Jennifer's Book Review: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
Vladimir Tod lives with his aunt and is still struggling with the loss of his parents, even though it’s been three years since they died in a bizarre fire. He's in eighth grade, dresses like a vampire for Halloween and has a crush on fellow eighth-grader Meredith. Sounds perfectly normal, right? Except in his case he's also figuring out how to be a normal half-vampire kid, which is quite difficult because as far as he knows, he's the only one.
His last year of junior high seems to be progressing along smoothly, other than the normal flack he receives from the principal and school bullies. But when a strange new substitute appears who is throwing some not-so-subtle and vaguely threatening hints about knowing Vlad's secret, Vlad starts to get a bit nervous—and then a bit scared. To further complicate matters, Vlad discovers the existence of a new society, Elysia, from which his father appears to have been hiding, and Vlad’s vampiric powers seem to be expanding.
Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer is a very quick read and a great opening to a middle-grades vampire series. The timeline progresses quickly - beginning at Halloween and scurrying along toward the end of the school year in the blink of an eye - but the tale doesn't suffer too much for it.
I would definitely recommend this series to all readers who love supernatural reads but are tired (or uninterested) in the current crop of paranormal romance flooding the market.
Start the countdown! It’s almost time for the next teencentric teen reading festival at the Headquarters Library!
Join us on Saturday, June 1st from 7:00-10:00pm (That’s after hours!) as we Skype with authors Michael Grant and Heather Brewer, and meet author Beth Revis in person! We’ll also have a photobooth, a DJ, a caricaturist, games, snacks, prizes—and each teen who attends will receive a free autographed book. Attendance is limited to 200 teens, and the doors will close at 7:15pm, so don’t be late!
Want to know a bit more about the authors? Visit their websites!
Travis' Book Review: Crap Kingdom by D. C. Pierson
Tom Parking is an ordinary teenage guy.He goes to school, hangs out with friends, eats dinner, does his homework, and goes to bed. Rinse and repeat. For Tom, though, his regular, happy life is just a bit too perfect. Kids like Tom are never destined to be the“Chosen One” for some magical kingdom. That role is typically reserved for the kids that spend their home-life locked in a closet. At least that’s what Tom thinks until he meets Gark, a strange man sent to reveal Tom’s true destiny – but not until after Gark kidnaps him, forces him into a clothing donation box in front of K-mart, and nearly sets him on fire with a flame spell. To Gark’s credit, the donation box is actually a portal into a magical kingdom. Unfortunately for Tom, the magical kingdom is a nameless land of garbage and despair, where the locals recently discovered the wonders of clothing, live in Earth’s garbage, and have native magic that consists of making people smell farts. Tom holds hope that there may be more to this kingdom, but after learning that the king’s job is simply to keep his subjects in a constant state of pessimism, since tomorrow can’t possibly be better than today, Tom loses hope. He doesn’t think he wants to be theChosen Oneof the land he calls “Crap Kingdom.” So, the kingdom chooses his best friend, Kyle, instead. When Tom gets jealous of his friend’s positive efforts and gets banned from the kingdom, he realizes he threw away the chance of a lifetime.
Crap Kingdomis filled with laugh out loud moments, mostly because of the way Pierson puts Tom into a number of very relatable (and often awkward) situations. Pierson does a nice job incorporating a realistic adolescent male experience into a fantasy novel. As a guy, and an avid fantasy reader, it’s nice to be able to relate to a male protagonist. Tom isn’t simply tossed into some struggle in a magical kingdom; he fumbles with schoolwork, his crush, jealousy over his best friend, and the moral consequences of his choice. It’s also a genuinely fun spin on the high fantasy clichés. The problem is that the book starts off really slow. The majority of the novel is exposition, and the antagonists are only mentioned in passing until they show up in the last quarter of the novel. Like Tom, the reader doesn’t actually realize what the protagonist’s purpose actually is. Tom’s struggle is with his personal life, not with some dark lord or evil empire – at least not until the end of the book. It’s also a fresh concept to write a fantasy novel about the real-world problems, and Pierson still manages to create a very imaginative universe filled with fantastic elements. It just happens that those elements consist of mustache-wearing princesses, drinking from toilets, and working the nostril probes in the rat-snottery.
As fresh and funny as the novel is, however, it’s still not as funny as I initially hoped. Maybe, like Tom seeing the nameless kingdom for the first time, I went into the book with my hopes a bit too high, excited by the positive reviews from some of my favorite stand-up comedians on the back cover. It’s still funny, though, and the payoff is worth it in the end. The novel shows the Pierson has the capacity to write realistic experiences in a humorous manner, as well as imaginative fantasy and well-organized action sequences. Fortunately, the novel is both short and enjoyable enough to merit reading. I would recommend this book to teenage guys and fantasy fans looking for a fun spoof of the average fantasy read.
Heather's Book Review: The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
Caution: Contains one spoiler.
Anyone who has ever spoken to me at length about steampunk will know this: While I do love steampunk, I’m a bigger fan of the idea of steampunk than I am of most steampunk books. My main complaint against them is that they tend to treat the pseudo-Victorian aesthetic as a decoration, rather than an integral part of the world of the story. Occasionally, though, I happen upon a steampunk novel that takes that decoration and rocks it.
The Friday Societyby Adrienne Kress rocks hard in all the ways that steampunk should.
In the novel, Cora is assistant to a mad scientist, with all the science brains and cool tech knowledge implied; Nellie is assistant to a magician, armed with sparkly dresses, sneak tactics galore, and a parrot sidekick; and Michiko is a Japanese assistant to an English fight instructor, who knows more about katana combat than her present charlatanic master. When heads start rolling in the London streets—the first right at their feet, in fact—they take it upon themselves to solve the mystery with sassy, street-smart girl power and more than a little technological mayhem.
