RIPL Teen Book Reviews

"Dog Shaming" by Pascale Lemire

image

(Grade 6 and up) This book is exactly what it sounds like: specifically, it’s a print collection of dog shaming photos. If you’re not familiar with this concept (though you’re on the internet right now, so you probably are), dog shaming is when your dog does something terrible, so you make a sign detailing that terrible thing and photograph it with your dog. Often, the dogs even look a bit guilty, but many are completely unrepentant; either way, hilarity ensues. (According to the Metal Floss episode about dogs, they don’t actually feel guilt—they just react to the emotions of their owners.) I didn’t even know this book existed until I saw it at my library, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for a quick read, check it out! (4 out of 5 stars)

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385349343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385349345 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)

image

(Please don’t do that, Charlie.)

"Nick and Tesla’s Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove: A Mystery with a Blinking, Beeping, Voice-Recording Gadget Glove You Can Build Yourself" by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
image

(Grade 4 and up) Nick and Tesla Holt, who are spending the summer with their eccentric Uncle Newt, are thrilled when Half Moon Bay’s science museum asks their uncle to come in and fix their collection of animatronic figures of famous scientific minds. But even after Uncle Newt and his maybe-girlfriend Hiroko Sakurai have repaired the machines, they keep malfunctioning. Is someone trying to keep the museum from reopening? Could it be the museum curator, who isn’t a fan of the animatronic exhibit? Or the new, over-zealous security guard? Nick and Tesla, with the help of their friends DeMarco and Silas, are determined to find out—and to solve the mystery, they’re going to build an amazing cyborg gadget glove!

Quirk Books sent me a review copy of this book, which came out last week, and as with the previous three books in this series, the story is entertaining, but the projects are what really make it stand out. The gadgets here are designed to be interesting and manageable for kids, though they might give the adults helping out a bit of a headache. (I’ve spent a disturbing amount of time trying to build the hoverbot from book two to no avail…) Young readers who are fans of science and mysteries—and Nick and Tesla—will really enjoy this latest entry. (4 out of 5 stars)
  • Series: Nick and Tesla
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (October 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594747296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594747298 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Graphic Picks #44

Hi everyone! This week’s first Graphic Pick is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, a masterpiece of horror and fantasy. I was in tenth grade when I started reading this series, and I’d say that’s about right, age-wise, due to violence, sexual content, and the lingering terror inspired by these novels’ apocalyptic tone.

image

This series was the first to captivate me the same way Harry Potter did a few years earlier…which is maybe a weird comparison, considering the very different (and at times very adult) content here. But The Dark Tower books inspired in me the same kind of compulsion to keep reading that Harry Potter did. I’m just glad that I didn’t start reading this series when The Gunslinger was first published (back in 1982…though I wasn’t born until five years later), or I think that waiting to read how Roland’s story turned out might have driven me a little crazy. Book seven was released in 2004, and then an eighth book (technically book 4.5) came out in 2012:

image

All of The Dark Tower books are a fantastic blend of fantasy and horror. There are plenty of nods to Tolkien here—the quest to find the Dark Tower and save reality echoes Frodo’s struggles to get to Mordor—but King also has Roland and his ka-tet explore sci-fi landscapes and alternate but parallel worlds. These parallel worlds help to demonstrate how reality itself is in danger of collapsing—the ways that different worlds are blending are strange, frightening, and occasionally amusing (namely in Wolves of the Calla, where Harry Potter’s world has a role to play).

image

It’s important to note that The Dark Tower series connects to lots of King’s other novels. Father Callahan from ’Salem’s Lot has an important part to play in the final three books, and…well, here’s a spectacular flowchart that explains things in more detail:

image

Click here for a legible version, and thanks to Tessie Girl for making this incredible flowchart!

