Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan

Pat and Dom are 16 year old twins in Ireland in 1974. When their senile grandmother burns down the family home they are forced to relocate to the seaside holiday cottage they used to rent for a week every summer. But the house is not the same as they remember, it's rundown, creepy and the boys and their young sister suffer from horrific nightmares. Then one night their nightmares become hideously real and one of the twins is lost in the grey. His brother must unravel family history and supernatural mysteries to bring his brother back.

Into the Grey is a literary ghost story which is extremely creepy without being sensationalist. The characters are well rounded and believable. I particularly loved that the elderly grandmother's dementia is an important plot device.

This is not an easy book, it's really scary and the historical context may require some additional research. But it is absolutely worth it.

Published by Candlewick August 26, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

Gabriel is an orphan who lives in a strange house in modern day New York with his seemingly mad aunt. He discovers he has a magical connection with a raven fledgeling which leads him into an adventure where he uncovers secrets about his family, about a long raging battle between ravens and valravens and about the hidden city of Aviopolis. Along the way he makes friends with some other unusual children, many unusual birds and solves the riddles that the ravens love so much. 

The author's love of words and language is clearly apparent from the very first paragraph. Every pun and riddle is a cherry on top of the delicious descriptive prose that make this thrilling magical adventure book such a treat.

Bonus points for having a really good cover!

For ages 10-12

Published by Random House August 26, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Conversion by Katherine Howe

A top private high school struggles to keep mysterious and horrible physical symptoms from manifesting in the female students. While outlandish explanations, media frenzy and rumor create a fever pitch in the community, one girl's extra credit assignment about the Salem witch trials is suddenly very meaningful. Not really a book about witchcraft. But definitely a book about the pressures of high school and it's more real than you might imagine.

Published by Putnam July 1, 2014

Review first published in Meet YA@DIESEL newsletter August 2014.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

Electricity can be dangerous stuff, particularly if you live in an alternative universe where the use of electricity allows monsters called Mangleborn to rise from their underground prisons. The original League of Seven were great legendary heroes who trapped the monsters, but when Archie Dent's parents become mind controlled by newly escaped Mangleborn, he has to be a hero to protect himself, his new friends and save his parents.

The League of Seven is set in a great steampunk world, with wonderful clockwork robots and airships. But what really makes this adventure stand out are the set pieces, like the mob attack on the girls school (which ends spectacularly badly for the mob). There's a real sense of victory every time Archie and his friends overcome another obstacle. But are they the new League of Seven? How can they be if there's only three of them?

Special extra points go to this book for a cameo from Nikola Tesla. Who is always entertaining.

For ages 10-12

Published by Starscape August 19, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Young World by Chris Weitz

A mysterious sickness has wiped out anyone not in the midst of puberty and it continues to kill people as they reach the age of 18. A tribe of teens living in Washington Square think they may have found a clue to the cause of the sickness and five key members set out from the safety of the square to investigate.

Of course, this is just to set the scene for a roadtrip through post-apocalyptic New York. It's all here, the tech cult who live in the library, the hippy kids ominous neverending drum circle, a gang of misogynistic jocks who seem to run the town and the smart black kids who actually do. It's like all the cliques of high school went truly tribal.

This is not a new plot, there are references to Lord of the Flies throughout and there are many parts that remind me of Gone by Michael Grant. But what I love about The Young World is that it is so simple. Weitz has limited himself to the least possible number of survivors (there are no adults, but also no little kids), each tribe has a really simple set of rules and the journey of discovery allows us to see all of them. It's pure and simple. 

Of course if you're looking for some deep truths or a satisfying end, you're looking in the wrong place. This is fast, violent, a little disturbing and strangely fun. 

Published by Little Brown Books July 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

Arty comes from a family of space nuts his Dad is an astronomer, his full name is Arcturus, even his younger sister used to love Space Camp, before she became obsessed with Cheer squad. His own personal obsession is finding life on Mars. He has a signaling system that uses a powerful torch and mirrors and he sends signals to Mars every night from the roof above his room. So far Arty hasn't received any messages from Mars. Although he and his friends think maybe their new neighbor is a zombie.

Everything is thrown into chaos when Arty's family has to suddenly move to Las Vegas and Arty meets that scary neighbor face to face.

There are many things to love about this surprisingly realistic book. The characters are great, funny, truthful and sometimes ugly, but always very real. The book is peppered with scientific facts, but because the characters are so rich and their voices so distinct it never feels like encyclopedia definitions have been shoehorned into the text. The plot is tender and funny and also sad.

But my favorite thing about Life on Mars is that there are no traditional happy endings, although we close the book with a sense of hope.

For age 8-12

Published by Bloomsbury August 5, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham

Mouse has made a birthday cake for Little Bird, he just needs to deliver it. Unfortunately there are a lot of animals on his way who want to trade something for a piece of cake. The cake runs out before Mouse can get to Little Bird, but that's ok, because Little Bird is clever and he has some trade ideas of his own.

A Piece of Cake is an original idea with a surprisingly unpredictable plot. We expect that Squirrel will want to trade nuts, Bear will trade honey, Chicken will trade an egg and Cow will trade milk. But we have to wait to be proved right. The characters are hilarious and vibrant, Mouse's kindness gets him into a difficult situation, Little Bird's intelligence get's them out of it. And the expressions used by the other animals, including "Yummers" and "Gadzooks" keep us laughing while we're thinking.

But of course, it's the illustration which makes this book so amazing. LeUyen Pham is expert at making charming and dynamic artwork that tells many stories within the story. For this book she recreates the 1960s Little Golden Book style of illustration that subconsciously alerts us that we are about to learn an improving lesson. A lesson which does not come in exactly the way we expect it to.

I love this book, it is one of my favorite picture books of 2014.

Published by Balzer + Bray May 27, 2014