Archive for Fantasy

Booktalk: Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby cover

Jackaby by William Ritter is an awesome mix of historical fiction, suspense, and magic.  And since we’re in Women’s History Month, I should also mention that it features an awesome kick-ass heroine!

BOOKTALK:

Abigail Rook is new to the United States, and she’s new to detective work.  But she needs a job to keep a roof over her head, and that’s why she answered the ad to be an assistant for investigative services.  She didn’t realize until she went to inquire about the job that “investigative services” wasn’t a company but instead it was one man, R.F. Jackaby.  And she didn’t realize until she arrived at her first crime scene that there was a reason Jackaby had used the line “strong stomach preferred” in the ad.  The sight and the stench of a dead body, especially the body of someone who was killed so violently, would make most women faint.  But Abigail Rook isn’t most women.

Abigail has no idea that the kinds of crimes she’ll help to solve will be caused by both men and monsters.  She has no idea that Jackaby has the unique ability to see creatures that no one else can see.  She has no idea that working with Jackaby means that her life will be in more danger than ever before.  And she also has no idea about what happened to Jackaby’s LAST assistant.

Booktalk: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Darkest Part of the Forest cover

I’ve been a fan of fantasy books since I was a kid.  While I admit a certain fondness for high fantasy stories featuring princesses, castles, and unicorns, I have a special place in my heart for the stories where fantasy and reality blur.  Because (of course) those kinds of stories were more likely to really happen to me!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is an awesome fantasy story set in modern day featuring some characters that feel like they just stepped out of a fairy tale and others who feel like your childhood friends or the kid you used to be.  And because I always like books that cross genres because then I can use different hooks to appeal to different readers, I should also mention that this story blends fantasy with adventure and suspense AND it also features numerous romantic angles!

BOOKTALK:

The town of Fairfold seems like a modern place that fits into the 21st century.  But the town has very old roots, and those roots are filled with magic.  Most of the magic is invisible, but there’s one magical thing in the town that you CAN see.

That magical thing is a boy — a very unusual boy.  And tourists will come from miles around just to see him.  This boy has horns on his head and pointed ears, but other than that he looks human.  The boy is lying in a glass coffin in the woods.  It’s a very special coffin, because it can’t be opened and it can’t be broken.  The boy appears to be asleep … at least, no one’s ever seen him open his eyes.  And there’s one more unusual thing about the magical boy.  Even though he’s been there for as long as anyone can remember, he never gets any older.

Hazel and her brother Ben grew up in the town of Fairfold, so they both spent a lot of time hanging out in the woods and visiting the magical boy.  Like generations of kids before them, they’ve spent time talking to him and wishing he would wake up.  Hazel and Ben have seen pictures of the magical boy from years ago.  And in every picture he looked EXACTLY the same.

Hazel and Ben don’t know it yet, but the town of Fairfold is about to go through some major changes.  And one of those changes is that the magical boy is going to wake up.

Booktalk: Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson

Placebo Junkies cover

Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson is … mind expanding?  Yes.  Mind-altering?  Yes.  It’s also one of my favorite YA books of the year.  It’s hard to describe without giving too much away, but the best I can tell you for now is that it seems like realistic fiction but then again it might not be, depending on whose point of view and whose reality you’re talking about.  Seriously, though, this is a book you’ll want to read and then read again to see what you might have missed the first time around.

BOOKTALK:

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

That’s what it says on the labels of the pills that Audie takes.  You see, Audie is part of a group of people who volunteer again and again for pharmaceutical trials and medical procedures.  They don’t have “real” jobs, but instead they go from place to place signing up for different pills and procedures so that they can make enough money to get by.  Sometimes they get the real medicine, and sometimes they get placebos.  They never know if the medicine they’re taking is real or fake.  Sometimes they have no idea until they start throwing up, or rashes appear on their bodies, or their hair starts falling out.  It’s not the safest way to make money, but being a human guinea pig is easier than working … at least it usually is.

Now, the problem with going through all these procedures and taking all these pills is that sometimes things start happening to your body and your mind … and you don’t know why.  If you start having blackouts and losing your memory, is it because of the pills you took on Monday, or that injection you got on Tuesday?  Or are you having blackouts for another reason that has nothing to do with medical tests?

Audie and her friend Charlotte each have their own reasons for wanting to earn extra money.  Charlotte wants extra money so she can afford to move away and start over in a new place.  And Audie wants extra money so that she can plan a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday.  But to earn that money, they’re going to have to sign up for even more medical tests than before.  And with every new test, they put themselves at an even greater risk.

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

Booktalk: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This cover

More than This by Patrick Ness is a profound book that is difficult to categorize, in part because the reader doesn’t fully understand this world until it unfolds.  And even by the end of the story … well, let’s just say this book raises more questions than it answers.  It’s a richly rewarding story, and one that will have a strong impact on teens, especially on curious teens who enjoy taking their minds in new directions.

