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Young Adult Novels: Scary Books, Scary Monsters

August 28th, 2023

What are these???

(Photo by Rawley; use with permission only, please.)

Once upon a time, the only Young Adult novels that spoke to me, that moved me, were 1) anything by Judy Blume 2) anything by Norma Klein and 3) S.E. Hinton’s classic, “The Outsiders.” It was, and is, a brilliant work. I met Hinton at Powell’s Books in Beaverton a few years ago, and I am not embarrassed to say, yeah, I fan-girled out, just like all the other fankids in line for her autograph.

Times have changed, and there are so many amazing YA books — and graphic novels!! so many graphic novels — on the shelves now. Here is a sampling of recent releases… but just the scary ones.

I’m over summer and ready for autumn, and Halloween. (More titles, not so scary, to follow in next review.) Additionally? I can only read scary, creepy, jump-scare books in the middle of the day. Also? I am not going to be held responsible if you read any of these and they terrify you or your kids so much that you/they have nightmares.

OK, ready?

First up: Kelly Creagh’s “Strange Unearthly Things” (Viking, 2023, ages 12 and up, 355 pages, $19.99). I love the pink/gray/black cover, I completely love it. I know, don’t judge a book and all that, but sometimes the cover and the writing and the topic just all go pow! into a perfect storm. Plus, “Hell is coming for him… but so is she,” is a tagline that gives me the shivers.

And that is this novel.

Our heroine, Jane Reye (the book is a paranormal shout-out to Charlotte Bronte’s classic, “Jane Eyre”) is on a flight. Her own highway to hell. The flight attendant, and the passenger seated next to her, are concerned. The flight attendant approaches:

“Her lilac perfume makes me gasp.

Because Helen.

‘Can I help you with this?’ She hands me one of the sketches among the mix that doesn’t depict a spirit.

‘I’m good,’ is all I can say as I collect from her the surrealist drawing of a girl peeling her skin off like a T-shirt to reveal a skeletal rib cage stuffed to bursting with flowers.”

That’s all you’re getting from me. You like scary-goth novels? Check it out. I would say this one is for bigger kids, but books? They’re personal. I spent most of my childhood having the librarians tell me “no” and my mom saying, “Give them here,” and checking out the “grown-up” books for me. I am no worse for the wear. I liked to read, I still like to read, and I have so many questions. I did then, and I do now. So please trust your kids’ judgment. xoxoxox

“Finch House,” by the talented and amazing Ciera Burch, is a gift of a novel. (Margaret K. McElderry Books, on sale Sept. 5, 2023, ages 8 and up, grades 3-7, 197 pages, $17.99.) Michaela “Micah,” who is eleven, loves living with her Poppop and mom in their comfortable family home. But her mom wants them to start over an hour away. To avoid packing, she leaves the house, and ends up where she’s been warned to never go — the haunted-looking and run down Finch House. She meets a new friend, Theo.

Is he trustworthy? Is the house what it seems to be? And where is Poppop? Great read, gripping story, believable dialogue and characters.

“Ashton Hall” is the new book from Lauren Belfer (“City of Light”). (Ballantine Books, 2022, 410 pages, teens and older, $17.00.) It’s so… vintage. (I mean that as a compliment.) And just creepy and lovely, in that Elizabethan/Goth way. Hannah Larson, our heroine, and her little boy, Nicky, head to Cambridge, England, to care for an ailing relative. Skeletal remains are discovered and then… you’ll have to wait to find out. Fantastic descriptions, and I love the house, which is a character all its own, dating back to the early 1600s.

Next we have two scary titles from author Dan Poblocki, illustrated by Marie Bergeron, ideal from middle grades and up:  “Tales to Keep You Up at Night” (Penguin Workshop, 2022, 262 pages, $8.99) and “More Tales to Keep You Up at Night”  (Penguin Workshop, 2023, 279 pages, $17.99). I love that Poblocki has been dubbed “the middle grade Crypt Keeper.” Perfecto. (I want more art included, though — Bergeron is talented.) If this one is a hit for you, readers, he has a whole slew of other titles, including “Ghost Hunter’s Daughter” and “The Book of Bad Things.”

