Wrapped – Jennifer Bradbury

wrappedTitle: Wrapped
Author: Jennifer Bradbury

ISBN: 9781416990086
Publisher: Athenenum
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 309
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Historical Fiction
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 860

Annotation: Unknowingly pocketing a strange artifact from a mummy unwrapping party, debutante Agnes sets off on a crazy adventure.

Plot Summary: Infused with history, humor and romance, Wrapped is an adventure tale featuring a plucky heroine. Agnes Wilkins is not your typical Regency lady. Instead of going to balls and flirting with potential suitors, Agnes rather spend her time reading novels by a Lady and learning languages. But alas, her debut has come and her first event is a mummy unwrapping at the house of Lord Showalter – London’s most eligible and desirable bachelor. There she steals away an object found on the mummy and gets follow by a strange waiter who is mysteriously found dead at the end of the party. This sets off a chain of events with Agnes potentially caught in the middle.

Critical Evaluation: Wrapped is an enjoyable read. One great thing about this novel is the family dynamics presented. Most YA novels do not show a positive relationship between parents and child, so I thought that is a nice touch. While Agnes’ mom does not understand her child’s interest in literature over catching a beau, she still obviously loves Agnes. And vice versus. Agnes’ spunk is unusual for the time period, but her father clearly loves her for her adventurous independent spirit and does not force her to change. I adore Agnes partly because she has a mutual love for Austen and partly because she can speak ten different languages. So envious of that talent. The pacing is steady and made for quick reading. The adventure is filled with fun mishaps and historical detail. While sophisticated readers might easily deduce the villain, the story has a charm that will keep readers going. At least it did for me.

Author Bio: Jennifer Bradbury is the author of the middle grade novel “River Runs Deep” and of several critically acclaimed young adult novels: “A Moment Comes”, “Wrapped”, and her debut, “Shift” which “Kirkus Reviews” called fresh, absorbing, compelling in a starred review. “Shift” was picked as an ALA and a “School Library Journal” Best Book for Young Adults and is also on numerous state reading lists. A former English teacher and one-day “Jeopardy!” champ, she lives with her family in Burlington, Washington. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: 19th Century – Napoleonic Wars

Booktalking Ideas: Mummies, Spies, Regency, Napoleonic Wars, Egypt

Challenge Issues: This fizzy, frothy caper is very unlikely to be challenged, but if it was I would point to the various positive reviews including VOYA’s thought mentioning its classroom potential: “Though slightly different in exact years, this novel would pair well with the classic Count of Monte Cristo as “Old Boney,” Napoleon, indirectly influences both protagonists’ actions. The differences between the two novels would make an interesting comparison on political and social levels.”

The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Name of the StarTitle: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson

ISBN: 9780399256608
Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 368
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback) $9.99 (audio)

Genre: Paranormal, Mystery
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 710

Annotation: On Rory Deveaux first day in London, a murderer struck mimicking Jack the Ripper.

Plot Summary: Aurora “Rory” Deveaux has spent her life growing up in a small town in Louisiana where gators are common and she’s surrounded by her quirky family members from her aunt who runs an angel business to her uncle who owns eight freezers and doesn’t believe in banks. When her parents get a job teaching in England, she gets a choice to stay or go. Rory decides to go and she arrives in London at the worst possible time. The day she lands in London is the same day a murderer has struck London. Not just any killer, but one that is copying the work of Jack the Ripper. All anyone can talk about is the Ripper copycat and despite the presence of cameras everywhere, there are few leads and even fewer witnesses. Until Rory sees a man one night the same night a body was found. Soon she gets caught in the middle of “Rippermania” and a very top secret police force.

