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Paula W.

Teenage Tartare

posted by: October 2, 2012 - 8:01am

ShadowsFlesh & BoneThe InfectsThere's no escaping them. Fast or slow, dead or alive, zombies and zombie-like cannibals are everywhere right now. From The Walking Dead to ParaNorman, their bloody, shuffling antics entertain and disgust us in equal measures. Or not. For some people, the only good zombie is a zombie they don't have to think about, and for those people, here's a handy guide to Teen Books to Avoid. But if you or a teenager you love can't get enough of the hungry dead and their gross-out antics, here's grist for that mill:


Shadows, the sequel to Ilsa J. Bick's marvelous wilderness apocalypse novel Ashes, takes up immediately where Ashes ends. All teenage Alex had wanted was peaceful camping trip alone with her thoughts after the tragic death of her parents, but when a brilliant light bloomed on the horizon and most of the adults fell down dead and the other teenagers turned into silent, bloodthirsty monsters, well, let's just say it was a good thing she brought her father's Glock in her backpack. Ashes and Shadows should be read back-to-back - there's no time for recaps as Alex flees the fundamentalist sect that has taken her in only to fall directly into the hands of...


Zombies! Ever since they escaped the mayhem of First Night, when the dead suddenly began to rise, and bite people, and make more zombies, Benny and his big brother Daniel have lived in a small town surrounded by a big fence. Life within the fence is good, but rather strict. When Daniel agrees to take Benny on as an apprentice zombie killer, Benny imagines he is in for a life of adventure, but the truth turns out to be not quite what he had expected. Fast-paced and tightly plotted, Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin is like a classic Old West gunslinger novel set in a beautifully imagined post-apocalyptic America. First in a trilogy, the sequels are Dust & Decay and the recently released Flesh & Bone.


The Infects is prose stylist Sean Beaudoin's entry into the teen cannibal catastrophe sweepstakes. Loaded with pop culture references and sarcasm, this book is fast and freaky and lots of fun. Seventeen-year-old Nero was already having a bad week, sentenced to an Outward Bound-type trip for juvenile delinquents, when all of a sudden everybody but the bad boys on the bus falls victim to a virus that causes zombie-like behavior, i.e. lurching, drooling, and lusting after human flesh. You'll never look at fast-food chicken the same way again. 


Bone appétit!


Quest for Adventure

posted by: August 29, 2012 - 7:45am

Giants Beware!Poor Claudette. In Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware!, her peaceful life within the fortress of Mont Petit Pierre is just not nearly exciting enough. Being a tomboy, the daughter of the town blacksmith, she is rambunctious and loudmouthed and yearns for action. Like killing the giant rumored to live on the mountain outside of town. With her timid brother Gaston and her ladylike friend Marie, she blusters her way out of the fortress gate and into the Forest of Death, beyond which lies the Mad River, and then Giant’s Peak.


Can these three kids, armed with a wooden sword, Marie’s intelligence, Gaston’s fortitude, Claudette’s stinky feet, and a pug dog named Valiant, survive in the wilderness and defeat the giant? Of course they can, but not in the ways they might have expected. The adults in the story are distinguished by exaggerated or even buffoonish characteristics, but their actions are driven by realistic, largely generous motives.


The story strikes a fine balance between being action- and friendship-driven. The art is similarly well-balanced: Rafael Rosado’s ink drawings are strong and lively, with expressive characters and well-drawn landscapes. Digitally applied color is natural, bright, and nonintrusive. Fans of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules books and Jeff Smith’s Bone series will snap this title up.


AdaptationCrash your car miles from nowhere on Nevada's Route 375, aka Extraterrestrial Highway, after a series of strange events have led to airplane crashes and highway closures, and what do you expect? Recover from life-threatening injuries only to be handed a non-disclosure agreement and be escorted home by two agents in black suits... oh yeah, this can't be good.


In Adaptation, many questions are posed to the reader. What happened to debate partners Reese and David in the month following inexplicable bird attacks that shut down the nation's air traffic? How have they recuperated so quickly from their crash? And what's with the strange vertigo that Reese feels whenever she touches David, or her mom, or even total strangers? Then there's the free-spirited pink-haired girl to whom Reese is irresistibly attracted.


