very much a coming of age, just with zombies and some truly unique challenges! I love how easy it is to get swept up in the humor, the action and the emotion.
What I didn't like...

Absolutely nothing!  This is my second reading of book 1.  I am a self professed Maberry fangirl.  I first read his adult Joe Ledger series. However, these are entwined with the Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night books. So, to get the true reading experience, you'll have to read them all as a before, during and after commentary.

Maybe what I don't like it that it is over. I want the series to go on and on and on.  Don't get me wrong. I thought the ending (Fire & Ash) was poignant and a fantastic conclusion but I adore these characters so much that saying goodbye makes me want to re-read them again and again. One bright spot is the 2015 publication of Bits & Pieces, a short story collection that fills in more of Benny's adventures. I'm still waiting (not patiently) for the audio of this since Brian Hutchison does a phenomenal job.

If you haven't read these yet, please do! I know some readers sigh and say, "I'm not into zombies!" However, like watching The Walking Dead this series is only partly about the presence of 'zoms' in the post-apocalyptic world and more about the evolution of the survivors and the choices they make to uphold the principles of their former society or spiral into lawlessness or fanaticism. The characters are so well developed and authentic that this is a great reading recommendation, especially for reluctant readers. There's a significant amount of humor offset but bigger thematic issues and fantastic fast-paced action.

You will laugh AND you will cry.  The ending wrecks me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Follow the author on Twitter: @JonathanMaberry

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

#jonathanmaberry #Rot&Ruin #YAlit #zombie #bookreview #teen 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

OUTREACH: Lunchtime Book Club

Outreach Challenges

Let's face it. Outreach isn't always a walk in the park.  We're busy. Schools are busy. So how can we come together to make such a community partnership work?  I know I feel like I'm pulled in too many directions sometimes. It is often challenging connecting with the right person, be it school media specialist, administrators or that one teacher that makes a difference.

School outreach for me has been hit or miss.  I've been lucky to find a strong ally in the librarian at one of the local private schools.  She has previously worked in a public library setting and understands the importance of building these community partnerships AND that I'm available as a support system to her and the students without trying to create extra work for her.

Lunch Book Club -Year One

We've just entered the third year of monthly book club meetings.  It all started in the spring of 2013. We mulled over the idea of getting such a group started. She emailed all students and waited to see if we got any interested nibbles.  Turns out we did!  Ten high schoolers ranging from 9th-12th grade expressed interest.  Since it was late in the year, we started with 3 accessible and popular titles: Cinder, Seraphina and Divergent.  All were well received and luckily my library had access to enough book club copies.

Lunch Book Club -Year Two

After the obligatory summer hiatus, all teens returned for the second year.  Since this is a book club at a private Christian school, I do have to work with the school librarian to pick appropriate reading choices which won't be challenged by parents or administrators.  I make the distinction that we aren't censoring just being mindful.

You'll see below that we chose a wide range of titles. One original choice was Ashfall by Mike Mullin; however, we changed to Ender's Game after the librarian felt that the language, violence and sexuality present in Mullin's book wasn't appropriate four our group. Last school year we read: The Maze Runner, The Raven Boys, Ender's Game, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, A Christmas Carol, Feed, Code Name Verity, Midwinter Blood and The Book Thief. Attendance and interest remained consistent.

Lunch Book Club -Year Three

Now we're back for a new school year.  Apparently word has gotten out that we're the cool group to eat lunch with or the junior high students who haven't been able to participate are now old enough! Enrollment is up to 26 students!  That it amazing but such a large group comes with a new set of challenges--Namely that finding enough copies of each book title is difficult or next to impossible. Therefore, as facilitators, we've come up with the plan of themed months to a) provide enough books for the number of interested students b) expose students to more titles in the specified genre.

Our tentative schedule is as follows:

September: Open book discussion - choose your own to share - summer catch-up

October :  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis AND The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

November:  Steampunk theme - Clockwork Scarab, Girl in the Steel Corset, Leviathan, Friday Society, Etiquette & Espionage, Inventor’s Secret, Incarceron...

December: Dystopian theme - Legend, Starters, Gone, Matched, etc...

January Mythology theme Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan; Runemarks by Joanne Harris, and more.

