Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks (fiction) - ethical vampires hunt a killer

Sneak-in Saturday and another fun book that sneaked onto the bestseller lists before I could blog it for you.

Ahh, being a vampire must be exciting, right? Nah, can't do much outdoors if bright light makes your eyes bleed. How to explain to the neighbors that you're never getting any older? And if you just don't believe that it's ethically right to fang another human and turn them into a vampire without their consent?

Welcome to the small, but annoying world of the vampires in Australia, all of whom were changed by one vicious vampire. So for years, they've held regular Tuesday night support group meetings so they can stay "reformed" and keep their blood cravings under control. When one member is thoroughly and brutally snuffed out, it's up to the Reformed Vampire Support Group to find the killer, even if they go into coma-like sleep the moment that the sun peeks over the horizon...

Lock up your guinea pigs when you read this funny take on the vampire mythos.
Followed by The Abused Werewolf Rescue Society.

Book info: The Reformed Vampire Support Group / Catherine Jinks. Harcourt Children's Books, 2009 (hardcover) [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: When a vampire is murdered, the other vampires have to find the killer, right? Especially reformed vampires who fang guinea pigs instead of humans. A stake through the heart and a silver bullet and exposing the vampire to sunlight – that’s overkill, even for the undead. A real vampire-hater has accessed doubly-dead Casimir’s online address book and is coming after the other vampires of Sydney!

After complaining for years in their weekly support group meetings that nothing happens when you’re asleep all day and lock yourself up every full moon, suddenly the group has too much to do. Relying on Father Ramon, the human priest who helps them stay reformed, forever-15 Nina (who writes vampire fiction to pay her mom’s rent) and friends travel in a dark, sealed van to the Outback, following clues from silver bullet sales records and online bulletin boards.

Trapping a vampire-killer, finding a werewolf, getting back to safety before their supply of guinea pigs runs out – who knew that being a vampire would suddenly be so complicated?

This story of the good-hearted undead battling a pack of heartless humans is a wild romp with unexpected twists. Dark glasses? Check. Guinea pig? Check. Barf bag? Ooof. Followed by The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ghostopolis, by Doug TenNapel (graphic novel) - accidental afterlife, time to escape

Garth is dying, and he knows it. His mom isn't ready for him to go, but she's a lot less ready for him to get pulled into the realm of ghosts while he's still alive!

Yep, a bumbling special agent gets sloppy in a supernatural capture-and-return so Garth is accidentally pulled into the afterlife.

Garth finds that the afterlife has its own politics and alliances, feuds and friendships. (I just love his new pal Skinny!)

A rescue team heads after him, even if some beings in the Afterlife don't want to let him go!

Book info: Ghostopolis / Doug TenNapel. Graphix (Scholastic), 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation:No ghosts among the living – that’s the rules. The living in the ghost world? Well, Garth is finding out how that works, as he gets dragged into the afterlife during a ghost capture gone wrong.

Garth would be getting to Ghostopolis sooner rather than later, since he has an incurable disease, but his mom really wants him back among the living now. It’s up to the Supernatural Immigration Task Force to correct their ghost-wrangling goof and retrieve Garth. This may take a while, even with an Earth-assigned ghost helping the SITF agents…

Meeting his grandpa’s ghost, riding a night-mare, getting mixed up in Ghostopolis politics – soon Garth finds that he has special powers that unscrupulous ghosts want to use for their own bleak purposes. The young hero’s only hope of returning home is locating the Tuskegee Airman, that great-hearted man who built up Ghostopolis, who helps dead souls out of it and into their true homes Beyond. It won’t be easy, though.

Life and afterlife, ghosts and the living, good guys and bad guys, and a chronologically illogical sense of time – hope the ghost-wranglers can get Garth out of Ghostopolis before it’s too late! This Eisner-nominated graphic novel is 288 pages of wow-factor art and snappy dialogue. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Devil's Paintbox, by Victoria McKernan (fiction) - teens struggle on Western frontier

Life on the western frontier was far more difficult than the Little House on the Prairie books showed us.

Aiden and Maddy are the last surviving members of their family whose homesteading dreams turned into a row of graves on the bleak Kansas prairie.

Their unlikely savior is gruff Jackson, recruiting for the even-tougher demands of the Pacific Northwest's logging camps, who only agrees to take along Maddy if Aiden signs on for an extra year of logging work to pay their way West.

Friendly Nez Perce, not-always-friendly U.S. Army soldiers, and the dreaded smallpox shadow the wagon train, as they traverse open range, strain up mountain grades, and struggle across rivers.

Aiden toughens up as they travel, but will he be able to hold his own against the roughs and rowdies of the lumber camps? Adventure, peril, and possibilities fill this gripping tale of the West.