Critical Evaluation: In short, The Name of the Star, takes a gruesome topic (Jack the Ripper) and ghosts spinning it in Johnson’s trademark clever and humorous manner. To elaborate, the Jack the Ripper plot line could easily veer into the macabre with elaborate details about the killer’s methodology, victims, etc. yet it never gets that way. There is touches of grim, but Maureen Johnson also infuses the story with humor that it balances out. I also enjoy the way Johnson approaches the ghost mythology. It’s unique and believable – well, as much as ghosts are. I also enjoy Johnson’s characters. Rory’s voice is comical, strong, and unique. Her tangents about life in Louisana and her quirky family levy the chilling atmosphere set by the strange murders. However, Johnson doesn’t put her eggs in one basket. I really enjoy my time with her cast of secondary characters from Claudia, the field hockey loving house-mom, to Charlotte, the prim head girl. Additionally the way romance is handled is a bonus. It is not girl-meets-boy and “I’ll love you forever” kind of romance, which seem to dominate YA literature. Rather it’s “you’re cute so let’s just make out since it probably is one of the more normal things going on in my life right now”. The romance does not dominate the story line.

Author Bio: Maureen Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven young adult novels, as well as several coauthored works. She lives in New York City and spends far too much time online. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Jack the Ripper, Ghosts, London, New Kid, Boarding School,

Challenge Issues: The Name of the Star has been nominated for various state awards and garner positive reviews including this from VOYA “Although the author mines some familiar tropes here, like snooty boarding schools, ghost busting, and seeing dead people, she does so with enough flair that nothing seems tired or recycled. Best of all, although some threads are left open for the rest of the series, the main story is concluded thoroughly enough to let this novel stand on its own, something that is rare in the series-laden literary landscape of today.”

XVI – Julia Karr

XVITitle: XVI
Author: Julia Karr

ISBN: 9780142417713
Publisher: Speak
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 325
Price: $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Dystopian
Interest Age: 12 and up
Lexile Level: 600

Annotation: The brutal death of Nina’s mother just before her 16th birthday reveals secrets not just about her life, but society itself.

Plot Summary: Nina is on the cusp of her 16th birthday and about to receive her XVI tattoo signaling that she is ready for sex. In this world, the Governing Council believe that the creation of the “sex-teen” protects girls and most girls look forward to the day they turn 16. For lower tiered girls, turning 16 allows them to join the Female Liaison Speciailists (FeLS), a career to help lift them out of poverty. Unlike the other girls, Nina is content to remain young forever and dreading her 16th birthday. When her mother is murdered, Nina uncovers shocking family secrets including her father’s identity that lead her down the road to rebellion.

Critical Evaluation: The initial draw of this book is the world Julia Karr creates. XVI sets up a futuristic world consumed by constant advertising and marketing, and girls are branded with a XVI tattoo as soon as they turn 16. This tattoo advertises their sexual availability to every boy/man and essentially makes them fair game. A promising premise. However, I had some issues with the world-building. XVI sets itself up as a misogynistic society with no legal recourse for women who are harassed, assaulted, or raped. A world where women are not only preyed on by men, but by predatory marketing, the government and media. I had some trouble connecting how today’s world shifts into the one Karr creates. How did the justice system, however minuscule it still is for women today, disappear? And how did humanity let those values vanish? Despite some issues with the world building, I still enjoyed the world Karr shows. Nina is a well-developed character – her strength in protecting Dee, her fear of being sixteen, her drive to understand her mother’s death. I enjoy following Nina’s story. However, some of the secondary characters felt flat. Grounded Wei and Flighty Sandy felt like stock characters that help emphasize Nina as the balance between the two. These characters have potential and I hope that Karr develops them more in the next book.

While it is not the best book out there, Karr creates a story and world that provokes discussion. She shows us how far predatory marketing, sexualization of women and government control can go. It is a reflection of societal ills and the treatment of women today. The themes covered and the premise of the world makes this potentially amazing. However, XVI falls short of the mark. The themes were never fully explored and it is a predictable piece.

Author Bio: Julia Karr lives in Seymour, Indiana. (via Ingram).

Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Education

Booktalking Ideas: Dystopia, gender politics, murder, mystery

Challenge Issues: In response to a challenge, I would use Booklists’ review that states “In her unsettling debut, Karr depicts a sex-obsessed future where women are the perpetual victims of predatory marketing, and other societal ills seen in our presentfamilies trapped in the welfare system, pharmaceutical companies in bed with health-care providers and the mediahave been taken to terrifying ends. At times the message goes overboard, but theres no doubt this well-written, accessible sci-fi thriller will provoke discussion.” While the book might not be the best work out there, the topics discussed by Karr is important in today’s technology driven world as indicate in other various review sources. I would also ask for teens’ opinion.

The Mockingbirds – Daisy Whitney

The MockingbirdsTitle: The Mockingbirds
Author: Daisy Whitney

ISBN: 9780316090537
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 339
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 720

Annotation: Date raped at a party and seeking justice, Alex goes to The Mockingbirds – a secret society dedicated to justice.

Plot Summary: A standout classical musician, Alex Patrick thought she was just enjoying a night off with friends at her boarding school, Themis Academy. When she wakes up the next day in a strange bed naked, she has no memory of the previous night. As fragment memories return, she realizes she was rape. The thought of facing the boy who took advantage of her everyday or telling the authorities makes her anxious and sick. Instead, she turns to a secret group of students bent on serving justice, The Mockingbirds, to investigate and deliver justice.

Critical Evaluation: The Mockingbirds opens with Alex waking up in an unknown person’s bed with no memory of the night before. She had sex, but she never remembers consenting. As fragments of the night comes back, Alex realizes that she been raped. What follows is an exceptional debut book about a young girl’s stand for justice. Complex and authentic, Whitney weaves a story that’s part courtroom drama and part emotional journey as Alex struggles to find her self and her voice in the aftermath of her rape.

I really love this book. It was one of my favorite debut novels of 2010. The characters and plot were so skillfully crafted that this is an impressive story that I would advocate every teen and their parent read this book. Alex’s characterization felt very spot-on and realistic as she struggles with her feelings of doubt, guilt, shame, etc. as she attempts to feel ‘normal’ again. Her vulnerability and strength as she confronts her demons and her rapist definitely got me rooting for her. I also enjoyed the strong secondary female characters Whitney writes. Maia, Amy, T.S., etc. were all incredible characters as they help support Alex through her healing process. My internal feminist was definitely jumping up and down as these characters appeared on the page. Additionally, Whitney does not fall into the trap of characterizing all the boys as one-dimensional stereotypes. There were the jerks (Carter), but she also has Jones and Martin, boys who have a strong moral code and different ideas on how to approach justice.

One major aspect that I notice in many reviews is the commentary that Carter did not get a fitting enough punishment for his crime. Date rape is something that needs to be address by the public legal system and that he should be given time in prison, etc.. I don’t disagree with that statement. Rape is a serious issue and I completely agree that Carter should be given a harsher sentence, but given the confines of the premise, the punishment the Mockingbirds give for the guilt sentence is as far as their power can go. Because the Mockingbirds is a student-run society, anything harsher is out of their reach. The other comments I notice is about the version of justice that the Mockingbirds use on Carter. I can understand their point, but my counterpoint is that since the Mockingbirds is not a formal court of justice, they have to use other avenues to ensure that the accuse show up for the case and accept their punishment if found guilty. If they did not use ways to compel the accused to show up, how will they tried the case or punish someone, the Mockingbirds will be an ineffective group. And it is very checks and balance as attest by Alex when she signed the contract. If Alex was found lying, she’ll have to accept punishment.

“Sexual assault is against the standards to which Themis students hold themselves. Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent, i.e., uttered a clear “yes” to the action. If a person does not say “no” that does not mean he or she said “yes.” Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no.”

