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Once Upon a Time in the West

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.

Paula W.

 
 

Not Just for Adults

Not Just for Adults

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 7:55am

ChangelingPhilippa Gregory has launched a new series with her most recent novel Changeling. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl, among many other titles. This historical fiction, however, is written with the teen audience in mind. In a departure from her previous books, which were based on actual people from the era of Tudor England, Gregory decided to have some fun and develop a story around completely fictional characters. The novel explores the myths and superstitions that predominate the Medieval period, when the Church believed the end of days was imminent.

 

It is 1453, and these are dark times in Christendom. Constantinople, the religious capital of the east has just fallen to the Ottoman Empire. Evil seems to be infiltrating Europe from all sides, and for the most part, the church appears powerless to stop its advancement. Pope Nicholas V has established a secret group called the Order of Darkness, whose task is to travel the countryside and investigate strange happenings, discover the mysteries that plague the people, and report back to Rome. This is Luca Vero’s assignment. He is an Inquirer for the Church and in the first story alone encounters witchcraft, madness, and werewolves.

 

During his quest he is accompanied by his witty and entertaining manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, a clerk of the church. Through the course of their adventures they are joined by Isolde, a displaced noblewoman, and her best friend Ishraq, a Moor with whom she has grown up. This very diverse band travels together while Luca attempts to ascertain what people fear, and investigate unusual happenings in a constant search for the truth. Gregory has written an entertaining story with likeable characters that teens will enjoy. If you find your copy of Changeling is missing, check your parents' room!

Jeanne

 
 

The Will to Live

The Will to Live

posted by:
August 14, 2012 - 7:55am

SurviveWhat gives someone the will to live? Often it is nothing within themselves but rather someone else, someone who would not survive without you. In the debut novel Survive by Alex Morel, a teenage girl must overcome her own mental health issues and fight to save the life of another.

 

Jane has it all planned. She has been on her best behavior at the institute. She has not cut herself in months and has been very forthcoming in her sessions. This has earned her a plane trip home to see her mother for Christmas. She does not plan to arrive alive, intending to use a pocketful of pills in the bathroom to join her father and her grandmother, both of whom committed suicide. Fate has a cruel sense of irony, and when the plane crashes in the mountains due to the winter storm, she and Paul are the only survivors.

 

Morel creates an interesting dynamic between Jane and Paul, both of whom have experienced tragedies that left them with distant emotional connections to their parents. On the surface, Survive is simply a survival story—a modern-day Hatchet. The action is swift and will hold the attention of more challenged readers. If the reader chooses to delve a bit deeper, they will find a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that rises and falls as the survivors climb toward rescue.

Sam

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The Gold and Silver Twins

The Gold and Silver Twins

posted by:
August 7, 2012 - 7:55am

The EnchantressWith the publication of The Enchantress, Irish author Michael Scott concludes his six volume The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, and part action/adventure, Scott uses figures from both history and mythology to weave a complex saga of good versus evil while relying on legend and mysticism to propel this series along.

 

Teenage twins Sophie and Josh Newman are introduced in the first book, The Alchemyst. Flamel and wife Perenelle, masquerading as San Francisco booksellers, recognize the brother and sister as the magical gold and silver twins destined to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Chaos reigns when Golems attack the bookstore, stealing an ancient text written by Abraham the Mage; the Dark Elders could destroy the human world with the secrets contained within the book. However, Josh managed to retain some of its most crucial pages -- and the chase is on!

 

History buffs will recognize names such as the alchemists Flamel and their arch enemy, Dr. John Dee, who was an advisor and scientist for the court of Elizabeth I. Mythology fans will enjoy appearances by Isis and Osiris (ostensibly the twins’ parents), Bastet, Scathach, and Quetzelcoatl, along with visits to sites like Danu Talis and the continuing quest for the formula for immortality. This series should be read in order, as the books, each named for a central character, take the reader further along the journey of Josh and Sophie. They realize not only the scope of their own power but decide how best to wield it and with whom their allegiance lies. Sharing elements with both the Harry Potter books and Rick Riordan’s Olympian series, as well as Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches trilogy, Scott’s stories should appeal to teens and adults alike.