image

Now let’s talk about the fact that King himself is a character in these books. Stephen King is one of the few authors in the world with both the audacity to write himself into his own eight book epic and the skill to pull it off. King (or a fictionalized version of himself) showing up in these books is one of the strangest and most fascinating things I’ve ever read. Also, he helps save reality. Why not, right? It’s his series! (Now that I think about it, The Dark Tower might just be the best self-insert fanfiction ever. Actually, the last three books of this series get very strange but also even more excellent when I think of them as Dark Tower fanfic written by Stephen King…)

image

It took me a few years to read The Dark Tower series, and even after thousands of pages, it still left me wanting more. (Seriously, I’d be delighted if King returns to it again someday the way he did with The Wind Through the Keyhole.) Though Roland’s journey is at times terrifying and heartbreaking, it’s hilarious and wonderful and absolutely unforgettable too. Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy are characters I think I’ll remember forever. 

image

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again Friday!

"Nova Volume 1: Origin" by Jeph Loeb, art by Ed McGuinness

image

(Grade 8 and up) His whole life, Sam Alexander has listened to his father’s stories about saving the galaxy with Nova Corps. Of course, as he gets older, Sam gets more than a little skeptical of his dad’s tales of intergalactic adventure, especially when he gets drunk and Sam is stuck doing his job as a janitor at the high school. But then Sam’s father disappears, leaving behind a strange helmet. Sam puts it on, and just like that, he discovers that his father was telling the truth—and as the hero Nova, Sam’s determined to help protect earth and find out what happened to his dad. But when Gamora and Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy show up to train him, Sam’s going to have to figure out who he can trust…

If you enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then this graphic novel is well worth checking out. The art by Ed McGuinness is fantastic, and Jeph Loeb’s story really draws you into Sam’s world. While his new secret identity doesn’t remain a secret for very long, I really enjoyed the fact that Sam’s mom knows what he’s doing and supports him (while also worrying)—you don’t usually get that dynamic when teens become superheroes. Fans of action and all manner of awesome space adventures should check out Nova. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

  • Series: Nova (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Marvel (March 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078516605X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785166054 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Graphic Picks #43

Hi everyone! This week’s Graphic Pick is Batgirl from the New 52. I’d recommend this series to most readers age thirteen and up, since there is some violence, disturbing imagery, and adult themes. (Seriously, Batgirl faces some pretty unnerving villains here.)

image

After being shot by the Joker and confined to a wheelchair for several years, Barbara Gordon dons the cowl to become Batgirl once again. How she regained the use of her legs is shrouded in mystery, and at times, she struggles with how much her life has changed: as Barbara Gordon, she’s both grown closer and drifted apart from some of the most important people in her life. And as Batgirl, she has a whole new rogues’ gallery to worry about:

image

Now, you may be wondering: why am I talking about Batgirl when I said that I was going to focus on horror this month? Um, because of stuff like this:

image

Also this (though she wasn’t really a vampire):

image

Oh, and this guy was plenty creepy:

image

Then there was that time that Barbara found herself pitted against her own father after he shot her boyfriend:

image

Oh, and that rogues’ gallery I mentioned before? One of Batgirl’s toughest foes is Knightfall, a vigilante who wants to purge Gotham of criminals by any means necessary…including trapping car thieves in bear traps.

image

Also, Barbara’s brother is a serial killer. I forgot to mention that fun fact, didn’t I?

image

I’ve really enjoyed Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl, but apparently, not everyone has loved the rather dark tone of this series.

image

(I found this on Google with the caption “every issue of Batgirl!”) But it isn’t all doom and gloom in Barbara’s world. She and her roommate Alysia become close friends in spite of all the insanity in Barbara’s life, and the dangers Alysia is exposed to as a result.

image

Also, at this point it seems pretty clear that Jim Gordon must know who Batgirl really is. He stops Barbara from confessing, and he never actually looks at her face when she takes the cowl off, but it seems like that’s only so he can maintain some semblance of plausible deniability. I really enjoyed that dynamic in this series: though Commissioner Gordon can’t condone what any of the Bat Family does, he knows that he needs them, and he respects Barbara enough to know that being Batgirl is something she has to do.

image

Does it still sound like this series is too dark for you? Fear not, because Batgirl is getting a new creative team with issue #35—which comes out next week! Check out this awesome redesign:

image

Of course, this month is about scary stuff, so check out the first five volumes of this series if you’re looking for thrills, chills, and some very spooky villains. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!

