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The Sacrifice by Joyce Carol Oates

12 hours 23 min ago

Considering that it is based on a police case from almost 30 years ago, it is astonishing how much currency Joyce Carol Oates’s new novel has. A black teen is found beaten and apparently raped, naming only “white cops” as the perpetrators before lapsing into silence. The ensuing polarized reactions on the parts of the black and white communities of the teen’s town sound eerily similar to the conversations (or non-conversations) that have been raging in this country over the past two years in response to the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin (two years ago, today). Blaming the victim, blaming all whites, blaming black family values, conflicting reports of what really happened: we have seen all these reactions in abundance, and at least according to Oates, they were almost identical to the responses to Tawana Brawley’s rape allegations in 1987.

When last I wrote about Oates, I said that readers who chose to could ignore her gender politics and focus on her deft story telling. This time out, I don’t think that’s possible. Every page of this novel demands to be read through the prism of race and gender and American values. Nevertheless, the story Oates has to tell is compulsively readable, and she handles a number of narrative tricks with her usual deft hand. This is an astonishing novel from an author who shouldn’t really be astonishing us any more.

*OATES, Joyce Carol. The Sacrifice. 309p. Ecco. Jan. 2015. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062332974. LC 2014052422.

After briefly describing the central event of her powerful new novel—a 15-year-old girl named Sybilla Frye is found tied up in a basement, beaten, and apparently raped—Oates quickly expands the work’s focus to the impact of the crime on the girl’s New Jersey community, and eventually the nation. Sybilla remains largely uncommunicative with doctors and police—beyond a vague accusation that “white cops” raped her—leaving the community, and readers, to make their own decisions. Soon, a prominent Black minister and his attorney brother get involved in the case, at first merely drumming up support for Sybilla, but eventually taking the entire case into their hands and even accusing specific individuals not originally named by Sybilla. Oates manages this expanding campaign (or “Crusade,” as the Reverend has it) with expert narrative skill, moving deftly among the characters, from Sybilla and her mother to the Reverend and his brother to Sybilla’s incredibly disturbed stepfather, and other community members. The seeming timeliness of this novel is made somewhat depressing by the fact that it is a reimagining of a true case from 1987—that of Tawana Brawley, whose rape allegations briefly made national news and merited a mention in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. That case was never fully resolved, with opinions about Brawley’s veracity still debated. Oates uses her poetic license to resolve some of the issues involved, but the heart of the issue—the distrust between poor black communities and their white police departments remains. VERDICT: A powerful novel which should give teens much to ponder and compare to current events.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Nonfiction Roundup

Mon, 2015-02-23 07:00

A group of nonfiction titles that includes something for everyone.

Wes Moore is an advocate for youth, education, and veterans (see the 2014 PBS series Coming Back with Wes Moore). He became well-known in library and school circles with his 2010 debut The Other Wes Moore. Now he’s back with an inspirational book of life lessons, and it wins a starred review from us!

Matt Richtel’s A Deadly Wandering made the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults, 2014 list. This is a heartbreaking story of a deadly accident caused by texting and driving, and the subsequent investigation and trial. It is both an emotional story of the families involved, and a look at the scientific research around technology and multi-tasking.

Finally, one for the anthropology crowd. Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found is the kind of nonfiction that nearly defies categorization, described as “a serious and seriously entertaining exploration of the varied obsessions that the “civilized West” has had with decapitated heads and skulls.” Frances Larson wanders around the world and across time bringing together diverse information about beheadings from executions past and present, wartime acts, even headhunting. It will be the erudite teen indeed who has the context to appreciate all of the author’s musings, but the curious will definitely find sections of interest. Readers drawn to Mary Roach will like this, and those same readers will be able to handle the more gruesome descriptions. (And don’t you just love that subtitle?)

*MOORE, Wes. The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters. 248p. notes. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9780812993578. LC 2013038679.  

When reading The Work, the word “humblebrag” comes to mind repeatedly, with emphasis on the “humble” rather than the “brag.”  After all, Moore’s previous book (The Other Wes Moore; Spiegel & Grau, 2010) examined the difference between his life and that of the “other” Wes Moore, a young man from similar upbringing who is spending life in prison. So he is aware that his history of military service, a Rhodes scholarship, and a stint on Wall Street is something to appreciate, and that he should be thankful for and humble about his accomplishments. Now, Moore wants to share what he has learned on each step of his journey with those who are about to set out on a journey themselves. Each chapter is a lesson, focused on an aspect of his life: the Student, the Professional, the Soldier, the Public Servant, the Risk Taker, the Worker, the Family. But he doesn’t tell the story alone. Each chapter also includes advice from another successful adult, such as Daniel Lubetzky, CEO of Kind, Inc., or Esther Benjamin, associate director of the Peace Corps. Moore also includes a notable failure, and demonstrates how failure can be a good learning experience as well. The book concludes with a lengthy resource guide listing hundreds of opportunities, both for volunteering and meaningful work. All prospective graduates could find this title to be an inspiration as they begin their own journeys. VERDICT: This book should find a home as widely as Richard Nelson Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute? in any library serving teens and adults.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

RICHTEL, Matt. A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Redemption. 416p. Del Rey. Sept. 2014. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062284068.  

It’s rare these days to see teens without a smartphone in their hands, constantly reaching out to their friends via text or social media.  Many articles talk about how today’s teen brains are wired differently because of this constant “on–ness” and that they can, as a result, multitask at a very high level.  A Deadly Wandering shows that while we may have accepted this as truth, the reality is different. In 2006, Reggie Shaw was living at home, having been expelled from the Mormon missionary training program he’d had his heart set on and working in nearby Logan. One day, during a snowstorm, his car swerved into the oncoming lane, causing the car in that lane to spin into the path of a tractor trailer driving behind Shaw; two rocket scientists die in the accident.  Why did Reggie swerve? As Trooper Rindlisbacher drives Reggie to the police station after, he notices that Reggie is a “one handed texter” and doesn’t even seem aware he’s doing it. Readers learn about the lives affected by this accident, from Reggie (who now speaks about the dangers of texting and driving) and his girlfriend Briana to Trooper Rindlisbacher and Victim’s Advocate Terryl Warner to the bereaved families of James Furfaro and Keith O’Dell, all linked due to a few moments of inattention. Using the investigation as an anchor, Richtel builds a solid case that debunks assumptions about how well we multitask and how dangerous it can be to assume that either task is being performed effectively. VERDICT More than the usual “true crime” or “scared straight” story, this will interest teens because of the texting element; budding neuroscientists will also learn quite a bit about the brain’s inner workings.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

LARSON, Frances. Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. 336p. bibliog. illus. index. photos. Liveright. Nov. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780871404541. LC 2014028228.  

From the neck down, people are pretty much the same. It’s the head that grants individuality, that makes people, people. It’s no wonder that the head is an object of fascination and veneration.  Severed looks at heads from a variety of angles, including the historical obsession with preservation and the modern efforts to understand how the brain works. For example, the term “headhunter” was usually applied to natives who collected their enemy’s heads, sometimes shrinking them to create a trophy of sorts. Yet to those “savages,” Europeans became the headhunters when their interest in shrunken and tattooed heads created enough demand that the they started skipping traditional rituals in order to keep the supply flowing. (Some even handed over European heads in lieu of native, or tattooed them to order!) Ever wondered how long a head retains consciousness after being severed? There’s a whole chapter of answers. From death masks and revered relics to cryogenically frozen and dissected, Larson’s book will amuse and repel readers. There’s little gore, but the author’s stories of how we’ve treated heads over the centuries can be disturbing (example: the fate of Oliver Cromwell’s head, which gets pride of place in the Prologue). For anyone interested in social history, this is great narrative nonfiction. VERDICT A nonfiction title perfect for fans of Mary Roach, Thomas Cahill, and Mark Kurlansky.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

Categories: Library News

Continuing Mystery Series

Thu, 2015-02-19 14:23

Today we look at two entries in continuing mystery series – both also parts on ongoing multi-media franchises. The much older of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. When last we talked, I mentioned Holmes’s semi-unique place as a character who has leaped the bounds of his original stories. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Conan Doyle estate had picked teen-favorite Anthony Horowitz as the author in charge of bringing Holmes back into the “official” world of print stories. Horowitz’s first Holmes novel, House of Silk (2011), was a major success which I had missed. So I was glad to catch up with his follow-up, Moriarty, which, perversely, is a Holmes novel entirely without the presence of Holmes (or Watson for that matter). Instead, we follow two small-time characters on a Holmes-like mystery which may or may not have something to do with the famous professor of the title. It is an ingenious take on the Holmes mythology and should be beloved by Holmes and Horowitz fans alike.

