Groot #1

download (1)Groot and Rocket are hitchhiking across the galaxy for a visit to Earth. Rocket is only there for support, of course, and witty repartee with our limited-vocabulary hero. Groot wants to visit Earth because he’s never been, well, as a tourist. But along the way their ride breaks down, there are (endangered) space sharks, alien invaders, terrorists, and bounty hunters. But as Groot says, it’s not the destination so much as the journey, right?

This is quite the fun comic with hopeful (near hippy) Groot and bitter, short-fused Rocket trapped in space. A lot of other Marvel comics focus on Earth, here writers get to play in space, literally since these characters are a sci-fi Abbot and Costello. There’s plenty of amusement and imagination fuel for younger kids and older. Recommended, 10 and up.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is set in the 80s, a time of big hair, awesome music, and the Satanic Panic. Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang have been best friends since they were thrown together at Abby’s tenth birthday party. Now in high school, they are experiencing the awkwardness and discomfort of growing into teenagers, and their friendship is changing.

After a night of dropping acid with a few other friends goes bad, Gretchen goes missing for the entire night. When she reappears the next day, acting strangely, Abby seems to be the only one to notice.  As bizarre things start to happen to people, Abby, making her observations in the context of the 1980s fears of demonic possession that could happen to anyone, comes to the conclusion that her best friend must be demonically possessed; that something happened in the woods the night they took LSD. What other option could there be for Gretchen turning on her best friend? Unsurprisingly, no one believes her, except a bodybuilding evangelist who turns out to be fighting his own demons.

The story is narrated by Abby in first person, so we only see her point of view. As a teenager dealing with significant life events, changing hormones, emotional, physical, and psychological challenges, and a brain potentially altered by her experience with LSD, she is not necessarily a reliable narrator. In fact, several adults accuse Abby of being a bad influence on Gretchen, whose behavior changed after the girls’ shared drug experience. Abby’s own behavior is erratic, as well: she plans and executes a midnight break-in at Gretchen’s house.  While My Best Friend’s Exorcismcould be read as a straightforward tale of demonic possession, it also can be read as an examination of a psychological breakdown. Hendrix has a talent for description: the description of Gretchen’s kitchen during Abby’s break-in as smelling of mold and old food, with temperature so cold she can see her breath, is so specific that it is easy to believe that Abby is giving us an accurate picture of events.

Overall, I think My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a great read. For anyone who grew up in the 80s, especially around the time of the infamous Satanic Panic, this book will bring back memories. One of the best things about this book is the chapter titles: if you guessed that they are titles of popular 80s songs, you would be correct. Admittedly, some of this may go over the heads of younger readers if they aren’t familiar with 80s culture, but for those of us who grew up in that time period, you will love it. Recommended.

Contains: drug use, blood

Reviewed by Lizzy Walker

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Hexed: The Harlot and the Thief volume 2 by Michael Alan Nelson

downloadLucifer is settling into the changes in her career (she steals magical items for humanity’s safety), like the fact that she accidentally turned her adoptive mother’s intern into a necromancer and now has to teach her about the underworlds. As the trio try to begin to recover from the devastating fire that burned through Val’s galley (and let a bunch of artifacts loose on the city) Lucifer also gets an offer of employment from Madame Cymbaline, the mysterious pseudo-god who burned the gallery in the first place.

And payment is removing the Harlot’s hex from Lucifer, and killing the Harlot herself. Lucifer isn’t stupid though, and knows that all deals with devils, even the ones that seem to want to help you, come at a great cost.

But then tragedy strikes and intern Raina is left alone to try to save Lucifer…if she can be saved.

I love love love this series. The sassiness, the art, the imagination. I love all the characters, bad and good. It’s a very female-centric story without being overtly anti male. It’s a less traumatized, fresher Constantine.

For comic fans looking for something outside the realm of super heroes and mega team ups I definitely recommend peeking in at the Hexed books.

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The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

High school junior Wylie has always had anxiety issues, but since her mother’s death four months earlier she is unable to even leave the house. Her father, a researcher in emotional intelligence, unsure of how to handle her problems, buries himself even further in his work. Cassie, her best friend for six years, has exhibited increasingly destructive behaviors, and due to an argument the previous month, they are no longer speaking to each other. Wylie is sinking further and further into isolation.

When Cassie goes missing, she breaks that isolation by texting Wylie with cryptic directions and demanding that Wylie team up with Cassie’s boyfriend, Jasper. Although Wylie dislikes and distrusts Jasper, and her friendship with Cassie has been seriously damaged,  Wylie overcomes her anxiety, agoraphobia, and suspicion of Jasper in order to track Cassie down. From then on, their journey only gets stranger and stranger; over and over, it turns out that things are not exactly what they seem. The story races along so fast, and with so many twists, that readers will find it hard to keep up, and impossible to put down. In many ways, I was reminded of Gone Girl, although the context and storyline are very different.

