Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cat Girl's Day Off, by Kimberly Pauley

Move over, Grumpy Cat!
Summer Reading signup begins on Friday (less than a week away) and, with our theme being Superheroes, I'd like to kick things off with Kimberly Pauley's fun middle-grade novel, Cat Girl's Day Off. Although the heroine of this tale (tail?) has neither the power of flight or cool, butt-kicking gadgets, she's got some pretty cool powers in her own right. Or, at least, the right sort of powers to save the day.

Natalie Ng comes from a family of uber-talnted people. Her little sister is a certified genius, her older sister can fly (and has X-ray vision to boot), and both her parents are skilled enough to be employed with the Bureau of Extrasensory Management and Regulation. And Natalie's power? Well...she can communicate with animals. Specifically, cats. Compared to the rest of her clan, this is a totally lame power. That is, until a national celebrity is kidnapped while filming a remake of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the only witness to the crime is a bad-tempered pink Persian named Tiddlywinks (a.k.a. Rufus Brutus III). Assisted by a team of cheeky felines, Natalie and her friends race around Chicago, revisiting key sites from the movie, in attempt to foil the kidnapper's evil plot and rescue the victim from an uncertain fate. Maybe Natalie's power isn't so lame after all.

The Verdict
Cat Girl's Day Off is one of those truly fun stories you'll be really happy to have read.  This rollicking adventure has it all: Great characters, a fun plot, lots of humor, and enough quirkiness to keep things fresh and exciting throughout. A word of warning to those living with cats: This book will have you looking at your furry feline friends in a whole new light.

p.s. Move over, Grumpy Cat! Tiddlywinks/Rufus Brutus III totally has you beat on the feline attitude scale. --AJB

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman

Caden Bosch lives in two wolds at once: 

1. The ordinary suburban one populated by family, high school, and everyday demands like homework and track practice, and 

2. The one where he is on a ship bound for Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean. His constant companions are the ship's Captain and mystery of what lies within the trench.

One world is real. The other exists only inside Caden's mind. 

As time passes, it becomes more and more difficult for Caden to distinguish between these two worlds. It becomes more and more difficult to hide the startling truth from his family...and from himself. Caden's personal journey will take him to some of the darkest places that the human mind can go and back out again (for now).

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman, is a haunting, absorbing, and heartbreaking novel detailing the descent into mental illness. In the author's note Shusterman, whose son Brenden is affected by mental illness, explains that much of what is described in this book is semi-biographical: the fear, the paranoia, and the depression that imacts not only the sufferer, but their loved ones as well. On the other hand, there is also the healing and the hope that, with support, mental illness can be overcome.

Drawings by Brenden Shusterman illustrate the places Caden visits throughout the story.

The Verdict: Wow!!

If you liked Challenger Deep, try:
  • Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
  • The Lonely, by Ainslie Hogarth

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Off the Page, by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Off the Page, the sequel to 2012's Between the Lines marks the second offering by the mother-daughter writing team of Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer.

A few months have passed since Delilah successfully released Prince Oliver from his literary prison, having switched his place with look-alike Edgar, son of Jessemyn Jacobs, author of the fairy tale in question. Despite some awkward situations, mostly having to do with Oliver having to acclimate to the world of today's teenager, things couldn't be more perfect for the happy couple. Ironically, when things seem too good to be true...well...that's when things start to go wrong.

Very, very wrong.

Seemingly displeased with the edits Delilah, Oliver, and Edgar made at the end of Between the Lines in order to free Oliver, the magical storybook appears to be trying to correct itself. It wants Oliver back and will not rest until he returns. Furthermore, Edgar is starting to feel homesick, a situation that is given urgency when Jessemyn is diagnosed with late-stage terminal cancer. Throughout the story, characters are sucked into and spit back out of the book thanks to magical hidden portals, sometimes with humorous (Princess Seraphima vs. High School Mean Girl = LOL!), sometimes with tragic (poor Frump!) results. All the while, Delilah and Oliver try to work things out so everyone can have their happily ever after.  Or, at the very least, things can work out in the best way possible.

I'm typically not a fan of sequels, especially when I enjoyed the original book. I worry the sequel will ruin Book One for me. That said, I was extremely skeptical of Off the Page. I loved Between the Lines and didn't think it needed a sequel. Still... I was curious. And it was this curiosity that led me to read it. Now, having read Off the Page, I'll happily admit how wrong my initial reaction was and take back everything I've ever said about how evil unnecessary sequels can be.