Meanwhile, Veronica Mars continues to spread her brand–having moved from TV to a big screen movie, and now to a mystery series. I reviewed the first of these warmly, here, and I can only say that I have become more convinced with this sequel that Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham and not just cashing in on a fan-favorite, but truly creating some exciting mystery novels.

HOROWITZ, Wes. Moriarty. 285p.  HarperCollins. Dec. 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062377180. LC 2014045644.

Shortly after the famous duel between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls—which led to both of their (presumed) deaths—readers are introduced to the heroes of this Holmes tale-without-Holmes: Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective from America and the novel’s narrator; and Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard inspector. Jones, reeling from being shown up by Holmes (in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories) has, in Horowitz’s timeline, reimagined himself according to Holmes, leaving Chase to take up the role of Watson. After discovering a coded message on the body they believe to be Moriarty’s, the two begin a hunt for a mysterious American gangster named Clarence Devereaux who has come to England to expand his power. The intrigue and body count piles up quickly and though Jones at times seems the equal of Holmes in his powers of induction, it becomes clear that Jones and Chase may be in over their heads. Though the novel is loaded with references to the original mysteries, Horowitz’s decision to leave Holmes out of the story is marvelously effective, as it gives readers a new perspective on the great detective, and saves the author from having to be needlessly faithful to Doyle. The prose runs at Horowitz’s trademark fast pace and readers will find themselves racing towards the end. VERDICT: Perfect for teen fans of Sherlock Holmes, whether they’ve encountered him through the source material, or in one of his many cinematic representations.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

THOMAS, Rob and Jennifer Graham. Mr. Kiss and Tell. 330p. (Veronica Mars: Bk. 2). Vintage. Jan. 2015. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780804170727. LC 2014042612.

The second installment in Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham’s “Veronica Mars” series delivers exactly what fans of the TV show and first novel are expecting: a well-constructed, seedy mystery; sassy dialogue courtesy of Veronica, Mac, and Keith; and the further romantic adventures of Veronica and Logan. The mystery surrounds a girl found on the side of the road, beaten and raped, who, once her memory returns, accuses a laundry worker at the Neptune Grand Hotel. Veronica is initially hired by the Grand’s insurance company to prove the accusation wrong, and therefore to limit the hotel’s liability, but true to form, Veronica can’t stop until she finds the truth, which turns out to be much more complicated than she could have imagined. Meanwhile, Logan is on shore leave from the Navy but feels compelled to cut his time off short when a shipmate dies in an accident and leaves the ship a man short. Logan’s newfound devotion to his job over his relationship offers a nice mirror for Veronica’s longstanding inability to let go of a job, while ratcheting up the tension between the couple. Finally, Keith continues to try to take down Sheriff Lamb by proving that he and his men have been planting evidence on suspects. Despite the disparate plots, Thomas and Graham keep the threads tightly woven, and the novel reads fast and strong. VERDICT: Another winning mystery for Veronica Mars fans of all ages.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

The Sweetheart

Tue, 2015-02-17 07:00

Here is a great debut novel that brings universal themes to a unique and unusual story. The Sweetheart is a coming of age story set in the world of women wrestlers in 1950s Florida.

I found an interesting review on a site titled Pro Wrestling Books, by a professional wrestling journalist, John Lister, who finds the details of the sport spot-on. It’s also worth reading this PW article by Angelina Mirabella on why she wrote in the second person and how it helped her get to know her teenager protagonist.

Readalikes that come to mind are Betsy Carter’s wonderful Swim to Me and Jennifer Niven’s Velva Jean novels. (That’s the same Jennifer Niven currently making a splash with her YA debut, All the Bright Places.) My student bookgroup chose Velva Jean Learns to Drive a few years ago with mixed results, but the readers who loved it really loved it.

MIRABELLA, Angelina. The Sweetheart. 352p. S. & S. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476733876. LC 2014001457.  

In 1953, 17-year-old Leonie Putzkammer looks into her future and sees decades of quiet days just like the current day: waiting on tables, fixing dinner for her widowed father, and listening to the radio. Embarrassingly tall and curvaceous, the teen believes that she will always be the awkward butt of unwanted attention. But after an appearance on Bob Horn’s Bandstand, where she is prompted to turn three audacious handsprings on camera, all Leonie can think of is the magical sound of applause. In the next few months, events move quickly as the protagonist discovers that her big body, Nordic looks, and gymnastic skills can get her the positive attention she craves—in the wrestling ring. As “Gorgeous Gwen Davies,” she can bask in the love of fans and take charge of her own life. But her flirtatious stage persona soon becomes intolerable for the guy in her life. Is the fame worth all she must sacrifice? The story of Gwen Davies is bookended by present-day narration of a woman named Leigh, who receives an invitation for the now passé “Gwen Davies” to attend a wrestling banquet. Leigh’s second-person narration of Leonie/Gwen’s story works fairly well here. Teens will be intrigued by the true athleticism and courage displayed by young Gwen and her opponents, set in a time period when the journey through adolescence was quite different from now.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

Categories: Library News

Before and After the Apocalypse

Thu, 2015-02-12 09:22

Two science fiction thrillers on review today, from two new Simon & Schuster imprints that highlight speculative fiction: Saga Press and Simon451.

Lee Kelly‘s debut, City of Savages, could easily have been published YA. It alternates two YA narrators, sisters, as they survive post-WWIII Manhattan. This is a good post-apocalyptic novel, and readers experience the war itself in flashback as the girls read their mother’s journal. The pace never flags, it is full of strong female characters and vivid images. NYC spaces like the Carlyle Hotel, Central Park, the Standard Hotel by the Highline, and the subway tunnels are used effectively. It reminds me of Ann Aguirre’s Enclave, although here the characters mostly live above-ground. If you have readers who enjoyed that trilogy, this would be a great book to hand them.

A Vision of Fire gives us a world on the brink of apocalypse. You might do a double-take when you see the lead author’s name. This is Gillian Anderson’s debut, as in the actress of X-Files fame. (Although right now I have trouble seeing her as anything but the lead in BBC’s The Fall. Anyone with me??)  This is the start to an exciting new series, The Earthend Saga, that kicks off with some strange teen behavior. You could suggest this to teens who have enjoyed Dan Brown (still plenty popular in my library) or similar globetrotting suspense.

KELLY, Lee. City of Savages. 416p. S. & S./Saga Pr. Feb. 2015. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781481410304. LC 2014001540.  

Sky and Phee live in post–World War III Manhattan with their mother, Sarah. They spend the warmer months in what used to be a luxurious Wall Street apartment, tending their rooftop garden and hunting for meat. As winter approaches, they return to Central Park for the Census. Now teenagers, Sky was a baby and Phee yet unborn when the Red Allies bombed the city and set up a POW camp in the Park. The girls know surprisingly little of the past before Sky discovers Sarah’s journal from that time and steals it. The sisters read the journal in spurts, learning secrets about the past in between action-packed happenings in the present. A group of refugees from England arrives in the Park, upsetting the status quo, and eventually causing the family to flee. The novel is told in alternating chapters from each sister’s point of view. Phee is the impetuous one; she loves the island and wants to stay. Sky is a reader and a thinker who can’t wait to escape and explore the wider world. Their close relationship is disrupted by Ryder, a handsome young Brit who appeals to both of them. They need to focus on survival after they escape the POW camp together and make their way south through the city, encountering cannibals and fanatical missionaries along the way. While readers won’t find much new here, the pace is excellent, the narrative voices compelling, and the vision of a war-broken New York City engaging.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

ANDERSON, Gillian with Jeff Rovin. A Vision of Fire. 292p. (Earthend Saga: Bk. 1). S. & S./Simon451. Oct. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476776521. LC 2014022692.  

