Monday, May 30, 2011

Zombie time!

Check out these horrifyingly entertaining zombie books!

Ashby, A. (2009) Zombie Queen of Newbury High. New York, New York: Penguin Group. High-school senior Mia accidentally casts a spell that turns her senior class into flesh-eating zombies determined to make her their zombie queen. The spell takes four days to become permanent, and Mia, her best friend, Candice, and new guy, Chase, try desperately to reverse her mistake.

Austen, J., Grahame-Smith, S. (2009) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books.
The classic tale gets a surprising addition: hordes of flesh eating zombies!

Hawthorne, R. (2010) Shadow of the Moon: Dark Guardian, Book 4. New York, New York: HarperTeen.
Hayden is a werewolf with an unusual ability: she can sense the feelings of all the other werewolves in the pack except one, newcomer Daniel. As she grows to love Daniel, she worries that he might not be who he says he is.
Jay, S. (2009) You Are So Undead to Me: Megan Berry, Book 1. New York, New York: Penguin Group.
Megan Berry is a Zombie Settler and spends her free-time helping the undead with their “issues.” Things get dangerous, however, when someone at her school starts using black magic and turning her undead friends into scary, flesh-eating zombies.
Ryan, C. (2009) The Forest of Hands and Teeth: Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 1. New York, New York: Delacorte Press.
The Return, a zombie plague that wiped out civilization, is a distant memory, and Mary’s people, the last few human survivors, live a strict, and isolated life in a village guarded by a chain link fence. Mary, longing to find out what lies beyond her village, decides the answers she seeks can only be found by crossing the fence and venturing into the outside world.
Ryan, C. (2010) The Dead-Tossed Waves: Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 2. New York, New York: Delacorte Press.
Mary and her daughter Gabry live peacefully in the coastal city of Vista, protected by walls that keep out Mudo, zombies that have wiped out Earth’s civilization. When Gabry and her friends step past the walls of Vista, and are attacked by Mudo, their lives are forever changed.
Ryan, C. (2011) The Dark and Hollow Places: Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 3. New York, New York: Delacorte Press. It seems that no one can escape the death and destruction that came with the Return. Annah has arrived in the Dark City, but still thinks about Elias and the day he left her to join the Recruiters and fight the Mudo.
Selzer, A. (2010) I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It. New York, New York: Delacorte Press.
In eighteen-year-old Alley Rhodes’ world, vampires, werewolves and zombies are the norm, but Alley could care less: she is focused on going to college. But when Alley falls for Doug, a handsome zombie, she must decide what her future will bring.

Waters, D. (2008) Generation Dead: A Generation Dead Novel, Book 1. New York, New York: Hyperion Books for Children. Oakvale high students are having to get used to an unusual problem: dead teenagers are coming back to life and going to school. Goth-girl Phoebe encounters an even weirder problem when she falls for Tommy, one of the zombie students.
Waters, D. (2009) Kiss of Life: A Generation Dead Novel, Book 2. New York, New York: Hyperion Books for Children. Phoebe finds herself caught in a love triangle between zombie Tommy and her newly undead friend Adam, who took a bullet to save Phoebe’s life. In order to stand-up against an anti-zombie movement, the undead students at Oakvale High have formed a group called the Sons of Romero.
Waters, D. (2009) Passing Strange: A Generation Dead Novel, Book 3. New York, New York: Hyperion Books for Children.
Karen DeSonne is trying hard to keep a secret from the rest of Oakvale High: that she is one of the now shunned undead members of the student body. After several of her zombie friends are accused of murder, can Karen help prove their innocence while protecting the truth about who she is?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Willoughby’s Return Book Review

Author: Jane Odiwe. Release date: 2009. Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark. ISBN: 9781402222672.

