Saturday, July 16, 2011

Briar Rose (fiction)

Shh... Sneak-in Saturday has a double meaning today, as we consider an adult book that snuck itself into teens' hearts and then snuck onto numerous award lists before I could blog about it.

Originally written as a novel for adults, Briar Rose won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 1993, but gathered such a following among older teen readers that it was re-released as a Tor Teen paperback in 2002.

Memories of less-often told stories of the Holocaust spill into the present day as Becca tries to carry out her grandmother's last wishes on a trek to Poland that becomes a heart-wrenching journey into the hellish days of World War II.

A strong, faithful book that reminds us that history's headlines are not the only important stories.

Book info: Briar Rose / Jane Yolen. Macmillan/Tor Teen, 2002. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Becca always loved her grandmother’s story about Briar Rose, no matter how many times Gemma told it to her and her sisters. The princess, the black-booted witch’s curse, the mist that covered the kingdom and made everyone sleep for a hundred years… not the same Sleeping Beauty story that you heard or read in books.

Years later, grown-up Rebecca promises her elderly grandmother that she will find out the rest of the story. Upon Gemma’s death, she inherits a small box of photos and papers – clues to the past and the rest of the Briar Rose story that journalist Rebecca must uncover.

From research to refugee camp, Becca traces Gemma’s mysterious arrival in the United States from Europe in the closing days of World War II. The path leads back to a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, not a concentration camp, but a place so deadly that only 4 men ever escaped… and no women ever left it alive.

Why does Gemma’s paperwork say that she came from that place of death? Is she the princess of Briar Rose? How can Becca find her family’s roots when no one in Chelmno will talk about the camp?

A powerful retelling of Sleeping Beauty that explores the brutal depths of the Holocaust. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Red Blazer Girls: The Vanishing Violin (fiction)

Another Fun Friday, and a second Red Blazer Girls mystery to puzzle over!

This time, the four friends are given clues that could lead to a beautiful violin which disappeared from a locked room fifty years ago, and their principal hires them to look into mysterious good deeds at St. Veronica's.

Eating ice cream makes solving the puzzles and codes easier, right? And they'll have time for their new band and just a little bit of flirting, too, yes?

Hoping that the third volume wanders my way soon - so much fun to solve the puzzles along with Sophie, Margaret, Becca, and Leigh Ann!

Book info: The Red Blazer Girls: The Vanishing Violin / Michael D. Beil. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010 (*paperback 2011). [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation:Disappearing world-class violin! Mysterious good deeds at school! The Red Blazer Girls are back on the case, as Sister Bernadette hires them to investigate strange things happening at St. Veronica School, like the library's miraculous weekend renovation! The four friends look for hidden passages in the school's creepy basement, stepping in red icky goo as they search. Who would clean the teacher's lounge fridge - without being asked??

Margaret gets a puzzling note at the violin shop next door, urging her to decipher a code so she can get the next clue in a race to recover a violin that's been missing for 50 years. If she finds it first, she can keep it! Time to get those clever minds racing, with two mysteries to solve at once, puzzles, riddles and all.

In the meantime, the girls form a band (The Blazers, of course), flirt a little (especially Sophie), work through puzzles and codes a lot, and close in on the culprits - but wait! A second violin disappears from the totally-locked violin shop whose new assistant hides his sketchy past. Three cases at once?

The Red Blazer Girls are determined to solve them all before their band's first performance at the coffeehouse next door. Four fabulous friends, multiplying mysteries, and all the wonders and woes of middle school life make the Red Blazers Girls series a winner! (Be sure to read Ring of Rocamadour first to get the most of their stories) 336 pages (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pieces of Me, by Charlotte Gingras (fiction) - seeking friendship, hiding Mom's illness

Being a teenager is difficult. Coping with a parent's mental illness can make it unbearable. And it's just Mira and her mom, in that basement apartment.

How can you be anyone's friend if your mother has your walk home from school timed to the second? Who wouldn't have a crush on the only teacher who ever encouraged you?