Caitlin O’Hara is juggling her children’s psychology practice, her deaf son, and her own social life as a single mom when she receives a video that stops her cold.  It’s a recording of the daughter of the Indian ambassador to the United Nations. The girl, Maanik, is speaking a new language, acting out, and entering a trancelike state. But her father is in the midst of tense negotiations to prevent war in the Kashmir region. He doesn’t want his daughter’s weakness to be made public, so he asks Caitlin for help. Soon a YouTube video from Haiti appears with a similar situation, and rats swarm on a building in New York City where a recently discovered meteorite is being stored. Something peculiar is happening worldwide and Caitlin must solve the problem. X-Files fans will be thrilled that the actress known for playing Scully has written a book in the genre that made her famous. It helps that Rovin is the cowriter—he’s the author of Tom Clancy’s “Op-Center” series (HarperCollins) and understands the bestselling action and adventure genre.  Voodoo, Norse mythology, hypnosis, and unknown ancient civilizations all play a part in this novel, and it really does read like the plot of an X-Files show. This is the first book published by Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, a reference to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.—Sarah B. Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

Awards, Awards, Awards!

Mon, 2015-02-09 07:32

I suppose this post should really be titled Lists, Lists, Lists!  But Awards sound so much more exciting!

Mark posted the Alex Awards when they were announced one week ago. I was at the YMA’s, and I have to admit that my heart was in my throat when the announcements began. The very first winner announced was All the Light We Cannot See and I could have jumped out of my seat I was so thrilled. Then I found myself muttering Martian, Martian, Martian under my breath. And that happened. So I was pretty darn happy.

Actually, this is one of my favorite lists in years (even though I hadn’t heard of two of the winners at all–Bingo’s Run and The Terrorist’s Son). I want to say a huge Congratulations and Thank You to the Alex Award committee members. Their names are on the Award homepage on the YALSA site, you know. Fine work, everyone!

Then, on Friday, the Alex Awards nominations were announced, and the year got even better. Bird Box! How to Build a Girl!

Now that all the lists are in, I thought it might be fun to do our annual roundup of the three lists that consider adult books and teen appeal: our Best Adult Books 4 Teens 2014, the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults, and YALSA’s Alex Awards.

Considering just the Alex Awards (and not the Alex nominations), this year there were no books that made all three lists, but several made two:

Above the Dreamless Dead, ed. by Chris Duffy
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
The Martian by Andy Weir

If we include the Alex Award nominations, we do have two books that made all three lists, and they are (drum roll, please):

The Fever by Megan Abbott
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

We can also add a few to our books making 2 lists:

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

Two more lists were released last week that I want to talk about while we’re here. First, the RUSA Reading List. Do you all know about this? I love this list so much. It repopulates my TBR pile every year. I am linking to the press release, since it doesn’t seem to be up on the RUSA site quite yet.

As you can see, it is a list of the best adult fiction in eight genres: Adrenaline, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Women’s Fiction. Not only does it include a shortlist in each genre, it also includes three readalikes for the winner. So many great books. And often there is significant crossover with our AB4T reviews. This year the Adrenaline, Fantasy and Science Fiction shortlists were particularly full of books with teen appeal.

The other list I wanted to point out is In the Margins, titles for youth in custody. Last week’s announcement highlights one fiction and one nonfiction winner, as well as a top ten list. The full official list is on the award website. Amy Cheney, an AB4T reviewer, chairs the committee. Congratulations to Amy and all of the committee members!

Categories: Library News

Red Rising and The Bone Season continue

Thu, 2015-02-05 10:14

Two of 2014′s stand-out debuts continue!

Pierce Brown’s Red Rising was on our Best of the Year list. The second book of the trilogy is even better. EW posted a great interview with the author (mind those spoilers!) and you can see the cover of the trilogy finale, Morning Star, on Brown’s website.

The Mime Order is the second in what is projected to be a 7-book series. (See our post about The Bone Season for more details.) Samantha Shannon has a blog titled A Book from the Beginning in which she shares the experience of becoming and being a published author. In Tuesday’s post she wrote, “One thing I’m trying to do in the Bone Season series is to give the reader a very different experience in each book. I don’t like to repeat the same formula over seven books, and I shy away from sticking to one clear-cut genre. My aim is to make it difficult for you to guess what will happen in each installment. The Bone Season was what I might call a “jailbreak” story, much of which centred around Warden and Paige’s relationship, while The Mime Order has a central murder mystery that The Bone Season lacked. Book 3 is no different. This one is shaping up to be more of a revolutionary tale, with Scion itself as the primary antagonist.”

*BROWN, Pierce. Golden Son. 464p. (The Red Rising Trilogy: Bk. 2). Del Rey. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9780345539816. LC 2014031015.  

Darrow is back. Having risen from the deadly mines of Mars and won the lethal competition to become a select warrior among the Golds, he is able to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the most politically powerful Gold family.  From there he can achieve his destiny—to topple the rule of the Golds and liberate the lesser castes from exploitation. But now that his mortal enemies from Red Rising (Del Rey, 2014) are allies, friends, and even lovers, can anyone be trusted? Can Darrow trust himself as he is further seduced by the indulgences of life as a Gold? Deceits and betrayals abound when The Sons of Ares, the group that recruited Darrow and transformed him into a Gold, terrorize the society and threaten the revolution Darrow feels is his alone to lead.  The plot twists and turns as mayhem reigns, civil war is fomented, and internecine feuds become murderous conflict. But whenever Darrow begins to succeed, disaster ensues as others more purposeful and ruthless than him wreak havoc on his plans.  It is Brown’s genius that he is able to blend hi-tech science fiction (“carvers” creating super humans out of flesh and bone) with primitive magic (scorpions that detect liars and punish them with a deadly sting) into a believable world.  That he wraps it in a page-turner in which action often leaves readers breathless will make it irresistible to teens. The only caveat is that reading the previous volume is a prerequisite to understanding the multitude of characters and motivations in this entry.—John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY

SHANNON, Samantha. The Mime Order. 528p. glossary. maps. (The Bone Season: Bk. 2). Bloomsbury. Jan. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9781620408933.  

Series openers set the tone and pacing, while second books show whether the author has not only the vision to carry things through but the technique to keep things different and interesting while pulling readers along. In The Mime Order, Shannon proves she can do just that. At the end of The Bone Season (Bloomsbury, 2013) it’s clear that Sheol I is gone: what will happen to the escapees? Can they survive in London, finding ways to not only live but avoid Scion?  The answers will surprise readers and, of course, lead to many more questions (given that this is only the second of seven planned installments).  The London created here is fully realized, a semi-steampunk world with a lively underground that Paige returns to, including as her previous role as The White Binder’s crew’s mollisher. When the murder of the Underlord creates a power vacuum in the underworld, the only way to fill it is via formalized mortal combat amongst the various Mime Lords and their mollishers. Will Paige and Jaxson win?  More importantly, can they trust each other enough to win? And is there a role for Warden in this London, now that he’s a traitor to his species? The maps and glossary will help readers remember and expand their knowledge of this complex world. Fans of the first book will really enjoy this sequel, and any teen looking for a new fantasy series with something a little different should be introduced to Shannon’s work.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

Categories: Library News

Alex Awards Announced!