I found the major characters to be implausible, however. Wylie is the first person narrator, and she describes herself  believably as having an anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. Her attempts to cope with the combination of grief, anxiety, agoraphobia, and anger are the most solid, realistic, and overwhelming parts of the book. Her portrait is so well drawn that I couldn’t buy her ability to break through her anxiety and agoraphobia and put herself in an uncertain situation with an unfamiliar person she doesn’t know or trust in a short time. Central to the author’s concept for the book is that anxiety and emotional intelligence are closely tied together, but research on the topic shows that the exact opposite is true, and the actual story doesn’t really bear that out. While there are times when Wylie successfully reads someone’s emotions, there are many times when she doesn’t (in fact, many of the plot points depend on her misinterpretations). Jasper is practically a stereotype, he’s so predictable and two-dimensional. From the very beginning, Cassie does not seem like much of a friend– she’s an admitted liar, manipulative, and frequently expects Wylie to step in and “save ” her in difficult situations– and in this case, she also puts the two people who care most about her, Jasper and Wylie, in considerable danger. Wylie is not exactly a reliable narrator, and the events are so unlikely that I almost wonder if all of this is in her head.

Despite the implausibility of the characters and their motivations, and the questionable premise that anxiety is a result of emotional intelligence, if you decide to suspend your disbelief, you are in for a wild ride, and, given the adrenaline-inducing ending, should get prepared for another one.

Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.

Contains: suicide

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Gotham Academy volume 2: Calamity by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher

25241707There is a lot going on at Gotham Academy. We already know that it is linked by tunnels to the ruins of Arkham Asylum. We know Killer Croc was haunting its tunnels. We know Headmaster Hammer knows something. And we know Olive Silverlock is on Batman’s watch list, so carefully watched, in fact, that in the last issue he enrolled his son, Damien, to investigate her and other goings ons.

Gotham Academy might as well be a Hellmouth for all the big bads, ghost, mutants, and were-things wandering it halls. It’s not just the evil mastermind plots of villains, though. There are smaller furies and betrayals, like the matter of a sabotaged (or maybe cursed) school play.

Some things are more world-shaking, like Olive’s dealing with the death of her mother and the strange spectre who keeps haunting her. But Olive’s friends are determined to help, come spooky asylum, or kidnapping, or mysterious fires breaking out around Olive.

While there are moments that feel set up just for cameos, I really did enjoy Damien and Maps teaming up. Maps drives this narrative with stubborn geeky enthusiasm and happiness. While Olive is understandably morose and anxious without Maps as a counterbalance this series would fall flat.

The art is still fabulous and poignant. I’m looking forward to following this story and seeing where Olive and Maps (and Katherine. Can we please get more inclusion of Katherine? Her story has so much potential!) go.

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If You Like Divergent & Hunger Games…

Even though the media-generated excitement over teen dystopias like the ones in The Hunger Games and (to a lesser degree) Divergent, has died down a bit, anyone living through the past year can see that dystopian fiction is still terrifyingly relevant. Some days it really doesn’t feel like we’re all that far from living through The Handmaid’s Tale, and George R.R. Martin’s early story “And Death His Legacy” is so prescient that it made me shiver.

A lot of dystopian novels have a depressing world view: the main character’s attempt to change things is thwarted, and, even if that character survives intact, the world they live in doesn’t really alter (Winston, in 1984, is one of the most broken characters ever).

What is different about most YA dystopias is that there’s an individual there who starts to question the status quo, and acts to change it– not without some horrifying struggles, but usually, they’re successful at either overturning the system or escaping to establish one they hope will be better. In the recently released book on children’s and YA horror, Reading in the Dark, there is an essay suggesting that YA dystopian novels aren’t necessarily about individual self-discovery: they are more about teens figuring out their responsibilities to society. I think it’s both. Seeing that there is a possibility to change things, and that it could be one person, a teen not all that different from them, who instigates that change, makes YA dystopian fiction a literature of hope. It makes me optimistic for the future.

That being said, here are some excellent YA dystopias that start with a (usually) pretty ordinary kid chosen to perpetuate the system, who ends up creating a better world.