Annotation:  Three years after her marriage to the Colonel, Marianne Brandon is happy in her life at Delaford Park. But when her first love, John Willoughby, returns to the neighborhood, will that happiness be enough to keep her from falling to the temptation of seeing her former flame?
Personal thoughts: I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and especially love the character of Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility (largely due to his portrayal by Greg Wise in the 1995 film version.) When I saw a novel that delved into what might have happened had Willoughby reentered the lives of the Dashwoods, I had to read it. Overall I enjoyed the novel, although the plot line with Marianne and Willoughby was the only one I found really interesting (there are also subplots about Margaret Dashwood and Colonel Brandon having a “love affair” with his ward, Willoughby’s ex, Eliza.) Despite  the mediocrity of these subplots, I still recommend this title for Jane Austen fans everywhere.
Plot summary: This sequel to Jane Austen’s classic novel Sense and Sensibility (1811) picks up three years after the events of the original story. Marianne Dashwood, now Mrs. Brandon, is happily married to the devoted Colonel Brandon, and has a child of her own. Her sister, Elinor Dashwood, now Mrs. Ferrars, lives nearby with her husband Edward and their children. This novel focuses more, however, on the younger Dashwood sister, Margaret, who is now sixteen and quite beautiful. When Colonel Brandon’s handsome nephew, Henry, comes to Delaford to visit his uncle, Marianne is determined to play matchmaker between her nephew and sister. Marianne’s plans seem to be going well, Margaret and Henry become increasingly attached to one another. But nothing prepares Marianne for the shock she experiences next: John Willoughby, her first love who spurned her for a rich heiress, has returned to Dorsetshire with his wife. It appears that Willoughby and Mrs. Brandon will be forced to spend time in eachother’s company at social events in the neighborhood, and Marianne is conflicted by a resurgence of feelings for the dashing man. She becomes even more unsure as her husband spends more and more time with his ward, Eliza, and her daughter, who happens to be Willoughby’s daughter as well, in Lyme. Convinced that Colonel Brandon may have fallen in love with Eliza, Marianne begins to wonder if Willoughby’s affections might be worth returning.
Review:  Although the story doesn’t have the same literary magic of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, this sequel provides an entertaining and interesting read for those who loved the original story. Marianne Brandon, neĆ© Dashwood, is now nineteen-years-old and has been happily married to her husband, Colonel Brandon, for three years. The couple have a child, and everything seems to be going well for Marianne, although she does appear to be slightly bored in her new life. She sees an opportunity for excitement when Brandon’s nephew, Henry, comes to visit and seeks to play matchmaker between him and her sister Margaret, now sixteen-years-old. The storyline of Henry and Margaret is not as interesting as the return of John Willoughby, however. Fans of the original, both teen and adult, will clamber to see what happens when Marianne encounters her first love. In Willoughby, Austen truly created a dashing lothario, and left the novel open enough to leave the reader wondering what would happen if Marianne and Willoughby were ever reunited. Odiwe does a good job of entertaining these notions, with a lot of sexual tension, temptation and lust. The rest of the storyline, such as Colonel Brandon’s supposed love for his ward, Eliza, and the inclusion of the irritating Lucy Ferrars and her sister, Anne Steele, are not quite as satisfactory. Still, the novel will appeal to both teen and adult fans of the original and continues in the spirit of the iconic Jane Austen.
Genre: Fiction/Historical
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Novels by Jane Austen, Old Friends and New Fancies: An Imaginary Sequel to the Novels of Jane Austen by Sybil G. Brinton.
Themes:  Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, roles of women throughout history, temptation, marriage.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist and The Jane Austen Centre.
Series Information: Sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Discussion Questions:

- Is this the only "sequel" written to a Jane Austen novel? What are some others?
- Why do you think people continue to write sequels and adaptations of Jane Austen's works?
- Did you like Odiwe's portrayal of Austen's characters? Why or why not?
- Do you think John Willoughby is a "bad guy"? Why or why not?
- How do you think this novel portrays the role of women in this time period?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Entwined Book Review

Author: Heather Dixon. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062001030.

Annotation:  Azalea promises she will take care of her eleven younger sisters after their mother dies, but it is difficult to keep the rambunctious girls happy in a castle full of rules and regulations. When the girls discover a secret passage in their room that leads to a magical pavilion, they are able to dance to their hearts’ content every night. But everything is not as it seems, and Azalea begins to fear that their nightly haven might be dangerous.

Personal thoughts: I have always been a fan of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, and adored this new take on the story. Azalea is an excellent lead character, and I loved the mysterious workings of the palace. Dixon does a wonderful job of building suspense and a sense of dread as Azalea discovers the truth behind the magical pavilion. I highly recommend this book!

