Liesl remembers when she used to go into the woods as a child and play with Der Erlkönig [the Goblin King]. She found it strange that he kept asking for her hand in marriage since she was only a child, but he persisted. As she grew older, she stopped traveling so often into the woods, but she still heard tales of the Der Erlkönig — especially from her grandmother, Constanze, who urged Liesl to respect the “old laws” so that she could keep herself safe as the Der Erlkönig searched for his eternal bride. Though Leisl was primarily occupied with helping to run her family’s inn, she preferred to spend her spare time composing and playing music with her brother, Josef. She didn’t give much thought to Der Erlkönig and his search for an eternal bride, but then her sister, Käthe, was kidnapped by goblins. Suddenly, Leisl’s entire world was turned upside down — because Der Erlkönig had not only taken her sister away, but he had also clouded the minds of everyone around her.
As she struggled to get out of the house and search for her missing sister, the people around her, who didn’t know who this “Käthe” was, seemed to think Leisl had a mental breakdown. Only Constanze could see through this illusion, but her family thought of *her* as an old woman who had lost her own grip on reality long ago. Fortunately, she conspired to sneak Leisl out of the house so that she could find Der Erlkönig and negotiate for her sister’s safe return. Though this book was set at the turn of the 19th century and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest was set in modern times, it somehow made me think of that story. (Maybe it’s because of the forest setting? Don’t ask. I have no idea how my mind works!) All I know is that I recommend fans of Black’s work to check this out when it’s released in February.
Anna Morgan is able to communicate with the dead. Or, to be more accurate, the dead are able to communicate with Anna Morgan. This communication doesn’t require fancy summoning rituals like a séance or anything; the spirits of the dead can be found nearly everywhere and many of them compete for her attention on a regular basis. Why? Because they are hoping she will be able to help them complete some final task before they move on. These mental hitchhikers have been accosting Anna since she was a small child. In fact, when she was only a toddler, Anna was abandoned in a food court with a note — “This child is possessed.” — pinned to her clothing. Anna has spent most of her life being shuffled between foster homes and psychiatric institutions because people just don’t know what to make of her. But, luckily, she has found two people she can count on — her best friend, Deo, and her therapist, Dr. Kelsey. Deo is the closest thing Anna has to family, and the two of them look out for one another no matter what. Dr. Kelsey, on the other hand, has helped Anna to deal with her gift and to erect mental walls to contain or keep out spirits as necessary. Talk about an invaluable skill!
Occasionally, Anna lets down her guard to help a spirit in need and Molly is one such case. Anna doesn’t know the entire story, but she knows that Molly was a murder victim who wants Anna’s help bringing her killer to justice. First, though, they need to get in touch with Molly’s grandfather and convince him that Anna is not just a scam artist looking for a payday. Since he has contacts in law enforcement, he is the best possible person to contact… but he is also very skeptical, so Anna has her work cut out for her. This book is a wild ride with plenty of action and mystery throughout, and it even has a dash of conspiracy theories thrown into the mix. With some fairly graphic descriptions of violence, though, I feel compelled to forewarn anyone who might be squeamish. If you enjoy murder mysteries like The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, though, you should definitely check this one out.
Elle Wittimer is a die-hard Starfield fan. It only makes sense, since her father was so obsessed with the single-season cult classic. (Think Firefly.) He was such an über geek, in fact, that he was one of the founders of the geek convention known as ExcelsiCon. Elle has kept in touch with the fandom online and even writes a Starfield blog, under the pseudonym Rebelgunner, but she hasn’t been back to the con since her father died. Now that Starfield is getting a reboot as a major motion picture, though, she has a very good reason to attend — the winner of the cosplay will win tickets to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball (a dream of her father’s) and a meet-and-greet with the actor who plays Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. It’s just too bad the guy they picked to be Carmindor is the annoying teen “heartthrob” Darien Freeman…
Darien Freeman is an über geek in his own right, but no one really knows it. When he was younger, he used to live for Starfield and events like ExcelsiCon… It was always his dream to play Carmindor. But, he feels like a fake because he is seriously lacking in geeky “street-cred” now that he is so well-known for role on a popular teen show called Seaside Cove. It would have been hard enough for anyone to step into that role after David Singh’s amazing portrayal, but the very vocal lack of confidence of the Starfield fans has Darien feeling even more rattled. So much so that he doesn’t even want to make his appearance at ExcelsiCon. If only the number he found to get in touch with the person responsible for running ExcelsiCon wasn’t wrong, he might have been able to talk his way out of attending. At the very least, though, he has “met” a pretty cool girl who seems to love Starfield as much as he does. And, as long as she doesn’t know who is really texting her, he is free to just be himself. (Kinda ironic, right?!?)
This modern adaptation of the Cinderella story is simply amazing. With a falling-in-love via text homage to You’ve Got Mail, and a true understanding of geek culture reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, it’s a #mustread for hopeless romantic geeks like myself. Aside from the story, by the way, I think I am seriously fangirling over Ashley Poston. I already loved her for creating this story, but her acknowledgements hit me right in the feels:
Never give up on your dreams, and never let anyone tell you that what you love is inconsequential or useless or a waste of time. Because if you love it? If that OTP or children’s card game or abridged series or YA book or animated series makes you happy? That is never a waste of time. Because in the end we’re all just a bunch of weirdos standing in front of other weirdos, asking for their username.
