Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The End of the Worlds

Practical Applications of Multiverse Theory, by Nick Scott and Noa Gavin, doesn't know exactly what kind of book it wants to be.

Scott Simmons is an awkward high school student who hangs out with a group of social outcasts--specifically several nerds plus an enormous guy named Ted who doesn't speak except to say "Hey, man" occasionally. For the most part Scott tries to just lay low and appear invisible to his classmates, hoping in this way to survive and eventually escape from his school.

Davey Burgess -- a name Scott thinks sounds like "something the movie Juno threw up"--is Scott's arch nemesis and near polar opposite. She's cute, the captain of the cheerleader squad and seeks out as much attention as the school will give her. She is also mean, relentlessly ambitious and has her sights set on becoming homecoming queen. She hates Scott as much as he hates her.

Yet, the two keep running into one another.

It all begins, as Scott describes, with a Dr. Pepper can that is somehow incorrectly filled with Hi-C. Scott manages to spill it on Davey's 80s spirit day t-shirt. This is the first and most innocuous of a number of strange occurrences that lead the two characters to an understanding that the universe as we know it is coming apart at the seams. Initially only Davey and Scott can see what's happening. For example, Scott's friends become lizards, try to eat him and then return to being human. And Davey's biology specimen frog comes to life and pleads with her to not cut it up.

After days of denial the two come to realize something is seriously wrong with the school as they slip in and out of realities populated by lizards, monsters, robots and sexy cannibalistic teenage girls who want nothing more than to mate with Scott before they consume him.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti



Both Madison (Mads) and Billy have their futures ahead of them - futures heavily shaped by their mothers. And, perhaps, by each other. But when the story starts, when their stories first intersect, only one of them is present: Mads, when her morning swim leads her straight into the path of a body, a woman who has taken her own life: Billy's mother.

Deb Caletti imbues all of her stories with realistic sensibility and captivating characters. Though the premise outlined above may sound grim, Essential Maps for the Lost is buoyed by hope: hope for better days, hope for positive change. The story is led by two characters who struggle to take control over their own lives while they search for reasons or answers related to recent events. Written in third person, the book flips back and forth between Billy and Mads, allowing the reader to see both perspectives - which is especially interesting when they are in the same scene, so the dual narrative allows us to be privy to both characters' thoughts. The third person style also permits a cool omniscient element, with occasional phrases directing the reader's attention to something - almost like a finger pointing, "Look there," "Remember this moment later" - that are more like gentle nudges than pushy wink-wink moments.
Billy and Mads, both post-high school and both innate caretakers, have found jobs they love: Billy works at a no-kill animal shelter and literally rescues dogs, while Mads babysits a baby girl that she wishes she could protect from the world. But neither of them are happy at home. Billy now lives with his grandmother, a woman full of cruel remarks and judgements about her late daughter, while Mads is staying with her aunt, uncle, and cousin for the summer while she takes real estate classes at Bellevue Community College - all part of her mother's plan for Mads to become her working partner the second she passes the licensing exam. 
But once Mads and Billy meet, once their lives collide, their futures change. Or is it that their options change, and their true futures reveal themselves? It is not easy to alleviate the burdens of the abandoned or create a map for the lost. It takes courage to face the ogres of depression and loss. With strength of spirit combined with gut instincts and personal truths, Mads and Billy find their way out of the deep and onto their next journey.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I had no idea that this had happened. When people are asked to name massive ships sunk on the open sea, everyone knows about the Titanic and the Lusitania, but the Wilhelm Gustloff is not on anyone's radar. It really should be. The sheer loss of life from this single maritime disaster was and is astounding.
In this terrific piece of historical fiction, Sepety's masterfully weaves the stories of a ragtag group fleeing in front of the Soviet advance across former Prussian territory at the close of World War II, a young German naval recruit preparing the ship to sail, and a Prussian teen escaping his past. As the Soviets press the Nazis back, foreigners, the wounded, the sick, Jews and all others considered to be of lesser stock than themselves are all rounded up and either executed or shipped off to a gulag.

This truly is a wonderful and tragic story. Despite the fact that these characters were not real people, we get a real sense of what it must have been like to flee from the Soviet invasion from the East pressing toward the unknown of the German occupation farther West. Which empire is the lesser of the two evils?
I would highly recommend this to those that liked Code Name Verity or The Book Thief. 

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Check out the schedule for this year's SYNC audiobook downloads

Do you like free stuff?

Do you enjoy audiobooks, or want to try out some audiobooks?

Then you're in luck! SYNC, the annual free summer audiobook program for teens, kicks off next week, when Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle and The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial by Peter Goodchild will be available to download.

For fifteen weeks, May 5 to August 17, two paired audiobooks will be free to download for a one week period. The audiobooks will change each week, so take a look at the schedule to be sure you don't miss the books you're most interested in. And, seriously, there are some amazing books coming this summer. These are just some of the titles you can get for free this summer:
  • 100 Miles Sideways by Andrew Smith
  • This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
  • I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
You'll need to have the OverDrive app installed on your device or computer, and will probably have to enter your name and email address in order to download the audiobooks, but that's it (and you won't get any spam).

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wytches, volume 1 by Scott Snyder


I should put a disclaimer on this, Wytches, as awesome as it is, is definitely not for younger readers. I would recommend this to much older teens & adults only. Now on to the review.