Mon, 2015-02-02 15:29

The 2015 Alex Awards were announced this morning (you can find the lists of all the Youth Media Awards winners here). Congratulations to the ten winners:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
  • Bingo’s Run by James A. Levine, published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
  • Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder, published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, published by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
  • Lock In by John Scalzi, a Tor Book published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir, published by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
  • The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles, published by TED Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta, published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

As our reviewer Sarah Flowers pointed out over here, we (or rather Angela) had a pretty amazing year for predicting the awards. Angela picked All the Light We Cannot See and Everything I Never Told You outright, and mentioned both The Martian and Lock In as strong possibilities. Meanwhile, I predicted . . . nothing correctly. Oh well. On the plus side, I am ecstatic to see John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van honored. I read it too late in the year to nominate it for our Best of the Year list, but it was certainly one of my favorite books that I read last year.

As you can see from the links above, we reviewed seven of the ten winners, down one from last year, but still making me very happy. I’m already deeply ensconced in 2015 reading, but I may be back for commentary if I get a chance to read any of the three titles we didn’t review. Until then, congratulations again to all the Alex Award Winners.

Categories: Library News

Two Takes on Environmental Destruction

Fri, 2015-01-30 07:00

Today, we review two books that examine the environmental destruction of small towns, and the ensuing fallout in the community at large. In Rene Steinke’s Friendswood, the eponymous town has been the victim of chemical leaks from a nearby oil refinery. Most of the town seems ready to move on once the EPA has cleared the town for redevelopment, but protagonist Lee (whose daughter may have died from exposure to the chemicals) continues to crusade against the refinery, a crusade which leads eventually to tragedy.  Meanwhile, in Christopher Scotton’s The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, a small Appalachian town is being strip-mined for coal, and the opposition (much more organized than Lee’s one-man stand) once again leads to tragic results.

Both novels ask the reader to consider the ways in which rural American towns are seen by urban America: not just as fodder to be used and abused by large corporations, but as essentially worth less than our large “modern” cities.  And both use their broad narrative of environmental disaster as a setting for the more mundane tragedies of daily life in these towns.

STEINKE, René. Friendswood. 368p. Riverhead. Aug. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594632518. LC  2014012106

Many years ago, Lee’s daughter Jess succumbed to a brain tumor that Lee believes resulted from the effects of chemicals left behind by a nearby refinery. Since then, she has been fighting City Hall to create awareness of those chemicals and the damage they have done to the residents of their town, Friendswood, Texas. The protagonist’s research and reports about multiple incidents of cancer, brain tumors, and unexplained rashes have fallen on deaf ears. When the EPA clears the way for new building upon that site, Lee is determined to fight even harder. But to most townspeople the refinery dump-site is not an issue. Hal, a realtor, looks forward to the possibility of selling many homes in the area, and teens Willa, Cully, and Dex are just trying to understand their lives. Told from these five character viewpoints, Friendswood takes readers into the lives of these people who live under the shadow of a resurfacing superfund site. Hal grapples with his faith and ambition; Willa has strange hallucinations; Cully rethinks his life in the aftermath of violent bad choices; and Dex struggles with understanding his family. Lee’s eco-terrorism sparks a climax that allows each character to discover that maybe life has something to offer them, while opening the eyes of this small town to the destruction in their backyard. Young adults can identify with the teen characters and for those who like environmental activism, this book will get them thinking.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

SCOTTON, Christopher. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. 468p. Grand Central. Jan. 2015. Tr $26. ISBN 9781455551927. LC 2014012917.

It’s been two months since Kevin and his mother witnessed the horrific death of his little brother. They have moved to Appalachian Kentucky to spend the summer with Pops, Kevin’s maternal grandfather, with the hope of healing.  This is a tall order as Kevin’s mother is so grief-stricken she can hardly function, and his absentee father, who blames him for the death, provides no support. Luckily, Pops is a wise and lovable man who is the best candidate to aid in the teen’s redemption. The protagonist meets Buzzy whose friendship is immediate and fast. However, there is a dark underbelly to this 1985 coal mining town, including a murder and an evil coal mine owner who is destroying the area. Pops, Kevin, and Buzzy set out for a trip into the remote areas of the hollows to experience the beauty of the region. They see a person watching their every move who soon begins firing at them. Buzzy is convinced the shooter is after him, so he takes off to confront him. Pops is shot and it is up to Kevin to save him. This is a treacherous, page-turning journey and one can only admire Kevin’s pluck and bravery. Overwritten, wordy, and full of caricatures, this debut is also highly readable and has some appealing, authentic characters. Teens might find 14-year-old Kevin overly sophisticated, but the action and setting are intriguing and credible.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

Categories: Library News


Wed, 2015-01-28 22:06

Descent is my favorite book of 2015 so far, and one I expect to see on best lists come next winter.

Why? Tim Johnston combines edge-of-your-seat suspense with family drama, tragedy, and an unforgettable setting. The characters are real, which is what makes their fates so suspenseful, of course. And it is incredibly well-written. There are beautiful passages throughout. The author is able to turn the narrative from thoughtful to nail-biting on a dime.

Now, I started my review with the word “intense” for a reason. There were moments when I was literally reading with one eye closed. I’ve never done that before! I had to put it down for a couple days about halfway through. I sobbed my heart out at the end, something else I rarely do. This is for mature teen readers who can handle violence, especially the threat of violence including rape. (Thankfully, most of that violence takes place off-stage, so to speak.) I think there are lots of readers out there for this book including teens who ask for crime novels or suspenseful mysteries, and teens who like to read about abduction victims like Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard.

* JOHNSTON, Tim. Descent. 384p. Algonquin. Jan. 2015. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781616203047. LC 2014024023.  

This intense, literary thriller begins with a typical American family summer vacation in the Colorado Rockies. Caitlin, 18, is headed to college on a track scholarship, and is excited to practice running at a high altitude. The first morning, Caitlin sets off up a mountain road with her younger brother Sean riding his bike alongside her. Hours later, the local sheriff arrives at the motel to take their parents, Grant and Angela, to the hospital where Sean is in surgery after being run down by a vehicle. Caitlin is nowhere to be found, as if she disappeared into thin air. After weeks of searching, Angela returns home to Wisconsin. But Grant can’t leave. He sets up house on the property of the sheriff’s father’s ranch, helping elderly Emmet with daily chores. After his leg heals, Sean takes Grant’s truck and drives away, finding work as he needs it, coming of age as a drifter pretending to be 18. What became of Caitlin? Chapters in her voice lend the novel a nearly unbearable suspense. The horror of the situation and the power of the writing come together to create something wholly unique, with echoes of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (Little Brown, 2002), the beautiful prose of Ron Rash, and the Western setting of Kent Meyers’s Work of Wolves (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). This is family drama, psychological suspense, survival, and coming of age all set in an awesome, vast wilderness where anything can happen. A frightening but also life-affirming read thanks to the love, hope, and determination of these wounded, imperfect characters.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Alex Award Predictions

Mon, 2015-01-26 07:00


The 2015 Alex Awards–recognizing “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults”–will be named during the Youth Media Awards on February 2. In our annual quest to pretend we know what we’re talking about, today Angela and I are going to make some guesses about what we think might have a chance to pick up one of those Alex Awards.

I’ll start with two personal favorites–less predictions than hoped-for titles. First, I’m going to double (triple? quadruple?) down on Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastic SF mind-blower Annihilation. I’ve been flogging this (and the other two books in the Southern Reach trilogy) all year, and while I acknowledge that it has perhaps a bit less teen appeal (especially the later books which get into a bit of esoteric philosophizing), the pure intrigue and suspense of this first novel make it perfect for literate teen SF fans.

The second book I’ll pick is the graphic novel Above the Dreamless Dead, edited by Chris Duffy. This is another one which should be no surprise to readers of the blog, as I devoted two long blog posts to it, including an interview with Chris Pratt, one of the artists. This graphic adaptation of World War I poetry is a phenomenal exercise in history and literature–making both real for a modern audience and linking them to the present–along with a tremendous outpouring of artistic talent. This one has Booklist’s stamp of approval as an adult book for young adults. The only question is its eligibility, since all of the poems have been previously published. I can’t seem to find a clear answer to that on the Alex Awards homepage. Regardless of that decision, this one is obviously one of the best Adult Books 4 Teens of the year.