Plot summary: Azalea is the Princess Royale of her father’s kingdom in Eathesbury, but being in line for the throne is far from easy. She has eleven rambunctious little sisters and, after their mother’s tragic death, she becomes responsible for raising them. Her relationship with her father, the King, is distant as he struggles to cope with his wife’s death. The palace is fraught with rules and regulations, specifically a ban on dancing following in the wake of the queen’s death, which makes Azalea and her sisters very unhappy. One night, Azalea discovers a magical passageway in the girls’ room that leads to a beautiful silver pavilion. The girls discover that the pavilion is run by Keeper, a mysterious but incredibly handsome and charming man who informs them that he was imprisoned in the walls for betraying the evil High King who terrorized the country centuries before. In the pavilion, the girls discover a sanctuary from the rules of the palace, and make a nightly habit of dancing to their hearts’ content. Soon, however, Keeper’s behavior becomes more sinister, and Azalea begins to fear that he is not as kind as he seems. Can Azalea protect her sisters, and her kingdom, from the danger that lurks in the walls of the palace?

Review:  Wonderfully written and thoroughly entertaining, Entwined is an excellent novel for anyone who is a fan of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale. Dixon does a superb job of adding onto the tale, giving it twists and turns that are very enjoyable. The relationship between Azalea, her sisters, and their distant father is at the forefront of the novel. Each girl has her own unique personality, and are all likable as well. Their love for dancing and its subsequent ban after the death of their mother is reminiscent of The Secret Garden. The magical pavilion housed inside a forest of silver is beautifully described, and the character of Keeper is intriguing as well. Overall, an excellent novel and quick read despite it’s 450+ page length.

Genre: Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Themes:  Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, sibling relationships, father/daughter relationships, dancing, grief.   

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Booklist, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.
Series Information: N/A

Discussion Questions:

- Have you read the fairytale that this story is based on, The Twelve Dancing Princesses? How does it compare to this adaptation?

- Why do you think the King is treating Azalea and her sisters the way he is?

- What were your first impressions of Keeper? How did they change throughout the novel?
- Can you think of a way that you would adapt another famous fairytale?

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Book Review

Author: Betty Smith. Release date: 1943. Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers Inc. ISBN: B00365QTQK.
Annotation: This classic novel tells the story of Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up in early 20th century Brooklyn. As Francie grows up, she remembers the people who have come and gone from her life, and looks to the future which holds endless possibilities.
Personal thoughts: I have read this novel twice, once when I was about 14, the second time as an adult. Both times I thought it was wonderful. It is truly a classic piece of American literature, but I have met quite a few people who’ve never read/heard of it. It’s definitely a must-read for people who enjoy historical fiction or period novels, but can be enjoyed by all audiences.
Plot summary: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story Francie Nolan and her family growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. The book is divided into five parts. In part one, the reader meets eleven-year-old Francie and her little brother Neeley. Francie and Neeley live with their parents, Johnny and Katie in the tenements of Williamsburg. Johnny Nolan is an alcoholic and Katie works as a house cleaner. Living in utter poverty, Francie and Neeley earn pennies selling scrap metal with other children of the tenements. Part two tells the story of Johnny and Katie’s meeting and falling in love as first generation immigrants. Part three describes the Nolan children as they begin school, as well as the death of Francie’s father from pneumonia. The rest of the book chronicles Francie’s coming-of-age as she and Neely grow up and get jobs to support their family. As Francie’s life appears to have more on the horizon than that of her mother, she can’t help but remember the small apartment in Brooklyn where she grew up.
Review:  Though written almost seventy years ago about a time long since past, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn remains one of the most celebrated and classic coming-of-age tales .The character of Francie Nolan is one many teen girls can identify with: she struggles to find out who she is while coping with her father’s alcoholism, her family’s poverty, and her unfortunate surroundings. Addicted to reading and education, Francie’s unending struggle to better her life has and will continue to inspire many. Betty Smith paints a rich portrait of the characters in the novel, and as they grow, the reader feels connected with their lives. The book is also an excellent look at life in the early 20th century. Smith’s attention to detail is perfect for creating a realistic backdrop for her story. In a way, Brooklyn itself is another character in the novel. Francie’s ability to overcome adversity, essentially becoming the “tree” that grew out of Brooklyn, is what keeps generation after generation interested in reading this wonderful, heartwarming novel.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes.  
Themes:  Coming of age, New York, Brooklyn, turn of the 20th century, family dynamics, immigration.   
Awards/Reviews:  Classic piece of American literature.   
Series Information: N/A
Discussion Questions:
- What did you learn about Brooklyn and the turn of the 20th century from reading this novel?
- Do you think the Nolans are a happy family? Why or why not?
- What do you think the meaning behind the title "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is? How does it relate to Francie?
- Do you think this novel is hopeful? Sad? Inspiring?
- How do you think this story compares to other novels about the immigrant experience in America?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dark Echo Book Review

