Zombies Vs. Unicorns

cover image for Zombies vs. UnicornsBlack, Holly & Larbelestier, Justine. ed. (2010) Zombies Vs. Unicorns. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books

Plot Summary:

It all started when Larbelestier made an offhand comment on her blog about not endorsing unicorns.  Black challenged her on it, Larbelestier responded in praise of zombies, and thus did an internet war begin.  To settle this feud, Black and Larbelestier have each edited six stories written by twelve different authors and presented this in the same volume so that you, the reader, can make up your own mind.

Critical Evaluation:

Like most anthologies, Zombies Vs. Unicorns can be a bit uneven and but also wonderfully eclectic.  Highlights include Maureen Johnson’s laugh out loud zombie tale The Children of the Revolution, Carrie Ryan’s poetic tale of destruction in Bougainvillea, Naomi Novik’s irreverent critique of innocence in The Purity Test, and Diana Peterfreund’s The Care and Keeping of Your Killer Baby Unicorn, which had me squeeling “HOW DID I NOT KNOW UNTIL NOW THAT THERE IS A FANTASY SERIES ABOUT TEEN GIRLS THAT HUNT KILLER UNICORNS!!!!!

In addition to twelve zombie-or-unicorn packed stories, this collection also comes complete with hilarious commentary by our two illustrious editors.  The back and forth between Holly and Justine regarding which is most awesomeist: zombies or unicorns was the perfect addition to this anthology.  My only complaint was that their nerd!snark introductions got a little more spoilery than I would prefer, so if you tend to avoid spoilers like a zombie-borne-plague (or rainbow-colored-unicorn-farts?), I would suggest leaving the commentary until after you have finished the stories.

Reader’s Annotation:

Forget cavemen versus astronauts, the real question is “zombies or unicorns?”

Author Information:

http://www.blackholly.com/

http://blackholly.livejournal.com/

@hollyblack

http://justinelarbalestier.com/

http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/

@JustineLavaworm

Genre:

Anthology

Booktalking Ideas:

I would totally divide the class up and get them debating zombies vs. unicorns, and add in trivia based on the anthology to get them even more interested.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-24

(Yeah, I know that’s rather old at the higher end, but the super glossy and pretty cover is clearly trying to attract an older audience in addition to the regular teens.)

Possible Controversy:

There is so much in this book for people to get nervous about – sex with unicorns being just the start.  I suspect it will mostly get overlooked though because it’s fanbase, cover art, and premise suggest something a bit less…disturbing and sillier than what is inside.  I think people also have an easier time ignoring single stories in anthologies than they do entire novels or anthology topics.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I am a nerd and I love teen books.  There was no way I was not reading this.  I have, in fact, made it my mission to get my copy signed by every writer that participated in it.

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Midnighters: The Secret Hour

cover image for Midnighters: The Secret HourWesterfeld, Scott. (2004) Midnighters: The Secret Hour. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Jessica Day has just moved Bixby, a small town in the great state of Oklahoma. She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting, but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain that had been pouring a moment ago suspended in the air as if time had stopped.  Jessica quickly learns that most everything else spends the secret hour frozen in place; the only people or creatures that are ever awake during it are herself and a handful of her classmates at Bixby High. Well, and the Darklings, who exist only during the secret hour and seem especially determined to hunt down Jessica.  Luckily Jessica and her new friends, Dess, Rex, Melissa, and Jonathon have some very unusual but sometimes useful superpowers.

Critical Evaluation:

Westerfeld’s plot concepts are are always crack for the imagination, and his execution here isn’t half bad either.  There’s nothing about this story that doesn’t sound odd when laid out and summarized, but on the page it’s exciting and magical rather than absurd.  Neither is everything perfect either, the teens superpowers come with a high price and their friendships are complicated and full of baggage.  It’s fairly complicated for a young adult novelabout superheros, but it never lets this get in the way of having fun.