At least in this particular case.

Off the Page was sweet, funny, touching, and just awesome. I loved reading the development of Oliver and Delilah's relationship (can you say, Awwwwww!). Additionally, side characters from Between the Lines were given much more dimension here, and I really enjoyed "getting to know them better" (a surprising favorite ended up being Princess Seraphima, a character who annoyed me to no end in Between the Lines, but who showed extraordinary depth and development of character in the sequel). Even resident mean girl Allie (sort of) redeemed herself by proudly flying her Geek Flag. By the end of the book I was cheering for everything to work out and for everyone to find their happy ending. And, for the most part, I was not disappointed (I still say the story could have done without that thing with Frump, though).

The Verdict: READ THIS BOOK!!! ...but read Between the Lines first (otherwise you won't enjoy Off the Page nearly as much). --AJB

Thursday, May 14, 2015

New in Teen: Big Fish

Edward Bloom lived the most legendary life ever: Surviving an encounter with a witch, outsmarting a giant that threatened his hometown, befriending a werewolf, escaping an enchanted town that no one escapes from, the magical way he met his wife, and more. And Edward was always happy to expound on his many epic adventures to his son...and, really, anyone who would listen. 

Too bad every "true" story Edward ever told was a lie.

Or was it?

When Edward is in the final days of his life, his now-grown and estranged son, William, races to his father's bedside. Not to comfort his dying father, but to demand the truth from him. However, the more William digs into his father's past, the more mysteries he uncovers and the more it appears Edward may have been telling the truth after all. But can Edward and William put their years of differences and resentment aside before it's too late?

It's been my experience that, if Tim Burton had anything to do with a movie, it would be awesome. Weird, yes, but awesome. And Big Fish was no exception. With its fantastical stroyline, fun special effects, and bittersweet ending with a twist, watching Big Fish is an entertaining way to spend the evening (or a rainy afternoon).

The Verdict: I'd most definitely recommend it! --AJB

p.s. Little known fact I discovered after the fact: Big Fish is based on a book of the same title (author Daniel Wallace...and yes, OPL does own the book too)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Free to Fall, by Lauren Miller

There's an App for that...
Normally, I'm not such a fan of the Dystopian genre (all that post-apocalyptic gloom and doom is not my cup of tea at all), but Lauren Miller's Free to Fall sounded really I picked it up.

The basic premise of Free to Fall is free will and what could happen when one's free will is taken away (or, in this case, willingly surrendered). It is also the author's take on a world where technological advancements have gone too far.

In Rory's world, feelings of doubt and indecision are strongly discouraged. And let's not even get into the concept of listening to that "gut instinct." Instead, everyone relies on a decision-making App called Lux for everything. Lux directs people on everything from every-day things like what to wear and what flavor coffee to order big, life-changing decisions. By making all decisions for the user, Lux simplifies everyone's life in infinite ways.

Or that's what Rory has been led to believe.

Shortly after beginning classes at the prestigious Theden Academy, Rory begins hearing that forbidden "inner voice" telling her something is amiss. Then she meets Noah, a rebellious boy who refuses to use Lux. As a relationship develops between the two teens, Rory stops using Lux so much and begins to learn the (dangerous) truth about Lux and about her world.

Free to Fall was interesting in that it piggybacked on an existing trend: Our society's growing reliance on our Smart Phones for nearly everything--from keeping in touch (texting, using it as a phone) to entertainment (games, social networking, music, movies) to useful/practical things (GPS directions, Google). People keep their entire lives stored on their Smart Phones. Free to Fall highlights the potential dangers that could possibly happen if this trend continues.

If you're a fan of Ally Condie's Matched trilogy or Lois Lowry's The Giver series, try Free to Fall. I think you'll enjoy it. --AJB

The Cost of All Things, by Maggie Lehrman

What if I told you all it took to give you your heart's desire (beauty... love... popularity... happiness... anything!) was to purchase a magic spell from the neighborhood witch? Would you do it?

All right, then...

But what if you learned the side effects of that spell could be life-altering, dangerous, or catastrophic? What if the fallout from the spell ended up hurting those you care about? Would you still go through with it?

