Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Astrid looks forward to summer like any other kid.  She'll spend time with her best friend, and do all her favorite things.  That is until her mom comes up with the lastest "Evening of Cultural Entertainment" or ECE.  She finds a new interest when she attends her first roller derby with her mom and best friend.  Suddenly, all she can think about is learning how to do all those cool things.  She just knows she and Nicole (BFF) will have the best summer ever until Nicole admits she's more interested in ballet camp than derby camp.

Astrid soon finds herself lying to her mom, venturing home alone across busy roads, and covered in wicked bruises from all her attempts to learn to not only how to skate, but also speed, bumping, and the art of falling.  She makes a new friend, but soon learns she has to learn to share in the interests of others if she wants to keep them as friends.

By the end of summer, she'll have to decide how willing she is to not only try new things, but keep herself open to the ideas her friends present as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The grand cross-century adventure trilogy that is about both a couple's unlikely romance and the origin of supernatural beings draws to a close with this dramatic, transcontinental chess match.

Supernatural power couple Diana (witch) and Matthew (vampire) are back from their time hop to the 16th century and now are ready to pull together the scattered pieces of an ancient alchemical manuscript and discover once and for all what's it's all about.

But not everyone wants to see Diana and Matthew succeed - there are plenty of other creatures who would like to find the "book of life" first and grab the knowledge and power it likely brings for themselves. And not merely incidental to the storyline, Diana is now pregnant with twins - a cross-species fete heretofore thought impossible.

I have loved this series, and the sweeping saga of the story's climax was worth the wait. I've been listening to them as audiobooks, and Jennifer Ikeda does a truly commendable job with the unique and varied characterization of ancient beings from all corners of the planet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold

I picked this book up after hearing it described as The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend  meets Neil Gaiman.  I have to agree with that assessment; I've been telling parents about it all week as a last minute gift idea for kids around ages 8-10.  

Amanda Shufflepup might not have realized she needed a friend until one showed up in the wardrobe.  Rudger was just what she wanted, except no one else could see him.  The two have great adventures until the day someone else does see Rudger.  Mr. Bunting is greatly dangerous to imaginaries.  In fact, because of him, Amanda and Rudger are separated, and Rudger finds himself running for his life.  Most important of all is his need to find Amanda again before she forgets him; can he survive if there is no one to imagine him?

For anyone who ever had an imaginary friend, this is a treasure.  If you were the kid who played along when someone else dreamed up friends, this might make you believe just a little more. 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A fake mystic scams her way into a "home cleansing" job and gets way more than she bargained for.

This short story (60 pages) was originally published in the 2014 anthology Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and now has been published as a stand-alone title.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book was that you don't know what you're in for: Is this going to be serious or funny? About the supernatural, or a crime? The back says, "You like ghost stories?" Yes, please! But we're not really given any other clues.

It begins with a hand job - or more accurately, approximately 23,546 hand jobs. Our narrator grabs you from page one, and you're captivated by her tale. Amazing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Violent Ends: A Novel in Seventeen Points of View by various authors

In this stellar cooperative collection of interconnected short stories, we glimpse the before, during, and after of a group of students. Eventually, one of them opens fire at a high school pep rally, but there's really much more than just that one moment.

Each of the 17 stories was written by a different YA author - lending different styles, unique viewpoints, and a breadth of perspective on the scene. Some of the stories are short, others much longer, and some are further divided into chapters.

We see the anorexic cheerleader's perspective on her insatiable hungers: for perfection, for love, and for popularity. The sad story of a little girl's birthday present, ruined almost immediately. There's a slightly strange new girl at school with a big secret, the band geek whose only hope is to follow the treble clef doodled on a pair of Converse All-Stars, and the soccer player who isn't going to prom anymore. There's even one chapter (a bit strangely) told from the perspective of the gun.

I've really come to love interconnected short stories - I think the multi-faceted approach is always enlightening, and especially in the case of a teenage tragedy, there's always way more to the story than the headlines allow.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi-Winget

Suddenly every part of Poppy's life is uncertain: her only relative, her grandmother, had a stroke. And then, when running away from the group home to visit Grandma Beth in the hospital, she gets lost, witnesses a burglary, and is the only one to see the guy's face when he flees.

Poppy makes an impression on the detective called to the scene, and Detective Brannigan goes out of his way to accommodate his star witness until they can apprehend the bad guy. Along the way, she even helps the police in another, unexpected way.

This is a wonderful story about a girl living on the fringes. While there's turmoil and upheaval in the story, the book isn't super scary and the message of friendship comes through strongest. There's an interesting thread about kids' desire to act out in various ways when they've lost control of their life, and it's handled honestly and realistically.

Poppy's a middle schooler, but I think this book could be read younger. It's not too scary, and the conflicts and emotional struggle will be familiar for many kids whose parents have divorced or who have lost a loved one.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

While the art is what sells this one, I have to say the message is done very well too.

Without becoming a storybook, DeYoung intended to convey the over-arching message of the Bible: belief in God is the path to heaven. He doesn't get wrapped up in telling about Noah, or lingering on the nativity - he briefly touches on them on the way to a larger message. It's an interesting approach, and a couple times I laughed at the simplification job he does: the popular betrayal story gets summed up as Joseph's brothers "almost killed him because of his fancy coat."

No matter your Christian denomination, the message here is going to ring true and stand with church doctrine. There's obviously a lot more to it and this shouldn't be your only sourcebook, but I like it as a different tactic for kids. It's something I haven't seen before.

But let me move on to the art. Because illustrator Don Clark knocks one out of the park with this book; the retro-inspired design is simply rendered yet intricately detailed. I can't stop looking at the Garden of Eden, and the way he depicts a lot of anything (houses, people) is stupendous. I read an advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher, but I've now also seen the finished publication which is even brighter and more engrossing. There is a lot of visual inspiration here for artists of any age.

In this season of books as gifts, I'm gonna recommend this one for the Sunday school kids on your list. It's different, it's absolutely gorgeous, and it's a book that will definitely give you something to talk about.