This quote above is one of the most candid messages I read about rape in a YA book and one of the best messages in this book. Especially today, where society still stigmatizes women for not being a virgin or acting morally (getting drunk or high, dressing provactively, etc.). And if they do act unmoral, they are therefore “asking for it.” The Mockingbirds empowers women with its strong message that rape isn’t simply the act of sexual intercourse and that being drunk or expressing sexuality through clothes or words is not an agreement to sex. That silence does not equal consent. And a lack of yes is a no. These messages alone makes The Mockingbirds a must-read for anybody and everybody, but combined with the awesome characters and plot, its not only empowering, but page-turning as well.

Author Bio: Daisy Whitney reports on television, media and advertising for a range of news outlets. She graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco, California, with her fabulous husband, fantastic kids, and adorable dogs. Daisy believes in karma and that nearly every outfit is improved with a splash of color. She is the author of “The Mockingbirds” novels, “When You Were Here,” and “Starry” “Nights.” Daisy invites you to follow her online at DaisyWhitney.com.

Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Ed – Consent

Booktalking Ideas: Student justice, Harper Lee, date rape, boarding school, secret societies

Challenge Issues: Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and School Library review states “Written with a deep awareness of post-trauma experience and a keen ear for high school dialogue, this novel makes an impassioned case for youth taking responsibility for the actions of their peers.”

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight – Jennifer E. Smith

Statistical ProbabilityTitle: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith

ISBN: 9780316122382
Publisher: Poppy Books
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 256
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $10.00 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary – Love Stories
Interest Age: 13 to 17
Lexile Level: 1060

Annotation: A missed flight and a chance meeting is how Hadley’s love story starts.

Plot Summary: 17 year old Hadley is heading to London to watch her father marry the woman he left their family for, but she misses her flight by four minutes. Despite her reluctance to attend this wedding, Hadley settles for a long wait at the airport for the next flight. By chance, her seat mate is a charming British student, Oliver, who helped her in the terminal earlier. He lends a hand again assisting her calming her fear of claustrophobia. They end up bonding during the air travel and even share a kiss, despite Oliver’s evasion of his reason for traveling. Separated at arrival, Hadley navigates her feelings about her father’s new life and finding Oliver before her return home.

Critical Evaluation: Hadley only misses her flight by four minutes and in that time, it changes her life. The Statistical Probability of Love at Sight is a story about random connections, a theme that is charming in a world so driven by technology and social networking. Given the premise, I completely thought this book would be a light romantic comedy about two teenagers falling madly in love. I completely misjudged it. While the romance does feature in the novel, both Hadley and Oliver have their own separate demons they must face. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is much a story about romantic love as it is about familial love. Hadley’s still reeling from the destruction her dad left when he took off for a semester teaching at Oxford and fell in love with the city as well as another woman. She did not want to be at the airport in the first place; flying off to attend her dad’s wedding to “that other woman”. I really felt for Hadley and her antics are sympathetic given the situation and relationship with her father. Given the short nature of the connection between Hadley and Oliver, it can be hard to realistically create a believable romance. But Jennifer E. Smith does it and it such a short book too! Her writing style made me feel like I was with Hadley every step of the way from the airport to the plane and dashing around London.  And I was right there as she started falling… A sweet, charming read for fans of Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins.

Author Bio: Jennifer E. Smith is the author of”Hello, “Goodbye and Everything in Between, “The Geography of You and Me”, “This Is What Happy Looks Like”, “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”, “The Storm Makers”, “You Are Here”, and “The Comeback Season”. She earned her master s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, and her work has been translated into thirty languages. (via Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: meet-cute, one-day time frame, London, love at first sight

Challenge Issues: For a romance story, The Statistical Probability of Love Sight is very sweet and never ventures beyond kissing. However, if this book was challenged, I would mention the strong reviews including this from VOYA: “The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight is a sweet, character-driven, romantic comedy with plenty of twists to keep readers engaged and is sure to delight teens from beginning to end. Young adult readers will enjoy reading about Hadley and Oliver, two characters who are familiar, witty, and have terrific chemistry together. This book is highly recommended and would be a great addition to any library serving teens who enjoy romance and realistic fiction. Be prepared to have this book fly of the shelves.”