These are combinations that could not exist outside a steampunk novel and still make sense.
At its heart, The Friday Society reads like Kress said, “OK—I’m going to take everything that is awesome about steampunk, trash the rest, put it in a blender with some glitter and Japanese swordplay and see what happens.” Which is why there is almost no affected fake-Victorian language in this thing, and why the novel foregoes the tedious details of Victorian manners and society to toss an explosion at readers in the first sentence. There are also magical gravity-defying minerals and a super fancy gun that can be worn like armor until an electromagnetic pulse calls its pieces into weapon form.
The characters, too, are sneakily developed, looking like stereotypes on the surface—the tomboy, the girly girl, the samurai—but revealing some clever variations on their types as the novel progresses. Michiko, for example, is the stoic, silent, samurai sort one would expect—but only because she doesn’t know enough English to use the language and so stays quiet to avoid making herself look foolish. Cora and Nellie take it upon themselves to teach her the language, and ultimately, it is these three characters and their interactions that make the novel worth the read. Stylistically, it aspires to read like a steampunk cousin of sassy fantasies like The Princess Bride or Stardust, a feat largely accomplished through the girls’ banter. Though they never actually reach Princess Bride levels of wit—though, really, what other than The Princess Bride itself can do that?— its sense of humor was close enough and uncommon enough in steampunk novels that it kept me reading.
However, even though the strengths outweighed them for me, the book does have some weaknesses worth mentioning. There’s an attempted romantic storyline that falls absolutely flat—but this is a book about girls kicking butt, so that’s ok. The story also involves a secondary murder mystery that I found completely throwaway once it was solved, and once readers find out the eventual bad guy’s motivation, it is frustratingly feminist. BTW THIS IS THE SPOILER PART. WATCH OUT. This seems odd to say about a book that is unabashedly about girl power, but when the antagonist’s reason for murdering everyone (and then some) comes down to “THE MEN DIDN’T THINK MY IDEAS WERE GOOD BECAUSE I WAS A GIRL SO I’LL SHOW THEM >( ” it’s a bit anticlimactic.
Taken as a whole, though, The Friday Society ranks among the best steampunk novels I’ve encountered in the past year. It’s not flawless, but it’s still the most entertaining piece of steampunk quirk that I’ve read since Phil and Kaja Foglio’s classic Girl Genius.
Jennifer's Book Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Paper Valentineby Brenna Yovanoff is not just a ghost story.Sure, Hannah’s best friend, Lillian, died six months ago and is now spending her days haunting Hannah. Yes, there are some murdered dead girls who eventually make some creepy, bloody appearances. ButPaper Valentinemanages to rise above its ghostly premise and is so much more. It’s a book about not making snap judgments and eating disorders and speaking up for oneself. It’s a book about family and friendships. And it’s a mystery featuring a creepy serial killer who has a thing for paper hearts.
Lillian slowly wasted away because of her battle with anorexia. Hannah was very aware of the diseased girl’s condition, although both girls seemed incapable of doing anything to stop the gradual decay of Lillian’s body. Yovanoff could have handled this issue many ways. Although not as heart wrenching as Laurie Halse Anderson’sWintergirls,the author does a passable job of explaining how helpless Lillian felt, how her need to be in control over her body overwhelmed her. At the same time, Hannah’s own feelings are remarkably realistic, ranging from anger at the disease itself to Lillian for crying out for attention in such a horrible way, to Lillian’s mother for not paying enough attention and especially to herself for not speaking up.
As for Hannah, she’s a quiet girl, often unwilling to stand up for herself, not wanting to cause waves. Everything is “fine”; everything is “okay.” She works hard to put on a normal façade for her parents and friends, often going along with anything regardless of her own desires. Hannah’s younger sister, Ariel, and Finny Boone, a teenage delinquent who Hannah can’t stop thinking about, seem to be the only ones who truly notice: “If Hannah was on fire, she would still say she’s okay,” Ariel observes. With Ariel and Finny’s support, Hannah slowly crawls out of hershell, taking a stand for whatshewants. (Seriously, though, what kind of name is Finny?)
Woven through Hannah’s emotional journey is the primary conflict: One by one young teenage girls have begun to die, bludgeoned to death and then staged amidst broken and old toys, topped with a homemade valentine heart. Hannah “plays” at investigation, spurred on by the appearance of the ghosts of the dead girls.Hannah isn’t a plucky young Veronica Mars, however, staking out possible suspects and following clues in an effort to show up the police. Rather, she obsessively pores over newspaper clippings, trying to figure outwhythey died. Lillian is a huge instigator in this research, for the ghost is also fascinated by the morbid deaths. When the killer is found, it’s by random happenstance, and even then Hannah doesn’t 100 percent solve the murders until the final reveal. The killer is a surprise, but the true identity doesn’t have any real impact. This is fine,though, because he’s not important.Paper Valentineis perhaps one of the few ghost stories in which the ghosts of the murdered play second fiddle to a spirit who didn’t die under suspicious circumstances, and the mystery is not as important as Hannah and Lillian’s healing and acceptance of Lillian’s death.
Hannah is relatable without being too perfect and avoids the “one flaw” description that so many female protagonists seem to have in young adult lit nowadays. (You know the type – like Bella Swan…she’s smart, nice, pretty, but she’s so gosh darn clumsy! FLAW!) Ariel is the cutest sister ever, and Finny is a sweet love interest who also avoids the “mysterious guy with the perfect looks” cliché.
Paper Valentineisn’t a tearjerker (and easily could have been, considering the subject matter), but it is thought-provoking, well-written and engaging, and I have already checked out Yovanoff’s other novels in the hopes that they are at least as good asPaper Valentine.