unRequired Reading Blog

01/17/2011 - 7:56am
The Gardener

High-school junior Mason suffered severe facial scarring from a dog attack as a child. People tend to avoid the intimidating six feet three, 230-pound football player. But Mason’s gruff exterior hides a character that is a smart, quiet hero in S.A. Bodeen’s latest bestseller, The Gardener.

Having grown up never knowing his father – except for a DVD of the faceless man reading a children’s book – Mason longs for answers. When he plays the video for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works, the inexplicable happens–a beautiful girl wakes up. Mason learns that the teens are part of a hideous experiment designed to create autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. The discovery sparks Mason’s heroism, sending him and Laila on the run for their lives as they try to learn who the mastermind behind the gruesome plan is.

09/29/2016 - 7:44pm
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

All of us have had that sense, at one time or another, of seeing something inexplicable out of the corner of our eyes. It may be a flash of light, a reflective glint, or just a shimmery difference in the air around us. And then it usually goes away. But for Aislinn in Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, it’s a different story. She has always been able to see faeries around her, and they aren’t cute and precious like Tinkerbell. The fey are at times hideous or breathtakingly beautiful, cruel or mocking, and always a danger. They often pinch and mock the humans that they follow and then don glamours to blend in with humans (and often lead them astray) when it suits the faeries’ needs.

Aislinn’s grandmother shares this gift of sight and she has helped Aislinn cope by drilling firm rules into her: #3. Don’t stare at invisible faeries. #2. Don’t speak to invisible faeries. And #1. Don’t ever attract their attention. The only way that Aislinn can survive being in a world shared by both faeries and humans is to never, ever let them know that she can see them. She keeps her head down and spends most of her time at her friend Seth’s house – a converted railway car – where she feels strangely protected. Unfortunately, she has attracted the attention of a new, strikingly handsome student at school, Keenan, who doggedly pursues her.
 
07/22/2015 - 3:35pm
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

“I think sometimes you think you’re the hero of the story, and sometimes you think you’re the victim…but you’re not either.”

Douglas Lee is rightfully confused in Adam Rex’s new novel Fat Vampire. He is the title character, doomed to remain a chubby fifteen-year-old for all time. He was trying to lose weight before he was attacked at his family’s cabin, but the curse of a vampire means that he will never change. Eternally hefty, eternally hungry for blood. 
 
At first, he gets by biting cattle and stealing from a bloodmobile (aided by his partner in nerd-crime Jay). But an incident at the San Diego Zoo while trying to suck a panda has blown Doug’s cover, and the host of the basic cable show Vampire Hunters is now close behind and frantic for high ratings.
07/22/2015 - 3:34pm

Banished from their small village, three small, bald cousins aimlessly wander in the desert. The one with a star on his shirt is greedy and sneaky. The tallest one is jolly but dim-witted. The quietest one is a hero in the making, though he doesn’t know that yet. They quickly become separated and when they reunite they are wrapped up in the beginnings of a brutal war involving humans, dragons, and a frightening race of giant rat-creatures…stupid stupid rat creatures.

Jeff Smith’s graphic novel series Bone manages to combine the look and humor of Disney cartoons while tackling the sort of epic adventure that one might find in J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis.

Fone Bone, our hero, and his cousins owe their looks to early Disney characters, particularly the work of Carl Barks, who created Scrooge McDuck comics and revolutionized the drawing style of Donald Duck for the company. Recognizing Barks’ influence baffled me at first. Donald was not someone’s subject to be reformed and retooled. Similar to Athena, he sprung forth from Walt Disney’s head, already wearing his sailor suit…without the pants. Right?
 
Apparently not. Just like those famous ducks, the Bone cousins have large heads, round bellies, low centers of gravity, and the same aversion to pants. All of this might make it hard for a reader to take their epic quest seriously, but Smith valiantly strikes at the importance of their mission.
12/20/2010 - 9:13am

"Beneath heaven is hell.  Beneath hell is furnace."  That is the description by 14-year-old Alex of Furnace, a prison one mile below the surface of the earth.  When you are sentenced to Furnace you are sentenced for life.  This gripping tale is Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith.  In this story we meet Alex, who is arrested after he and a friend are caught during a burglary.  However, the police are not your typical law-enforcement officers, as they are clothed all in black.  Without any of the requisite procedures, during the arrest they shoot Alex's friend dead in front of him.  Alex is taken to court and found guilty of murder.  Despite his and his parents' pleas for an appeal he is sentenced to life in prison with no parole.  Not just any prison but Furnace, where there are no visitors and no chance of ever getting out.