Graphic Picks #42

Hi everyone! This week’s Graphic Pick is Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, and I’d recommend it to readers age thirteen and up because of language, a bit of sexual content, and the occasional gory zombie attack. 

image

The Newsflesh trilogy tells the story of Georgia and Shaun Mason, two bloggers who make a living in the not too distant future by getting close to and writing about zombies. In the Masons’ world, not many people leave their homes unless they have to: this makes the perspective offered by bloggers wildly popular, since they’re part of the small percentage of the population who actually seek out what most people fear most: 

image

(This is actually a zombie from The Walking Dead.)

One of the ironies of this series is that the Kellis-Amberlee virus, which lead to the existence of zombies, didn’t just make the dead rise. The combination of two vaccines designed to spread like viruses, Kellis and Amberlee were released into the atmosphere before they’d been fully tested, and when they interacted, the world was changed forever. The good news is that they cured cancer and the common cold. The bad news, obviously, is zombies. 

image

Georgia and Shaun’s parents were killed in the initial outbreak of Kellis-Amberlee, and they were adopted by the Masons, who became popular bloggers in the years following the initial zombie outbreak, in part by using their adoptive children to boost their ratings. Georgia and Shaun get a big break in their own careers when they’re accepted as the official bloggers of a presidential campaign. But as people begin to be infected—including members of the candidate’s own family—Georgia and Shaun have to figure out who they can trust, fast, if they want to survive long enough to uncover the biggest story of their lives.

Technically, everyone on earth is infected with Kellis-Amberlee—but the virus is usually only activated when someone dies. Some people have reservoir conditions—like Georgia, who has retinal Kellis-Amberlee, and thus is almost never without her sunglasses. And occasionally, someone will spontaneously amplify…and usually activate the virus in everyone around them—family, friends, or coworkers—before they can be contained. Fortunately, in the future, the Center for Disease Control still exists to study the zombie phenomenon and help contain outbreaks.

 image

Please take a minute to enjoy the fact that this is a 100% real poster. The CDC has a lot of information about zombie preparedness, because:image

Here’s the cover of the graphic novel you can read at their website:

image

So, if you’re looking for a zombie series that’s part horror, part medical mystery, and part conspiracy thriller, check out the Newsflesh trilogy. Georgia and Shaun are both great narrators, and by book three, you’ll be both eager and terrified to find out how everything turns out—specifically, who lives and who dies. Also, check out the CDC’s actual website

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!

"How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous" by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

image

(Grade 5 and up) History is full of famous people who screwed up royally. Even some of the world’s most brilliant thinkers and most powerful rulers made miscalculations that ended either their careers, lives, or both. This book recounts the ignominious tales of some of history’s most famous figures and their most memorable mistakes: there’s the time that Montezuma mistook Cortez for a god, Isabella of Castille’s persecution of anyone who wasn’t Catholic during the Spanish Inquisition, and Isaac Newton’s attempts to become an alchemist. Entertaining as it is educational, this book illuminates some of history’s biggest mistakes, and shows what we can learn from them while laughing about them.

Some of the failures in this book—like Susan B. Anthony dying before she could see women’s suffrage realized, or Van Gogh’s genius never being recognized in his lifetime—were society’s failures rather than the individual’s. But others—like Benedict Arnold being a traitor or General Custer being a bloodthirsty maniac—were their own fault. Bragg has a refreshingly frank voice for someone who writes about history for children. Of the Age of Discovery, she remarks: “That was when Europeans went here and there around the world and took over places where people already lived, renamed them, and called them discoveries,” and, “The Age of Discovery was also the Age of Stupidity.”

