International Romance: Embrace This Teen Novel

Jennifer E. Smith has created a mini-masterpiece in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Sophisticated and heartwarming, the novel stars charming and intelligent 17-year-old Hadley Sullivan, who is four minutes late for a JFK-to-London flight for her father's second wedding.

Her feelings about the wedding, and the bride she has never met, are complicated, to say the least. As she waits for the next flight to London, she meets Oliver, a sharp, witty Brit who is going to college in the United States and is bound for London for complicated family reasons of his own.

Oliver is in seat 18C, Hadley is in 18A, and the elderly, long-married woman who at first sits between them is a hoot. There is plenty of snappy dialogue here, plus surprise plot twists and believability of characters. The plot, which unfolds over a 24-hour stretch, will make you -- or perhaps remake you -- into a true believer in true love when it is least anticipated. Sigh.

The book also does a fine job with family connections and humor. As Publishers Weekly notes, Smith's book is a "fast-paced and entertaining novel with a superlatively romantic premise."

The Devil in the White City

Do you enjoy a good suspense story? How about a suspense story in a one-of-a-kind historical setting? What about a good suspense story with amazingly well-researched historical facts about Chicago hosting the 1893 World's Fair with a serial killer preying on tourists, a delusional political hopeful stalking the city's officials, and a team of architectural geniuses thrown into the mix?

If you missed Erik Larson's 2004 bestseller The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, here’s your chance to get all of the above, plus more. Erik Larson meticulously researched the ambitious Daniel H. Burnham, Patrick Prendergast, and Henry H. Holmes and cast the three into this single volume.

Prepare yourself to learn about the first sparks of industrial unionization, the development of America's urban landscapes, artistic feats in action, and the shocking brutality humans can inflict upon each other. A must read.

'1Q84'

Recently, I've read several books that were good enough to recommend: Stephen King's 11/22/63, Lev Grossman's The Magician King, and Pascal Girard's Reunion, to name a few. The problem is that none of those books come as close to, well, perfect, as 1Q84.

To be fair, I haven't actually finished Haruki Murakami's "1Q84" yet, but this is because the process of reading it cannot be rushed. I'm going to go out on a corny limb here and actually put this next sentence in print. Reading "1Q84" is the literary equivalent of watching a flower bloom. The plot unfolds slowly, the direction of the book is kept mysterious, and the reader is drawn in to see what will happen next. The writing is wildly eloquent and the characters are fascinating. Only halfway through this book it already surpasses everything I've read since Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex.

The story begins with the introduction of Aomame, who steps down a ladder and enters a parallel universe. Next, the story sits down with Tengo, a man who can write lyrically, but cannot create a story in which to lyricize. Soon afterward the audience is shown Fuka-Eri, a nearly monosyllabic teenage girl with wisdom beyond her years and a past she won't explain.

The Monster Squad, on DVD

As a classic kid-comedy film from 1987, The Monster Squad is underrated. Not enough people of a certain generation have seen this film, and I speak of my peers. Peers who, when hearing a quote from this movie during a trivia contest, hadn’t heard of the movie, let alone recognized the quote. The silence of the film's initial release in 1987 was slowly followed by a rebirth as it was discovered by old and new fans. After 20 years of VHS life, it was finally released on DVD.

The film follows 12-year-old Sean, his best pal Patrick, and their gang of misfit friends. As fans of classic horror films, they gather in the local tree house to talk monsters. The monsters become all too real when Count Dracula shows up in town with the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Gill Man, all searching for an ancient amulet that will shift the balance of good and evil, giving Dracula control. It’s up to Sean and the newly formed Monster Squad to stop the end of the world from arriving.

It’s a zany pre-teen adventure, filled with pesky little sisters, creepy neighbors, childlike one-liners, and a swirling vortex of evil. The two-disc 20th anniversary edition of the film is available at AADL on DVD and Blu-ray.

'Dead End in Norvelt'

Handed to me late last year by a savvy children’s librarian, Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos, surpassed my wildest hopes for a good read. Imagine my delight in January when the novel -- written for ages 10 and up -- won the American Library Association’s 2012 Newbery Award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, plus the 2012 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

This fabulous story is the "entirely true and the wildly fictional" story of the author’s childhood, unfolding in historic Norvelt, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 1962, as the narrator awkwardly turns twelve. “Eccentric” is not too strong to describe his family and his adorable, elderly buddy, Miss Volker, the town historian who helps Jack with his nosebleeds, while also teaching him valuable life lessons about humans, tenacity, and love. The writing in the novel is seamless, while the story manages to be both heartwarming and hilarious. Comedian Dave Barry praised the book as “brilliant . . . full of history, mystery, and laughs. It reminded me of my small-town childhood, although my small town was never as delightfully weird as Norvelt.”