Author: F.G. Cottam. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press. ISBN: 9780312544331.
Annotation:  Martin Stannard has always had an estrange relationship with his father, so he is surprised when the elder invites him on a transatlantic voyage aboard a newly acquired vintage yacht called the Dark Echo. This vessel, however, has long been rumored cursed, and as Martin spends more time aboard, he begins to believe there is some merit in the rumors.
Personal thoughts: I can proudly proclaim myself an F.G. Cottam fan after reading his second “ghost story” (the first was The House of Lost Souls, which I highly recommend.) Although I did prefer his first novel to this, Dark Echo is a very interesting story with a lot of history and some truly creepy moments. Definitely for readers who are into plots that are intense but with depth. I would only recommend this title for older teens as there is some violence and gory situations, but nothing too out of hand.
Plot summary: Magnus Stannard, a tenacious businessman, has made his career on unusual moves that have proved successful, resulting in a large fortune and a great deal of power. His only son, Martin, has failed to live up to this shining example of entrepreneurialism, and has always believed his father’s feelings towards him to be those of disappointment. When Magnus acquires a vintage yacht called the Dark Echo he informs Martin, and his business partners, that he is retiring to a life at sea. He invites Martin to take a transatlantic voyage with him from England to New York to begin his new nautical existence. Martin, with the help of his researcher girlfriend Suzanne, begin looking into the history of the yacht. It seems that it was commissioned by a millionaire playboy and World War I veteran, Harry Spalding, in the 1920s. Spalding lived a dashing existence, but was also rumored to dabble in Satanism. The yacht is thought by those familiar with it to be cursed, but Magnus ignores these rumors. As the crew working to restore the boat falls victim to strange accidents, Martin and Suzanne become convinced that the history of the boat will reveal the truth about the dangers they now face.
Review:  This intriguing ghost story is a mixture of historical fact and fiction that makes for an intense, supernatural mystery. The reader comes to know the characters in the novel quite well, and this understanding makes the plot all the more interesting. Martin’s failed attempt at a life in the Church, Suzanne’s professional interest with Michael Collins, and Magnus’ lifelong obsession with the yacht are just some of the subplots that add to the richness of the story. The historical figures placed in the book as well as the various locations in the UK set the tone for some of the creepy happenings. Overall, Cottam weaves an intricate tale that definitely pays off in the end.
Genre: Horror/Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 10+

Similar titles: House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam.
Themes:  Yachts/nautical vessels, ghosts, World War I, religion, Satanism/rituals, Michael Collins, United Kingdom, 1920s.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Booklist.  
Series Information: N/A

Discussion Questions:

- Did you find this novel scary?

- Do you think it's possible for locations or objects (i.e. ships) to be haunted or cursed?

- Did you learn anything about historical figure, Michael Collins, in this novel? Look into his history and determine if you think his depiction in this novel is accurate.

- Do you think people still practice the occult?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Soul To Take Book Review

Release date: 2009. Author: Rachel Vincent. Publisher: Harlequin Teen. ISBN: 9780373210039.

Annotation: Kaylee Cavanaugh has an unusual ability: she can sense when someone is going to die. Kaylee discovers that this ability means more than she realized, however, when the gorgeous and popular Nash takes a sudden interest in her, and seems to understand the truth about her visions.

Personal thoughts: I absolutely loved this novel. There are so many stories, especially for teens, that include monsters, whether it's vampires, zombies, werewolves, fairies, etc. I was so excited to see one that included one of the most interesting characters from Celtic lore: the bean sidhe. Kaylee is a very likable heroine as well, and takes on her newly discovered abilities with a sense of humor, not a pout or temper tantrum. I also highly recommend the rest of this fun series!

Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Kaylee Cavanaugh has a strange ability: she knows when someone is going to die. She senses it, sees the person covered in shadow, and is unable to do anything but scream. Kaylee is not sure if this ability is a gift or a curse. She lives with her uncle Brendon, aunt Val and cousin Sophie; her father lives in Ireland and sent her to America after her mother's death. Her aunt and uncle seem to think her ability is psychological, like a panic attack. When gorgeous and popular Nash takes a sudden interest in Kaylee, and seems to know a lot about these visions she has, however, Kaylee begins to wonder if maybe she's not crazy. It turns out, Kaylee is a bean sidhe (or "banshee"): a mythical death herald. Screaming and wailing for the nearly deceased is part of who, or what she is. Nash knows this because he is a bean sidhe too, only he has the ability to guide souls that have recently departed their bodies. Together, Kaylee and Nash have to figure out why beautiful and healthy girls keep dropping dead at their high school. Can two bean sidhes in love save their classmates before it's too late?

Review: Creative, original and entertaining, My Soul To Take, the first book in the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, is a delight for any fan of monsters, vampires, ghosts, faeries, and other paranormal creatures. The novel begins with Kaylee experiencing a vision of death right away. Instead of opening with back-story and an introduction of the characters, Vincent gets the action started immediately, capturing the reader's interest from the start. The rest of the novel is devoted to expanding on the characters of Kaylee and Nash, and the history of the bean sidhe, all while moving forward with the plot. The result is a page-turner that is difficult to put down until the conclusion. In an almost Harry Potter fashion, it is revealed that Kaylee comes from a long long of bean sidhe, her father, mother, even her uncle Brendon are all bean sidhes. The reader discovers along with Kaylee the extent of her powers, the truth behind her life, and how she can use her abilities. Instead of observing Kaylee from the outside, Vincent places the reader right in the plot with her, creating an exciting experience that teens, and adults, will love. The novel also sets the stage for the other books in the series, keeping the reader interested in learning more about Kaylee and Nash, and seeing what kind of situations they will undoubtedly encounter in the future. Vincent's writing style is also very relevant for teens. Kaylee acts and speaks like a typical sixteen-year-old girl, despite the fact that she is a bean sidhe, and teen readers will identify with her feelings and attitudes. Overall, My Soul To Take is a must-read for teens who enjoy the genre.
Genre: Fiction/Horror

Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Rest of the Soul Screamers series, Hereafter by Tara Hudson.

Themes: Bean sidhes (banshees), demons, netherworld, mythology/lore, high school.
Awards/reviews: New York Times bestselling author. Positive review Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews.
Series information: First novel in the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent. Other titles: My Soul to Save (2010), My Soul to Keep (2010), My Soul to Steal (2011), If I Die (September 2011).
Novellas in the series: Reaper (2010) and My Soul to Lose (2009). My Soul to Lose is available online free at !

Discussion Questions:

- What did you know about bean sidhes (banshees) before reading this novel? Did you learn anything about them?

- How would you feel if you were Kaylee and learned that you were actually a bean sidhe?

- What did you think of who the actual villain was in this novel? Were you surprised?

- Do you think religion played a role in Rachel Vincent's writing of this story? Why or why not?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Year of the Bomb Book Review

Author: Ronald Kidd. Release date: 2009. Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416958925.

Annotation:  The year is 1955 and Paul and his buddies are thrilled when a new horror movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is set to be filmed in their home town. Little do they know that something worse than body snatchers are lurking on the set: the FBI is investigating to determine if anyone involved in the film is a communist.

Personal thoughts:  I began reading this book not knowing quite what to expect, but was very pleased with what I found. The McCarthy-era is one of the most interesting and strange periods in American history and I love that Kidd created a book for tweens that looks into it. I had some familiarity with the movies mentioned in the story, but it definitely peaked my interest in watching more classic horror films, which I’m sure would be the effect upon tween readers as well.
Plot summary: Paul, Arnie, Crank and Oz are best friends living in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles, in 1955. The boys love spending their summer days at the local theater watching the latest horror movies. When they learn that a new movie called Invasion of the Body Snatchers is set to be filmed in their town, they’re ecstatic. The boys get to see the movie being filmed and even become friends with the director, Don Siegel, and a beautiful extra named Laura Burke. But when they learn that an FBI agent is working on the movie set to determine if anyone involved in the film is a communist, their summer of fun turns into their own hunt for Russian sympathizers.
Review:  The Year of the Bomb opens the door for tweens to learn about a time many may not be familiar with, the communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. Friends Paul, Arnie, Crank and Oz are a likeable gang of teenage boys who fill their days in much the same as their 2011 counterparts would: exploring the world through the eyes of the movie camera. Many classic horror films are mentioned in the book and will undoubtedly prompt curiosity on the part of young readers who want to learn more about Invaders from Mars or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What makes the story so interesting is that it makes reference to real people, places and events. In a way, the novel is a history lesson disguised as a story about a group of friends in the 1950s. While The Year of the Bomb is not for everyone (tween girls might not be as interested in this title), it is an entertaining and well-written story that holds a lot of appeal for readers who are interested in this particular historical period.
Genre: Historical fiction
Reading level: Grade 4+
Similar titles: Super 8 film (2011).
Themes: Friendship, 1950s, McCarthy-era, communism, horror movies.
Awards/Reviews: Junior Library Guild selection, positive review from School Library Journal.
Series Information:  N/A

