Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Image result for the boy in the black suitThis one is a quiet gentle novel about a young boy trying to deal with the recent death of his mother to cancer and his father's subsequent descent into alcoholism.  Matt lives in Brooklyn New York in a pretty tough neighborhood.  He and his mother were extremely close, so he is devastated when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and dies shortly after. His father is unable to deal with the death of his beloved wife and buries his sorrow in a bottle of alcohol.  In an attempt to deal with his grief Matt takes on an after school job at the local funeral home where his mother's service was held and begins attending funerals of strangers.  This gives him a strange sense of peace and comfort and helps him to understand that he is not alone in grieving for a loved one. Also, the funeral director, Mr. Ray, takes Matt under his wing and vows to take care of him when his dad is involved in a crippling accident that removes him from the home for several weeks. When one of the funerals Matt helps to set up and attends turns out to be for the grandmother of a girl he has had his eye on for a while his life takes an upward turn.
If you are looking for a book with a lot of action, this one isn't for you.  It's a heartfelt story that has a real feel good type of ending. From the author's afterword:  "This is going to sound weird, but the only reason this book could be written at all is because my mother took me to a lot of funerals at a very young age. So...uh...thanks, Ma."  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A book with a literary theme

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Jam has been enrolled by her parents in The Wooden Barn, a school in rural Vermont for troubled and disturbed teens, or as Jam puts it, "kids with issues". She is promptly chosen to participate in a Special Topics English  class taught by Mrs. Quenell, an elderly teacher who is retiring after the current semester. The class concentrates on one author, a different one each semester. This session it's Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel about the journey through severe depression for those who lived in the mid 20th century, and collections of poetry.  Each student is given an antique leather journal with instructions to write in it twice a week until the class ends.  The journals have some kind of special power that transports each student back into their past to confront their own individual issues. They are also commissioned to take care of and watch out for each other throughout the semester.

This is a book about existing in the present, but living in the past. It's about accepting things that happened that you cannot change and letting things go when you have to. Learning to put the past firmly in the past and to look forward with anticipation to the future, for, as Jam says, “the rest of life—that imperfect thing—[is] waiting.” From Belzhar.

During the final class  the students confront Mrs. Quenell about the journals and how much she knew about what they could do.  She knew they could help these handpicked students with their "issues", but she also knew there was much more going on.

“But it’s never just been the journals that have made the difference, I don’t think. It’s also the way the students are with one another . . . the way they talk about books and authors and themselves. Not just their problems, but their passions too. The way they form a little society and discuss whatever matters to them. Books light the fire—whether it’s a book that’s already written, or an empty journal that needs to be filled in.” Mrs. Quenell, from Belzhar.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

It's been a while since a book has moved me like this one.

Image result for I'll Give You the SunI'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Noah and Jude are twins.  Until the year they turned 14 they were inseparable, to the point that they would sit together with shoulders, heads and hips touching as if they were physically one being. They bargained with each other for parts of the universe.  “ 'I gave up practically the whole world for you' I tell him, walking through the front door of my own love story. 'The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.' ”  But things change, and a lot happened in that fateful year that changed their relationship.  This is a book about truth and lies, failure and redemption, love and anger.  Oh, yes, and art. This book is about art and the artistic person, and the pain that encompasses them from time to time.  And it's about ghosts and spirits and superstitions and love and a whole lot more!  And it contains the best description of "mean girls" I've ever read:  Noah talking about Jude and her new friends: " She's surrounded by the same bunch of girls she's been hanging around with all spring and so far this summer instead of me.  Pretty hornet-girls in bright bikinis with suntans that glimmer for miles. I know all about hornets: If one send out a distress signal, it can trigger a whole nest attack. This can be deadly to people like me."  
Told in beautiful lyrical prose, devour this one in a few days.  Time jumps back and forth from 
age 13 1/2 to age 16, the early years are told by Noah, the later ones by Jude.  Secrets and lies are revealed little by little until the truth about what happened that year finally emerges in a very emotional final few chapters. Forgiveness and redemption really are possible!  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Messenger of Fear

"If you are wicked, the messenger will find you."  This is the tagline for Michael Grant's (Gone series, BRZK series) new series, The Messenger of Fear.  Mara wakes up shrouded by mist and with total amnesia to find herself in the company of an unusual young man who calls himself Messenger. She soon learns that she is to be apprentice to Messenger and eventually take over for him. What is his job?  To seek out and punish those who do evil things and go unpunished in the "real" world.  This story is gruesome and hard to read at times, therefore it's not for younger teens. I would recommend this for at least age 15 and up. It's a short book, quick to read, and leaves one eagerly anticipating the second book in the series. Sorry, no information on when that book will be published yet! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A few new books on the teen shelf!

