Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stories about angels and saints for the holidays

Here are some books that tell the stories of saints and angels, as well as the animals that are associated with them. As Christmas draws closer these books may remind readers about Christ's birth in a manger, and that the history of many religious figures (like Saint Francis) have been associated with specific animals. You can find copies of these stories using the search boxes here on BookBag.

Saints Among the Animals, by Cynthia Zarin, illustrated by Leonid Gore (Atheneum) Zarin retells ten stories that chronicle the interactions of holy men and women with an eclectic menagerie of wild creatures. Saint Canice befriends a patient stag that allows him to use its antlers as a bookstand, Saint Jerome champions a misunderstood lion, and Saint Brendan is rescued at sea by a great whale. Two women are represented: Saint Hilda saves her fellow sisters from an influx of snakes, and Saint Werburge prevents a flock of greedy geese from gobbling up all of the seeds planted in farmland. The majority of the tales are set in ancient England or Ireland. Written in the conversational style of a storyteller, the selections contain lovely descriptions of the natural settings in which the saints and the animals coexist, and each legend is accompanied by a somber charcoal illustration depicting the saint and the featured animal.

The Day the Animals Came: A Story of Saint Francis Day, by Frances Ward Meller (Philomel) The blessing of the animals ceremony held at St. John the Divine's church in New York is the basis for this story about Ria, who misses her Caribbean home and the animals she left behind. Her baby-sitter, Mrs. Blum, takes her to the ceremony, and Ria initially feels bad because she doesn't have her own pet. But after she rescues a disagreeable duck, one of the church members invites her to bring Groucho, as he's named, for his blessing. The experience of becoming one with the community and their creatures makes Ria feel as if she's finally home. Weller's story of St. Francis Day, with its animals crowding into a church, may seem unlikely to some readers, but the author's note offers confirmation and clarification.

Special Friends: Tales of Saints and Animals, by Arlene Graston (Bantam Books) From the introduction: "There was a time when man was especially aware of the world around him and spoke a silent language with the living things that make up our planet. This was a silent language of love and respect and it made all living things equal in the story of Life. Some of the people who could do this were called Saints, a title that means they shared a deep love for God and for the Beauty of the Universe and found in their animal friends companionship, understanding and love. This silent language is not a secret one - nor do only saints know how to speak it. Silent means inside ourselves, within our thoughts and emotions, and because everyone has an inside and has thoughts and emotions, we can all speak it. All we have to do is listen and learn from our animal friends and the growing things around us."

Saints and Angels, by Claire Llewellyn (Kingfisher) Nonfiction. Beautifully illustrated with reproductions of artistic masterpieces, this is an easy-to-understand introduction to Christian saints and angels. Beginning by answering the question "What is a Saint?," Saints and Angels goes on to tell the stories of saints both familiar and unfamiliar--from the apostles to Joan of Arc to the very first American-born saint--as well as those of the angels and archangels of the Bible. Information on each saint's emblem, feast days, and patronage is also included.

Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow: Stories about Saints and Animals, by Eric A. Kimmel; illustrated by John Winch (Holiday House) Nonfiction. If tidbits about Catholic saints in novels like Frank Cottrell Boyce's Millions make you want to learn more about the beatified, check out these fascinating legends of different saints' interactions with animals. From St. Brigid, who fed the poor with milk and butter from her cow, to St. Ambrose, whose mouth was swarmed by bees when he was a baby, to St. Francis of Assisi, who struck a bargain between a hungry wolf and the town it was terrorizing, 12 saints are profiled in these stories.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tween dreams: adventures for a new year

The end of another year brings thoughts of what dreams may come. Every year we make plans and every year, it seems, plans have a way of escaping our grasp. But we keep dreaming! Here are some exciting books about characters who have unique dreams -- and some nightmares, too. Find copies using the Amazon and World Catalog search boxes here on BookBag, and be ready for some unusual fantasy ...