Originally published in French as La Liberté. Connais pas... this slim, lyrical story won a 1999 Governor General's Literary Award from the Canada Council for the Arts. Susan Ouriou's translation is flowing and true, bringing us Mira's story from the chilly Quebec streets.

Find this gem at your local library or independent bookstore to hear Mira's tale.

Book info: Pieces of Me / Charlotte Gingras; translated by Susan Ouriou. Kids Can Press, 2009. [author biography in French] [publisher site]

Recommendation: At 14, Mirabelle feels separated from real life – trapped in the basement apartment by her divorced mother who knows to the minute how long it takes Mira to walk home from school, reading in the school library so she doesn’t have to talk to anyone at lunch, hiding behind her long golden hair so no one sees her sketches.

Then Catherine arrives at school, and Mira’s life moves out of its dark cloud, bit by bit. They invent a club so that they can meet after school in the cafĂ© once a week. Cath brings Mira to a table of friends at lunch. And they both work hard at the challenging assignments in art class.

Cath gets a boyfriend and drifts away, just a little, as Mira’s admiration of her art teacher becomes infatuation, and life becomes more complicated. Her wildlife biologist father returns to the city, asking about her plans for college – a startling idea for Mira, who isn’t sure how her mother would survive without her.

Discerning older teen readers will remember Mira’s love of color, her worries about her first kiss, and her dreams of escaping the basement apartment long after they close this slim volume, lyrically translated from the French by Susan Ouriou. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Annexed (fiction)

Anne Frank and the Annex - so many have read her story through her diary. Radio messages from the Dutch officials exiled in London during World War II reminded those who remained in the Netherlands that their diaries and memoirs would be testaments to the Nazis' atrocities. Anne knew this as she wrote, always striving to be "a writer" and telling the tales of hope and deprivation and worry that circled and recircled in the Annex.

So hearing Peter's voice brings more to the story, like looking at a familiar statue from another angle gives us a different perspective. Not everyone has been pleased with this alternate view of the Annex, but Dogar's comments on the controversy reveal that she wrote Annexed because she and her daughter wondered what happened after the Diary ended, not to rewrite Anne's history.

A gripping story well worth reading (with hankie in hand).

Book info: Annexed / Sharon Dogar. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Peter walks slowly, savoring the sun and wind before he enters the Annex. Who knows how long the Franks and his family will stay there, Jews escaping the Nazis in Holland by going into hiding?

Yes, those Franks. This is Peter’s side of the struggle for survival chronicled in The Diary of Anne Frank, as the young man gives up his first romance, his training, his future, just trying to stay alive day by day. Oh, the story was whispered in Amsterdam that both families had fled, far from the ominous army trucks which loaded up in Jewish neighborhoods and returned to the city – empty.

Peter longs for his woodworking tools, not the books that Anne and Margot seem to live in. How appropriate that a bookcase covers the hidden door into the Annex! How difficult it must have been for others to bring food to those in the Annex when there was little to find.

As time passes, books become more appealing to Peter… as does Anne, who is no longer the child who entered the Annex. Anne – who writes to tell the truth, who writes as a testimony against the cruelty of the Nazis.

We know that this saga does not end well. Peter’s tale continues on the horrific train journey out of the city, to the brutalities of the prison camp called Auschwitz. Annexed is a powerful story for mature readers, no less real because it uses the voice of fiction. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Positively (fiction)

How can anyone else understand what Emmy is going through?
Born HIV-positive, losing her mother to AIDS, struggling to make it through school and the move to her dad and stepmom's house...

Thankfully, there really are places like Camp Positive where young people like Emmy can learn to cope with HIV, as well as camps for kids with asthma or diabetes. The author is donating proceeds from sales of Positively to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Come to Camp Positive with Emmy - you'll be glad you did!

Book info: Positively / Courtney Sheinmel. Simon & Schuster, 2009. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: AIDS took her mother, leaving 13 year-old Emmy alone and HIV-positive. Well, her father and stepmother wanted her, but did she really want to live with them? Especially with a new baby on the way?