How about you Angela–what would you like to see/think we might see from the Alex Awards?


This year I’m trying to keep my own emotions out of it, and force myself to stick to a teen appeal perspective. Please disregard that I’m beginning with my favorite two books of the year!

First, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If ever there was a literary historical fiction title that had the appeal to make it onto the Alex list, I think this is it. I couldn’t keep it on my shelves long enough to booktalk it this fall. “If you liked The Book Thief, you might…” and it was gone.

Second, Everything I Never Told You. I think the way that Ng sets up her plot makes it nearly unputdownable. It’s a mystery inside a dysfunctional family drama that begins with the words, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

And may I add–I think Annihilation is a long-shot. My science fiction vote goes to The Martian or Lock In. (Not that all three couldn’t end up on the list–there is no balance requirement.) These two are immediately fun and interesting. And teens like to know what happened–getting to the end and still having no earthly idea what the book is about? Not so much. Or is that just me?? And no, my frustration didn’t prevent me from starting Authority, the second in the Southern Reach trilogy, as soon as I could lay my hands on a copy!

Back to you, Mark!


Oh, I entirely agree that The Martian and Lock In are more accessible than Annihilation–but I think that Annihilation is far better written than either of those two. The old quality v. popularity debate. Ideally I’d like to see The Martian *and* Annihilation win an Alex, but I’m not holding my breath.

On to other books. I suppose technically Above the Dreamless Dead is “nonfiction” because it might be shelved in the 811s for Poetry, but I would love to see a real nonfiction book make the cut, and there are some strong contenders. Kevin Brockmeier’s memoir A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip made out Best of list, and The Underground Girls of Kabul made Booklist’s. I’d love to see either of those make it, but the nonfiction book I’d put my money on is The Griots of Oakland, edited by Angela Zusman. Very much in the same vein as Richard Ross’s Juvenile in Justice–in that it is heavily pictorial, centered on underserved (all or mostly black) youth, and was discovered for us by reviewer Amy Cheney–Griots is one of the most powerful books I read this year, and absolutely required reading for anyone who cares about race relations in this country (which should be everyone).

For my second book of this round I’ll go with a book I haven’t read: Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for this one, and it’s one of a handful of books that this blog and Booklist agreed on. I don’t know whether the fact that the first in the series, The Magicians, received an Alex has any bearing on the finale’s chances, but from what I’ve heard, The Magician’s Land is every bit as good, if not better than The Magicians, so I’m going for it.

Last year you put me on the spot for coming up with an outlier or two. This year I’m returning the favor: any out-of-left-field candidates you could see making a run?


First, I have to respond to The Magician’s Land. Yes, please! In my post about this book, I mention how funny and big-hearted it is. Grossman is also generous in sharing just what fans of this series want–more about Fillory and the “villain”’s origin story. And he has lots to say about growing up. Nothing would make me happier than to see Grossman’s trilogy honored once again by the Award committee.

Now, to that out-of-left-field possibility. Really out there because I didn’t even review it. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a masterpiece of a post-apocalyptic story that centers around the life of an aging actor who dies in the very first scene. I booktalked it to a few classes in November, right after reading it, and no one checked it out. So I decided that it just didn’t have the teen appeal for this blog. But now I hear it’s become a bit of a favorite in my library. Students read it over the holiday break. Huh. So, this would be one of those 40-1 bets, but it could happen. One of the things that makes this special is the tie-in to the arts. It follows a group of survivors who travel around the Lake Michigan area performing Shakespeare and classical music. One of their wagons is painted with the quote “Because Survival isn’t Sufficient.”

Which leads me to another possibility, which we did review but did not place on our Best list–The Vacationers by Emma Straub. This became a real favorite in my library this fall. Both teachers and students were recommending it to each other. Its humor and compassion for difficult family circumstances remind me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (as did the cover design), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one show up on the Alex list.

Mark, I love your prediction of Griots of Oakland. In addition to Juvenile in Justice, it brings to mind another pictorial Alex winner from a little further back–The Oxford Project, by Stephen G. Bloom, photographed by Peter Feldstein.

So rather than ask for an outlier, let me ask–is there anything we’re skipping because it’s just too obvious?


Hmm . . . a book we’re skipping because it’s too obvious? I don’t know if “obvious” and “Alex Awards” really go together–as we’ve established over the last couple of years of our pitifully off-base “predictions”.  But if there is an obvious book it’s probably All The Light We Cannot See, which you already picked. Among books we haven’t mentioned yet, I can’t really see Megan Abbott’s The Fever as “obvious”–it’s a bit slow to start, and it took me some time to come around to its greatness.  But it was one that Booklist agreed with us on, and it’s by an established author of adult books for teens (see our review of Dare Me)–and, oh yeah, I ended up loving it and giving it a starred review, so I guess it has that going for it–so I’ll go ahead and take that one.

That’s nine titles. Angela, do you want to round us off with one more pick?


Sure. I’m going to answer my own question about the obvious. My first guess would be Pierce Brown’s Red Rising. It certainly has the appeal. Second–there is a lot of love out there for Adam by Ariel Schrag. I haven’t read either, though they’ve been on my TBR pile forever. Sigh… But just like my Oscar predictions improve the fewer movies I’ve seen, maybe I can see more clearly when I haven’t read… 

You can follow the Youth Media Awards live, 8:00 a.m. Central time on Monday, Feb. 2 in a couple ways. The webcast will be here. The twitter handle is #ALAyma. The Alex Awards are the very first announcement, and then the winners are repeated later in the show.

Meanwhile, please, share your predictions with us in the comments!

Categories: Library News

The Heart Does Not Grow Back

Thu, 2015-01-22 07:00

The tagline plastered on the back of Fred Venturini’s debut novel–”Every superhero needs to start somewhere”–may draw in readers, but it may mislead them as well. It is true that the novel’s protagonist, Dale Sampson, has a superheroic ability to regenerate his limbs, but the novel is much less of an origin story than it is a quirky coming-of-age story. And as our review states, the balance between these genres can lead the book astray at times. Nevertheless, it’s a fast paced book with lots of teen interest, especially teen fans of Venturini’s mentor, Chuck Palahniuk.

VENTURINI, Fred. The Heart Does Not Grow Back. 272p. Picador. Nov. 2014. pap. $16. ISBN 9781250052216; ebk. ISBN 9781250052223.

Dale Sampson has always been a loser. His star ballplayer best friend, Mack, is the closest he came to popularity in high school. One fateful night, the only girl he’s ever been interested in, Regina, is murdered, and he and Mack are injured. Mack’s athletic future is over due to his injuries. Dale’s strange destiny is just beginning, as his hand heals super-fast and his lost ear regenerates itself. After high school, Dale continues to hide his ability from others and works just enough to get by, when he reconnects with Regina’s shy twin Raeanna. He realizes she is a victim of domestic abuse and tries to help, but soon becomes the husband’s target. Dale heads to Hollywood to star in a show about his ability, all to gain fame in a greater plan to help Raeanna, but her secrets may bring her to ask Dale to sacrifice more than he can. This is an interesting, bizarre, and depressing story, and suspension of disbelief is necessary, especially regarding the unexplained organ regeneration. Dale’s sense of honor is admirable, but overshadowed by his frustrating inability to act, which permeates the story. The ending is hopeful, but less realistic in context. A high concept read for teens interested in superheroes, sports, Hollywood, quirky fiction.–Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ

Categories: Library News


Tue, 2015-01-20 15:12

Here we have a new kind of apocalypse, one in which humans are at war with ants, joined later by cats, dogs, and more. Just what is going on??

Robert Repino’s debut lands somewhere between Animal Farm and those B-movie sci-fi thrillers with giant, mutated insects. Give this to teens looking for something different. Maybe Grasshopper Jungle fans looking to take their science fiction fandom to the next level. Or readers whose humor would embrace pets who rebel against their owners. The cover art alone should garner some interest.