 

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

You can’t go wrong with this Newbery Award winner that tells the story of Jonas, living in a future utopian society, who is chosen, in a ceremony with his peers where they are all assigned jobs for their adult lives, to be the Receiver of Memories, the one person allowed to know the memories of the past in human history. It’s not as action-oriented as Divergent, but packs a much more powerful and memorable emotional punch. The Giver is part of a four-book series, but the first is the best and definitely stands alone. There is a movie based on the book that was released a few years ago. Be aware that euthanasia and eugenics are important to the plot, and part of why the book is so heartbreaking.

 

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

This is the first book in the Razorland trilogy, and it’s quite a bit more graphic than the first two books, probably on par with Divergent. In yet another post-apocalyptic underground world (one decidedly more primitive than Ember) Deuce goes through her naming ceremony and becomes a Hunter in her enclave, a sort of tribal society. As a Hunter, Deuce is supposed to find and catch food and rid the tunnels around her enclave of Freaks, ravening -like creatures. Although she’s a believer in the way things work in her enclave, her exposure to a wider world and a partner who’s not so convinced lead her to question the actions of her leaders.

 

 

 

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The city of Ember is an underground city built as a last refuge in a world about to be annihilated by nuclear weapons. Two hundred years later, everything, from food to electricity, is running out. After the ceremony where Lina and Doon, along with their peers, are assigned their future careers, the two of them trade places, and discover a puzzling mystery they must solve to save the residents of Ember from darkness. This has more action than The Giver, and more of a mystery at its center, and is a compelling read even for those of us well over the target age range. The City of Ember is also part of a series, and all of them are great reads. It has been made into a movie already, with Bill Murray as the corrupt mayor. and I really enjoyed it.

 

 

 

Across The Universe by Beth Revis

A science fiction thiller told from the point of view of two teenagers– Amy, the only person not specifically chosen for a role in settlement of a new planet, and Elder, whose future leadership of the spaceship Godspeed was chosen early in his life. There’s mystery, cloning, genetic and hormonal manipulation, general lying and betrayal, and a surprising amount of action given that this all takes place in a closed environment. There’s suicide, near-rape, and euthanasia in this book, among other things, although I think Revis handles it all pretty well. The target audience for Divergent should enjoy this.
Legend by Marie Lu

June is the elite of the elite, being groomed for a position high up in the military in a dystopian society that’s more or less under military rule. Day is a rebel trying to undermine it. What could possibly go wrong when their lives intersect?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Here’s one that’s interesting because almost everyone is chosen, eventually. It’s not wanting to be chosen that makes Tally stick out. Or, to make it more complicated, it’s wanting to be chosen but having to pretend she doesn’t want to be chosen and standing out as special when she wants to blend in. And then changing her mind. And changing it again. While it could stand alone, I think, it’s a good thing it’s part of a series because I have no clue where it’s going to end up. Westerfeld pretty much turns the tropes on their heads.

 

 

 

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared with a different introduction at Musings of the Monster Librarian on March 3, 2015.

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Review: The Dare by Brett Williams

Walking to school the day before Halloween, Davey and Dennis spot a cat hanging in front of the old, abandoned Bentley place.  Dennis tells Davey the story of how the Victorian house is said to be haunted after old man Bentley killed his family several years ago and that their ghosts still live within.  Davey is hesitant to believe his friend’s story, but later that day when they return to see if the cat is still hanging where they last saw it, Dennis still insists that it is true.  About that time, Davey’s crush from school, Lacy, shows up and asks what they are up to.  Dennis accuses Davey of being chicken and not wanting to go check out the house with him.  Being teenage boys, this starts a back and forth argument and ends up in a DARE!  Not wanting to look bad in front of Lacy, Davey agrees to the dare, but not in daylight where they could get caught going into the house.  They all agree that the next night, on Halloween, when they are out trick-or-treating, that Davey and Dennis will go into the old Bentley place, but what will they find inside?

Brett Williams’ The Dare is a very fun Halloween read!  The first part of the book is basically setting up the scene of who is who and getting the “dare” initiated.  It also sets the stage for the “haunted house” that Davey and Dennis are to investigate.  The second part of the book is where the kids are going around trick or treating, which is a lot of fun as you get to witness the antics of kids of all ages and also foreshadows to dangers ahead as Lacy and her friend run into a couple of creepy characters that are in search of the Bentley place.  And the last part of the book takes place when they finally reach the Bentley place and Davey and Dennis venture inside.  Williams does an excellent job with the flow of the story and building up to the final scenes of the book.  This book seems to be aimed towards a young adult audience, but I think that fans of horror at any age would enjoy this great novel.  Highly Recommended!

