Miranda was planning a quiet summer vacation at home in New York City. She needed time to get over her cheating ex-boyfriend, and was looking forward to an internship at the Museum of Natural History. Then she receives word that her grandmother has passed away, and that her mother has inherited the family home on Selkie Island in Georgia. Her mother needs Miranda’s logical mind and organizing skills to put everything in order to sell the house. Miranda’s mom had been estranged from her mother ever since she married Miranda’s father (from whom she is now divorced). There is a history there with which Miranda is completely unfamiliar, but she’s about to learn all the sordid details.
Selkie is an island with strange mythological ties. It is said to have been founded by the descendants of mermaids and mermen, a claim Miranda does not entertain, relying as she does on science and reason. Instead, she focuses her attention on acclimating to her new environment. Selkie is very different from NYC, and the people she meets, her mother’s old childhood friends, and their children, are not what she is used to. They are summer tourists to the island, and while they are welcoming, they have different expectations of Miranda than her friends in New York. One important rule Miranda learns is, don’t mingle with the locals. Selkie Island is a vacation destination for affluent Atlantans, and those who live on the island year round, who make their living fishing, are deemed unworthy of their attention. But Miranda finds more in common with one local fisherman’s son than these summer residents. His name is Leo and they meet on the beach, the spot where most of their interactions take place. Leo calls the beach “the great equalizer”, as it is the one place where townies and tourists can interact as equals.
What could, at this point, remain a traditional summer love story instead becomes a romance mixed with mystery and a touch of the supernatural. Miranda has suspicions about Leo’s background, and despite her logical mind, finds herself getting caught up in the mythic qualities of Selkie. She must also deal with the fallout from her mother’s tense past with her grandmother, and her late grandmother’s own involvement with a townie. Miranda soon finds that she has more in common with her grandmother than she ever could have imagined.
Check the WRL catalog for Sea Change
This book was very different than I expected. Given the description of a book featuring a camera that can take pictures of people who aren’t there, wouldn’t you expect a scary story? After all, it is called Ghost Town. But no, there’s not a spooky page to be found in this book. This isn’t really my usual type of reading material, obviously, since I was expecting a different type of book, but Ghost Town turned out to be an excellent story. It is an irreverent, off-beat sort of tall tale, featuring well-drawn characters and an interesting plot.
Spencer Honesty and his mom are the only two people left in Paisley, Kansas. Everyone else in town has moved away, in search of better economic opportunities. Spencer’s mom is a postal worker, and is kept on by the government to sort through all the mail that continues to arrive in Paisley. To keep himself and his imaginary friend Chief Leopard Frog entertained, Spencer salvages his father’s old camera from a junk pile and spends his days taking pictures. When his pictures are developed, mixed in with his extreme close up shots of bees, are photos of Paisley’s former residents. Spencer cannot explain this phenomenon, but he does enjoy seeing his old neighbors again, particularly Maureen Balderson, his best friend’s sister.
Unfortunately, Spencer’s photography must be put on hold when he takes a fall while climbing the side of the old supermarket. He is laid up for weeks, and spends his time reading other people’s junk mail. One particular catalog sparks Spencer’s interest, Uncle Milton’s Thousand Things You Thought You’d Never Find. One of Milton’s thousand things is a ghost camera, and Spencer strikes up a correspondence with Milton when he writes to find out more about the strange object. Milton eventually agrees to publish a book of Chief Leopard Frog’s poetry, in exchange for some of the Chief’s hand carved talismans which (unbeknownst to the Chief) bring the owner bad luck. Spencer never expected a book of Native American poetry written by an imaginary friend, sold by someone as “reputable” as Uncle Milton, to be a bestseller that would send a reporter to his ghost town asking questions.
There is a lot going on in this book, but Jennings layers it all together perfectly. I wasn’t familiar with Richard W. Jennings’ work before reading this book, but now I’m anxious to see what else he has to offer.
Check the WRL catalog for Ghost Town
Jessica thought her life was going pretty well. She had adopted parents who loved her, a best friend, and a crush who actually seemed to share her desire for a relationship. Until, on her first day of senior year, Jessica hears her name being whispered at the bus stop. Not the name Jessica, but her birth name, Antanasia Dragomir.