There are so many dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels being published right now. This one stands out in the crowd.

REPINO, Robert. Mort(e). 352p. Soho Pr. Jan. 2015. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781616954277.  

Imagine a world where an ant Queen rules a Colony of ants that are the size of school buses.  The Queen has developed a chemical that will make all animals larger, capable of speaking, and gives them hands (with opposable thumbs).  Finally, this Colony and these animals wage war on humans… and win. Sebastian is a housecat, the defender of his home and the humans inside; Sheba is the dog next door, who comes to visit Sebastian when her male comes to “visit” Sebastian’s female.  The day before the Change, their worlds collapse as Sebastian’s male kills Sheba’s newborn puppies and kicks her out of the house. Post-takeover, Sebastian becomes Mort(e): a mercenary cat who helps wipe out the remaining humans and create an animal-run society, all the while seeking his only friend, Sheba.  Realizing that this new society is no better than the human one, he allows himself to become a spy for the human resistance—in no small part because they’ve told him he’s part of a prophecy that includes Sheba.  The final scenes will make readers cry.  The earlier chapters will make any reader within 10 feet of an animal (ant, spider, cat, or other) very nervous.  This is the perfect companion title for George Orwell’s 1984, and a very interesting twist on dystopian societies.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

Categories: Library News

The Rosie Effect: A Sequel That Delivers the Goods

Thu, 2015-01-15 13:05

When I read Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, I loved it (and reviewed positively)–funny, charming, sweet, with something real to say about humanity. But I had some doubts about it’s teen appeal, which was the only reason I didn’t give it a starred review. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of our other reviewers nominated it for this blog’s Best of 2013 list.

Nevertheless, when I picked up the sequel, and subject of today’s review, The Rosie Effect, the same doubts nagged at me, especially since this book is about marriage and parenthood, rather than dating–a topic farther removed from teens. But I was once again proved wrong–this time by a real live teen. I took my ARC of The Rosie Effect on a plane flight to Arizona (don’t ask why I would want to go to Arizona) and sat next to two teen brothers. The younger of them–maybe 12 or 13–proceeded to spend the entire flight reading over my shoulder, laughing along with me, and asking me questions about where I’d gotten the book (he was quite disappointed to find out that it wasn’t out in print yet).

So without further ado, or further doubts about teen appeal, here’s our review of Simsion’s wonderful sequel to The Rosie Project.

SIMSION, Graeme. The Rosie Effect. 344p. S. & S. Dec. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9781476767314. LC 2014034569.

Don Tillman is back, and fans of The Rosie Project (S. & S., 2013) won’t need any persuading to snatch up this sequel. Don and Rosie are settled in New York, where Rosie is going to grad school and Don is working as a visiting professor at Columbia. Then everything changes: Rosie announces that she’s pregnant and simultaneously, Don’s friend Gene from Australia, gets thrown out by his wife and arrives on Don and Rosie’s doorstep. After a brief meltdown, Don goes into his normal logical mode and initiates The Baby Project, researching pregnancy, childbirth, and child care (including observing and videotaping small children at a playground, a tactic that gets him noticed by the NYPD and referred to counseling). Don wants to protect Rosie from stress during her pregnancy, but as a result he fails to provide the kind of support she needs and wants, and Rosie withdraws into her schoolwork, failing to face up to the realities of what a baby will mean in their lives. Despite (or because of) his quirks, Don manages to gather around himself some genuine friends to help him through this time of uncertainty—and he does his own share of helping his friends through their own relationship problems. With laugh-out-loud moments and touchingly sweet ones, this will appeal to teens who like funny books and those who appreciate a somewhat sideways look at modern customs and mores, especially those surrounding relationships and families.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

Magical Trilogies

Mon, 2014-11-24 07:50

Today we review the first books in three new speculative fiction series.

Let’s begin with Charlie Holmberg‘s The Paper Magician series. We review the first, The Paper Magician, Holberg’s debut, published in September. The second in the series, The Glass Magician, is already available. Both are published by Amazon’s fantasy, science fiction and horror imprint, 47North.

Some of you might know Charlie Fletcher from his middle grade Stoneheart trilogy. The Oversight is his first adult novel. It is a terrific readalike for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, with a similar dark London setting. (Bonus–a British friend who knows London well assures me that it’s geographically accurate.) This is darker than The Paper Magician, but still perfectly appropriate for teen readers. The second in the Oversight trilogy, The Paradox, is expected in 2015.

Radiant is another debut, which launches Karina Sumner-Smith‘s Towers Trilogy. It is an interesting mix of fantasy and dystopian science fiction, combining magic and technology. At it’s core is a strong female friendship that grounds the world-building and the action. Next up? Defiant in 2015!

HOLMBERG, Charlie N. The Paper Magician. 224p. (The Paper Magicians: Bk. 1). Amazon/47North. Sept. 2014. Tr $14.95. ISBN  9781477823835. LC 2014930971.  

This series opener is tailor-made for teen readers who love Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) and the “Harry Potter” books. Ceony is a recent graduate of the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Unfortunately for 19-year-old Ceony, she is apprenticed to Emery Thane, a paper magician, after graduation. She is not particularly interested in paper magic, considered to be an irrelevant form by most. She soon finds she has a knack for it and enjoys working with the brilliant but mysterious magician. What begins as an apprenticeship turns into a love story and adventure when Magician Thane is attacked by his ex-wife, an Excisioner who practices dark magic. Ceony must literally enter his heart on a quest to restore it to his body. The romance that develops between Ceony and Emery Thane is extremely chaste—nary a smoldering look passes between them—making The Paper Magician a safe choice for any YA or high school collection. Holmberg borrows heavily from “magic school” books, so the familiar tropes she employs will appeal to younger or reluctant readers. Readers will anxiously await for the next offering to find out what’s next in life, love, and magic for Ceony.–Meghan Cirrito, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

FLETCHER, Charlie. The Oversight. 436p. (The Oversight Trilogy). Orbit. May 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9780316279512. LC 2014932198.  

This atmospheric fantasy effectively combines rich world-building, appealing characters, and fast pacing. The Oversight is an ancient order that regulates interactions between humans and the “supranatural.” Members enforce the Law and Lore that prevent the Sluagh and other creatures from preying upon humans. The Oversight have supernatural powers themselves, from communicating with animals to hiding in plain sight. Their ranks of have been diminishing for some time, and they are desperate for new members. When Mr. Sharp rescues Lucy, a nearly feral teenager, from being sold into servitude and brings her to the Oversight safe house in London, Sara Falk and Cook are excited to realize that, like Sara, she is a Glint—she can see into the past by touching an object with her hands. They promise to teach her to control her abilities. But that night Lucy breaks into the Red Library, which holds objects of value to the Oversight. She steps into a mysterious series of mirrored passageways, stumbles, and falls through into a circus tent in northern England. Short chapters follow these and several other characters who work to either forward or thwart a plot to use the Sluagh to dispense with the Oversight once and for all. This first in a trilogy leaves more than one character in deep peril at its conclusion. Recommend to teens who enjoy Neil Gaiman’s books, specifically his Neverwhere (Avon, 1997), which is clearly an inspiration for Fletcher’s Dickensian London and dark magic.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

SUMNER-SMITH, Karina. Radiant. 386p. (Towers Trilogy: Bk. 1). Talos Press. Oct. 2014. pap. $15.99. ISBN  9781940456102.  