BOOKTALK:

Seth was dead, and then he was alive again.  The last thing he remembered was swimming in the ocean.  He remembered the pull of the undertow and how he was fighting against the waves, and that no matter how hard he tried to swim away from the rocks, he couldn’t.  He remembered the waves dashing him against the rocks.  He remembered the sound of his shoulder blade snapping in two, so loud that he could even hear it underwater.  He remembered drowning  … and then he remembered waking up here.  Wherever “here” is.

Seth doesn’t know if he’s dead, or alive, or dreaming.  He doesn’t know if he’s in heaven, or hell, or somewhere in between.  All he knows is is that he woke up in front of a house that looks vaguely familiar.  He doesn’t know exactly where he is, but when he steps inside the house it feels like he’s been here before, a very long time ago.  He also knows that wherever he is, he’s completely alone.  He listens carefully, but he can’t hear the sound of any people, or animals, or birds, or even insects.  This world is completely silent.

Seth doesn’t know what kind of place this is, or why it feels familiar, or what happened to everybody else.  He doesn’t have the answers to any of these questions … YET.

Booktalk: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Riverman cover

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a unique story for younger teens or older kids that balances on the border of fantasy and reality, the real world and an imagined one.  That’s just one of the reasons that this book reminded me of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson — there’s the real/imagined world, but also the profound and powerful friendship between a boy and a girl.

The Riverman will keep readers guessing and hoping until the end of the story to find out what happened.  Some but not all of their questions will be answered, but since this is part of a trilogy, it’s setting up for a much larger tale.  The next book in the series, The Whisper, will be coming out in March!

BOOKTALK:

Fiona and Alistair are very unlikely friends.  Sure, they’ve grown up in the same neighborhood and their families used to hang out together when they were kids.  But now they’re different.  They’ve each grown up in different directions and they have different friends.  And then one day Fiona shows up at Alistair’s house and tells him that she wants him to write her biography.  Alistair thinks it’s a little weird, but still, he’s flattered to be asked.  It means she thinks he’s a good writer and he’s creative.

Fiona starts telling Alistair her life story, and that’s when things go from a little weird to VERY weird.  Fiona tells Alistair that she doesn’t spend all of her time in the real world.  That sometimes she visits a magical place called Aquavania, where all she has to do is wish for something and it comes true.  She can wish for the ability to fly, or for the sky to change colors, or for a magical talking animal to be her friend.  And whenever she visits Aquavania, even if she’s spent days or weeks there, when she comes back home it’s like no time passed at all.  But as wonderful as Aquavania is, it’s also dangerous.  Because there’s a creature there called the Riverman that steals the souls of children.  And when he steals their souls in Aquavania, they vanish in real life.

Little by little, Fiona tells her story to Alistair.  And little by little, Alistair comes to the conclusion that obviously she’s crazy … or she’s lying.  But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that something really IS wrong, and that Fiona might be in danger.  Whether it’s happening in the real world or in some imaginary place, SOMETHING is threatening Fiona.  And it will be up to Alistair to try to save her.

Booktalk: The Devil’s Intern by Donna Hosie

The Devils Intern cover

When I first picked up The Devil’s Intern by Donna Hosie, I expected … well, I think I was expecting a story about Hell, and it definitely is that.  The setting of this story is very well thought-out; Hosie put a lot of detail in the logistics of Hell.  For example, the underworld’s business district is in a cave, with departments arranged higher or lower by level of importance.  The devil is at the top, and reality TV stars clean out the ground-floor toilets!

But what I didn’t expect was that the mood of this story would alternate between feeling snarky, sarcastic, strange and sad, and that I’d actually grow to care about these characters.  The mood of the book shifts from the beginning (funny and sarcastic) to the end (affecting and emotional) as Mitchell and his friends escape Hell and revisit the scenes of their own deaths.  This is a one-of-a-kind story about the road trip to end all road trips.

BOOKTALK:

Mitchell is a teenage boy who is going to be a teenage boy forever.  That’s because he’s dead, and he’s been living in hell for the last four years.  Hell is a crazy place that’s getting more and more crowded, and Mitchell’s not looking forward to living here for the rest of … well, for the rest of FOREVER.  The only thing that makes his afterlife bearable is the fact that he has friends here.  They keep him company, they make him laugh, and they make him feel like maybe he’s not going to lose his mind after all.

And then one day Mitchell’s boss shows him a secret invention, a time machine that can be used to solve Hell’s overcrowding problem.  But Mitchell has a better idea — he wants to steal the time machine and go back to the moment of his death.  That way he can save his own life and stop himself from ever winding up in Hell.  But he never imagines that his friends will insist on coming along for the ride, and that each of them will want to revisit their own deaths, too.  They are definitely in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Booktalk: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

Nethergrim cover

When I first picked up The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that it was a fantasy book, the cover looked ominous, and the tagline “when magic sleeps, evil awakens” sounded promising.

What I found was that this was an exciting story with three different teenage protagonists who were all empathetic and interesting for different reasons, and there were lots and lots of MONSTERS.  There were the typical physically scary monsters of the supernatural strength / pointy teeth variety but then there were also many aspects of the story that were psychologically scary, as well.  And of course, the closer our protagonists get to the Nethergrim’s lair, the scarier it gets!