Lori

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Beginnings and Endings

Beginnings and Endings

posted by:
July 31, 2012 - 7:55am

Amelia Anne is Dead and GoneWhether graduating from high school or from college, the future is an exciting adventure waiting to be discovered. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, by Kat Rosenfield, permits readers to share in both of these experiences through its main characters. At the start of the story, Becca has graduated with honors from high school. She has waited her entire life for this moment, when she can finally cut the strings to her small, backward town and move on to a bigger and better life. She only has a few months of summer to endure before starting college in the fall. In alternating chapters, the reader simultaneously experiences the story of Amelia, who has just graduated from college. Amelia is eager and excited about the prospects of graduate school and an acting career beyond that. Both young women are filled with hope and expectations; however one of their stories will be tragically cut short.

 

As stated in the title, Amelia Anne dies, a victim of violent crime. Her beaten body is discovered on an isolated road, not far from where Becca lives. The murder of this young woman traumatizes Becca and suddenly the world seems too frightening to venture out into. Rosenfield has crafted a unique story that is part character study and part mystery, which explores the nuances of small town life, relationships, and the blackness that can dwell in the heart of men. This is a haunting tale that will keep readers spellbound as the story of these two girls culminates in an amazing and unexpected conclusion.

Jeanne

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Scully and Mulder Beware

Scully and Mulder Beware

posted by:
July 24, 2012 - 9:01am

UnravelingAn ordinary girl. A mysterious boy. A horrific accident. A countdown to…the end? The truth is indeed out there, and Janelle Tenner is determined to discover it at all costs in Elizabeth Norris’ debut novel Unraveling.

 

Upon leaving the beach where she works as a lifeguard, Janelle is hit by a pickup truck and dies. So why is she still thinking, breathing, and feeling?  Because of Ben, a “stoner” boy who Janelle barely notices until he is standing over her, whispering in her ear and laying his hands on her broken spine. He runs off as the ambulance arrives, and Janelle is convinced that he has brought her back to life.

 

The mystery of Ben is just one part of the puzzle for Janelle. The man who hit her was covered in radiation burns and, according to her father’s files (he is an FBI agent), the man was dead before he struck Janelle. She secretly begins her own investigation to discover the truth of the accident, including the numbers on her father’s files that seem to be a countdown. 

 

In the glut of paranormal and dystopian teen fiction, Unraveling is a refreshing change. Janelle is a fully-drawn character, a girl dealing with family issues as well as her own unexplained return from death. Fans of FBI dramas like The X-Files or young amateur investigators like Veronica Mars will enjoy undertaking this Unraveling.

Sam

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Hey Jude

Hey Jude

posted by:
July 17, 2012 - 7:55am

Before You GoThe summer before senior year is a season of firsts for Jude. He begins his first job at a food shack on the beach, and there he meets the girl who will become his first love. He also breaks with family tradition, and for the first time talks to someone about the darkness that surrounds them -- the accidental drowning of his sister in the backyard pool. Jude’s long-suppressed emotions come to the surface in Before You Go by James Preller.

 

The beauty of this book is in the drawing of the teen characters. The friendships between the boys are realistic and the dialogue is believable. No one is overly-pathetic or incredibly cool; these are everyday kids growing up in an ordinary town doing what teens do. They work “undesirable” part-time jobs, drink a little, get bored sometimes, explore dating and relationships, distance themselves from their parents, and start to realize that life may not work out the way you plan it.

 

Preller is the author of the Jigsaw Jones series and the children’s fiction title Bystander. He makes his teen fiction debut with Before You Go. Although it begins with a fatal car accident, this book is not action-packed. Readers drawn to emotional stories with subtle character development will enjoy this novel.