In a dystopian world where magic is currency and a status symbol, Xhea has none. What she does have is a strange ability to see ghosts—invisible to magic-wielders—and the tethers that bind them. Xhea uses this ability to make a living, taking control of ghosts for a brief period to give the haunted a respite. When Xhea takes control of Shai’s ghost, the protagonist soon discovers that the young woman is not an ordinary ghost. She was a Radiant, one of the rare people who produces excess magic for the families that control the City’s great Towers. Shai’s home Tower will stop at nothing to regain control of her powers, and as Xhea and Shai struggle to avoid a fate that is literally worse than death, they develop a strong friendship and discover that Xhea’s lack of magic is a strength she’d never imagined. Radiant is fast-paced and very readable. The dichotomy in class between the Towers and the Low City is a new take on a common theme, and the primary characters are well developed and nuanced. The combination of strong female characters, paranormal activity, and dystopia makes this a good choice for fans of Veronica Roth and Cassandra Clare. The plot is very complex, a bit more exposition may have been helpful, and including zombies may have been trend overkill. Overly formal language will occasionally jolt readers out of the story.  However, teens will likely respond to this story of friendship and adventure and look forward to the second installment in the trilogy.—Karen Brooks, Pierce County Library System, WA

Categories: Library News

A Debut Novel for Lovers of (or Newbies to) the Greek Classics

Fri, 2014-11-21 07:00

Natalie Haynes’s debut novel is a fascinating mix of Haynes’s diverse interests and talents. A stand-up comedian, television panelist, journalist, and author of a nonfiction book on the Greek classics, Haynes brings all these sources to bear in creating a complex and satisfying narrative. As our reviewer notes, the novel is structured, as a traditional Greek play, into five acts, and offers both perspectives on the teaching of Greek classics: that of the teacher, and that of the student. I haven’t had a chance to read The Furies yet (published in Haynes’s native Britain as Amber Fury), but this review has definitely piqued my interest.

HAYNES, Natalie. The Furies. 304p. St. Martin’s Press. Aug. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9781250048004. LC 2014016596.

Drawing upon the subject matter from her first nonfiction book, The Ancient Guide to Modern Life (Overlook, 2011), Haynes creates a page-turning portrait of grief set in the modern day. After experiencing a personal trauma when her fiancé is murdered, Alex drastically alters her life by leaving her job as a play director in London and moving to Edinburgh to teach troubled teens drama therapy. Using the Greek classics as course material, the group discusses themes of violence, revenge, and retribution, all issues that parallel the teens’ real lives. An enigmatic element is added to the narrative when diary entries and letters from one of Alex’s students are interspersed with her account, and readers get a dual perspective of what is being taught and what is actually absorbed by the student. Organized into five acts, the flashback structure adds mystery and intrigue to the story, though the tragic ending comes as no surprise. While the five students in Alex’s class often make rash, unwise decisions, teens will relate to the social predicaments they must navigate. This will be especially popular with teens that have difficulty regulating their emotions. As a good introduction for students unfamiliar with the Greek classics, teachers will also appreciate the curriculum connection.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Categories: Library News

A Debut Novel by Indie Rock Darling John Darnielle

Wed, 2014-11-19 07:00

As a (and often the only) member of the indie rock band The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle is responsible for some of the most literate music of the 2000s and early 2010s. This year he turned to the in-no-way-guaranteed-to-succeed extension of that literate nature: a novel. But succeed it does, and I’m not the only one to think so: Wolf in White Van was long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction. I can’t say I’ve read the rest of NBA’s longlist, but if Darnielle’s book is indicative of their quality, then I’ll have to get to them quickly.

This is a truly remarkable novel, which I’ve decided not to give a starred review to only because I think the teen audience will be fairly limited. Some teens (and some adults, for that matter) will be turned off by the elusive nature of the narrative, as Darnielle keeps pulling away from revealing key facts. And others by the slim plot. But those who stick with it will be greatly rewarded by a tremendous piece of prose, and a very thoughtful exploration of deep themes about violence, responsibility, and the nature of reality. Do yourself a favor and read this book. And while you’re at it, pick up some of Darnielle’s music.

DARNIELLE, John. Wolf in White Van. 207p. Farrar. Sept. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN  9781250048004. LC 2014015427.

Darnielle’s preposterously assured debut novel winds its plot around two tragic incidents. The first, copiously hinted at but not revealed till more than halfway through the novel, results directly in the permanent facial mutilation of the narrator, Sean, at age 17; and indirectly in Sean’s creation of a mail-order role playing game called Trace Italian, designed in part to help him escape from the real world. The second tragedy involves two teen players of Trace Italian taking the game too far into reality, leading to the death of one of the players. The ironic bookends of these two events might seem too programmatic if not for Darnielle’s deft handling of nonlinear storytelling. Sean’s narration is structured around free-associative flashbacks to before and after each tragedy, as well as meditations on Trace Italian, including snippets of gameplay—Sean’s game instructions and the moves of various players. The plot as such is fairly scanty, but the protagonist’s meditations on the events in his life vibrate with intensity and inner depth. And though Sean is an adult in the story’s present day, Darnielle’s psychologically complex portrayal of Sean’s childhood and adolescence, along with the intriguing glimpses at the game, should be more than enough to bring mature teens to this masterful novel.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

A Trio of Thrillers

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:00

Valerie Geary‘s debut novel is a family drama, coming-of-age, psychological murder mystery that builds to thriller pitch. Two sisters deal with unusual family dynamics, and put themselves at risk to clear their father’s name.  It seems fitting that one of the authors who has blurbed the novel is Lisa O’Donnell, who won an Alex Award for The Death of Bees, another story of sisters under duress.

Michael Koryta has been writing consistently excellent crime (and horror) novels for several years, and I’m so happy that he has written a book that we can highlight here. Those Who Wish Me Dead stars a teen boy who sees something he never should have seen, and it puts him at terrible risk from some very ugly people. This is a great readalike for Patrick Lee’s Runner, one of my favorite novels of the first half of 2014.

Ben Mezrich‘s latest is in the Indiana Jones tradition. Jack Grady, our adventure-seeking, anthropologist protagonist is opposed by one in a line of women tasked with keeping ancient secrets hidden throughout the ages. Add in exotic locations (we are talking the Seven Wonders of the World), and you get a thrilling launch to a new series.

GEARY, Valerie. Crooked River. 336p. Morrow. Oct. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN  9780062326591. LC 2014031348.  

After the sudden death of their mother, sisters Sam, 15, and Ollie, 10, have to live with their hermit father in an Oregonian meadow. Bear, their father, has lived off the grid in a teepee for eight years and this new living arrangement has a trial period of six months stipulated by the girls’ maternal grandparents. Things don’t begin well as the stunning opening sentence reveals, “We found the woman floating facedown in an eddy where Crooked River made a slow bend north, just a stone skip away from the best swimming hole this side of anywhere.” Told in alternating chapters between Sam and Ollie, there’s evidence that points to Bear’s guilt. However, Ollie, who hasn’t spoken since her mother’s death, is sure Bear is not the murderer and is able to convince Sam. When Bear is arrested for the murder of the woman the sisters had discovered in the river, Sam decides it is up to her to prove his innocence. So begins a series of highly questionable and risky actions to do just that. She learns that the dead woman, a reporter, was in town to interview a reclusive local artist. Her digging for proof uncovers a connection between the artist and her father which had a devastating effect on both men. This fast-paced debut novel is filled with memorable characters and the plot twists and turns will keep teens engaged all the way to the final explosive scene.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

KORYTA, Michael. Those Who Wish Me Dead. 388p. Little, Brown. Jun. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780316122559. LC 2014934962.  

Those looking for a riveting thriller to keep them awake at night need look no further. Thirteen-year-old Jace goes for a forbidden swim in a quarry and witnesses hit men dropping a body into the water. He must stay hidden to testify at a trial, and a hiking program for troubled teens in Montana seems the perfect place. The leader knows that a boy is being hidden within his group, but goes ahead working with the group on survival skills in the mountains as usual. The teens are portrayed realistically and Jace tries to fit in with the others who are there because of delinquency problems. Teen readers will appreciate his role as the smart hero, and will sympathize with the adult characters, especially as they are being murdered by the men who are searching for Jace. The violence is graphic, but the villains needed to be horrid to make the desperate attempt at escape seem reasonable. Tension builds unceasingly even before a terrible forest fire begins.  Koryta is an experienced crime writer with a talent for introducing surprises and portraying a variety of characters.  His teen characters are well written, and readers will look forward to finding more of them in his breath-taking fiction.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City

MEZRICH, Ben. Seven Wonders. 314p. Running Pr. Sept. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780762453825. LC 2013957368.  