The Keepers' Tattoo, by Gill Arbuthnott (Chicken House) Fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Nyssa works in a tavern as a maid and cook, but in actuality, she is among the last descendants of an ancient civilization that Alaric, Archipelago's tyrannical ruler, is determined to obliterate. Only the strange tattoo on the back of her head and vivid, terrifying dreams connect Nyssa to her forgotten past. When Alaric's Shadowmen come looking for her, Nyssa flees the tavern with her uncle and sets out to find the meaning of her tattoo...and the source of her nightmares. This fast-paced and suspenseful story set in a medieval-inspired world should please fans of both fantasy and adventure.

On Thin Ice, by Jamie Bastedo (Red Deer Press) Fiction. Ashley has been having disturbing dreams of a frightening man/bear whom she believes is a shaman calling to her. When a classmate ofAshley's is found dead from what appears to have been a polar bear attack--even though no polar bears have been near their Arctic village for many years--Ashley begins drawing what she sees in her dreams and struggling to understand what she should do. This haunting, action-packed story paints a vivid picture of modern life in the far north and describes how global warming is changing the Arctic and its people.

Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher (Atheneum Books) Fiction. Mitra and her little brother Babak are of royal lineage, but they've been living as beggars on the streets (with Mitra disguised as a boy) ever since their father's death. When Mitra discovers that Babak can dream other people's dreams--and predict the future from them--she
hopes to use his gift for profit. But instead, the two of them end up on the road with the magus Melchior, who has read portents in the stars about a new king and hopes that Babak's dreams can plot their way forward. With its richly described Persian setting and its focus on Mitra, this vividly imagined novel puts the journey of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem (to see the baby Jesus) in a whole new light.

Dormia, by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski (Houghton Mifflin) Fantasy. Lots of people imagine themselves doing incredible things in their dreams -- but Alfonso Perplexon really does accomplish amazing feats while he's fast asleep, including tending to a very strange, color-shifting plant. One day a man claiming to be Alfonso's long-lost Uncle Hill shows up and tells Alfonso that the plant, the Dormian bloom, is crucial to the survival of the kingdom of Dormia--and that the two of them must journey there to plant it in its native soil. This suspenseful, epic tale is a strong choice for readers looking for stories beyond the Harry Potter books. Dormia unfolds slowly but offers plenty of thrilling adventure and heated battles in a variety of exotically imaginative locales.

Seeing Red, by Anne Louise MacDonald (KCP Fiction) Fiction. Fourteen-year-old Frankie Uccello feels like he's utterly, boringly average, particularly in comparison to his multi-talented parents and sister. But when Frankie discovers that his vivid, strikingly colored dreams predict the future (and then he dreams that his friend Tim has a terrible riding accident) he almost longs to feel average again. This slightly supernatural companion to the novel The Ghost Horse of Meadow Green revisits that book's rural Canadian setting and includes plot lines and details that horse enthusiasts are sure to enjoy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tween fantasy ... and a graphic novel about knitting!

Here's a group of books that will keep you entertained while the snow swirls outside! From Mirka's unusual pig problem to the dark and mysterious tale of The Kneebone Boy, these are inventive and quirky adventures filled with unexpected twists. Find them at Amazon, or at your local library using the World Catalog, both with search boxes here on BookBag ... and curl up with some unusual characters!

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch (Amulet Books) Graphic Novel. In this hilarious and impassioned tale of adventure, family, tradition, heroism, and ... knitting, smart and spunky 11-year-old Mirka Herschberg longs to slay dragons. But to earn her sword, she'll first have to do battle with the school bullies, an enormous pig (a pig in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hereville? Oy vey!), and a rather supercilious and very creepy troll. Hereville's fabulous artwork, distinct characters, droll humor, and insight into Jewish tradition will pull you into Mirka's world and make you wish the story didn't end so quickly.

Crazy, by Han Nolan (Harcourt) Fiction. Jason Papadopoulos has voices in his head, a whole chorus of characters, his internal audience. He knows they aren't real; they just help him deal with his life, which, to tell the truth, is pretty messed up. Jason's mom died recently, and his father, who suffers from mental illness, has lost touch with reality. Jason is trying to protect his father, but things are falling apart...and his dad is getting worse. When his odd behavior at school lands him in group therapy sessions, Jason slowly begins to make friends who aren't inside his head--but can he tell them the truth? This emotionally intense yet at times very funny novel will enthrall fans of Tracktown Summer by Elizabeth Holmes or Ann Dee Ellis' Everything is Fine.

Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins) Fiction. Damian Cunningham is obsessed with patron saints and their reported miracles. So, when a bag stuffed with more than a quarter-million British pounds is flung from a train near Damian's cardboard-box "hermitage," it's only natural that Damian thinks it's a gift from God. But as his practical older brother, Anthony, points out, the money will be worthless in 17 days, when the UK converts from pounds sterling to Euros. Can the brothers spend, give away (Damian's preference), or otherwise get rid of the mountain of cash before it's useless--and before the robbers who stole it find them? By turns funny, touching, and suspenseful, Millions is a richly rewarding read that's sure to please fans of Louis Sachar's Holes.

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, by Glenn Dakin (Egmont) Steampunk Fantasy. Theo Wickland has been confined to three rooms of his guardian Dr. Saint's mansion for his entire life. But on Theo's 12th birthday, burglars invade Empire Hall--and Theo discovers that he has the ability to melt criminals with merely a touch of his hand. This is only the beginning of Theo's adventures, for he escapes from Empire Hall and joins the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance, whose members reveal the truth about Dr. Saint. Action-packed and suffused with a creepy atmosphere, this first volume in the Candle Man series will leave you breathless for book two, The Society of Dread (due out this month).

The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter (Feiwel and Friends) Fiction. The Hardscrabble
children are a peculiar lot, and ever since their mother disappeared several years ago, Otto, Lucia, and Max have been shunned even more thoroughly by the townsfolk. In this quirky, dark, and occasionally preposterous tale, the three of them are swept up in an adventure when a trip to visit a London relative goes awry. Ending up in the village of Snoring-by-the-Sea, the siblings uncover a mystery, dark family secrets, and hints about what became of their mother. Fast-paced and full of great characters, this witty story blends realism and fantasy and should charm fans of both Lemony Snicket and Polly Horvath.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Some fractured fairy-tales, and a visit with Kubla Khan

It's time for some silly fun (and a little exciting history too). Here are some recent books that will make you laugh and one that's just plain fascinating! Find them on BookBag's Amazon and World Catalog search boxes, and enjoy a bit of reading that's just for laughs. Then meet Kubla Khan, who really knew how to throw a party!

There's a Princess in the Palace, by Zoƫ B. Alley; illustrated by R. W. Alley (Roaring Brook Press) Picture Book. In these slightly fractured fairy tales that are illustrated in comic-book style, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and two other well-known princesses share a surprising connection. With funny references to modern times (such as Cinderella wishing that chocolate cupcakes were invented because they'd make her feel better), a pair of wisecracking mice who provide commentary on each tale, and lots of wordplay, these fresh takes on the traditional stories will delight fans of strong-minded princesses and "punny" humor.

Cloaked in Red, by Vivian Vande Velde (Marshall Cavendish) Fractured Fairy Tales. Author Vivian Vande Velde has a beef with Little Red Riding Hood: in her opinion, it's "the perfect example of the exact opposite of a good story." Think about it: a girl who can't tell her granny from a member of another species? Parents who name their kid after an article of clothing? Here, Vande Velde offers up eight new takes on the familiar story that are unexpected, funny, and deliciously irreverent. Don't judge Cloaked in Red by its serious-looking cover; it's a light, witty, and quick read.

The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson; illustrated by Peter Chan and Kei Acedera (Harper) Fantasy. Aldwyn is a resourceful stray cat who ducks inside a magic shop in order to hide from someone who's chasing him. Then Jack, a wizard-in-training, comes into the store to select his familiar (a magical animal companion) and adopts Aldwyn, who plays along despite having no powers. Jack's new cat may be an imposter when it comes to magic, but when Jack and two of his classmates are kidnapped, Aldwyn is determined to help the other students' familiars--Skylar, a bossy blue jay, and Gilbert, a bumbling tree frog--rescue them. Chock full of action, humor, and adventure, The Familiars is a real page-turner.