Ari, Markos, Kay, and Win each have their reasons for visiting the town's hekamist (witch) for spells they hope will make their lives better. Ari wishes to forget past tragedies, Markos wants to find meaning in life, Kay desires beauty and popularity at any cost, and Win hopes to find the answer to his crippling depression. But sometimes one spell can lead to another...and another. And with each spell, the characters lose something important. With each spell, their lives become more complicated and less like what they were hoping to find. 

The premise of Maggie Lehrman's The Cost of All Things was intriguing, and it's repeated comparison to another book I really liked (E. Lockhart's "We Were Liars") was what prompted me to read it. What I discovered was a story that was dark, disturbing, and impossible to put down. Alternating viewpoints with cliffhanger chapters are what drive the story, making the reader desperate to find out what happens next. Characters, although unlikable, are sympathitic, and the reader will genuinely feel for them and maybe even understand what motivates them to do what they do. The big reveal/twist at the end may surprise, but only if the reader isn't paying close attention to details. (so pay attention)

The moral of the story is a simple, if cliche, one: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

The Verdict: The jury is still out on whether I liked The Cost of All Things or not. Yes, I think it will be popular among teens. I'm just not sure it was the right book for me. --AJB

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Program, by Suzanne Young

In Sloane's world suicide has become an epidemic. The answer to the soaring rates of depression and suicide among teenagers is- The Program. The Program is rejoiced as the solution to the loss of loved ones across the country. Sloane is no fool to the propaganda, no one that has ever returned from the program is the same. "Returners", program attendees that either showed signs of depression or attempted suicide return to society refreshed, perky, happy, and as a minor side effect can not remember past friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and major life events.

Sloane will not let this become her future. She will hide the tears and answer the daily questions they way she knows they need to be answered in order to go undetected. She will be eighteen soon and out of the reach of The Program. Or so she hopes...

If you are a fan of dystopian fiction (Hunger Games, Uglies, etc.) The Program is an excellent choice to add to your reading list. You will be rooting for Solane from beginning to end and fearful of the society that she has come to live in. The Program was not a book that I could easily put down, I really enjoyed it. However, the premises of suicide may deter or be a rough area for some readers. Suicide is not something to take lightly, if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts you should seek the comfort and advice of a trusted adult. The thought of a society that could help those who host such strong feelings that they consider harming themselves would be an asset to so many families. Young adds her own, entirely, made up, fiction twist to the idea (as in other dystopian novels) that makes you cringe at the thought of becoming an emotional vault and living in a society that would look to a program such as The Program, as the answer.

Stop by and let us know what you think!


Monday, May 11, 2015

The Mermaid's Sister, by Carrie Anne Noble

New this week on the Tween Shelf is The Mermaid's Sister, by debut author Carrie Anne Noble. In this short, sweet fantasy, you'll find magic, adventure, and some light romance. But the driving force behind the story is the love the two main characters, adopted sisters, have for each other. It is this sisterly love that, eventually, saves the day (not unlike in Frozen).

Foundlings Clara and Maren grew up on a secluded mountain and were raised by their adopted guardian Auntie Verity, who is somewhat of a good witch/medicine woman. Despite their mysterious origins (Clara was, quite literally, delivered by a Stork while Maren arrived inside a seashell), the girls had a happy childhood, playing around Auntie's house and looking forward to the annual Springtime visits by their best friend O'Neill (also a foundling). Then, when the girls turn 16, something strange happens: Maren begins rapidly transforming into a mermaid. If she is not taken to the Ocean soon, she will die. And here the story begins...

Accompanied by O'Neill, Clara begins an epic adventure to get her sister to the Ocean before it's too late. On the way, they encounter many dangers, but also many magical and incredible things. 

And yes, there IS a happy ending!

I've always been partial to mermaid stories (a holdover from a childhood Little Mermaid obsession), and The Mermaid's Sister is simply delightful! The story starts out a bit slow, mainly for character building and plot setup, but progresses quickly once it gets going. This book can be found on our New Tween shelf, but it's a great recommendation for fantasy adventure fans of all ages! --AJB

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Fill-In Boyfriend, by Kasie West

The Fill-In Boyfriend is a contemporary romance and it is absolutely adorable. This book is filled with humor, friendship, love, and learning who you are. Although, in the beginning, I disliked the main character, Gia Montgomery, because she is so concerned with what people think and she comes off as very insecure, shallow and self-absorbed. Because her plan didn't work out the way she wanted, she lies to her friends about her boyfriend. But as I read on, the main character is not bad at all and the positive qualities begin to make up for it.