Graceling – Kristin Cashore

GracelingTitle: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore

ISBN: 9780547258300
Publisher: Graphia
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 471
Price: $17 (hardcover), $9.99 (paperback) $14.99 (audio)

Genre: Fantasy
Interest Age: 14 and up
Lexile Level: 730

Annotation: Graced with the ability to kill, Katsa struggles for redemption from her own skills as she teams up with another to take down a corrupt king.

Plot Summary: At the age of eight, Katsa killed a man. In a land of seven kingdoms, rare individuals have talents called a Grace. They can manifest themselves at any time – some come early and some have talents develop later. The only physical attribute of a Grace is that they have two different colored eyes. Katsa is grace with the talent of killing. As the niece of the king, she is used as a pawn. He sends her to torture people that has gone against his wishes. After one of her missions, Katsa decides to create a Council to help people. It was on one of the Council’s missions that she meets Po for the first time. A prince, he is on a mission to look for his kidnapped grandfather. Katsa gets drawn into this mystery as they fight the strange attraction between them.

Critical Evaluation: Cashore’s debut fantasy contains elements of adventure, mystery, romance that will appeal to a wide audience of readers. From the start, Cashore captures the reader drawing them into the world of the Seven Kingdoms and the story of a fierce young woman struggling to find her place in a world that does not want her. Katsa’s struggle to find purpose and place echo teens’ struggles to define themselves and find identity and belonging. Well-plotted story lines and exceptional world building, Cahshore excels at evocative prose and unforgettable characters. Katsa is both brilliant and flawed. The slow building romance does not detract from the adventure and will win fans due to the realistic portrayal of relationships. Katsa and Po do not not fall in love instantly. Instead, there is mutual respect and affection develops as the story moves along. In addition, it is worthy to note Cashore builds a world open to diversity including homosexuality. Give to fans of Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley.

Author Bio: KRISTIN CASHORE is a freelance educational writer who writes content for textbooks and teacher editions, as well as book reviews for “The Horn Book Guide” and other publications. Kristin received her master’s degree in children’s literature in 2003 from Simmons College, where she worked with Liza Ketchum and was named a Virginia Haviland Scholar. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida. (from Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Strong world building of a medieval fantasy world, slow building realistic romance story, page turning adventure, political intrigue

Challenge Issues: Graceling does have potentially violent scenes as well as allusions to incest and sex that some may find problematic. However, this brilliant novel has five different star reviews from review sources including School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, it won the SIBA award in 2009 and been a nominee or winner for many state awards and an honor for the 2009 Indies Choice Book Award.

The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The NaturalsTitle: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN: 9781423168232
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 308
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback)

Genre: Mystery & Crime
Interest Age: 12 to 17
Lexile Age: 690

Annotation: 17-year old profiler, Cassie, joins a secret program in the FBI to help solve cold cases.

Plot Summary: Seventeen year old Cassie used to travel the country with her psychic mom. Taught at a young age to read people, Cassie has a natural affinity for profiling and she uses it to help her mom out at her shows. This was her life until her mom disappeared from her dressing room one day. Now living with her grandparents, Cassie maintains a quiet life profiling customers in the diner she waitressing at. Until an FBI agent shows up and offers her a place in their off-the-books program. A program for teens like her to help solve cold cases. Desperate for answers about her mother, she joins hoping to solve the question of her mother’s disappearance one day. Soon she realizes that this program might be more than she bargained for and her fellow teens might take getting use to like Michael, who reads emotions like she reads people, Lia, a human lie detector, and Dean, a fellow profiler. When a case stumps the FBI and a serial killer makes contact, Cassie and her friends must piece together the pieces before the killer catches up to them.