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss
 Aaron and Abigail's parents truly believed that the end times were coming, so they sold everything they had and gave all of their money to the preacher who convinced them of the coming apocalypse.  But, of course, it didn't happen.  Now the family is penniless, living in a van and trying to scrape together meals at the soup kitchen and Brother John's "church" (it's a storefront).   Aaron is angry and Abigail just wants to heal the family and get things back to normal.  This is a fresh perspective on homelessness, poverty, and blind faith in an unworthy person.

For fans of The Pretty Little Liars series, the latest book is now here!  Vicious reunites the 4 liars, Aria, Spencer, Hanna and Emily, as they find themselves framed for the murder of Alison DiLaurentis. No one knows that Ali is still alive and well and laughing at the plight of the 4.  This is the final book in the very popular series, so don't miss it!

There's more than a little magic in Tricia Stirling's book When My Heart Was Wicked.  Lacy is a good witch, a green witch who uses plants to heal. But she is unable to prevent her father's death. She has a very close relationship with her stepmother, but when her real mother, Cheyenne, returns to take her away to Sacramento, she is powerless to resist. But there's something really wrong with Cheyenne, and Lacy finds herself drawn to dark magic.  This is Stirling's debut novel, and was published to rave reviews.  It's on my "to read" list.

For those out there who love a little horror (but not too much) in their reading, there's Beneath by Roland Smith. This one is about two brothers, Pat and his older brother Coop who is "weird" and, after a huge argument with their parents, ends up running away. One year later he sends Pat a cryptic message that leads him on a hunt to find the older brother that he idolized. Coop is living in a radical underground community in New York City. Creepy enough?

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is a huge story about 4 people connected by of all things a harmonica. Lyric and imaginative, this one will take a while to read at over 500 pages.

If you read and loved Aimee Carter's dystopian book Pawn, then pick up the sequel, Captive. Kitty is still impersonating Lila Hart and supporting the Blackcoat rebels. No one is to be trusted in this book which is full of intrigue and adventure.

 On the light and fluffy side, Geek Girl by Holly Small takes a self-proclaimed geek and throws her into the world of high fashion models. Good fun.

Science fictions and superheroes take the lead in Emily Lloyd-Jones' book Illusive. A deadly virus caused a worldwide epidemic until a vaccine was created to prevent infection. That vaccine, however, had a very unusual side effect for a small number of people: it gave them super powers.  Lots of action in this one.

The sequel to best seller Seraphina is also here!  And it's big sprawling fantasy complete with dragons and warring kingdoms, continuing the story of Seraphina the half-dragon. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Don't let the cover of this one fool you!

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle.
The cover illustration would lead one to think that this is a light airy fun story, but it's not. Vivian Apple lives in a future where a corporate religion has taken over America.  The country is split between Believers and Non-Believers (encompassing all other religions as well as atheists). The Church of America was founded by Beaton Frick, based on the bible, but he wrote his own "updated" version called The Book of Frick told to him when Jesus came to him driving a powder blue convertible. The book opens with Vivian coming home to find that her parents, Believers, have been Raptured. All that's left of them are two holes in the roof of their home. Vivian goes to live with her atheist grandparents, but when the country descends into chaos following the disappearance of a few thousand Believers she decides to seek out the truth behind the Church of America.  Fast-paced and dark, with strongly drawn characters, this is a must-read! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Image result for in the shadow of blackbirdsThis novel by Cat Winters takes place during two simultaneously occurring tragic events: World War I and the Spanish influenza epidemic. With death surrounding everyone, spiritualism, spirit photography, and seances have become incredibly popular in the United States and Europe. Mary Shelley Black has been sent to live with her aunt after the death of her mother and the arrest and imprisonment of her father who is a pacifist and anti-draft activist.  After the death of her childhood friend and recent love interest Stephen, who enlisted in the army at age 17 and was sent to fight in France, Mary, in her grief, steps out into a thunderstorm and is hit by lightening and dies briefly. Hovering over her body, she is compelled to return to life, but something has changed in her. Never a believer in spirits, she finds she suddenly can communicate with Stephen, who is suffering and believes he is being attacked and tortured by blackbirds. What follows is a desperate search for the truth of what happened to Stephen which includes delving into seances and spirit photography to solve the mystery.
This book can best be described as an historical mystery/fantasy.  Plenty of atmospheric description of seances, and the society which believed in the ability to contact dead spirits, as well as the horror of the influenza epidemic. The terror felt by ordinary people is palpable and descriptions of those who died of the flu that year are not for those with weak stomachs!   Highly recommended!