RIPL Teen Book Reviews

Graphic Picks #37

Hi everyone! This week’s second Graphic Pick focuses on Haruhi Suzumiya, the subject of anime, manga, and light novels. There’s some mature humor here (Haruhi and co. are in high school), so I’d say that thirteen and up is the age recommendation for this one.

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Haruhi Suzumiya is a high school girl who wants to investigate aliens, time travelers, espers, and any kind of paranormal phenomena. Of course, her classmate Kyon is sure that that stuff doesn’t exist…until he’s roped into joining the club that Haruhi forms, the SOS Brigade, which exists to solve mysteries and explore the supernatural.

Kyon soon gets to know the other members of the club, and he finds that one is an alien, one is a time traveler, and one has ESP. They’ve all joined the SOS Brigade to keep an eye on Haruhi, who apparently has god-like powers, but doesn’t know it. When she’s happy and entertained, everything’s fine. But when Haruhi gets bored or frustrated, her subconscious produces creatures that the threaten not just the world, but existence itself!

The story of Haruhi Suzumiya in the world of novels, anime, and manga, is a bit complicated:  it started in 2003 with the publication of the first light novel. A light novel (ライトノベル) is a short Japanese novel targeted toward middle and high school students.

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In 2004, a manga was published, but it wasn’t very close to the original story; the next manga adaptation began in 2005, and it’s still being published in the U.S. 

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Then, an anime based on the light novels was released in 2006. It was shown with the episodes out of sequence, which made it that much weirder/funnier/mysterious.

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There’s also a spinoff/spoof four-panel manga called The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan:

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There’s an anime of that too:

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Then there’s The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, which takes place in an alternate universe where, instead of being an alien on a mission, Yuki is a shy high school girl who has a crush on Kyon. 

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And (as you could probably guess), there’s an anime of this too:

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Oh, and there’s this one volume manga anthology:image

Each series has something to recommend it: I like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya manga because the story blends elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and high school romance. The Haruhi-chan manga is an absurd comedy that combines stories of daily life with surreal elements like a sentient balloon animal and a murderous alien trapped in the body of a tiny human. Yuki-chan is fun because it’s the most realistic of these three manga. Nothing fantastic or supernatural happens, it’s just the story of Yuki in high school having fun with her friends and hoping to get closer to Kyon. 

Obviously, I’ve read and watched a lot of Haruhi over the years. The anime and assorted manga are all a wonderfully entertaining celebration and subversion of manga and anime tropes, and if you’re interested in anime or manga, you can’t miss these series.

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

Graphic Picks #36

Hi everyone! After an excellent vacation, I’m back this week with three Graphic Picks. The first is the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Flavia herself is eleven years old, and if you’re Flavia’s age or older and enjoy mysteries, then you’ll really love this series.

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Flavia de Luce lives at Buckshaw, the storied and rather decrepit ancestral home of the de Luce family, along with her father, an avid philatelist (stamp collector) and two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. Feely loves music, Daffy loves to read, and both love to torture Flavia. But the youngest de Luce, who is after all a brilliant chemist, has many creative ways of getting back at her older siblings. Flavia’s mother, Harriet, disappeared years ago while mountain climbing, and though she was only an infant at the time, Flavia feels a kinship with Harriet, as well as her great uncle Tarquin de Luce, whose chemistry lab she has appropriated for her own experiments.

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Flavia’s adventures as a detective begin quite suddenly one morning when she finds a dead body in her family’s garden. Soon, her father is the prime suspect in the murder, and Flavia is determined to prove him innocent. With the help of Dogger, Buckshaw’s gardener (who saved Colonel de Luce’s life in the war), Mrs. Mullet, cook and gossip, and her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia sets off to solve her first mystery, which is soon followed by several others in the formerly sleepy town of Bishop’s Lacey.

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Flavia is a fantastic narrator. Obviously, she’s brilliant—sometimes, reading a Flavia de Luce book makes me feel like I’m reading about what Hermione Granger’s childhood might have been like had she not been a witch and had lived in England in the 1950s. But Flavia is also eleven, so as she works to solve the various murders she encounters, she also has to navigate the mysterious world of adults, many of whom aren’t too keen on the young sleuth’s activities. But as precocious as Flavia is, she’s even more determined to bring the guilty to justice. (And it doesn’t hurt that she has a passion for poisons, as well as an abiding curiosity about what death does to the human body.)

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This is a series where I’ve listened to some of the books and read the others. Jayne Entwistle, who reads the audiobooks, does a fantastic job of bringing Flavia to life, and I’d highly recommend listening to this series…though reading it is also extremely fun. Either way, you’ll get an entertaining taste of an idyllic English village in the middle of the 20th century, though as with many mystery series, the setting seems a bit less idyllic after the third or fourth murder victim is discovered. 