Book info: The Devil's Paintbox / Victoria McKernan. Random House, 2009. [author bio] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: The shoe leather soup is gone, so Maddie and Aiden will starve to death soon, just as their family did on the Kansas prairie in 1865. But over the hill rides Jefferson J. Jackson, recruiting workers for the lumber camps in Washington.

He allows the teens to join the wagon train going west, warning them that “any way you can think up to die is out there waiting” on the trail. Aiden agrees that his first two years’ wages will go to Jackson in payment for their travel, and they head west, away from the graves on the hillside, away from the dried-up homestead.

Jackson is all too correct, and dangers face the travelers day and night – rampaging rivers to cross, wolves stalking them, Indians who might attack, and diseases with no cures.

Aiden works with his bow and arrow, bringing in deer and rabbits for his sister Maddie to cook. He meets friendly Indians who cross their trail from time to time, teaching him bareback horse riding and improving his hunting skills.

But soon smallpox, “the Devil’s Paint”, appears at a nearby fort, and the deadly disease threatens them all. The wagon train’s doctor soon runs out of medicines, the Indians blame government-issued blankets for the epidemic, and survival is now a gamble for everyone.

Will Aiden make it to the lumber camp? How will a scrawny, malnourished 15-year-old keep up with strong men and dangerous work? Smallpox is just the first challenge that he must face as he tries to live long enough to grow up. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Esty's Gold, by Mary Arrigan (fiction) - from Irish famine to Australia's goldfields

Famine! How could your family survive?

That's the life-changing question that 12-year-old Esther faces, as we go back to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 on this World Wednesday.

As the blight makes potatoes rot when they're dug up, poor Irish rental farmers and their families starve to death with their main food source gone. While having just one variety of potato planted all over Ireland contributed to the problem, the Famine was largely caused by the laws forbidding Irish Catholics from owning land.

When Esty's father is killed trying to help starving farmers, she and her mother and granddad no longer have a home, and Esty must hire out as a servant. Emigration out of Ireland is offered - many travel to the United States, but Esty has carefully read the newspapers discarded by her employer and finds a way for her family to get to the goldfields of Australia.

The Mahers will face bandits, harsh weather, backbreaking toil, and outright prejudice as they dig for gold in Ballarat in this exciting story based on history.

If your local independent bookstore doesn't have Etsy's Gold, they'll be glad to order it for you. Check your local library, too!

Book info: Esty's Gold / Mary Arrigan. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Surely the potato blight won’t hurt Esty’s family, her papa being agent for the landowner, right? But the famine in 1840s Ireland cuts deep, and 12-year-old Esty finds herself hired out as a servant, with Mama and Grandpa sent from their big house to a tiny cottage.

As the large landowners continue evicting the tenants who can’t pay rent or feed their families because of the blight, more rebellion springs up. Esty reads the newspapers discarded by her employers and dreams of taking her family away from the famine, off to the goldfields of Australia.

Such a long journey, from Ireland to the other side of the world! And what perils along the way to the goldfields at Ballarat - thieves, wild weather and worse!

Can Esty really find a way to get her family all the way to Australia? Will they be tough enough to survive the pioneer conditions at the edge of the Outback? Can they find gold or will Ballarat be one more heartbreak for the Mahers?(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Waterfall, by Lisa Tawn Bergren (fiction) - time travel, romance, sword-fighting

You'd think that archaeology was exciting, digging into the past and all that - well, not to Lia and Gabi, teen sisters who'd rather be back in Colorado with their friends. Who cares why the Etruscans disappeared from Italy? But Mom is carrying on the search for ancient tombs that she began with their father, so recently killed in a car crash.

Neither sister is good at waiting around, so the chance to see even a looted tomb is worth doing. But when their hands touch the matching handprints on the wall, they are swept into the past - Knights and castles? Is this a re-enactment? No - they're really in the past!

Relying on her wits and fencing skills, Gabi navigates the courtly customs of 14th century Tuscany and its local politics. As she searches for her sister and frets about the oncoming black plague, Gabi may be losing her heart to the young knight who rescued her, who is betrothed to another...

Swordfights, romance, and a gal with guts - and this is just the first book in The Rivers of Time Trilogy! Watch for my August notes on Cascade , while Torrent will be published on Sept. 1, 2011.

Book info: Waterfall / Lisa Tawn Bergren. David C. Cook, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Another summer of ancient ruins in Italy? Teen sisters Gabi and Lia risk sneaking into the latest find, only to be whirled away when their hands touch the handprints near the warrior mural!

Gabriella emerges from the old tomb into the middle of a battle, with horsemen with swords, archers firing arrows through the woods! Where’s Lia? Now the ruined castle on the hill is a bustling fortress. Rescued from the leering soldiers in red by a handsome knight under the gold flag, Gabi is soon convinced that she’s truly landed in the past.