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything, by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Robert Byrd (Viking) Nonfiction Picture Book. With clear, thoroughly researched writing that's fun to read and artwork that is colorful, dramatic, and intricately detailed, this biography of Kubla Khan Genghis' grandson, is a fascinating total package. That's fitting, since Kubla Khan himself was quite impressive: he built the imperial city that is now Beijing, fathered 100 children, and was known for throwing lavish birthday parties in his own honor for up to 40,000 guests. If this book about Khan, his massive empire, and its far-reaching effects makes you want to read more about life during his time, check out Geraldine McCaughrean's fictional book The Kite Rider.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst; illustrated by Lane Smith (Atheneum
Books) Fiction. Lulu is a major brat whose parents always give her every single thing she wants--until one year, she asks for a pet brontosaurus for her birthday. When her parents say no (a word that Lulu isn't used to hearing), Lulu throws a screaming fit, but that doesn't change their answer. So, Lulu decides to go into the forest and get a brontosaurus herself! In this silly, sarcastic story, Lulu is in for a big surprise...and readers get to pick their favorite of three different endings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More tales for fans of "House of Night"

Awakened, the eighth novel in the paranormally popular House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast, publishes this month. Fans of these vampire books can't get enough of their fast pace, thrilling, twist-filled plots, suspense, and steaming-hot romance -- and they also love Zoey Redbird, the stories' strong-willed heroine. Looking for something similar while you wait to sink your teeth into Awakened? Check out the books listed below, and look for copies using the Amazon and World Catalog search boxes here on BookBag ... if you dare.

Evernight, by Claudia Gray (HarperTeen) Paranormal Romance. When Bianca's parents accept teaching positions at creepy Evernight Academy, an elite boarding school, they enroll Bianca as a student there. She doesn't fit in at all with the wealthy and beautiful students at Evernight, and she considers escape...but then she meets handsome rebel Lucas, and they immediately connect. Bianca soon realizes that she'd risk anything to be with Lucas, even revealing the dark secret she's been keeping from him; little does she know that Lucas has a secret of his own. Put on your seat belt, readers: the twists and turns in this 1st book in the Evernight series of steamy vampire novels will have you on the edge of your seat.

Hearts at Stake, by Alyxandra Harvey (Walker) Paranormal Romance. Solange Drake is the only female born to vampire parents in 900 years. As her 16th birthday--when she'll "turn" from mortal to vampire--approaches, suitors do those who are threatened by the ancient prophecy that says Solange will be queen. Solange just wants to be a normal teenage girl, not some kind of "vampire broodmare," and hang out with her smart-mouthed, vampire-obsessed best friend, Lucy (who's human). But long-simmering animosities are coming to a boil, and Solange is at is, it turns out, her heart. This fast-paced, intriguing, and suspenseful vampire romance is the first volume of the Drake Chronicles.

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead (Razorbill) Paranormal Romance. Lissa and Rose are best friends who share a special bond; Lissa is a Moroi vampire princess (and mortal), and Rose is her Dhampir bodyguard. The two of them have been on the run for a couple of years when they are found and forced to return to St. Vladimir's Academy, a boarding school for vampires. It's a very dangerous place for Lissa, who is grappling with a rare and volatile power and is being stalked by the evil and deadly Strigoi vampires. With forbidden romance, dark secrets, and a social scene that's nearly as vicious as the Strigoi, this sexy, intense first volume in the Vampire Academy series is a real page-turner.

Peeps: A Novel, by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill) Horror/Science Fiction. What if you have a parasite that causes an extreme form of cannibalistic vampirism and, ultimately, madness? That's just what's happening in New York City, where 19-year-old Cal Thompson works for the secret organization Night Watch, hunting down those who are parasite-positive, or "peeps." While hunting for his ex-lover (who's now a peep), Cal meets Lace, a dedicated young journalism student who makes him curse his vow of celibacy...and seriously question his employers. If you like the suspense, thrills, and fast pace of the House of Night series, give Peeps and its sequel, The Last Days, a try.