February: Winter by Marissa Meyer (other adaptations of a twisted fairy tale--Splintered by A.G. Howard; anything by Alex Flynn, Jackson Pearce, Sarah Cross)

March: Bomb: the race to build--and steal--the world’s most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin OR another non-fiction of their choice--(Hidden Like Anne Frank)

April : Heist Society by Ali Carter; Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones, White Cat by Holly Black; Also Known As by Robin Benway

May:  a classic or twisted classic (Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, Dracula, Sense and Sensibility, etc. )

Another Lunchtime Approach

I have a co-worker at a different branch who has had great success with book clubs. Each month she visits 4 school and has 3 concurrent book discussions at each school.  How does this work?

  1. She works with the librarian at each school to advertise the initial meeting.
  2. At the first meeting, she shows the students a list of possible titles and lets them vote on which they'd like to read this year.
  3. She tallies the votes and then puzzles together a rotating schedule. No one group is ever reading the same book at the same time. One downside is that she has to make sure to have read all the multiple book titles. 

Money, Money, Money

Where do all these books come from? How do you buy extra copies on a limited budget?  Let's face it, all budgets are tight, especially teen services.  How do we swing having all these extra copies available? Since some titles are so popular and are crossover hits with adults, we often have extra system copies, especially through our contract with McNaughton. This is particularly helpful with popular new releases or those with spiked interest based on major film releases. 

A teen services predecessor in our system wrote a grant proposal to our local community foundation. When approved, this gave her funds to purchase the initial start up of titles. Before she left, the grant was extended and more titles and copies were purchased as well. We share these book club copies among three branches. A certain amount of damage and loss is expected. We replace or phase out copies/titles as needed.

The Wrap Up

My Advice - any way you decide to organize your own lunchtime book club and outreach, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start small - its perfectly okay if only a few students are interested at first. 
  • Find an ally in the school - be it school media specialist, administrator or a teacher who wants to help or at least be your voice at the school when you aren't there.
  • Set a plan for books in advance (make sure to pick titles you know you can feasibly get copies of for a set number of readers)
  • If you have more than one group, make sure to have a rotating schedule so that groups don't want to read books all at the same time. 
  • Bring a set of discussion questions to each meeting, but use them only to jump start the discussion - usually the participants will jump in and run things themselves.
  • Investigate grant options - if you can't afford to purchase additional copies, learn if a grant is the solution whether if be through a local organization or YALSA. Another suggestion would be to approach the Friends of the Library. 

Your Thoughts?

I'm really curious to see what you do or don't do for your own book clubs? Have you tried one at school? What works? What doesn't? What titles have you chosen? 

#YAlit #bookclub #outreach #library #teenservices #teen #school

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

REVIEW: Breakout by Kevin Emerson

Anthony Castillo is pretty much like any angst ridden rocker.  He's fed up with the constraints of day-to-day life and wishes that he could 'breakout' from under the thumb of those constantly telling him how to live his life.  The only difference between Anthony and other rockers is the fact that he's still an eighth grader. He's tired of being told what to do by his parents (be healthy!), his teachers (do your work!) and his administrators (tow the line!).  What he really wants to do is focus on his band, the Rusty Soles, their musical debut at the school's Art Night, and play the latest version of Liberation Force with his best friend, Keenan.  Unfortunately, like for any teenager, if seems as if life is out to get him.

The countdown to Art Night is less than two weeks away when disaster strikes and the Rust Soles lose their singer.  When emotion gets the best of him, Anthony pens and mixes an angsty anthem, which when posted online, surges in popularity and quickly becomes garners some worldwide buzz. The song's sentiment of feeling trapped resonates with other listeners and Anthony and his friends quickly find themselves elevated to small time celebrity status.

Excited to play "Breakout" for Art Night, the true challenge becomes whether the song's blatant language should be allowed. While parents and administrators require censorship, Anthony is conflicted.  The band and their fans plan the ultimate act of rebellion; however, Anthony is uncertain if he will have the guts to go through with it.

The characterization and themes are realistic, poignant and relevant. I liked Anthony quite a bit.  He is very much like the type of eighth graders I've encountered over the years.  He is certainly flawed but shows great potential since he is so young and is learning about finding his place in the world and shouldering extreme feelings with the notion of taking responsibility for his actions. The supporting cast of characters are solid as well both as protagonists and necessary antagonists.

I enjoyed the greater thematic discussion of censorship.  Emerson introduces the issue from both sides.  On one hand, the administration has a point regarding language and target audience. On the other hand, Anthony's lyrics were written with emotion and intent rather than for shocking effect. The outcome of Art Night illustrates that sometime we fail or don't live up to expectations but there in life and rock 'n' roll there is always another performance.