Jessica always knew she had been adopted following the deaths of her parents, but she soon discovers there is much more to the story than what she has been told. These secrets come to light with the arrival of Lucius Vladescu, a man from her homeland of Romania. Lucius makes many claims which Jessica finds unbelievable. He claims that he and Jessica are both Romanian royalty, that they are from warring clans, and that their betrothal at birth, once fulfilled, will bring peace to their people. But that’s not the craziest thing Lucius says. He believes that both he and Jessica are vampires. Jessica wants nothing to do with Lucius and finds his declarations impossible to believe and his attention entirely unwanted. Her parents, however, are not so quick to write him off as a lunatic. Perhaps they need to explain to Jessica a bit more about their time studying the native peoples of Romania.
Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side offers romance, drama, suspense, and quite a few laughs. Lucius’s attempts to acclimate to life in a rural Pennsylvania high school provide for some very entertaining observations delivered with wit and humor. This is a great read-alike for Twilight fans, particularly for those readers who would like a feistier, less swoon-y heroine than Bella. Another plus? In a genre filled with series and sequels, this appears to be a stand-alone novel. Although, if you enjoy it as much as I did, more of Jessica’s story would be welcome.
Check the WRL catalog for Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.
If, hypothetically, someone completely neglected to read comics in her childhood like she was supposed to, how would this person, now a grownup, become familiar with the superheroes?
I posed this entirely hypothetical question to a geek friend of mine, explaining that the reader, hypothetically, was intimidated by superhero books because she wasn’t familiar with the decades’ worth of backstory associated with each character. Where should the newbie begin?
“Uhm,” said my geek friend. “You should. Um. Start with… Er. Um.”
He was stumped, but rallied gamely a few days later by suggesting a graphic novel by Brad Meltzer. And though I (hypothetically) had never cared for Meltzer’s traditional thrillers, I found him to be quite engaging in Identity Crisis. (Which I read for no real reason; it’s not like there was a great big gaping hole in my knowledge, or anything like that.)
Identity Crisis features several superheroes of the DC variety. (This means that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are fair game, but not Spiderman, who is Marvel. To me this does not seem fair.) The spouse of one of the superheroes– I am not going to tell you which one– has been murdered. It’s a locked-room mystery, with no signs of entry or egress, no forensic evidence, and in fact no evidence of a crime at all, except for the bit about there being a dead body.
But the whodunnit bit was not the primary appeal. Instead I liked the story because I got to know and enjoy the characters. Meltzer draws them with depth, metaphorically, and artist Rags Morales draws them with grace, literally. Having read the book, I am proud to announce that I have formed my first tentative, independently-reached conclusion about a superhero, to wit: I think Green Arrow is kind of cool and funny, and if somebody can recommend some other Green Arrow books, I’m listening.
There are some violent moments, but there’s nothing too awfully bloody, and the very worst parts are left to the reader’s imagination. Also, all of the women are busty and tall and gorgeous, which might make the female reader feel, in comparison, like a dumpy old cow– but even inexperienced readers of superhero books know to expect that, I suppose. Hrmph.
Check the WRL catalog for Identity Crisis
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a quick read. Turn each page to follow the protagonist Eric Calhoun (nicknamed Moby, like the whale) as he moves with wit, compassion, and purpose through his senior year of high school. Understand his protective feelings for his childhood friend, Sarah Byrnes. As a toddler, her face was severely scarred by an accident in the kitchen; her father refused reconstructive surgery. Although damage was done to her psyche as well as her body, Sarah pursues academic excellence. Eric/Moby suffers from obesity until he swims pounds off on the high school swim team. Then, instead of developing a tapered swimmer’s body, he decides to overeat and stay a “misfit” with his friend, Sarah. Eric eventually discovers Sarah’s dark secret. Since for him “what’s known can’t be unknown,” he is propelled into saving Sarah’s life although it may sever their friendship, and puts them both in danger. This story features drama, destruction, change, and hope, and emphasizes the value of help from buddies and caring adults.
Crutcher draws on his experiences as a family therapist to develop his characters. Readers should be prepared for some foul language, unflinching portrayals of abuse of family members, bigotry, hatred, depression, and even death. Crutcher’s characters also consider other serious social issues, including religion and abortion. Be prepared to think about how YOU treat others. Finally, be prepared to cheer for the survivors in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.