Reader’s Annotation:

She isn’t sure quite what she was expecting from Bixby, OK but it certainly didn’t include waking up at midnight one night to find the rain suspended in the air as if time had stopped.

Author Information:

http://scottwesterfeld.com/

http://scottwesterfeld.com/forum/

@scottwesterfeld

One of the great things about Scott Westerfeld’s site is that he doesn’t just encourage fans to engage with him, he encourages them to interact with each other and with his books; not only does his site include a forum but his blog will regularly feature fan art and creations.

Genre:

Action Series

Booktalking Ideas:

I love recomending this book to library patrons and will usually talk up either the Secret Hour, the Darklings, or the superpowers.  For a booktalk I would try to touch on all three.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-17

Possible Controversy:

There might be some people who have religious objections to the premise – especially the presence of the Darklings.  Other than that it’s unlikely to be challenged.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Once I read the premise – after noticing the book’s cover – I was totally drawn in.

The Princess Diaries

cover image for The Princess DiariesCabot, Meg. (2000) The Princess Diaries. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Plot Summary:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – like stressing out over math tests and getting caught up in her friend Lilly’s latest scheme.  Until her dad comes to visit and confesses that he is actually royalty – and she, Mia Thermopolis, is the crown princess of Genovia.  Being a modern princess is not all it’s cracked up to be though, and Mia is not at all sure she’s ready for the attention and responsibility.  With help from her friends and family – and the best stylists money can buy – Mia finally find a way to be herself and save Genovia too.

Critical Evaluation:

Anyone who has simply seen the movie is really missing out.  Cabot’s style is unique and hilarious, making this lighthearted story not only a breezy read but an absolute delight.  Who cares how improbable it all is? As long as Cabot is snarking and cracking jokes, I’m there.

Reader’s Annotation:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – until her dad comes to visit and confesses that she, Mia Thermopolis, is actually the crown princess of Genovia.

Author Information:

http://www.megcabot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/megcabot

@MegCabot

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

The hard part with this book is getting people to forget the style of the movie, while there are similarities, that’s not going top convince people that haven’t already to read the book.  Pulling out some of the funny lines and jokes and letting them get a taste of that would be best.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

This book is so full of fluff it practically floats.  I would seriously wonder about anyone who challenged it.

Reason for Choosing This Book:

I, like many, dismissed this series as merely being as good as the movie so why bother? – until a cousin of mine began raving about them to me.

Mastiff

cover image for MastiffPierce, Tamora. (2011) Mastiff. New York, NY: Random House

Plot Summary:

It’s been two years since the events of Bloodhound and while Beka Cooper can not yet be considered a veteran, she’s no longer a rookie, either.   When an assignment comes up that will require all her concentration, Cooper is eager to get started and put off working through the conflicted feelings she has about her recently deceased fiance.  She and Tunstall arrive at the Summer Palace as summoned, only to find it is near ruins, the only survivors being the king and queen, and quite possibly their young son, who they believe has been kidnapped.  Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of the young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Critical Evaluation:

Like the previous two novels, Pierce’s conclusion to her Beka Cooper series is fast paced and suspenseful.  Never one to shy away from heartbreak, the conclusion is especially devastating and triumphant.  While it’s best to have read the rest of the series first, the events of the book still make sense without having done so, they just won’t have the same emotional resonance.

Reader’s Annotation:

Summoned to the Summer Palace in the wake of a devastating attack, Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of a kidnapped young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Author Information:

http://www.tamora-pierce.com/

http://tammypierce.livejournal.com/

Genre:

Fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a difficult book to booktalk, as it’s the third in a series.  Instead, I would choose to either talk about the first book, or the series as a whole.  Pulling out a fight scene from the first book would be a great way of giving listeners an idea of both the plot and tone.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Pierce doesn’t shy away from having heroine’s that take charge of not just their public life, but their private life as well.  The book also spends a decent amount of time showing Beka struggling with a more restrictive religious culture that is growing in popularity.  Many conservative religious groups will (rightly) see the parallels between themselves and the religious leaders in the book, and may take offense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Pierce has never been a disappointment.

Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

Going Bovine

cover image for Going BovineBray, Libba. (2009) Going Bovine. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Cameron has been acting odd lately – even odder than usual.  He’s also been seeing things that…aren’t exactly ordinary.  When Cameron’s parents finally decide that maybe something is wrong with him after all (that, perhaps, he’s not simply acting up) they take him to a doctor who explains that Cameron has Mad Cow Disease.  As if that isn’t enough, not long after Cameron has to be taken to the hospital a punk rock angel comes along and explains that it’s his destiny to save the world.  It’s not like Cameron has much else better to do, but with being stuck in bed and all, so he accepts the challenge.  But first…he needs to find a way to break out of the infirmary.

Critical Evaluation:

I desperately wanted this book to be half as long as it was.  Not because I don’t read thick books, but because long drawn out adventure stories in which it’s entirely likely that only one person is real do not make for terribly engaging stories.  Bray makes some clever allusions to Don Quixote and there is just enough ambiguity to make the question of what really happened an interesting one.  There just was just too little possibility that his friends really existed to make me care about anyone but Cameron; the hints that he was merely in a coma were too early and too often to let myself get invested in the fates of Balder, Gonzo, or Dulcie.  Nevertheless, it was certainly different and intriguing and worthy of reading and discussion, most especially when it comes to the question of if it even matters if none of it was real or not.  Also, it’s not as if Bray doesn’t write well.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron is off the save the world – and possibly himself as well.

Author Information:

http://libbabray.com/

http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

@libbabray

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

This book is full of weird and odd sh-, er…stuff.  I would probably pick one of the scenes in the book (probably the Small World scene, as it’s not really a spoiler) and use that the set the tone and scene of the story.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

Drugs. Cults. Reality TV. Explicit language. Sex. There’s plenty here for people to object to, if they are so inclined.  There’s plenty to use to defend it as well, if needed – starting with the Printz seal on the cover.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty and the rest of the books in that trilogy.  So I thought I would try this one.  Wow.  No one is ever going to accuse Bray of not having range.

The Name of the Star

cover image for The Name of the StarJohnson, Maureen. (2012) The Name of the Star. New York, NY: G. P. Putnum’s Sons

Plot Summary:

Rory’s parents are spending their sabbatical teaching at the The University of Bristol.  So Rory gets to finish up high school at Wexford, a private boarding school in London rather than back home in Louisiana.  After a somewhat rocky start, including getting drafted for the field hockey team and almost choking to death in the dining hall on her third day, Rory settles in and finds her niche. But Rory’s time in England may not end up being the postcard perfect experience she was hoping for.  There’s a killer on the loose in London; someone is copying Jack the Ripper’s kills – and Wexford is right in the center of his favorite hunting grounds.

Critical Evaluation:

Name of the Star is typical MJ: clever, heartfelt, and more than a little bit off (in a good way).  The oddness makes the pacing less perfect that it could be, but it also takes what might have been a very predictable story about supernatural killers and instead keeps readers constantly guessing about who is going to do what next – and why.  Like Johnson herself, the characters have personality to spare, but never come across as larger than life or someone you would only meet in the pages of a book.  Overall, it was quite enjoyable and I very much look forward to the rest of the series – and I think many teens will too.

Reader’s Annotation:

A murderer is on the loose in London, recreating the crimes of the city’s most notorious serial kill: Jack the Ripper – and Rory’s school is right in the middle of his hunting ground.

Author Information:

http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/blog/

@maureenjohnson

(if you are not following Johnson on twitter, you should be. She’s hilarious.)

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

This is a good title for “what if?” type questions.  What if you had to go to another school for your last year? What if you started seeing ghosts? etc.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Potential Controversy:

There is sneaking out, drinking (but legally! well, mostly), and of course murder and supernatural elements.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

All of the other books of Johnson’s that I have read were on the scale of “enjoyable” to “awesome.”

 

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