Malinda Lo sets up an intriguing situation for her appealing, believable characters, and does a particularly nice job communicating Reese's discomfort as the unusual things she experiences and observes after she attempts to resume her normal life in San Francisco grate against everything she knows. The book loses some steam in the last third, as other characters drop away and we are back to just Reese and David, but by then it is too late for the reader - how's it going to end?


Suspenseful, girl-powered, contemporary science fiction full of realistically diverse characters making realistic contemporary use of technology. Plus hot kissing! Hard to resist.


Once Upon a Time in the West

posted by: August 21, 2012 - 10:15am

The Best Shot in the West Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love left home to seek work when he was just a teenager, hoping to send money home to his large family. Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Love describes how his skill with horses, willingness to work hard, and a fair amount of bluffing led to a career as an expert roper and marksman. He also became an acquaintance of Wild West legends such as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. This fictionalized biography is based on his memoir, published in 1907 after he had retired from the cowboy life and was working as a Pullman porter. Exciting episodes include bucking broncos, runaway horses, and Apache raids, not to mention his capture by hostile Native Americans, the drunken theft of a cannon from a U.S. Army fort, and the cowboy competition that gives the authors the right to call Love “The Best Shot in the West.”


Randy DuBurke’s muscular, colorful art features flying bullets, billowing dust, and driving rain. Panels tend to be large, the better to depict the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the cattle, horses, and buffalo that Love lived and worked among. Exciting and picturesque, Nat Love’s life makes for a great graphic novel.


More Fun in the Magical Car

posted by: August 15, 2012 - 7:57am

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies AgainIn Frank Cottrell Boyce's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again, we meet The Tootings, your average twenty-first century British nuclear family: there's Dad, recently laid off from his job assembling tiny things; Mum, who works at Unbeatable Motoring Bargains; black-clad teenage Lucy; Jem, who tries to keep his head down; and Little Harry, the baby. Dad's sudden joblessness is a bit worrying to the rest of the family, but not to him. He's a very optimistic type, and rejoices in all the time he suddenly has on his hands to fix things around the house. He's a something of an inventor, like Caractacus Pott, the dad in Ian's Fleming's original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, published in 1964. And like the original dad, his inventions do not work very well.


He's driving the family crazy, in fact, and so, to distract him, Mum brings home a decrepit pop-top 1966 camper van for him to fix up. A real rustbucket, but a vehicle from back in the days when any reasonably careful adult could figure out how to fix his or her own car. Dad and Jem take the whole thing apart, assess their needs, and then hit up the local junkyard for parts.


What they find at the junkyard, and the effect it has on the camper van when they install it, plus the brief wink to Fleming's original inspiration for the story, are pleasures this writer would not dilute for any reader.


Although the story is inventive and picturesque, with billionaire crooks and a visit to Madagascar and a guest appearance on a French reality show called Car Stupide, most of the humor in this very funny novel is a result of the family's interactions with each other. Occasional British terms (lift, motorway), while initially puzzling for young readers, are quickly made clear by the context. Joe Berger's lively cartoon illustrations depict each phase of Chitty's reincarnation in loving detail and bring the resourceful Tootings to life.


Girl's Best Friend

posted by: August 15, 2012 - 7:45am

Letters to LeoAmy Hest brings us the new adventures of Annie in her latest book Letters to Leo. First introduced to readers in Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Annie lives with her dad in New York City and is now in fourth grade. Her new best friend, a floppy-haired pup named Leo, is helping her cope with schoolwork, an icky boy, and a best friend who is moving away.


Annie writes letters to the dog, and reads them to him at night. Through them, readers learn about her hopes and sorrows, many of which revolve around her widowed father. This epistolary format and chatty tone makes for easily manageable reading segments, good for those kids for whom reading is a struggle. The drawings that decorate Annie's letters were done by Julia Denos, who is perhaps best known as a picture book illustrator, and they reinforce the book's upbeat, chirpy tone. Letters to Leo evokes empathy with a light touch.



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