The handsome young knight Marcello explains that her hiding place sits on land that the red bannered Paratores are trying to seize for a rival ruler. Her modern jeans exchanged for a suitable gown, Gabi says she’s from faraway Normandy to explain her unfamiliarity with local customs at the Castle Forelli and asks her rescuers to help search for her sister.

When the castle is attacked, Gabi is thankful for her late father’s fencing lessons, but learns that the evil Paratores have Lia! Soon she is known as the warrior Lady Gabriella, as she fights to protect the people who saved her.

Oh, no - the sisters have landed in Toscana just years before the Black Plague sweeps the land! Can Gabi rescue Lia? Is there a reason that they’ve been brought back into the past? Is there a way to reverse the time trip? Can Gabi leave Marcello behind if they go back to the future?

This thrilling first book in The River of Time series sweeps you into the daily life, perils, and people of the medieval Italy that Gabi is growing to love (or is it Marcello?) - followed by Cascade (#2) and Torrent (#3). (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Accidental Hero -Jack Blank #1 (fiction)

On this Mysterious Monday, meet Jack, who has a rotten life at the dismal orphanage, escaping through comic books, dreaming of superheroes ...

In his not-so-super life, how could he imagine that those evil robots and superheroes are real or that HE has a superpower?

You'll find this exciting showdown between robo-zombies, ninjas, and superheroes as Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation in hardcover and as The Accidental Hero in paperback.

The Secret War, book two of the series, will be published on August 9, 2011, so watch for Jack's continuing adventures - and be on the lookout for robo-zombies!

Book info: The Accidental Hero (originally titled: Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation) / Matt Myksluch. Simon & Schuster, 2010 (hardcover), 2011 (paperback). [author's website] [publisher site: hardcover & paperback] [author video]

Recommendation: Jack’s hidden stash of old comic books is his only refuge from endless chores and bullying at the orphanage where he was abandoned as a baby 12 years ago. Captain Courage! Laser Girl! Evil circle-eyed Robo-Zombies who turn their victims into Robo-Zombies!

While bailing water from the orphanage’s basement, Jack hears strange noises from its sunken stairway. Suddenly a Robo-Zombie appears, aiming its rocket-cannon arm at him! Jack flees into the surrounding swamp, but can’t escape from the Robo-Zombie. Backed up against the generator shed, Jack wishes once again that he had superpowers and is shocked when he can make the generator blast his attacker.

Of course, no one at the orphanage believes Jack was attacked, instead blaming him for blowing up the generator. But the special agent who comes to question Jack about the Robo-Zombie is convinced and takes him away so he can report directly… to the Imagine Nation, where those with superpowers really do live!

Jack meets his comic book heroes there, as well as other legendary beings. Even though the agent tells Jack that this is his birthplace, the Imagine Nation’s borders are closed to outsiders because of Robo-Zombie attacks years before. When RZ nanites are detected in Jack’s blood, he’s suddenly on the run in this strange world. But why haven’t the RZ circles appeared around Jack’s eyes yet? Why is he still flesh and blood instead of cables and circuits?

Can Jack discover his superpower and learn to control it? Will he be the salvation of the Imagine Nation or its destruction? His new friends stand ready to help him prove his innocence, but superscientist Jonas Smart is ready to dissect Jack, just to make sure… (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Beyond the Mask

Crossing the sea in a time before maps, searching for home using distant childhood memories...

Away from Grassland at last, Coriko's group hopes to find Pippa's family,
to find a good place to live, to perhaps find safety.

But the raiders of the Outside Lands have other ideas, and our young friends must help village folk and their priest survive the attacks. Can help from Grassland reach them in time?

You'll want to meet Coriko and friends in book 1, Escape the Mask, and watch them grapple with new truths and new dangers in book 2, Beneath the Mask.

Then enjoy this thrilling conclusion of The Grassland Trilogy, filled with adventure and danger, from the days before written history when story taught about the past and perhaps about the future.

Book info: Beyond the Mask / David Ward. (Grassland Trilogy #3) Amulet, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Far north of Grassland, Pippa and her friends search for her home village, a place safe from the kidnapping and fighting life of the iron-masked Spears. The boys have been trained as warriors, but hope their skills are not needed on the journey.

At last, they find Pippa’s home and her father, but not a safe place, as raiders from the Outside Lands attack the village, again and again. How can a few young warriors help the villagers defend themselves? Could they get help from Maramuk and the Spears, across the sea in Grassland? Can the village priest’s wisdom and Tia’s leadership vision truly find a way to keep the Outsiders away from the north villages and Grassland for good?

This final book in The Grassland Trilogy is full of promise and peril, as Coriko, Pippa, Feelah, Thief, and Tia must struggle to find their places in a world much larger than they ever dreamed. (227 pages) (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.