Discussion Questions:

- How much do you know about communism and the McCarthy-era? Did you learn anything about those terms from this novel?

- Do you have any friends that are as close as the boys in this novel?

- What role does the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" play in this novel?

- Do you like movies? How do you think the movies in this novel compare to the movies of today?

Counter Clockwise Book Review

Author: Jason Cockcroft. Release date: 2009. Publisher:  HarperCollins Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780061255540.

Annotation:  If you could go back in time and right a wrong, would you do it? And if you did, would it be the right thing to do?  

Personal thoughts:  This was a very interesting read, and I was surprised by the depth of the emotions evoked from the story. I learned some new tidbits about British culture and enjoyed Cockcroft’s writing style. I look forward to more works from this new author.   
Plot summary: Nathan Cobbe’s life changed forever the day his mother was tragically killed in a bus accident. Now he lives with his father, Henry, in a dingy apartment in a run-down project slated to be demolished at anytime. Nathan’s life is humdrum: he attends school but doesn’t really pay attention, his father is making him take physics review at a local community college to prepare for exams, and his only friend, Moll, can’t seem to get through to him. One night, however, during his physics review, Nathan meets someone that takes him on a strange adventure through time: an enormous Beefeater named Bartleby who seems to know quite a bit about Nathan’s life. It seems that Henry is inadvertently travelling through time, trying to stop Nathan’s mother from getting hit by the bus that ended her life. What Nathan learns, however, is that some things in life, and time, are meant to happen, and that changing them can alter the world in unimaginable ways. With Bartleby’s help, Nathan must stop his father from setting time spinning by changing the past, before it’s too late.
Review:  This unique story is British author Jason Cockcroft’s first novel, and provides an interesting and cerebral read for tweens that will get them thinking about topics they might not be familiar with. American readers will likely have to familiarize themselves with certain important terms Cockcroft uses to advance the plot, like Beefeater, another name for the Yeomen Warders who guard the tower of London, and Routemasters, or red double-decker buses. Once the British vocabulary is understood, the story is very gripping. Nathan’s adventures through time are not as exciting or magical as other literary time-travellers. His father is trying, inadvertently, to stop the tragic events that cause the death of Nathan’s mother. Nathan is torn between his desire to set time on the right course and his own grief at the loss of his mother. The relationship between Nathan and his father Henry extends far below the surface interactions that are common in other novels for tweens, giving young readers a chance to truly think about how father and son might bond after the loss of a mother and wife. The character of Bartleby the Beefeater is akin to a large, eccentric and mischievous Fairy Godmother. At first, the reader isn’t sure what to make of him, but as the story progresses, he becomes quite likable. Overall, Counter Clockwise is an unusual story that will appeal to tweens of both genders and of varying degrees of interest in the science fiction genre.
Genre: Science-fiction/Adventure
Reading level: Grade 5+
Similar titles:  100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson, Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo.
Themes: Time-travel, grief, death, father and son relationships.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.  
Series Information:  N/A

Discussion Questions:

- What is the mood of this story?

- Do you think Nathan and his father have a good relationship? How did Nathan's mother's death impact their relationship?

- Do you think time travel is possible? What are some of your favorite time travel stories?

- What are your impressions of Bartleby?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Karma Bites Book Review

Authors: Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Sandpiper. ISBN: 9780547363011.

Annotation:  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could fix everything that’s wrong with middle school like magic? Wrong! Franny is about to discover that when you mess with the universe, karma can really come back to bite you.