Hawthorn Creely is a bit of an outsider. She doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and most people consider her to be a bit strange. Her older brother, Rush, though, is a part of the popular crowd and even used to date the seemingly-perfect Lizzie Lovett. When Lizzie disappears, nevertheless, it is Hawthorne who becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened. How obsessed? Well… She kinda decides to go and apply for a job at the diner where Lizzie worked — they *obviously* have an opening! — and to try and get close to Lizzie’s boyfriend, whom many people suspect of foul play. After all, her boyfriend was the last person to see her when they went camping together. Maybe if she spends enough time around the same people and places as Lizzie, she will be able to uncover some clue everyone else is missing. The thing is, though, Hawthorn has a completely crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie… I’m talking, I think she needs some serious mental help. But she is utterly convinced that she is right and that by spending enough time living like Lizzie, she will be able to prove that she is right. If you like mysteries and enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you should get this book when it comes out. [It is slated for a January 3, 2017, publication.]
Nina Armstrong didn’t think much about being biracial until her parents split up. She didn’t think much about her creamy mocha skin and curly brown and red hair. Until her parents decided to divorce, she didn’t really feel the need to “pick a side.” Now that her darker-skinned brother, Jimi, has moved out with their [black] dad and she has stayed living with her [white] mom, though, she is starting to question things much more. Especially with racial tensions in Oakland rising at the same time as her parents’ split, Nina starts to feel like she doesn’t belong anywhere. She begins to feel too black around the white kids and too white around the black kids. Some of her best friends suddenly start to treat her differently, and she can’t seem to coexist peacefully with her mom or her dad. She is also worried about Jimi, who seems to have fallen in with the wrong crowd, but she is worried that seeking help for him will make matters worse, or at least drive him away. The only person she seems to feel a connection with is her great-great-grandmother, Sarah Armstrong — about whom she hadn’t even know until her father shared the manuscript for the book he was writing. As she reads about the lengths to which Sarah went, to learn how to read and to escape slavery, she finds the courage she needs to face her own struggles.
I thought this title was perfect to share right during #BannedBooksWeek, considering Sarah Armstrong’s epiphany that she had become a “feared posession: property that could read.” Modern day activists like Malala Yousafzai are quick to remind us ignorance makes people unable to make educated decisions about their own lives and the world around them. If the masses are kept ignorant, it is easier for the people in power to control them. This book is also a good conversation starter for people who are interested in delving more deeply into the history of race relations in the US and the #BlackLivesMatter movement that is still/currently making headlines.
Hamster is ACTIVE
Hummingbird is HOVERING
Hammerhead is CRUISING
Hanniganimal is UP!
This is the way the story opens, and the method Mel Hannigan uses to track her bipolar disorder. The hamster represents her mind/thinking, the hummingbird represents her energy level, the hammerhead represents her physical health, and the Hanniganimal is how they all come together to form “The Hannigan Animal” (aka Mel). As someone who is only mildly familiar with bipolar disorder and who hasn’t experienced it herself, I thought I would find it difficult to insinuate myself into the mind of a character who was experiencing constant and vast swings between mania and depression. Though Mel’s experiences with Bipolar Disorder were different than my own mental health issues with “Pure O” OCD, though, these analogies helped me to relate better than I expected.
I truly appreciate that more authors are writing books like this to provide readers with a healthy dose of information that contributes to compassion and empathy toward people suffering from mental health disorders. We can’t #EndTheStigma if no one will talk about it! Even better, I like the fact that this book did so without feeling clunky or didactic. One of my favorite characters in this story is Dr. Jordan — a resident at the nursing home at which Mel works (who was a therapist, but is not *her* therapist). He tells it like it is, but he is gentle and diplomatic enough that Mel doesn’t completely shut him out when she is vacillating between moods. This isn’t just a book about Bipolar Disorder, though. It’s also a book about navigating life, love, and friendship through the tumult that is adolescence. After reading and loving both this book and Not If I See You First, I can’t wait to see what will be next from Eric Lindstrom. (I may have to wait a while, though, since this book is not even due for publication until February 2017…)
I don’t know how honor students in high school today manage not to have nervous breakdowns on a regular basis. I went to a school that had a fairly good “enrichment” program starting in elementary school and followed that program straight through taking AP level classes in high school. Perhaps it is only because I attended a relatively small school (with a graduating class of just under 100 students), but I never felt any extreme pressure to work the system for the highest possible GPA. We were all encouraged to do our best, to take AP exams to save on time/money in college, to apply for college and scholarships based on our interests, and to also participate in other extra-curricular activities. My classmates and I had the general knowledge that extra-curricular activities could impact our college applications, but we didn’t spend every waking moment calculating which activities would look best on college applications — we just chose the activities that supported our interests. (What a concept!)
Reshma Kapoor is a fictional character, but my experiences in working with teens over the last decade or so have shown me that she is absolutely based on reality… I wasn’t even working with teens who attended super elite schools, and many of them were still beyond stressed about which classes they needed to take and which activities would best round-out their college applications. (Some of them actually started worrying about college in middle school!) In addition to the fact that Reshma attends an über elite and highly competitive school, though, she also faces a lot of pressure from her Asian-American parents who believe that studying and doing well in school are of the utmost importance. For nearly her entire life, she has focused on academic achievement with an end-goal of becoming a doctor. Now that senior year is here and Reshma is *this* close to graduating, she is fully dedicated to keeping her position as valedictorian and getting accepted to Stanford. Especially now that Reshma has a literary agent who is interested in helping her publish a book, she is certain that she has an edge on the competition. If only she wasn’t so lacking in life experience and knew more about “typical” teenagers, she might have an easier time writing that book… So, she’ll just have to make a friend and get a boyfriend to get some plot points. How hard could it possibly be?!?