The recommended reading age is grades 7 and up.  I would recommend for purchase for public and school libraries.  The target audience is for those interested in realistic fiction and who are feeling the 'growing up' blues.  This is certainly also recommended for music lovers or anyone who enjoyed Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, Road Rash by Mark Huntley Parsons or This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#breakout #music #YAlit #review #teenangst #censorship

REVIEW: The Third Twin by CJ Omololu

Adopted twins, Ava and Alexa (Lexi), have lived a privleged life. As children they playfully created a third twin, Alicia, whom they blamed whenever they got in trouble.  As seniors, the girls haved upped the game, giving Alicia a false identity, each posing as her for fun and to scam boys neither has the intention of seeing again. However, the game turns deadly when "Alicia's" last date turns up murdered. Both Ava and Lexi swear they had nothing to with the violent death, but suspicion grows as they learn someone else really is living life as Alicia and all criminal evidence in the mounting crimes points back to their identical DNA.

What I liked...

This is a well structured mystery thriller.  There are certainly enough twists and turns to keep any reader guessing whodunnit. I admit I had my suspicions but I was totally wrong which was refreshing. The characters are pretty well developed if a bit predictable with some of their actions. The Third Twin reminded me of some of those great R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike reads of my youth but I liked the modern update with the larger discussion of identity theft and to some degree a commentary on Catfishing.

What I didn't like...

There wasn't much I disliked other than the plot is so outlandish. I was betting on some switch up that reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie.  The stage is set pretty well for this to be some sort of twisted psychological created third person. I was pretty surprised when it wasn't. However, the next level of the villain reveal took it a bit far.  That being said, teen fans of Pretty Little Liars and the like will enjoy this book.

I recommend this for purchase for a public or school library.  Notes of caution are some graphic violence. The opening scene is Lexi's near rape in a dark parking lot.  The scene isn't all that graphic but the intention is implied.  Likewise, the description of later deaths are provided in realistic detail. No red flags for language per se. Target readership is ninth grade and up.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

#YAlit #review #mystery #thriller #identitytheft #thethirdtwin

Monday, October 12, 2015

REVIEW: The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

Raine isn't your typical eighth grader.  Sure, she's nervous about starting another new school; but, how many teenagers do you know who can experience other people's memories via sparkles she finds in the oddest places? Soon Raine learns that she and her mom have moved into the former home of Emily Huvar, a teen girl her age who has been missing for months.  Using her unique gifts, Raine sets out to learn the truth behind what happened to Emily and makes some surprising other discoveries as well.

What I liked...

There's good character development throughout.  I liked Raine from the first page and think teen readers will also.  The situations that befall her and other like Shirlee make them highly realistic.  She's not perfect and certainly has flaws but she's representative of a typical eighth grade girl.

I found the bullying theme timely and appreciated Summy's writing style and ability to explore this issue not only with Raine's and Shirlee's treatment by Jennifer and Co but also the tie in to Emily's story.  I was also quite impressed at the foreshadowing and other layered hints throughout the narrative that hinted at the big picture and that more dire happenings were in store for the little town.

What I didn't like...

I had two strong dislikes. One was Raine's plan to get even with Jennifer, especially that she brings Shirlee into the fold too.  Catfishing Jennifer for spite, ruining Jennifer's relationship with her friends and then posting it all on YouTube is just as awful as what Jennifer had done to them. Yes, Jennifer is mean, nasty and shouldn't get away with treating others as she did; however, stooping to the same types of bullying isn't conveying the right message to teen readers. While truthful, it fails to acknowledge the severe consequences that all would face in real life.

My second dislike was (SPOILER ALERT) Emily's willingness to allow her family and everyone else to believe she was kidnapped or dead.  Yes, she had strong reasons for wanting to protect her little sister and the rest of her family but the emotional distress she causes shouldn't be dealt with lightly.