Personal thoughts:  Although it is somewhat “light” fare, I really enjoy Karma Bites and would recommend it to tween girls as a fun read. I was impressed from the start with the authors’ writing style. It’s often difficult for adults to write in “tween” language without sounding corny or like they’re trying too hard. Kramer and Thomas pulled it off perfectly, creating a entertaining narrative that tweens will enjoy. I will definitely keep an eye out for my titles from this duo.  

Plot summary: Franny Flanders is about to begin 7th grade and the worst thing has happened: in an effort to “go blonde,” Franny’s hair has accidentally been died orange by her best friend. Whoops! Luckily, Franny’s Granny is able to reverse the damage using a mysterious oily mixture. Franny appreciates Granny’s efforts, but things turn weird when Franny spends the first day of 7th grade speaking her mind: something no middle schooler in the precarious position of “clique border crosser” should do. Franny questions her Granny and discovers the truth: the hair reversal mixture was a recipe from a magical Hindu box Granny received from a mysterious monk in Bhutan. As Franny learns more about the powers of the box, she decides to use more magical recipes to fix things in her life. First, she must reunite her two best friends, Kate and Joey. The three were inseparable in elementary school, but middle school caused Kate to become the leader of the “beeks,” the band-geek clique, and Joey to emerge as head of the “poms” and “peaks,” the school’s popular cheerleaders. After she fixes her social life, Franny takes on more challenges: getting her evil English teacher to chill-out, fixing the school’s cafeteria food, and ridding her father of his pesky new girlfriend in an effort to reunite her newly divorced parents. But how far can magic go to correct everything that is wrong in Franny’s world? Franny is about to discover that you can’t mess around with the universe, and that karma really bites.
Review:  Chock full of current language, pop-culture references, and humor, Karma Bites is the perfect “fun-read” for the tween girl of 2011. Franny is a very likable character, and the fact that she’s flawed makes her very relatable. Her adventures answer the question of what would happen if magic could fix all the wrongs of middle school. Tucked into Franny’s dealings with Hindu boxes, magical recipes, and hippie Grannies, however, is a valuable message: Franny eventually learns that she holds the power to making her life good, even if it’s not perfect. Authors Kramer and Thomas use their literary prowess to make the narrative sound as it’s coming from the mouth of a 12-year-old girl. Franny frequently uses fun phrases like “flip me out” to react to different situations. The writing style will hold definite appeal to readers. Apart from the entertaining aspects of the novel, Franny does deal with some serious issues that many tweens experience. Her parents are recently divorced and her grandmother has moved in to help her mother take care of her and her little brothers. Franny is clearly upset about the separation, and believes that her mother and father will get back together. She must also contend with the cutthroat social politics of middle school. Elodie, her school’s “mean girl,” is a vicious bully who enforces a rigid caste system dividing the student body into their rightful place. Her best friends, Joey and Kate, are now enemies and focus on who Franny spends more time with, rather than on Franny’s well-being. Tweens will be able to relate with these challenges on a very real level, despite the presence of magic. Overall, Karma Bites is an effervescent book that young readers are sure to enjoy.
Genre: Fiction/Humor
Reading level: Grade 4+
Similar titles:  None

Themes: Magic, karma, social aspects of middle school, divorce, bullying, cliques.   
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from School Library Journal  and .
Series Information:  N/A 
Discussion Questions:
- Do you believe in karma? Why or why not?
- Do you think the social set-up of Franny's middle-school is realistic? What parts do you think are more realistic than others?
- Describe your experiences with cliques or bullying in school.
- Do you think Franny should get in the middle of the feud between Kate and Joey? Why or why not?

Are you a fan of the "Vampire Diaries" TV show? Do you know someone who is?

Did you know the TV show is based on a series by L.J. Smith? Try some of these books for a blood-sucking good time!

Smith, L.J. (1991) The Awakening: The Vampire Diaries, Book 1. New York, New York: HarperTeen. Beautiful high school student Elena finds herself in the middle of a love triangle between vampire brothers Stefan and Damon. Stefan struggles to resist his desire for Elena, worried that his vengeful brother will seek revenge through anyone he gets too close to.