Critical Evaluation: A page-turning thriller, The Naturals is the start of so-far a three book series. Barnes takes readers behind the scenes of crime-solving and criminal profiling through Cassie’s outsiders narrative as she enters the secret FBI program and meets other teens like her. The storytelling never feels clunky, even when describing the various processes behind solving crimes and the various characters have intriguing stories of their own. Besides Cassie’s narrative, Barnes interjects short chapters with a mysterious serial killer narrative keeping the story’s tone tense and creepy. The lack of supernatural will appeal to those teens who want a real no-nonsense action story. However, the secondary romantic love triangle is most unnecessary to the story, but it does help win some readers as it tempts them towards the following books. After all, this book does not answer who Cassie will end up with. While this book does venture toward potential challenging topics like serial killers and sexual crimes, Barnes does a fantastic job of not overly describing gory scenes or gratuitous violence. Great appeal for the younger teen set and for fans of I’ll Tell You I Love You, But Then I’ve to Kill You series or the Criminal Minds/Law and Order tv shows.

Author Bio: Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written several acclaimed young adult novels. She has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science. She received her PhD from Yale University this year and is now a professor in psychology. You can find her online at http://www.jenniferlynnbarnes.com or follow her on Twitter @jenlynnbarnes. (from image)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Criminal Psychology

Booktalking Ideas: Criminal Minds(tv show) for teens, mysterious pasts, page turning thriller, serial killers, love triangle

Challenge Issues: The Naturals is a nominee for various state awards and has strong reviews from various review sources including this VOYA bit “Although the novel contains the same YA trope of so many—a girl finds herself attracted to two boys, one quiet and brooding, and the other charming, mysterious, and devastatingly handsome—the potential romance is only a small element of a tightly paced suspense novel that will keep readers up until the wee hours to finish.”

Draw the Dark – Ilsa J. Bick

Draw the DarkTitle: Draw the Dark
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

ISBN: 9780761356868
Publisher: Carolrhonda Books
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 338
Price: $16.95 (hardcover) $9.95 (paperback) $19.99 (audio)

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 790

Annotation: Christian Cage’s vivid visions led him to dark secrets the town has been hiding for years.

Plot Summary: In Winter, Wisconsin, there are some things best forgotten. A murder in 1945. The near-suicide of an elementary school teacher. The disappearance of Christian Cage’s parents. Christian doesn’t want to forgot. He has obsessively drawn and painted their images since their disappearance. However, that is not the only images he draws. For some reason, he can hear and illustrate the thoughts of those around him. Voices from the sideways place tell him their deepest fears and when he draws it, they die. When strange swastikas show up painted on buildings and people start dying, fingers are pointing to him. Soon waking nightmares consume him as he dreams of WWII events from the eyes of a young Jewish boy. Driven to understand, Christian starts researching long-forgotten events in Winter, Wisconsin during WWII.. events that many believe are best left buried.

Critical Evaluation: In this story, debut author Bicks weaves 1940s American into the life of contemporary teen, Christian. As Christian sleepwalks and draws, he is pulled into the town’s past. Into a history that many would like to keep buried. I was amazed at the skill Bicks had in combining the historical with the fantastical to build a suspenseful mystery. She didn’t veer off into too much history, though I probably wouldn’t have minded, nor did she overdo the fantasy. It was just the right mix of both to move the story along.

While I initially picked it up for the historical elements, it was hard not to care about Christian Cage. His parents disappeared as a child and he was raised by the town sheriff. Due to the rumors about the disappearance of his parents and an unfortunate suicide of his first grade teacher (which some of the townspeople blame him for), he grew up pretty much a loner. The only thing he cares about is his art and finding a way into the ‘sideways place’. Christian is a gifted artist, but his gifts extend beyond his drawing skills. He draws the things people fear the most. Their deepest, darkest secrets that they lock away. So he isolates himself from people. To keep them from getting hurt. To stop himself from unintentionally hurting other people.

Draw the Dark is a great book. Once I started, I lost myself in Winter, Winconsin as Christian attempts to figure out the messages his blackouts and dreams are telling him. Ilsa J. Bick definitely created a intricate mystery that will engage readers, both male and female.