Overall, this was an interesting, quick read.  I'd recommend this for purchase to a YA collection for either a public library or at a school.  It would most appeal to middle school readers who are looking for a mystery but don't want it to scary or have a lot of gore.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#mystery #visions #disappearance #barriesummy #YAlit #review #bullying

REVIEW: What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott

Callie Valesquez is a city girl.  Nothing sounds more unpleasant or terrifying than spending several nights out in the wilderness. However, Callie is desperate to bond with her new popular best friends, Lissa and Penelope, and her boyfriend of six months, Jeremy. But strange things start happening in the woods, someone might be watching them and other events gone awry leave them lost with no means of communication and very little supplies.  It appears as if they've been "saved" when Ted finds them and says he has a cabin nearby.  But can he be trusted?

Already on edge, relationships are put the test when secrets are revealed.  Callie feels betrayed and terrified.  When one of her friends turns up dead, they all know that the murderer is among them, but who can Callie trust to make it home alive?

What I liked....

The basic story elements are sound.  If I'd encountered this while in middle school during my R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike phase, I would have gobbled this up and wanted more.  It's a perfect suspenseful read for a middle school or high school reader.  The violence is present--so any reader or parent leery of strangulation and gun shots should steer clear.  There isn't any bad language, sex or drug/alcohol use--just your basic teens lost in the woods who may or may not be in the sights of a homicidal serial killer.

The intermittent journal entries from an unknown psych patient and the murderer are intriguing.  This really ups the mystery-thriller element and keeps readers guessing who it might be.  The musings are pretty sinister and creepy. Fans of this type of psychological thriller will want to continue reading for the big reveal.

What I didn't like...

I found all the characters and plot organization a bit too stereotypical.  For me, there wasn't a whole lot of depth for the characters.  I understand that Callie is written in such a way as to depict a typical, self conscious teenager who just wants to fit in; however, her insecurities are a bit much to take in.  I ended up disliking her in the first chapter and my perceptions of her did not improve. Everything is described in extremes with little room to breathe--Lissa is a hardcore manipulative friend (i.e. Regina from Mean Girls) and Penelope is fragile and lets herself be picked on. Callie is just too grateful to be included to actually voice her discomfort and Jeremy is just along for the ride.

While the basic story elements all work, I just found it all too predictable.  I had most of it worked out before the big reveal but I can see where teen readers would enjoy the book.  I recommend this for purchase in a YA fiction collection. It would be a good read-a-like- recommendation for those who enjoy similar creepy yet realistic suspense fiction.

Final rating: 3 out 5 stars

#YAlit #camping #murder #thriller #mystery #friendship #realisticfiction

Saturday, October 3, 2015

REVIEW: The Messengers by Edward Hogan

Frances is sent to her aunt's house for the summer in order to escape difficulties at home.  She fights feelings of abandonment against her mother and fears for her brother's safety since Johnny is on the run after punching an off duty police officer in a bar brawl.  Perhaps even more puzzling are the increasingly alarming blackouts.  After which, Frances must complete elaborate drawings of geometric shapes and swirls. She is uncertain as to the meaning behind these episodes until she meets Peter.

Significantly older, Peter is unlike anyone Frances has ever known.  He recognizes her as a messenger like himself; however, Frances is shocked to learn that his messages never bring good news.  In fact, he too draws mysterious scenes following blackouts but ensuring that those depicted in the scenes view these pictures seals them to a deadly fate.  Frances must decide whether to trust Peter or to use her gift to shape her own destiny.

What I liked...

The story is interesting and the fast paced.  It doesn't take too long for the characters to recognize each other as kindred spirits. I found Peter's story far more interesting than Frances. In fact, she was rather irritating at times.  I did like the message based on the outcome--that it is up to each individual to decide one's own fate and whether to use an extraordinary ability to make a difference or not.

What I didn't like...

The Messengers reminded me too much of Lisa McMann's Visions trilogy in which Jules and then others must decipher cryptic visions in order to prevent catastrophic events.  I prefer the McMann series for several reasons: 1) the average teen in the US will find Jules and her friends more identifiable than Frances based on humor, pop culture references and general characterization.   2) The general plot development and story events (a crash, school shooting , etc) are relevant to real world teens.  3) I really couldn't connect with Frances or really any other character. There isn't enough emotional complexity for me. 4) I didn't like that Frances and Peter's relationship was left somewhat unfinished.  I thought her family blowing the whistle on what they thought was inappropriate was realistic but frustrating. 

Overall, I would recommend this as a optional library purchase as well as recommend it for the select teen who liked the Visions books and might have already exhausted McMann's Wake trilogy and wants a quick standalone read.  

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

#visions #fate #death #consequences #resonsibility #YAlit