Speaking of bad things, haha!… our final book this evening is Rob Renzetti’s “The Horrible Bag of Terrible Things” (Penguin Workshop, 2023, 215 pages, $17.99). Zenith Maelstrom (great name) is 11-going-on-12. His first thought when he finds the so-called “horrible bag” on his front porch is, Does he want his sister to know? No. She gives him too much grief. And our story begins.

OK, I have the shivers now, and it just got dark outside. It’s that time of year when it gets darker and darker, earlier and earlier. Maybe I’m not ready for fall? Too late.

Have fun reading, y’all. Talk soon.


Monday Book Reviews: “Bitsy Bat” and other new titles

August 7th, 2023

Wacky Cat 1, Thrilled

(Photo by Rawley/Use with permission only)

I have a big ol’ stack of Young Adult novels to review, but for now, finishing up on the gorgeous selection of picture books I’ve received. All are sure to make the kids (and their parents) smile.

“Bitsy Bat, School Star” has BIG STAR plans. Big, big, batty plans. The inimitable Kaz Windness wrote and illustrated this fun and poignant book, which is perfect for those of us who are not your typical peeps. (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2023, ages 4 and up, $18.99.)

“This Train is Bound for Glory,” by Alice Faye Duncan, with art by Paul Kellam, is pretty glorious, in the truest sense of the word (WaterBrook, 2023, all ages, $14.99). “‘All aboard!’ calls the merry conductor. His voice is like the wind — loud, warm and strong,” and off we go on a big adventure on the Glory Train.

This story is based on the African American spiritual first recorded in 1922.

“My Mama Says There Aren’t Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins, Or Things” (1973). This Judith Viorst classic, with drawings by Kay Chorao, is a lot of fun (even if you’re a little bit scared of zombies or any of the other creatures mentioned in the title).

“My Dad Is a Tree,” is a hilarious new picture book written and illustrated by Jon Agee (Rocky Pond Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99). Madeleine’s dad is cleaning up leaves while Madeleine pretends to be a tree. Why? “Because a tree gets to stay outside all day long!” Will her dad play, too? The yard mess can wait. Cool illustrations that will give readers fun ideas on creating their own art. Maybe with leaves?

Have a superfun, happy, good August, and keep reading. All for now, bon appetit!


Sunday Sunday Funday Book Review

August 6th, 2023

hanging basket
(Photo by Rawley/Use with permission only, please)

“These Olive Trees: A Palestinian Family’s Story,” (Viking; release scheduled for end of August, 2023; ages 3 and up, $18.99). Aya Ghanameh, a Palestinian writer, illustrator and designer, is from Amman, Jordan. She did a tremendous job with this work, her first picture book, which is based on her family’s history, loss, and perseverance.

It’s 1967 in Palestine, where Oraib lives in a refugee camp with her parents, younger brother and younger sister. Every year, Oraib helps her mother make the olive oil, picking the fruit, stomping on it, then curing and brining it for the final product. They don’t just make oil, though — they use the trimmings to light fires, make tools and ornaments, and they make soap, too.

Then one day, Mama says they have to leave.

The colors of this exquisite book are muted and rich, all at once. Shades of brown, green, yellow and soft gray tell a heartbreaking, yet hopeful, story.

Check out the author’s website: AyaGhanameh.com. She posts on Instagram at @AyaIllustrates.

“The Together Tree” is a cool new picture book by Aisha Saeed, author, and LeUyen Pham, Caldecott Honor winning illustrator. (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 2023, ages 3 and up, $18.99.)

“Rumi joined Ms. Garza’s class on the first warm day of spring. Icicles melted from trees. Water dripped from the eaves. Droplets trailed down the windows.”