Moments before his death by ancient ivory javelin, mathematician Jeremy Grady stuffs a flash drive into a keychain knowing that it will be found by his twin brother, anthropologist Jack Grady. It contains information Jeremy discovered that links the modern wonders of the world with the ancient wonders in a way previously unsuspected. Jack is spurred on to discover the meaning of this revelation and the reason for his brother’s murder. The protagonist and his two graduate students meet up with botanist Sloan Costa and travel the world to hunt down artifacts from each of the seven ancient wonders, certain that if placed together, they will lead them to the center of the beginning of all life. They are not alone, however. Ultra-rich Jendari is one of a special line of women tasked through the millennia to manipulate information surrounding those ancient secrets. She is only steps behind Jack and will stop at nothing to discover the center of this ancient inheritance. Jack Grady, handsome and intelligent, is quintessential adventuring anthropologist who will climb 80 feet towers, dive into dark and mysterious pools, and face down crocodiles. Sloan is an able sidekick who uses her scientific mind to deliberate through complicated puzzles as they race to find each important object. While not as intricate and deep as the books by Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, and Robin Cook, teens who enjoy this genre will enjoy this title and look forward to more adventures of this thrill-seeking anthropologist.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

North of Normal and What is Visible

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:52

On Monday, Angela mentioned that we haven’t had as many nonfiction titles as we’d like this year, and offered up Dr. Mutter’s Marvels for consideration. Today, we’ve got another nonfiction title, this time a memoir, and a novel based on a real person.

The memoir is Cea Sunrise Person’s North of Normal, and Person’s first and middle names are a clue to what her book is about: she grew up in Canada, in hippie-like conditions which quickly turned from free-thinking to straight-up neglect and abuse. At my library teens can’t get enough of these stories of childhood travails: A Child Called It, The Glass Castle, Three Little Words–you name it. Add in a clothing-optional lifestyle and I think this title has tons of teen appeal.

The historical novel, Kimberly Elkins’s What Is Visible, is based on the life of Laura Bridgman, who (Wikipedia tells me) was “the first deaf-blind American child to gain a significant education in the English language, fifty years before the more famous Helen Keller.” Elkins build significant fictions into Bridgman’s life, especially a lover, but the basic facts of her life are there and extraordinary. A great recommendation equally as a coming-of-age novel and as a introduction to this fascinating woman.

PERSON, Cea Sunrise. North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both. photos. 352p. Jul. 2014. HarperCollins. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062289865. LC 2013032963.

Mention survival in the Canadian wilderness to teens and they’ll likely recall Brian’s adventures in Gary Paulsen’s curriculum-standard novel Hatchet (Bradbury, 1987). But long before fictional Brian learned to hunt and forage, Cea Sunrise Person’s extended family had erected a patchwork tipi in Northern Alberta, far from the oppression of society and completely off the grid. Person tells her story with candor, poignancy, and humor as she looks back on a childhood of the 1970s unlike that of anyone she’d ever known. Papa Dick, Person’s grandfather, was a free-thinking back-to-basics survivalist with negative feelings toward the American government and strong beliefs about how to live a healthy life. Clothing was discouraged (it impedes natural energy flow), and there was no need for privacy for such natural acts as moving your bowels or having sex. He lectured against the evils of sugar and preservatives and for the benefits of marijuana. Born to 16 year-old Michelle, Person recognized that her mother never really grew up as she aged. Michelle flitted in and out of her daughter’s life, perpetually high on pot and the endorphin rush she got from an endless string of boyfriends. Young Cea spent long days alone, entertaining herself with the help of Michelle’s reluctantly handed down doll and an anthology of children’s literature. Reentering society, she ached for a stable, ordinary life. Teens who enjoy vividly written memoirs that tell of overcoming circumstance—in this case a beyond dysfunctional family, abuse, neglect, transience, and poverty—will devour Person’s captivating book.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

ELKINS, Kimberly. What Is Visible. 307p. photos. Hatchette/Twelve. June 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781455528967. LC 2013034399.

While history celebrates Hellen Keller, few remember Laura Bridgman, the woman who proved education possible for the deaf-blind. Born in 1829, Bridgman contracted scarlet fever at two. She lost not only her hearing and sight, but also her ability to smell and taste. Elkins introduces readers to 12-year-old Laura, who has spent the last five years at The Perkins Institute in Boston under the direction of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Laura, known for her ability to learn through tactile signing, typically performs for hundreds at Saturday exhibitions. But this day is different; Charles Dickens has traveled from London to meet who he refers to as “the second wonder of North America.” But an audience with the famous author is nothing compared to Laura’s introduction to Julia Ward, a socialite whom she jealously views as her rival for Dr. Howe’s attention. What Is Visible is a coming-of-age novel unlike any other, one whose nearly locked-in protagonist longs for friendship, love, intimacy and a sense of belonging in a world she can only experience through touch. Elkins widens the narrative to include the viewpoints and stories of Howe, Ward (who becomes the doctor’s wife), and Sarah Wight, Laura’s beloved teacher and companion. The author invents a lover for the bold, sardonic Laura, a brash Irish kitchen girl who becomes an outlet for her pent-up passion. Older teens will enjoy this honest, often heartbreaking historical novel that explores broad themes of love, loss, and sacrifice.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels

Mon, 2014-11-10 07:39

We’ve suffered from a dearth of adult nonfiction for teens this year, but today I am thrilled to bring you a great recommendation. In fact, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels shares some of the very best qualities of Mary Roach’s iconic Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, especially a gross-out curiosity factor and great story-telling. Add a larger-than-life subject and you have narrative nonfiction magic. Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells her story with gusto, taking the reader from the hospitals of Paris to the great medical colleges of Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century. 

There is a lot of medical history here, but it is so unbelievable, so over-the-top (yet true!) that readers will be riveted. Mütter himself is quite a character, from being orphaned as a child to sailing for Paris alone without a dime, to his entertaining teaching style, his incredible bravado and talent for developing new plastic surgery techniques, and a real empathy for his patients, many of whom were societal outcasts due to their terrible deformities.

Back matter includes extensive paged source notes, which allow the narrative to flow like a novel. Illustrations (carefully credited) are black & white, and include sketches of patients, anatomical drawings, and photographs of equipment or works of art depicting a surgical theater from the time period, for example.

*APTOWICZ, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. 371p. illus. index. notes. photos. Penguin/Gotham. Sept. 2014. Tr $27.50. ISBN  9781592408702. LC 2014014747.  

You wouldn’t want to be a patient undergoing surgery in Philadelphia in the 1830s. Anesthesia hadn’t yet been invented, so a cup of wine would be used to dull your senses prior to the procedure. A crowd would watch in the operating theater, and the best you could hope for was a surgeon who was quick enough to lessen your stress and pain, but slow enough to do the job correctly. If you were really lucky, he might wash his hands. After the operation, you’d be promptly sent home in a carriage, bouncing on cobblestone streets. When Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter burst onto the scene, medicine was ripe for change. Aptowicz introduces readers to the pioneering young surgeon responsible for helping to lead a revolution.  Mütter stood out in his field as much for his handsome good looks and colorful silk suits as his engaging, outsize personality. Known for his compassionate way with patients, he saw possibilities in the new field of plastic surgery for helping those with debilitating physical deformities. Informed by an abundance of research, Aptowicz’s crackling prose brings the surgeon to life, immersing readers in the shocking world of primitive medicine in the pre-Civil War era. She gives ample page time to his contemporaries, including those who held vastly opposing views on the best way to treat patients. Chock-full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, this page-turning biography will engage those teens who enjoy narrative nonfiction.—Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News