The story begins when Gia gets dumped by her boyfriend Bradley in the parking lot of her school right before prom. This night was the night to prove to all her friends that her boyfriend actually exists after constantly boasting about him for months. As she became desperate, she sees a guy in the car and pretty much begs him to be her "fill-in Bradley". This "fill-in Bradley" does a great job at pretending to be her loving boyfriend. Too good for a job, because Gia can't stop thinking about him days after the prom.

The plot is certainly predictable and it's safe to say that this book is filled with so many sweet and swoony moments. The Fill-In Boyfriend is the perfect type of contemporary romance for reading by the pool!

Note: One character you need to be aware of is Jules. She is horrible, petty, jealous and just plain MEAN! She will drive you crazy! *JK*

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Summer Before Boys, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Despite worries about her mom, who is serving in Iraq with the National Guard, Julia, age 12, is really looking forward to the coming summer. She'll be staying with her best friend, Eliza (also 12), whose family are caretakers at an upscale mountain lodge, a place Julia always thought of as being enchanted. This summer seems like the perfect summer in the making.

Except nothing is perfect.

Julia is growing up. And she's becoming curious about teenager-y things. Eliza, mentally at least, has not matured at the same rate and still wants to play the same "make believe" games the girls had always enjoyed during their childhood. Julia, however, just can't get into that anymore. Then Julia strikes up a friendship with Michael, a boy vacationing at the lodge with his family, and Julia thinks she might like to try kissing him. She can't even talk with Eliza about her feelings, because Eliza doesn't understand. Plus, Eliza is jealous of Michael for stealing Julia away from her. This makes for quite a bit of drama. Can these two girls overcome their differences and remain friends? Or will this be the summer that they go their separate ways?

The Summer Before Boys is a wonderful Tween story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Bittersweet, well-written, and entertaining, this story deals with some very real issues girls passing from childhood to adolescence must face as they grow up. It is also an excellent recommendation for tweens who have family members serving overseas. 

For a similar read, try This One Summer, a graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki that was a Printz Honor Book for 2014. In this story, tweenage Rose must navagate family drama (her mom recently miscarried and hasn't been able to get over it) and the fact that her relationship with summer friend, Windy, is also changing.

The Summer Before Boys is recommended for Tweens. This One Summer deals with some more mature topics (a side character becomes pregnant and there is some mature language) and, therefore, is suggested for older audiences. Both are fantastic, though. Pick up one or both books for a quick weekend read. 


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What If I'm An Atheist, by David Seidman

Establishing an identity, navigating cliques, and just trying to "fit in" are difficult enough when you're a teen. But what happens when your religion doesn't work for you any longer? What if you never believed in any religion in the first place? David Seidman takes an in-depth, practical approach to this somewhat sensitive question and applies it to today's teens in his book What If I'm An Atheist

What If I'm an Atheist begins by defining what an Atheist actually IS. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, this term is not synonymous with "evil," and it does not mean that someone hates god. At its most simplistic, an Atheist is a person who simply does not believe in or subscribe to any religious or spiritual system, be it Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. The book then discusses how to "come out" about Atheism to one's friends and family, how to handle the backlash one may receive, and, most importantly, how to deal with and accept the changes within one's own belief system. Unbelief, Seidman explains multiple times, is not something to be ashamed of or embarassed by, and there is nothing wrong with it. For some, it just happens (the reasons are varied). For others, it's always been that way. The intent of this book is to help those who declare themselves Atheist feel more comfortable about themselves in what is, otherwise, a very religious world. Each chapter is peppered with quotes and personal accounts from real teens who have become Atheists or who have always been, and this makes the text more relatable to the teens who would likely pick it up. Lastly, an appendix lists several sources should one want to read about the topic further.

Know this: there is absolutely nothing I found to be controversial about this book. What If I'm An Atheist is informative, interesting, and respectful toward all sides. Seidman encourages believers and nonbelievers to be open-mided toward each other despite their differences. 

I would not hesitate to recommend this one to any teen (or adult, for that matter) who is wondering if they might be an Atheist and would like to read more about both sides of the question. --AJB