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Every school has them, the popular clique of girls whom everyone wants to date or be best friends with. The Pretty Little Devils (PLDs) are such a group of girls, at Brookhaven High School in California. While they are pretty and intelligent, they are also manipulative, and can get away with anything, maybe even murder.
Hazel is at first on the outside looking in at the PLDs, like the other less popular students at Brookhaven, until she is noticed by the group’s leader and brought in as their newest member. This is just the change Hazel has hoped for. She wants new friends to help boost her status at Brookhaven, in order to make the most of her high school years. She gets what she wants but, as is so often the case, she doesn’t know what to do with it once she gets it. She soon realizes that she might be in over her head. Hazel tries to make the best of it, but when a rival of the PLDs turns up dead she wonders just how far the girls are willing to go to rule the school. Could one of them be capable of murder?
This book reads a bit like a teen horror movie from the 90s, one that I might have seen during my own (less murderous) high school days. Teens behaving badly and the desire for popularity are merged seamlessly here with death and deceit. By the end the mystery is solved, and the story comes to a conclusion, but room is definitely left for a sequel. This would be a good read for those who don’t want too much realism in their murder mystery, as just enough of a teen romantic-comedy is mixed in to be appealing.
Check the WRL catalog for Pretty Little Devils
When Margo Roth Spiegelman shows up at your window in the middle of the night, you go with her, even if her plans for the evening involve thirteen pounds of dead catfish. Margo Roth Spiegelman is just that cool. She is the Chuck Norris of high school girls.
Quentin, known to his friends as Q, has known Margo his whole life (as nine-year-olds, they discovered a body in the park together), but it’s been a long time since they’ve really connected. Suddenly he’s invited to help her carry out an epic, elevenfold plan of revenge against her ex and the ex’s new girlfriend. Then they break into SeaWorld. Surely this is the beginning of a whole new phase of their friendship? Maybe more?
Not so fast, Q. He’s the only one who shows up at school the next day. Margo vanishes, and Q, a guy with a bad case of putting his girl on a pedestal, is left to figure out why. The answer kind of depends on the answer to another, more psychological question: who is Margo, beneath the surface, and is she really anything like the captivating legend that he believes in?
All of Green’s novels are funny and thoughtful by turns; I like them best for the esoteric facts you pick up from his geek characters. This one also has (sub)urban exploration, spelunking in abandoned mini-malls, obsessive consulting and editing of Wikipedia “Omnictionary” entries, a death-defying road trip, and brilliant use of an obscure mapmaker’s term: the paper town.
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Or check the WRL catalog for the audiobook
In the history of star-crossed loves, the story of Miranda and Zachary ranks right up there with Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, or perhaps more appropriately, Buffy and Angel, with a bit of role reversal. Miranda is a vampire and Zachary is an angel, but their story doesn’t start out that way. Miranda was a human girl, with the human desire to win a role in her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Zachary was her guardian angel. When Miranda bombs her audition she meets up with her best friend Lucy for a pity party that goes horribly wrong. They meet video store employee Kurt while browsing the horror aisle, and he convinces them to meet him in the cemetery at midnight. When is that ever a good idea? Upon reaching the cemetery, Miranda and Lucy are inevitably attacked by a vampire and Zachary, in his role as Miranda’s angel, does his best to protect her. Unfortunately, in his fervor Zachary reveals his true form, which Lucy sees, and as punishment he loses his powers and is cast out of Heaven. Zachary’s attention is diverted for mere seconds, and yet the vampire has escaped and Miranda is nowhere to be found.
Then the real story begins. In order to regain his powers, Zachary is given one final mission, a mission which leads him to Miranda, who has not only become a vampire, but is the vampire daughter of the King of the Mantle of Dracul. Zachary again undertakes the task of keeping Miranda on the straight and narrow, which is not a path typically walked by a vampire. Miranda, who never knew Zachary existed before her death, much less that he was her guardian angel, finds herself strangely wanting to live up to his expectations of her. What would her father think? It’s hardly the behavior of vampire royalty.
Check the WRL catalog for Eternal.