You know the picture books I love? The ones with art so beautiful you could frame it; the children’s faces, so vivid and alive; and every book on the shelf, in the illustrations of the classroom or the library, a different color, all lined up. Awww, that’s this book. So pretty.

Great art, and a great story about how we can work together instead of tearing each other apart.

Author Jonah Winter and artist Jeanette Winter bring us “The Snow Man: A True Story,” a picture book-biography about billy barr (he spells it without capital letters) who has studied the weather, flowers and life, in general, from his cabin in the Rocky Mountains. (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2023, all ages, $18.99.)

barr’s story is incredible, and the details make this book pretty special. He grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, but for 51 years now he’s lived in the wilderness, near a ghost town called Gothic. The closest town, Crested Butte, is eight miles away. He intended to stay one summer, but started measuring the snowfall, watching the wildlife and the wildflowers, and has been able to use his work to show the impact of global warming. Fine illustrations (look for barr’s friends, the skunk and the pine marten) and a great story. (Yes, barr still lives and works in his favorite place on earth.)

Saturday Book Review: Books for the Littles

August 5th, 2023

my tulip

(Photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please.)

What’s on the dining room table today? Hmm… Good books!

“Girls on Wheels,” written by Srividhya Venkat, illustrated by Kate Wadsworth (Kokila/Penguin Young Readers, 2023, $18.99). Three fictional skater girls, Anila, Sana and Damini, take part in the modern day female skateboarding revolution in India. Yes! Empowering, cool picture book for ages 4 and older.

“You Can(‘t) Be A Pterodactyl!” by James Breakwell, with illustrations by Sophie Corrigan (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, $18.99). Super sweet book about a little guy who is living his best life — and best dreams — in spite of what anyone has to say about it.

“Sometimes I Am Furious,” written by Timothy Knapman, with art by Joe Berger (Penguin Workshop, 2023, ages 3 and up, $18.99). “Small girl… BIG feelings!” I can relate.

“If You Get Lost,” by Nikki Loftin, with illustrations by Deborah Marcero (Anne Schwartz Books, 2023, $18.99). A sweet girl loses her stuffed bunny. Will he find his way back to her? His forest friends will help. Lovely book.

“The World’s Best Class Plant,” by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, with pictures by Lynnor Bontigao (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Random House, 2023, $18.99). Scanlon and Vernick collaborated on a very funny book, “Bob, Not Bob!” and Bontigao wrote (and illustrated) “Sari-Sari Summers,” an ode to the Philippines, and grandmothers.

In this new creation, we are introduced to Arlo, his teacher, Mr. Boring (not his real name) and the students of Room 109. They do not have a class cockatiel, or chinchilla. They have a… plant. And it just kinda sits there. They name him Jerry, because he looks like a Jerry. And then… things change. Sweet book, great info about plants, with detailed, superb illustrations. This is a cool story about what happens when the unexpected happens.

“Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson,” was written by the daughter of the famous and talented baseball player. (Scholastic, 2009, all ages.) Sharon Robinson’s story about her brothers, herself, her dad and the neighbor children is full of smiles. Kadir Nelson’s art, brilliant as always, was made with oil, watercolor and pencil. Two thumbs up.

Ahhh, I like when people write what they know. Before she illustrated the popular “Fancy Nancy” books, Robin Preiss Glasser was a dancer, a ballerina, a beautiful and gifted ballerina, in fact, with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She is also an alumna with the American Ballet Theatre’s scholarship program. Her sister, Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, is also a big deal. She wrote “You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum,” a very awesome kids’ book, and its sequels. She created them with her sister! And I bet they didn’t even have one fight while they worked together on them.

Their newest book, presented by American Ballet Theatre, is a delightful picture book called “Gloria’s Promise: A Ballet Dancer’s First Step” (Random House Studio, 2023, $18.99).

All for now, friends! Talk soon. Keep reading and enjoy your August.