The last time I remember being scared by a comic was when I was ten and I read too many Punisher War Journals - the ones where the Punisher gets sent to prison and has to take on a terrifying villain named Jigsaw. I'm a grown man now, it's impossible for a comic to scare me, right? Wrong! Wytches is extremely unsettling and I loved every second of it.

After a terrible tragedy, the Rooks family decide to pack up their belongings and move to the small town of Litchfield. Everything seems fine until they realise that the horror that prompted their move has followed them.

Sailor, the Rooks' daughter, is the target of this malevolent force. Convinced she may be losing her mind, she is considered a freak by her peers and an anomaly by the school psychologists.

Nobody realises the truth: that Sailor has been pledged to the Wytches, and pledged is pledged.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

       I have a passing knowledge of spiritual lore and can usually tell a jumbie from a douen and a la diablesse from a soucouyant. With that said it is always good to see new twists on old themes and yfic novels featuring minority characters. The cover image on the book features a proud Latina and that will definitely attract some readers (and  perhaps turn off others).

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

THE NAMELESS CITY by Faith Erin Hicks

Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for underdog stories. Or because I'm a sucker for stories with strong female characters (though the main character is a dude). Or because I really dig stories set in China. Or because I really like stories involving the martial arts.

Regardless, this story has it all. And then some. And I find myself wanting to rave about it, as I've wanted to do from the moment it arrived in my house in January, along with a note saying "please hold your review until April". AGONY!!!

The Nameless City is at least partially about a city in China. The city is located at a key geographical spot, and has been conquered and re-conquered by a variety of tribes, clans, and empires. Each one names the city as it sees fit, but the people who are native to the city, who have lived there for ages, consider it the "nameless city", and they themselves are the nameless.

The main character of the book is Kaidu, a child of the Dao tribe who has come to the city to spend time with his father (a general, who loves the city and has the slightly offbeat idea that the city residents should have some say in their governance) and to train to be a soldier. He has left his mother back home in their village, where she is the tribal leader. Kaidu is naturally fast, but otherwise needs training. Here he is, running after the other important character in the book, a girl called Rat:


The book manages to discuss colonialism/post-colonialism, prejudice and bias/racism, gender expectations, issues of social class and poverty and education, and more, all while not actually discussing ANY of those things, but instead telling a riveting, rip-snorting story involving unlikely friendships that manage to save the day in more than one way,

Seriously, even after saying all that, I worry that I haven't conveyed the half of what this graphic novel touches on. You should probably read it for yourself.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner





Small towns lend themselves to a particular kind of desperation, a feral desire among some of the young to move elsewhere and become their true selves, away from the naysayers and the predestined future born of a certain surname. Teaching most of my career in schools where everybody knew this was nowhere, I’ve shared with some of these students that, wherever you go, there you are. But for others, the only leavening was in the leaving. Dillard (Dill) Early, Jr., the main character of Jeff Zentner’s superb The Serpent King, is one such young man:

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Monday, April 4, 2016

HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt

House ArrestStealing the credit card was a spur of the moment impulse for twelve year old Timothy.  Now he is on probation, and to avoid a stint in juvie, he is under house arrest for one year.


Timothy didn't steal the credit card for himself.  He stole it so he could use it to pay for his brother's medications.  That card made it easy to get a month's worth of life-saving meds for Levi.  Timothy was only hoping to make things easier for his mother and better for his little brother.


Baby Levi was born with subglottic stenosis which causes a constricted airway requiring a trach tube so he can breathe.  Taking care of Levi is expensive and requires full-time assistance.  Since their mother has to work, much of Levi's care falls to Timothy.  Even with lots of overtime, it is hard for her to scrape together enough money to pay for in home care, medications, and the frequent hospital stays involved with Levi's condition.

After the credit card incident, Timothy spends time with James, his court-ordered probation officer, and Mrs. B, a court-ordered therapist.  The judge orders Timothy to write in a journal and share it weekly.  James wants him to write about how he promises not to steal anything ever again, and Mrs. B. wants him to write about his feelings.  Timothy reluctantly begins, but over time, he finds the writing provides a great way to vent. 

Author K.A. Holt tells Timothy's story through his journal entries over the course of one year.  In straight forward free verse, Holt is able to capture Timothy's frustrations, humor, and tremendous love for the little brother who has changed everyone's life.  Holt's own experience with a critically ill child gives HOUSE ARREST an authenticity that will grab readers and keep them thinking about Timothy and Levi long after the last page is turned.

Previously posted at Reading Junky's Reading Roost.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle is a captivating collection that will elicit a passionate response from young activists and historians. It is also a great recommendation for kids who don't like long stories, since the poems are very brief and are related by various narrators.

Cuba's three wars for independence raged on as Rosa la Bayamesa, a nurse, tended to the sick and the injured. Using medicine made from plants, she helped the fallen soldiers, the children, even those who fought for the other side. This verse novel is based on actual events and people, and it follows the main character's life from 1850 to 1899. Even when they were pursued by her enemies, Rosa and her husband Jose never stopped helping others. Jose and a few other supporting characters, such as a little girl named Silvia, step in from time to time to share a poem. Rosa is the driving force behind the story. We could all learn something from her selflessness and determination.

The Surrender Tree was named a 2009 Newbery Honor Book and a Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, is listed among the ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and also won the Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and the Bank Street Claudia Lewis Award.

This book is available in multiple fashions - in English, in Spanish, and the audio book has multiple narrators, one for each of the main characters. Give it a read, give it a listen, recite it, share it!

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