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Flavia’s voice, and her knowledge of chemistry, is a big part of what keeps me coming back to this series. Though the solutions to the crimes committed are always clever and well-plotted, the real treat is going along with Flavia as she looks for clues, dodges her older sisters, and works in her laboratory. And with four more books to go in the Flavia series, I’m really looking forward to finding out what one of my favorite detectives investigates next.

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

"The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet" by Neil Degrasse Tyson, read by Mirron Willis

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(Grade 6 and up) In 2006, Pluto ceased to be classified as a planet by the International Astronomical Union. To many, this change in status seemed abrupt, but for decades, many scientists had had questions and doubts about Pluto. As it happens, Pluto is just the latest in a long line of objects in the far reaches of space that have been misidentified: some of the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter were once classified as planets, so at one point in the 19th century, textbooks taught students about 18 planets. Of course, Pluto does have moons and other planet-like characteristics, and many have argued that only planets have moons, except that in 1993, a moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid Ida. Regardless of what side of the Pluto debate you fall on, The Pluto Files is a fascinating tale of historical and present-day drama in the world of astrophysics and planetary geology.

A huge controversy ensued when Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet (which is a problematic classification in itself, since it implies that Pluto is still some type of planet—it’s not, it’s one of the larger objects that make up the Kuiper Belt). If, like me, you never really felt strongly about Pluto one way or the other, then the passion of many Pluto fans detailed in this book will seem downright strange. Even some people who know the science behind the change in classification still lament the loss of Pluto, and many of the letters that Dr. Tyson received (from kids and adults) will amaze you with their fervor.

Obviously, this book is full of intriguing facts about Pluto, but there are also plenty of interesting details about the rest of our solar system. (Did you know that Venus spins so slowly on its axis that the Venusian day is longer than the Venusian year?) The uproar over Pluto demonstrates the strange nature of labeling things: whatever you think of what Pluto’s classification should be, what we call it doesn’t change it. It’s still out there, in its strange orbit, and as an inanimate object, it felt none of the betrayal that many Pluto fans experienced when it was downgraded from planet status. And as Dr. Tyson says, perhaps “…Pluto is happy now. It went from being the runt of the planets to the undisputed King of the Kuiper belt." (4 out of 5 stars)

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (January 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433244098
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433244094 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)

My new kitten, Maya, loves books…mostly for sleeping on. And chewing on.

"Iron Man 2.0: Palmer Addley is Dead" by Spencer, Kitson, and Di Giandomenico

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(Grade 7 and up) When Lt. Col. James Rhodes fights as War Machine, he becomes one of the world’s most powerful weapons. But Palmer Addley isn’t someone that Rhodey can fight through traditional means: after all, it’s difficult to confront an enemy who’s supposed to be dead. Follow War Machine as he searches for his illusive foe and fights to save lives as the stakes become ever higher. And even after an upgrade from Tony Stark, is War Machine powerful enough to stop a supernatural threat to reality?
I’m enjoying the new Iron Patriot series a lot (though there’s been a heaping helping of angst so far), but this series is entertaining in its own right. The thing that always interests me about Rhodes is that, in many ways, he’s a better superhero than Tony Stark. He’s more reliable (Tony, I love you, but you do flake out at times), he generally works better with others, and he usually doesn’t have as much drama going on his life to distract him from missions. (Of course, in Iron Patriot, that changes, which may be part of why it’s such a good series.) Basically, I’d like to see Rhodey get more credit for helping to save the world on a regular basis, and though this series didn’t last long, I’ll definitely be checking out the second volume. (4 out of 5 stars)
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Marvel; First Edition edition (October 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0785147497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785147497 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Do you read comics? If so, here are a few recent issues I’d recommend:
Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet #1: Deadpool fights a vampire, then gets hired by Dracula to retrieve his fiance’s coffin. This limited series is hilarious: read this if you’re interested in vampires, minotaur fights, or zebra theft. 
Elektra #4: This series is as beautiful as it is fascinating. And we’re only four issues in, so it wouldn’t take long to catch up (hint hint…)
Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International: San Diego: Couldn’t go to Comic-Con this year? Well, at least this way you can (sort of) read about it as Harley, being Harley, causes mayhem wherever she goes in San Diego.
Mighty Avengers #11: The story here involves a flashback where Luke Cage’s dad and Blade investigate a mystery involving demons. A lot of people have issues with Greg Land’s art, but Al Ewing’s writing is worth sticking around for.
Ms. Marvel #6: Kamala and Wolverine team up! Ms. Marvel is actually as good as the hype—seriously, give it a try.
Original Sin #5 and Original Sins #3: Original Sin is this summer’s Marvel event, and the main series (which is called Original Sin, as you could maybe guess) has been a really interesting murder mystery so far. Original Sins, which features characters on the periphery of the main story, is sort of uneven, but I’m enjoying the Young Avengers story enough to stick around. (Why America Chavez isn’t in this is beyond me though—she showed up in the first issue, but that was it…)
Thor: God of Thunder #23-24: This series is beautiful, epic, and at times tragic, but always a fantastic tale of gods and monsters. 