Contains:  Violence

Review by Rhonda Wilson

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Review: Sleepless by Thomas Fahy

After a trip to New Orleans, the students of Saint Opportuna High begin to have nightmares: horrible nightmares about killing people. The only problem is that they aren’t just nightmares. After several nights, the students wake up to realize that they actually have killed people. Emma Montgomery and her friends, who have all had these nightmares, decide that they have to stick together and stay awake long enough to figure out what is happening. They need to know who – or what – is causing this, and how they can stop it before any of them kills…or ends up dead.

Fahy has written an excellent tale that will make it difficult for readers to feel safe dreaming afterward. It is well written, the characters are believable, and the reader will be drawn into the story by the frightening atmosphere that the immediacy of the action creates. The incorporation of flashback sequences is excellent, giving snippets of background information precisely when it is needed. The dream sequences are also well done, giving the story a whole other dimension of horror. The only drawback is that those who have read a lot of horror novels or murder mysteries may find the story slightly predictable. Overall, it is a satisfying read and will appeal to a fairly wide audience, including both YA girls and some YA guys. Recommended for public library YA horror collections.
Contains drug use, violence and murder

Review by Stacey L. Wilson, Master of Library and Information Science candidate at The University of Western Ontario.

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Review: Devoured by Amanda Marrone

Megan just wants to make sure that her new boyfriend, Ryan, stays out of the clutches of his smitten best friend, Samantha. That’s why she’s working for the summer at the Land of Enchantment, an amusement park filled with fairy tale princesses. But when the ghost of her twin sister, Remy, begins to show up more and more, forcing gruesome visions on Megan, she is not sure how long she will last. Luckily, her co-worker, Luke, can also see the ghost and might be able to help Megan figure out what Remy is trying to tell her and help her to move on. However, Megan’s new friend Ari has a thing for Luke and Luke has a thing for Megan, which makes for a very tricky situation. Megan has to help her sister and keep everyone’s jealousy at bay before something bad happens…but can she?

Marrone delivers a finely woven tale – a fairy tale and modern horror story – all in one frightening package. The story has many layers that interact very smoothly and create an atmosphere that is at times chilling and at others sad or uplifting. Written in the present tense with a skilled hand, the story is also given a thrilling sense of immediacy. The dynamics between friends and the family relationships, which are key to the story, are very believable as well, even given Marrone’s inclusion of elements of the fantastic. Devoured will appeal primarily to YA girls and is a novel that some will definitely want to read more than once. Recommended for public library YA horror collections.
Contains violence and murder.

Review by Stacey L. Wilson, Master of Library and Information Science candidate at The University of Western Ontario.

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Review: Monster’s Proof by Richard Lewis

Ten year old Darby Ell is brilliant at mathematics, but not so good at being liked. Intrigued by the “thingamabob conjecture” his aunt Ludy discovered just before she went bananas, he becomes obsessed with proving it. As he works on it, the mathematical construct, which calls itself Bob, starts to communicate and interact with him, and even takes on substance. At first, Bob seems friendly to Darby, but Bob’s need for truth, order and beauty takes on a sinister tone as it begins to alter an imperfect reality. Darby’s older sister Livey is having math worries of her own- she’s flunking algebra, and about to get kicked off the cheerleading squad. Luckily, Darby and Livey have guardian angels, of a sort. Aether is Darby’s companion as he travels through Hilbert space and hyperdimensions looking for a way to control Bob, and Johnny guides and protects Livey as she searches for her lost brother.

Nothing is quite as it seems in Monster’s Proof. There’s more to Darby than math, and there’s more depth to Livey’s character than one might expect from a cheerleader. The book often says that math is truth, but while Bob might be truthful, he isn’t trustworthy- he is selfish and manipulative. Other characters may be flawed, or have “messy” relationships, but there’s the possibility of redemption in the love that they share. Echoes of Madeleine L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in Time resonate through Monster’s Proof, in particular a moment near the end where Darby’s mother has to identify the “real” Darby, but it’s clear that Lewis’ intent is much different, and his tone is much darker. Lewis also uses humor throughout the book, not just as a device, but as a way to move the story forward. He had me cheering for mathematically challenged Livey at the end! Since Livey and Darby are both point-of-view characters, Monster’s Proof may appeal to both genders. It’s worth a sell to teenage girls, who might pass it over because of the cover or title. Not only does Livey defeat a mathematical demon(something I wish I’d been able to do in algebra), but her romance with Johnny is reminiscent of Bella and Edward’s. Boys will enjoy a fast-paced read that involves NSA plots, tearing around hyperdimensions with a fractal sword, a conspiracy to take over the world, and an underdog coming out on top. With this book, libraries have a chance to make room on the shelf for something a little different from the endless parade of YA vampire novels. Recommended especially for middle and high school library media centers.

 

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski

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