Author Bio: Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, former Air Force major, and now a full-time author. Her critically acclaimed, award-winning YA novels include Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and Ashes (a 2011 VOYA Perfect Ten). Ilsa currently lives in rural Wisconsin, near a Hebrew cemetery. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon. (from Ingram)

Tie to Curriculum Units: Nazis, 20th Century US History

Booktalking Ideas: Nazis in America, Supernatural, Small town mystery, creepy dreams, secrets

Challenge Issues: Draw the Dark has received favorable reviews from a variety of review sources including a star review from School Library Journal. Additionally, Bick’s provides a new historical perspective of US involvement in WWII that rarely is covered in history.

Avalon High – Meg Cabot

avalon highTitle: Avalon High
Author: Meg Cabot

ISBN: 9780060755881
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 288
Price: $8.99 (paperback)

Genre: Contemporary, Mythology
Interest Age: 12 to 17
Lexile Level: 800

Annotation: King Arthur retelling set in modern day high school.

Plot Summary: Avalon High is a modern take on the Arthurian legend. Ellie, named after Lady Elaine of Astolat a.k.a Lady of Shalott, knows way more on medieval life, especially King Arthur and his court, than any teenager should know. That’s because her parents are medieval scholars and when they move their family to Annapolis for their sabbatical, Ellie notices that her new classmates have way more in common with the Arthur legend then coincidence. Like the name of the school – Avalon High. Or popular boy Will’s life – a girlfriend named Jennifer, a best friend named Lance, and a contentious relationship with step sibling Marco. As she gets assign to a project about King Arthur’s time strange things begin happening and Ellie needs to figure out what’s going on before everything ends up in tragedy.

Critical Evaluation: The impetus that actually drove me to read this book is watching the Disney Channel movie of Avalon High.I enjoyed it and so the saying goes “the book is usually better than the movie”, I had to get the book. While the overall story line is similar, the movie differs a lot from the book.

For those familiar with the King Arthur stories, the various character nods is fairly obvious. Despite that and the somewhat obvious plotting, I delighted in the story because of Cabot’s characterizations and style of writing. No matter how cliché or plot-obvious Cabot gets sometimes, I always get drawn into her stories because her characters’ voices is always so damn well-done. In Avalon High, Ellie’s the voice of the story and she’s funny and witty. Even secondary characters are brought to life like Ellie’s wacky parents. An entertaining modern take on King Arthur.

Author Bio: Meg Cabot was born in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to her award-winning adult contemporary fiction, she is the author of bestselling young adult fiction, including The Princess Diaries and the Mediator series. More than twenty-five million copies of her novels for children and adults have sold worldwide. Meg lives in Key West, Florida, with her husband.

Tie to Curriculum Units: King Arthur Mythology

Booktalking Ideas: High school setting, King Arthur, new school

Challenge Issues: To combat challenges, I would mention that Avalon High won Kentucky Bluegrass Award and commended on Texas Lone Star Reading List. Additionally, the book was nominated on other state awards and provide a fun entrée into Arthurian mythology.

Reviews By Author

Bardugo, Leigh – Six of Crows

Caletti, Deb – The Fortunes of Indigo Skye

Davidson, Jenny – The Explosionist

Eulberg, Elizabeth – Prom and Prejudice

Freitas, Donna – The Survival Kit

Graudin, Ryan – Wolf by Wolf

Headley, Justina Chen – North of Beautiful

Kessler, Jackie Morse – Hunger

LaCour, Nina – The Disenchantments

Meyer, Marissa – Cinder

O’Neill, Louise – Only Ever Yours

Rae, Kristin – Wish You Were Italian

Reynolds, Jason, and Kiely, Brandon – All-American Boys

Valenti, Jessica – Full-Frontal Feminism

Vivian, Siobhan – Not That Kind of Girl

Werlin, Nancy – Impossible

Yoon, Nicole – Everything, Everything