Smith, L.J. (1991) The Struggle: The Vampire Diaries, Book 2. New York, New York: HarperTeen.
The love triangle between Stefan, Damon and Elena continues. Stefan tries to suppress his thirst for Elena’s blood, while Damon relentlessly tries to win her heart.
Smith, L.J. (1991) The Fury: The Vampire Diaries, Book 3. New York, New York: HarperTeen. Elena continues to be torn by her love for Stefan and Damon’s passion for her. A bigger conflict arises, however, when a vampire hunter comes to town with a mission to kill all immortals in the area. Elena has returned from the dead and now has magical abilities known as White Powers. Stefan wants nothing more than to keep Elena safe, but when a strange new creature begins possessing people in their town, Elena and Stefan must, again, risk their lives to defeat their new enemies.
Smith, L.J. (1992) Dark Reunion: The Vampire Diaries, Book 4. New York, New York: HarperTeen. Elena has been killed, but her spirit is still communicating with her high school friends. After a series of grisly murders, Stefan and Damon must fight a powerful new enemy.

Smith, L.J. (2009) Nightfall: The Vampire Diaries, Book 5. New York, New York: HarperTeen.
Smith, L.J. (2010) Shadow Souls: The Vampire Diaries, Book 6. New York, New York: HarperTeen. After Stefan’s kidnapping, Elena and Damon must set off to the Dark Dimension to find the keys to setting him free. The journey gets complicated, however, as Elena must continue to struggle with her feelings for Damon.

The House of Lost Souls Book Review

Release date: 2007. Author: F.G. Cottam. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN: 9780340953860.

Annotation: Something dark and mysterious is haunting the Fischer House; something that lingers on long after visitors have left its walls. Prepare to be scared in this dark and spooky ghost story.

Personal thoughts: This is definitely a book for older teens or adults as it does get quite scary at times, but for those who can handle it, you're in for a treat! I loved the mix of history and fiction, they worked together well to make an excellent ghost story. Can't wait for F.G. Cottam's next novel, Dark Echo!

Plot summary: This ghost story follows the lives of those who have visited the Fischer House on the Isle of Wight off the English coast, those who have survived their visit anyway. The novel begins with Nick Mason, former military operative, who is deeply concerned for his younger sister. It seems that she and her friends, all philosophy students studying the paranormal, visited the mysterious Fischer House and encountered something so awful, one has committed suicide. Mason’s sister seems to have slipped into a perpetual state of paranoia bordering on hysteria, and the other students are following-suit. Seeking to solve the mystery behind his sister’s condition, Mason contacts journalist Paul Seaton. It seems that Seaton visited the Fischer House as a college student himself, and lived to tell the tale, though not without his own sense of unease and paranoia. Together, Mason and Seaton decide to uncover the truth behind what seems to be haunting the girls, and discover a horrifying tale dating back to the 1920s. As Mason’s sister declines more and more, the hunt to stop whatever is stalking her grows more desperate.

Review: British writer, F.G. Cottam, has created a dark, gothic ghost story in The House of Lost Souls that will appeal to adults and teens alike. The novel begins with a sense of foreboding and mystery: something terrible lurks in the Fischer House, something that drives anyone who visits the house insane with terror. After visiting the house, one of four college friends has committed suicide. The other three seem ready to follow suit. Trying to discover what it is that is haunting these students, as well as journalist Paul Seaton, enthrall the reader. The ghostly experiences of those who have visited the Fischer House, as well as the fact that the haunting continues long after they have returned to their normal lives, will appeal to teens. Fans of the horror/monster/ghost genre will enjoy the spooky happenings in The House of Lost Souls. One factor that makes the story appropriate for older teens is the lack of gore, language, or sexual situations that are often better suited for adult horror novels. Cottam prefers the psychological scare, and doesn’t need blood and guts to achieve his goal. Another factor that will appeal to horror fans is the presence of historical horror and occult novelist Dennis Wheatley as a character in the novel. The House of Lost Souls is an excellently crafted and truly creepy ghost story; one that is sure to be
loved by teens and adults alike.

Genre: Horror/Fiction, Adult-crossover

Reading level: Grade 10+

Similar titles: Dark Echo by F.G. Cottam

Themes: Ghost stories, hauntings, occult.

Awards/reviews: Positive reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Financial Times, Lancashire Evening Post and Times Online.

Series information: None

Discussion Questions:

- Did you find this book to be scary? Why or why not?

- Do you think it's possible for locations to be "haunted" or "cursed"?

- Look up one of the famous authors or historical figures featured in the story. Relate how they real lives might impact their appearance in this novel.

- Do you think people still practice the occult?