Do you read comics? If so, here are a few recent issues I’d recommend:

  • Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet #1: Deadpool fights a vampire, then gets hired by Dracula to retrieve his fiance’s coffin. This limited series is hilarious: read this if you’re interested in vampires, minotaur fights, or zebra theft. 
  • Elektra #4: This series is as beautiful as it is fascinating. And we’re only four issues in, so it wouldn’t take long to catch up (hint hint…)
  • Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International: San Diego: Couldn’t go to Comic-Con this year? Well, at least this way you can (sort of) read about it as Harley, being Harley, causes mayhem wherever she goes in San Diego.
  • Mighty Avengers #11: The story here involves a flashback where Luke Cage’s dad and Blade investigate a mystery involving demons. A lot of people have issues with Greg Land’s art, but Al Ewing’s writing is worth sticking around for.
  • Ms. Marvel #6: Kamala and Wolverine team up! Ms. Marvel is actually as good as the hype—seriously, give it a try.
  • Original Sin #5 and Original Sins #3: Original Sin is this summer’s Marvel event, and the main series (which is called Original Sin, as you could maybe guess) has been a really interesting murder mystery so far. Original Sins, which features characters on the periphery of the main story, is sort of uneven, but I’m enjoying the Young Avengers story enough to stick around. (Why America Chavez isn’t in this is beyond me though—she showed up in the first issue, but that was it…)
  • Thor: God of Thunder #23-24: This series is beautiful, epic, and at times tragic, but always a fantastic tale of gods and monsters. 

I was going through teen craft supplies a couple of weeks ago, and when I saw how many pipe cleaners we had (and wondered what we could do with pipe cleaners), I made this Charmander. Now I need to make Squirtle and Bulbasaur at home…:)

Graphic Picks #35 

Hi again! This week’s second Graphic Pick is Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe, with art by Roc Upchurch. This is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, but it’s definitely not for kids. Adult language and humor means I’d recommend it to older high school students…though high school libraries probably won’t have it. So come to the public library and check it out, mature readers!

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Hannah, Dee, Violet, and Betty are adventurers: they go on quests, fight monsters, hunt for treasure, and basically live life to the fullest, which hasn’t made them terribly popular in the town of Palisade. The mayor and local business owners are tired of the Rat Queens and other adventurers’ guilds’ wild exploits and penchant for property damage, so each guild is given a quest, with the understanding that if they don’t complete it, they’ll have to leave town. So the Rat Queens set off to complete their quest, only to encounter an assassin and an angry giant Ogre.

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An epic battle ensues, and the Queens are soon back in Palisade, where they find that most of the other adventurers’ guilds have been killed by assassins like the one they defeated. Who hired the assassins? And once the Rat Queens find out who wants them dead, how will they stop them?

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I went into reading this comic knowing that I was probably going to like it, and I was not wrong. The Rat Queens are four awesome ladies who are by turns funny, powerful, smart, serious, tough, slow on the uptake, vulnerable, violent, and kind. The Queens are Strong Female Characters who are wonderfully well-rounded and interesting, and each member of the team brings a different skill set to the table. imageAfter reading the first five issues collected in the trade, I’m hopelessly hooked. I can’t wait to read more, and I hope this series continues for a long time. But as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it! Read it yourself.

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

Graphic Picks #34
Hi everyone! This week’s first Graphic Pick is The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell. It contains some mature themes, but it’s also one of the titles selected by the Alex Awards this year, which means it’s a book for adults that will appeal to teens, and I definitely think that many older high school students would enjoy this. 
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Marnie and her younger sister, Nelly, have a big problem. Their parents—Gene and Izzy, who were abusive and addicted to drugs—are dead. To avoid being separated in foster homes, they bury them in the backyard. (The title of the book comes from Nelly’s worries about the mysterious deaths of bees throughout the world, though there’s also a bit of a mystery surrounding Gene and Izzy’s deaths, which Marnie doesn’t realize the solution to until nearly the end of the novel.)

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Together, Marnie and Nelly try to support themselves as best they can. Lennie, their next door neighbor, notices the absence of their parents and begins inviting them over for meals. The three become a kind of family, but Lennie has his secrets too, and when people start asking after Gene and Izzy, they’ll have to work together to keep the safe and happy life they’ve created from completely falling apart. 

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(Here’s a picture of a cabin that’s sort of how I imagined Lennie’s.)

This novel takes place in Scotland, so there’s some unfamiliar slang and expressions here that take some getting used to, but that won’t stop you from getting hooked on this book almost immediately. Before The Death of Bees, I’d never read anything about Scottish housing estates, and a quick search online produces images of homes a lot like Marnie and Nelly’s in inner city Glasgow:
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Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie are all fantastic, unique narrators, and now that I’ve finished this book, I miss their voices. The Death of Bees is a haunting, fascinating story about secrets, survival, and what family really means.

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