Friday, December 3, 2010

New teen reads: fiction, fantasy (and an Australian Beatle)

While the holidays approach it might be good to take a break from all the stress of finding just the right present for all those uncles and aunts who haven't seen you since last Christmas ... and who are just dying to hear about your new boyfriend. Take it easy. There's still time to treat yourself! Here are some new books that will make your troubles seem not so big. Look for these using the Amazon and World Catalog search boxes on BookBag, and relax! As these stories demonstrate, it could be worse. Much worse.

Matched, by Ally Condie (Dutton) Science Fiction/Romance. In the Society, everything is perfect, including the system that makes marriage Matches between 17-year-olds, taking everything from romantic to genetic compatibility into account. And Cassia's Match to her lifelong best friend Xander does seem perfect. But when Cassia loads Xander's microcard and views its data, someone else's face flashes on the screen -- someone who isn't supposed to be in the Matching pool at all. In this powerful and descriptive novel, a good bet for fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling, Cassia begins her struggle against everything that she's been taught. Matched is the first book in a trilogy.

Hunger, by Jackie Morse Kessler (Graphia)Fiction. When Lisabeth Lewis's half-hearted attempt at suicide is interrupted by a pale messenger who announces that Lisabeth has been chosen to be Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the anorexic teen thinks she must be hallucinating from the few pills she's already taken. But the messenger left her a set of scales, and an enormous horse that no one else can see has taken up residence in her front yard, waiting for her to travel the world on his back. Balancing an honest and emotionally intense description of eating disorders with a creative paranormal backdrop,Hunger is a riveting, metaphorical novel that's tinged with dark humor.

Blank Confession, by Pete Hautman (Simon & Schuster) Fiction. At the beginning of this fast-paced, thrilling read, 16-year-old Shayne Blank walks into the police station and confesses to a murder. Shayne, who's new in town, stood out from the moment he arrived, partly because he isn't afraid of the jerks who terrorize guys like oddball Mikey Martin. Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Mikey and police detective George Rawls, this suspenseful and twisting story will thrill fans of complex characters, funny, believable dialogue, and gripping, thought-provoking reads (such as Blake Nelson's Paranoid Park).

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride (Henry Holt) Fantasy. Samhain Corvus LaCroix (Sam for short) is just a college dropout and a fry cook. At least that's what he believes until he meets Douglas, a very strange man who identifies Sam as a fellow necromancer--and a potential rival. And while Sam thinks his encounter with Douglas was weird, it's nothing compared with what's to come. Suddenly, Sam is in danger, as well as everyone else who is close to him, and he'll have to solve the mystery of his identity and powers in time to rescue Seattle from a terrible evil. This fast-paced, alternately hilarious and scary book scintillates with action, secrets, great characters, and romance and is a wholly satisfying (if at times a bit gruesome) read.

The Freak Observer, by Blythe Woolston (Carolrhoda Lab) Fiction. Loa Lindgren is still trying to figure out how to deal with her little sister's recent death when her friend Esther is hit and killed by a logging truck. From then on, when she isn't waking up screaming from nightmares, Esther does her best to bury herself in her job and in physics, which she loves. As she struggles to overcome PTSD and navigates relationships with her family, a potential boyfriend, and the kids at school who see her as "the dead girl's friend," Loa's keen, often heartbreaking observations about life make for a gritty and bleak, yet also funny and beautiful, read. Searingly real characters and fascinating details that connect the story to Loa's scientific explorations add to The Freak Observer's unique feel.

Beatle Meets Destiny, by Gabrielle Williams (Marshall Cavendish) Fiction. Superstitious Melbourne, Australia teen John Lennon (nicknamed "Beatle" for obvious reasons) is heading home early on Friday the 13th when he meets Destiny McCartney. The two of them, deciding that their chance encounter must have been fated, spend the evening together...and find that there's a real spark between them. But Beatle has a girlfriend. As this twisting, multi-layered novel spins its tale, Destiny and Beatle--as well as readers--are in for all kinds of surprises. Funny, offbeat, and thoughtful, this romance from Down Under is just the thing for those who enjoy something a bit out of the ordinary.