 

Sam

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A Prince of a Guy

A Prince of a Guy

posted by:
July 10, 2012 - 8:31am

Between the LinesMany of us have wished that our favorite literary characters were real people who could jump off the page and into our lives. In Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer, Delilah gets the chance of a lifetime when Prince Oliver, the hero of the fairy tale of the same name, speaks to her and she can hear him. The two become fast friends and together they hatch a plot to free Oliver from the book. Delilah’s family and friends do not understand why she is so obsessed with this children’s book, and they unknowingly thwart her at every turn. Likewise, the rest of the fairy tale characters (who have distinctly different personalities when the book is closed) do not understand why Oliver is so unhappy reliving the same story over and over again.

 

The creative idea for Between the Lines was pitched to Picoult by her teenage daughter Samantha, who was daydreaming about book characters coming to life instead of paying attention in French class. This charming book is a collaborative effort between mother and daughter, and it includes many inserted images and pencil sketch drawings. An imaginative romance, this is a good book for reluctant readers or teens that are looking for something simpler and sweeter than your typically angsty novel for adolescents.

The authors interview each other on Jodi Picoult’s website.

Sam

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Pretty or Not?

Pretty or Not?

posted by:
July 3, 2012 - 1:49pm

The ListIt’s a given: high school, angst, and a painful self-consciousness go hand in hand for everyone except the “in-crowd,” right? Or maybe not. Siobhan Vivian takes a probing look at high school students in her new novel, The List, and explores the impact of being one of the infamous eight girls named on a cruel, anonymously authored cataloging of the prettiest and ugliest in each grade.

 

Being listed as the prettiest would seem to guarantee a charmed life for a high school girl and initially, ninth grader Abby revels in the extra attention garnered due to her appearance. Senior Margo feels somewhat entitled to be in the prettiest category, as was her older sister a few years back. Sophomore Lauren is surprised by her inclusion especially as this is her first year of public school, having been homeschooled previously. Struggling with a blooming eating disorder, junior Bridget rationalizes that making the prettiest list means her weight loss was—and is-- necessary.

 

On the flip side, receiving the label of ugliest should be devastating and for eleventh grade Sarah, always a nonconformist, the list pushes her to an extreme. Jennifer, hiding a secret, decides to celebrate her notoriety as a 4-time “winner” while beautiful queen-bee Candace is certain that her name was placed on this side of the sophomore list in error. Freshman varsity athlete Danielle just hopes her new boyfriend isn’t bothered by her being tagged as “Dan the man.”

 

Taking place in the week leading up to the homecoming dance, each girl has the opportunity to look at friendships and family in a new light; each must also decide if she embraces the label thrust upon her or forge her own identity independent of The List. Fans of realistic fiction will enjoy this title which reminds us to look inside not only others but ourselves, too.

Lori

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Coming of Age, with a Graphic Twist

The Year of the BeastsIn the format-bending new teen novel The Year of the Beasts, we meet fifteen-year-old Tessa and her younger sister Lulu. The two have always been close, until one summer when Lulu starts dating town heartthrob Charlie – who just so happens to be Tessa’s biggest crush. Tessa wants to be happy for Lulu, but for the first time in her life she begins to feel bitter pangs of jealousy toward her sister. Fortunately, Tessa develops an unexpected romance of her own with the mysterious but sweet outcast Jasper and learns to appreciate the unconditional bond she shares with Lulu. 

 

Meanwhile, every other chapter picks up Tessa’s story several weeks later in graphic novel form, where we gradually learn that a tragedy has changed the characters’ lives forever. In a striking counterpoint to author Cecil Castellucci’s realistic prose, Eisner Award-winning illustrator Nate Powell re-imagines Tessa and her friends as mythological creatures such as medusas, centaurs, minotaurs, and mermaids. At first it isn’t exactly clear how the graphic and prose chapters relate, but everything merges so brilliantly in the end that readers will want to explore the book a second time to discover the cleverly placed foreshadowing and symbolism. Rather than being two separate narratives, these alternating chapters build off of each other to form one emotionally powerful story.

 

The Year of the Beasts is a poignant novel about sibling conflict, grief, and young love. The alternating prose-and-visual storytelling makes this book utterly unique and an excellent choice for reluctant readers or those looking for their first foray into graphic novels.

Alex