After Mom’s funeral, being at junior high with Nicole was mostly the same, but it was really hard at Dad and Meg’s house with different rules and someone else’s favorite foods. Who wouldn’t get mad and lash out?

Emmy wasn’t happy when they sent her to Camp Positive for girls living with HIV – a whole summer away from her friends, and off in the woods! How will Mom’s spirit know that she’s away from their hometown? Can Emmy get used to sleeping in a cabin with other people? How many summers will she have in her life, even with all the new medications?

Explore the woods and worries with Emmy and the Camp Positive crew, learning to live well every day and be positive in more ways than they ever dreamed. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Die For Me (fiction)

On this metaphysical, mysterious Monday, slip away to Paris!
City of Lights, city of Romance! What a place to try to mourn...

Oh, Kate loves her grandparents, but they can't replace her mom and dad, gone in a heartbeat.

Her encounters with some most puzzling people startle Kate out of her haze of grief - swordfights in modern Paris? How can someone move fast enough to stop a falling stone block? Didn't that guy fall under a Metro train??

A new variety of not-dead creatures in this great debut novel - and they aren't vampires!

Book info: Die for Me / Amy Plum. Harper Collins, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Suddenly orphaned, Kate and Georgia hope for safety at their grandparents’ calm Paris home. But danger is always nearby, as the sisters witness a miraculous rescue from the Seine River followed by a sword fight, then Kate narrowly escapes falling stone blocks in their neighborhood.

Kate is magnetically drawn to the handsome young man she sees near each incident. He introduces himself as Vincent, and his friends as students and painters. A tiny glimmer of hope peeks into her sorrow, but then Vincent disappears. How can Georgia go out partying every night while the darkness of losing their parents swallows Kate?

Things get stranger and stranger. She hears Vincent’s friend being crushed, run over by the Metro train – but how can Jules be strolling along their street the very next week? Why are Vincent and his friends always nearby when someone’s life is threatened? Why do Georgia’s new party buddies give Kate the cold shudders, while Vincent’s touch is like light and life?

A new type of paranormal creature roams the Parisian nights in this adventure-thriller with a touch of romance - Paris is Paris, after all... Are there secrets too big for the living to understand, too strong for the dead to ignore? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Escape the Mask (fiction)

Kidnapped children, with no common language...

Forced to scavenge sharp shards from the sand or go into their cages hungry at night...

Trapped in Grassland's caves and tunnels by the tides, with no chance to escape from the armed men wearing helmets that cover everything but their eyes.

Perhaps there's a way to escape? Six young friends hatch a plan that just might work...

Set in a time reminiscent of Europe's Bronze Era, this fast-reading adventure is first in the Grassland trilogy by Canadian author David Ward. Followed by Beneath the Mask (#2) and Beyond the Mask (#3) - be sure to read Escape the Mask first!

Book info: Escape the Mask / David Ward. Amulet, 2008 hardback, 2009 paperback. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Stolen as children from their villages, young Diggers slave to find ‘shards’ in the sands for the Spears who guard them, men in metal helmet-masks who let the sea tides capture the weak or the slow. The Grassland is scoured nightly by the cold fury of the sea while the Diggers sleep uneasy above it, in the cave-prisons of the mountain cliffs that prevent their escape.

Coriko works and sleeps alongside Pippa, the only other Digger who knows his village language. Pippa can remember trees and her mother; Coriko has no memories beyond this endless drudgery of sift, dig, tote. They pledge to stay together, somehow, through the great Separation when the older Diggers are taken from Grassland…somehow.

New Diggers arrive frequently, since not many survive the First Cleansing of the highest tide. This time, two newcomers speak the language of Pippa and Coriko! Tia and Bran think only of escape… but who can escape the Spears or the prison of the Grassland?

When strange ships appear on the horizon, the Spears cut the Diggers’ food ration, demand more shards, and watch the sea anxiously. Could Tia and Bran be more than dreamers? Can the Diggers escape from Grassland?

This fast-moving, action-packed book is first in The Grassland Trilogy – be sure you can get your hands on Book Two: Beneath the Mask! You’ll be hungry to find out what happens next!! (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.