Alex arrives to find a tough world where survival is a daily concern.  He quickly learns that friendships are not part of the Furnace world, and it is every man for himself.  Gangs abound, the food is disgusting,  and guard dogs tear the inmates apart.  Alex quickly learns from his street-smart roommate to keep a low profile and not to draw attention to himself.  This is especially the case when, during the night, evil guards manuever through the prison and randomly select the next victim.  The victims are taken away and return as killing machines.  Alex decides he wants out.  So he and his roommate devise a clever escape plan.  But it is very risky.

12/13/2010 - 8:50am

What would YOUR life be like if you suddenly lost the past 4 years?

Imagine falling down the stairs of your high school with a heavy camera in your hands. If that isn't embarrassing enough, what if you lost the last four years of your life? For 16-year-old Naomi, falling down the stairs of her high school with a heavy camera in her hands causes some very interesting things to happen: like realizing that your best friend in the world just might be in love with you and that you and your mom haven’t spoken since she left your dad three years ago AND that you have a half- sister that you haven’t even met yet!   In Naomi's case, she was able to use this event to decide who she really wants to be, dealing with the difficult issues of her life with a whole new perspective, with grace, humor and intelligence.

12/06/2010 - 10:44am

 What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star? This is what happens in April Lindner’s Jane, a modernization of Charlotte Brontë’s classic work. The result is a hot retelling that teens will relate to in a heartbeat. Rock star with a wild past? Check. Teen girl with a family who doesn’t understand her? Check. Passionate, roller coaster love story? All right!

When author Lindner first saw a Pride and Prejudice remake, she thought, “Not bad, but couldn’t they have chosen a better book?” Looking at her favorite classic authors, she realized that Brontë’s Jane Eyre would make for a good challenge. That challenge would prove to be steep, however. She wanted to remain as faithful as possible to the original work but make it inviting and understandable to the average young adult reader. The first difficulty was finding a modern reason for the class differences between Jane and Mr. Rochester. Then she thought, “What bigger chasm exists than between a poor orphan and the rich and famous?” (Not direct quotes).
07/22/2015 - 3:32pm

For most of us, peanuts don’t usually conjure up thoughts of sickness and death, but for Ambrose Bukowski that’s all they have to offer. The main character of Susin Neilsen’s Word Nerd has a serious allergy, but his real problem is the fact that he’s so awkward. His classmates tease him nonstop for the way he acts, the way he dresses, and the things he says. When they hide a peanut in his sandwich at lunch, the hospital visit afterwards convinces his overprotective mother to homeschool Ambrose.

One day Ambrose meets his landlord’s son Cosmo, who just got out of prison. You might not think that a nerdy kid and a twenty-something ex-con would have anything in common, but the game of Scrabble works in mysterious ways.
 
Ambrose hates Cosmo’s smoking habit and tattoos, and Cosmo doesn’t want to be seen with Ambrose when he’s wearing his lucky purple pants. Still, these two unlikely friends try to make things better for themselves, the only way they know how. But how can they play together when Ambrose’s mom won’t let him near Cosmo? And why does a scary-looking guy named Silvio keep showing up in front of their house, asking for Cosmo?
07/22/2015 - 3:32pm

Sammy Bojar plays guitar in Tragedy of Wisdom with a frightening and talentless lead singer (guess which member chose the name). Most of their practices end in a ragin' tantrum. It looks like a dead-end situation for Sammy and his crew, until a battle of the bands competition gives them a possible chance to record a song for radio play. As Sammy struggles to gain control of his songwriting career, he is helped by his paranoid jazz pianist grandfather and his old best friend/new girlfriend, Jen5. 

Jon Skovron’s debut novel Struts & Frets manages to be authentic in its language and characterization every step of the way. The book is littered with the sort of phrases and people that I can swear I heard and met in high school and at local concerts when I was a teen, right down to the friend who can play video game theme songs with his sweaty, sweaty hand-farts.
11/23/2010 - 9:08am

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games - twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and it is up to Katniss to accept her role as the eponymous Mockingjay in Suzanne Collins' third and final installation of the series. In the first book, The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta manage to survive. In book two, Catching Fire, they are sent back in to the arena. Mockingjay picks up the action with the rebels advancing on the Capital and races to a violent conclusion.

In an interview with School Library Journal, author Suzanne Collins explained her obsession with war. She’s the daughter of an Air Force and Vietnam veteran who taught her from an early age about history and war. Inspired by her combination of combat knowledge and reality TV, The Hunger Games is a dystopian country in chaos, in which teenagers are forced to compete to the death as punishment for an earlier rebellion. Mockingjay examines the necessity of war and answers the question: Will Katniss take on the responsibility for countless lives and change the course of the future of Panem?

If you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, then you must find out how this gripping story ends. If you’re still a newbie to the Hunger Games phenomenon, you’ll want to get on board. The books deliver action, romance, and depth of characters all in a brilliantly visualized future.

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