This would be a great book to give to fans of the stories it echoes — The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Narnia series. But it would also be a great book to give to teens who don’t think they like fantasy but are willing to be swept up into an exciting and suspenseful story.  This is the first book of a planned series, so get in now on the ground floor!

BOOKTALK:

Edmund, Katherine, and Tom are all fourteen years old, they all live in the small village of Moorvale, and they’re all teased for being different from the typical kids their age.  Each of them has dreams of having different lives, but little hope of ever achieving those dreams.

But then some strange things start happening in their village.  First, animals start disappearing.  Soon after that, children start disappearing.  The last time something like this happened was years and years ago, when an ancient and evil creature called the Nethergrim was still around.  It was killed by a knight and a wizard who joined forces and raised an army of men to defeat it.  Everyone has heard the songs and the stories, so it MUST be true.

Except … maybe the songs and the stories were wrong.  Maybe the Nethergrim isn’t dead after all.  Maybe it was only sleeping all this time, and now it’s waking up.

Edmund has a very personal reason for wanting to find and destroy the Nethergrim.  His younger brother is one of the children who disappeared.  Edmund is very interested in magic and has read lots of magic books, which is why he has a theory that those missing children aren’t dead after all.  Or at least they’re not dead … YET.  There might still be time to save them, IF Edmund and his friends can find the Nethergrim’s lair before it’s too late.

Booktalk: Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

Seraph of the End cover

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami is one of the best mangas I’ve read in a long time.  It has a great combination of external and internal conflicts.  We spend a lot of time inside a 12-year-old boy’s head, learning why it’s so hard for him to trust other people and why he reacts so badly to the idea of a family.  But we also get lots of action in the form of vampires, and there are plenty of exciting scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats!

BOOKTALK:

In the future, a mysterious virus kills most of the Earth’s population.  It kills the adults but leaves the children alive. With all of the adults gone, human society starts falling apart.

And that’s when the vampires take over.

The vampires capture the human children and bring them underground.  They let the children live, but only to be used as a permanent blood supply.  Yuichiro is a 12-year-old boy who hates vampires.  He dreams of having enough power to fight and defeat them, which is almost impossible because vampires are so much stronger than humans.  But before Yuichiro can defeat the vampires first he must escape the underground city and find his way back to the human world.  He doesn’t know it yet, but the human world is a lot different than he remembered, and a lot different than he expected.

Booktalk: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods cover

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is kind of difficult to categorize.  It’s definitely a collection of short stories that are all dark and haunting in different ways.  The stories feel like fairy tales and are sometimes loosely connected to fairy tales, but they also stand alone on their own.  And the collection could be categorized as a cross between a graphic novel and a picture book for older readers.  But no matter how you categorize it, this is a great book to share with readers who are ready to try some deeply chilling stories!

BOOKTALK:

There was a girl, and there was a man.  The girl’s father told her that she had to marry that man, and so she did.  And then she traveled by horse and carriage to the man’s enormous home, where there were servants, and silk dresses, and beautiful jewelry, and more food than she could eat.

During the day the house seems perfectly fine, but every night, she hears the sound of someone singing.  Sometimes it’s coming from the walls, sometimes from the floor, or the stairs, or the ceiling.  But each night the song is the same. Each night the voice sings that she married her love in the springtime, but by summer he’d locked her away.  Each night the voice sings about what her husband did to her, and each night the girl lies awake in bed, listening to the song, filled with terror and dread.  But even though she’s afraid, the girl is determined to find out what happened to this woman and to understand why her voice is haunting this house.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” is just one of the dark and chilling stories in
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Booktalk: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl cover

I’d never read Zita the Spacegirl before this week, but I’ve been hearing good things about it for a while.  I was trying to familiarize myself with the books on our summer reading lists, and Zita was an easy choice for me!  It’s a graphic novel, it’s a quick read, and it reminds me both of The Wizard of Oz and Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novel series.  Check out Ben Hatke’s website for more information about Zita the Spacegirl as well as his other books.

BOOKTALK:

Joseph told her not to push the red button.  The button was part of a device that they found inside a meteor which had fallen from outer space and landed in a field.  Joseph told her not to push the red button, but Zita was feeling curious, and she didn’t think it would do any harm.  So she pushed that red button, and after a moment a bright light suddenly appeared before them.  But this wasn’t exactly a light — it was really more of a doorway.  And through that doorway came something that Zita and Joseph had never seen before.  They couldn’t even see the whole creature.  All they could see were its long dark tentacles … just before those tentacles grabbed Joseph and pulled him through to the other side.

Joseph has been pulled into another world, a place filled with creatures more strange and astounding than he or Zita could ever have imagined.  When Zita follows Joseph into that world, she will meet many of these creatures, and she’ll have to try to figure out which ones she can trust.  She’ll have to figure out who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s somewhere in between.  She’ll also have to figure out who can help her find and rescue Joseph, and who can help both of them get back home to planet Earth.