"Bitten & Smitten"

One of the many perks of working in a library includes shelving books. It's often during shelving that I find some of my favorite reads that I'd likely not come across otherwise. One of those books (and the rest in the series) is Bitten & Smitten by Michelle Rowen. The bright cover caught my eye and the witty summary sucked me in (pun fully intended).

Sarah Dearly, the saucy yet reluctant heroine, finds herself just trying to live through what she has dubbed the "world's worst blind date" when she suddenly wakes up to find herself being buried, almost undead, in a shallow grave. She escapes only to witness her blind date being "taken care of" by what she soon learns are vampire hunters. Unfortunately, thanks to the "love bites" left by her undead date, she now has to escape the hunters or wind up sharing more than just a bad night with her toothy date.

Her escape leads her to Thierry de Bennicoeur, a moody vampire master who helps her evade the stakes of her stalkers. After stumbling through her first "undead days," Sarah realizes she's going to need a little more help than she thought when it comes to navigating the night. Michelle Rowen draws the reader into this light read with suspense and quick one liners.

Teen Novel Soars On Wings of Quirkiness, Love and Friendship

If you are sick and tired of reading – or even just hearing about – teen novels centered on vampires, zombies, suicide, and alienation, here’s a fresh and extremely worthwhile alternative: The Summer I Learned to Fly, by Dana Reinhardt.

The star is Drew Robin Solo, sometimes known as Birdie, a cautious and loner-ish adolescent trying hard to separate from her ADD mom who runs a trendy cheese shop in a sleepy town on the California coast. Drew has a pet rat, her dead father’s Book of Lists, and a big crush on Nick, the surfer guy who works at the cheese shop. The sweet, steady, engaging action of this novel takes place the summer Drew is going into eighth grade. When Drew meets enigmatic Emmett Crane in the alley behind the cheese shop, her life changes subtly and enormously, as she moves swiftly towards more confidence and the first real friendship of her life.

I couldn’t put this coming-of-age novel down until all 216 pages had been flipped. Now I’m eager to read Reinhardt’s other books, The Things a Brother Knows, How to Build a House, Harmless, and A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life.

Teen Fiction Turns To Television

J.L. Smith's The Vampire Diaries and Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars are popular teen novel series that have been made into successful television series. The shows are enjoyed by both adults and young adults, so don’t let the word “teen” scare you.

The Vampire Diaries TV series, now in its third season, takes place in Mystic Falls, Va., a small town haunted by supernatural beings. Two vampire brothers start at Mystic Falls High, one good and one evil, and both end up vying for Elena’s soul. The show focuses on the adventures of this love triangle and their friends as they deal with their dark pasts.

The television series Pretty Little Liars is set in the fictitious town of Rosewood, Pa. Now in its second season, the show follows four friends as their little group falls apart following the disappearance of their ring leader, Alison. A year after Alison's disappearance, the friends start receiving messages from someone called “A.” This mystery person threatens to reveal the clique’s dark secrets. Is it Alison? And if not, then who? The girls are on a mission to find out.

The Informationist

This is a gritty, dark mystery with the incomparably corrupt Equatorial Guinea used for a backdrop. Reviewers of Taylor Stevens' debut novel have touted The Informationist as similar to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Let the comparisons between Vanessa Munroe and Lisbeth Salander end here. While both stories are fast-paced and intriguing, this is unlike any other thriller you have read.

Many portions of The Informationist are so raw the reader may have to stop and process it to try and understand where such powerful scenes come from. One minute the fugitives are discussing the variety of West African coup attempts from the past three decades, and the next, Munroe conceals herself on a rooftop to suffer the religious diatribes pounding in her head.

The author’s personal history may be the source for these powerful sections. Stevens was born into the Children of God cult, from which she escaped with her family at the age of 28. For two decades she was constantly uprooted and moved to various countries to do the groups bidding; at no time was she outside the cult’s control. Even after escape, her life was deeply affected by her upbringing. Combining her life experiences with her previously untapped storytelling talents resulted in the creation of the Vanessa Munroe series.

Teen Book: The Future of Us

This hilarious, meaningful, romantic comedy is set in 1996, before Facebook was even invented. But teens Josh and Emma -- who have been neighbors and best friends almost their whole lives -- suddenly are able to log on, and presto, their Facebook pages show their lives 15 years in the future, in about 2011. This very clever sci-fi-ish idea makes for highly entertaining reading. In the course of the novel, Josh and Emma realize that decisions they are making now will affect their lives down the road (great life lesson!).

This mostly lighthearted and delightful story comes to us from Jay Asher, author of the bestselling Thirteen Reasons Why, and Carolyn Mackler, author of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, which was chosen a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Hooray for these two awesome authors! Together they have created a wonderful new book. It's a quick read in which I found myself caring about these two teens, their relationship, and their world -- and cheering when they logged off and spent more time in the non-Facebook universe.

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