Full of great illustrations and wonderful descriptions of the sordid (and interesting) facts not always covered in history classes, this book—and the audiobook—will appeal to kids and adults alike. (Who doesn’t like hearing about people being "…disemboweled, decapitated, or slowly roasted to death"?) Here’s hoping we have more books to look forward to in this series. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080273488X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802734884 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Graphic Picks #41

Happy Friday! This week’s Graphic Pick is the manga Black Butler by Yana Toboso. It’s a dark (but at times hilarious) manga set in 19th century England, and I’d recommend this one to anyone high school age and older, due to some sexual references and violence.

image

Black Butler tells the story of Ciel Phantomhive, a boy who became an Earl after his parents’ violent deaths. As a wealthy aristocrat, Ciel would be lost without Sebastian, his butler, who at times seems a bit too good to be true…

image

As it turns out, the reason Sebastian is so perfect is that he’s a devil. (Sebastian occasionally says “I’m a devil of a butler”—in the original Japanese, you can also read his statement as “I’m a devil and a butler,” because in Japanese, you can have two sentences that are pronounced the same but have different meanings—like “they’re,” “there,” and “their” in English.)

Sebastian bound himself to Ciel after the latter, when he was in the clutches of his parents’ murderers, wished for anyone to save him, and for the power to get revenge on his captors. Now, Ciel and Sebastian are bound together, and until the former dies, Sebastian must dutifully serve his master.

image

Sebastian is the title character, and as such, he’s the focus of a lot of the action. You’ll often see him taking care of things behind the scenes: Ciel’s other servants aren’t the most competent bunch—at least when it comes to their day-to-day duties—so in early volumes, you’ll often see Sebastian performing his own duties and those of his coworkers with flawless aplomb. Humans are always amazed by Sebastian’s skill and efficiency, but only Ciel and Sebastian know why he’s such a perfect butler. At times, they have to go to great pains to keep their secret.

image

In human form, Sebastian is handsome and charming. His true form, not so much:

image

Also, he loves cats:

image

Ciel, after the trauma he experienced when his parents were killed (and in the terrifying aftermath), has grown up very quickly. While he taught Sebastian to be a proper butler, Sebastian taught Ciel to be a proper Earl. But Ciel is more than just an aristocrat: her Majesty Queen Victoria trusts Ciel to investigate mysterious matters within her realm, just as other monarchs trusted the previous Earl Phantomhives.

image

Ciel is a really fascinating character in this sense: he’s simultaneously a detective, a vulnerable child trying to navigate the world of adults, and a ruthless judge who has no qualms about ordering Sebastian to execute wrongdoers.

image

Sometimes, Ciel and Sebastian have to go undercover to investigate matters on the Queen’s behalf, like the time they joined a circus:

image

Also, Ciel is engaged to a girl named Lizzie, who isn’t as fragile as she initially seems:

image

In the current arc, Ciel and Sebastian are undercover at a boarding school called Weston College, where Ciel is a student and Sebastian is a tutor:

image

If you like action, mysteries, and the supernatural in your manga, read Black Butler. You’ll actually learn a lot about the 19th century…minus the demons and zombies our heroes occasionally encounter. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week! 

"Hildafolk" by Luke Pearson
image

(Grade 5 and up) Hilda loves to have adventures, which is how she meets Twig (a blue fox-like creature) one night while camping out in her backyard. The next day, she and her new friend set off on an expedition to draw rocks (after accidentally letting the Wood Man into the house). That’s when Hilda finds a rock shaped like a troll. After drawing it from every angle, she and Twig both fall asleep…but when they wake up, the sun is setting, and the rock is gone. Is there really a troll hunting Hilda and Twig? And what can the Wood Man tell Hilda about trolls? 

This was Luke Pearson’s first book about Hilda, a little girl who has strange and magical adventures in the wilderness outside the house she and her mother share. Pearson’s style is really engaging; for the most part, he only uses varying shades of primary colors in this book, and his characters run the gamut from cute to really unnerving. (The troll is certainly menacing, at least until you find out why he was really looking for Hilda.) This slim volume will leave readers eager to check out Pearson’s other Hilda books. (4 out of 5 stars)
  • Series: Hildafolk
  • Paperback: 24 pages
  • Publisher: Nobrow Press; Sew edition (November 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907704043
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907704048 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
image