Cassie is amazing at reading people. She can take one look at someone and know things about them that they won’t even admit to themselves. She’s so good at reading people that she gets recruited by the FBI for a top secret training group. The group takes "naturals" like Cassie and helps them hone their skills so they will be experts by the time they’re ready to join the FBI.
The Naturals all live together and practice on cold cases using their special skills. For example, one is a compulsive liar who can always tell when others are lying, and another is an expert at reading other people’s emotions. Imagine living with people like that! Everything is moving along smoothly until one of the serial killers the FBI is chasing starts communicating with Cassie and the Naturals decide to take action.
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes was exactly what I wanted it to be, full of the action, adventure, and danger of a good spy story. I was on the edge of my seat trying to guess how it was going to end. I have always enjoyed Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ books-- she also wrote Every Other Day, about a girl with monster killing super powers that only work every other day, and the werewolf series that starts with Raised by Wolves. Now, with The Naturals, I have a new favorite to add to my list!
I picked up 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil because I loved her last book Ten, which was an excellent horror story and made me feel like I was watching a classic teen slasher movie. 3:59 was just as good, but very different.
Josie’s life is falling apart. Her parents have officially separated and her dad just moved out. Her mother is totally obsessed with work and has no time for anything else, including Josie. Her physics teacher hates her for no good reason, even though she’s practically a physics genius. She was fired from her job. And to top it all off, she catches her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend—on their one year anniversary.
Amidst all this chaos, Josie starts dreaming of another version of herself; a prettier, richer, less-single version. After a while, she realizes that these dreams occur at exactly 3:59 every time, and that they might not be dreams after all. Could the antique mirror in her bedroom actually be a portal into another dimension? And if so, should she be living that life instead?
Gretchen McNeil has one more book that I haven’t read, Possess. I’ll have to add it to my pile!
More than 150 years ago, a guy named Franz Xaver von Schönwerth decided to spend his life writing down fairy tales, much like the Brothers Grimm. Actually, the Grimm Brothers recommended that he take their job once they stopped working. All his work was put in an archive in Germany and forgotten about for a century and a half. Now they've been rediscovered and published in German. I'm impatiently waiting for the translation to English, because, from the sounds of it, these will be just as gruesome and horrifying as the stories we already know. According to this article, in one story "there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch."
While you wait for the von Schönwerth tales to come to America, here are some other gruesome stories to satisfy.
The ancient gods are still alive in modern-day America, but just barely. Hermes body is consuming itself, and Athena is sprouting feathers inside her body. "She reached into her mouth and grasped the short, exposed quill of the feather. When she yanked, it tore free with a long, meaty sound...Blood drenched her tongue and teeth. The feather hung limply from her fingertips, and she slammed it down onto the bar top. It was disgusting, coated with blood and bits of her skin."
When Joey's mother dies, he has to leave Chicago and go live with a father he's never known in Iowa. His father is known as The Garbage Man and he's no ordinary refuse-collector; he's a modern-day grave robber. Joey is forced to help with the gruesome work. Maggots, rotting flesh, and horror abound. Especially gross are the "rat kings," rats whose tails have become tangled so they move as a single mass. Ew.
If you haven't read this for school yet, read it now! I know, it's a "classic" and "required reading," but really, it's a macabre look into how evil even children can be, if left to their own devices. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but know that at one point, a kid beheads a wild pig and puts the head on a stake and then talks to it. And someone gets murdered.
To wrap this up, my apologies for any nightmares that may occur due to reading these novels. Sweet dreams!
Apparently I love to read about assassins. Don’t think too hard about what that says about me or my character. I took home the book Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, which I had been eyeing for a while even though I had no idea what it was about. I got about 2 pages in and realized that she is an assassin! I knew right away that I needed to set aside all my free time for reading this book. If you also love to read about butt-kicking female assassins, here are a few excellent books to try:
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Celaena has been imprisoned for a year when the prince offers her freedom in exchange for becoming his royal assassin. But first she has to compete with all the other royal-assassin-wannabes for the position.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore: Katsa lives in a world in which special talents are called Graces, and those with Graces are celebrated. Katsa’s Grace is that she is really great at killing, which she is not very proud of. She also hates the king using her as his own personal killing machine, but she’s not sure she can stand up to him.
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Ismae escapes from an abusive father and an abusive husband and hides out in the Convent of St. Mortain. At this convent, women are trained to carry out the wishes of Death himself. (In other words—convent-trained assassins!)
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber: Perry's parents force him to take their boring Lithuanian exchange student to prom. After an incident at the dance he learns that she is actually a trained assassin and she needs him to drive her all over the city so she can take out all her targets.
Love Books? Love sharing them with others? World Book Night is your chance to share your love of reading. It’s an annual, one-night only event where people get to give away 20 copies of a book, completely free.
I’ve been a giver before, and it was such a cool experience! I gave away Ender’s Game and chose to station myself at a light rail stop downtown. My very favorite person was a guy in his twenties who asked me why I was giving books away. I explained that I was supposed to pick a spot where people might not be regular readers. His face fell and he tried to hand the book back to me, saying that he was a regular reader so he couldn’t take it. He then said he wanted to give it to his girlfriend who doesn’t read but who he thought would love Ender’s Game. I got to give him the chance to create a reader too.
If you want to be a giver on April 23, all you need to do is apply. The application only takes a few minutes, and you can select your three top choices for which title you'll be giving. The week prior to April 23, you pick your books up somewhere convenient for you. The night of April 23, you go out and give those books away. That's it.
Fine print: you need to be 16 or older. If you are not 16, talk to an adult who you could team up with. They can apply, and you can give out the books together. You must submit your application by January 5 to be considered.
Hone your writing skills over winter break at the Belmar Library. The author of the Croak series, Gina Damico, and many other published authors will lead writing workshops that may include writing prompts, manuscript editing, poetry writing and performance, and more. Join us on the final day to read your creations aloud and ask the participating authors all of your writing quandries.
Thursday, Jan. 2
Learn to express your own voice with Minor Disturbance slam poets.
1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Poetry in English
Poetry in Spanish
Poetry in Yuroba
Friday, Jan. 3
Beyond the Summit author Linda LeBlanc
Regis University Professor and author of The Ruins and other short stories David Hicks
Saturday, Jan. 4
Kissing Shakespeare author Pamela Mingle
Former teacher and Lucy Dakota series author C.S. Shride
Sunday, Jan. 5
Edit your manuscripts and discuss the publishing process with Julie Ann Peters, author of By the Time you Read This I Will be Dead, Rage: A Love Story, and Luna. Limited to 10 registered participants; Must submit a writing piece prior to the event.
Croak series author Gina Damico leads an interactive workshop on fiction writing.
Monday, Jan. 6
Poetry Slam and literary readings! Perform alongside established slam poets. Email Chandra.Jones@jeffcolibrary.org to register or sign-up in person at any previous author event.
Gina Damico, David Hicks, Linda LeBlanc, Pamela Mingle, and C.S. Shride will answer your questions about the writing and publishing process during this panel discussion.
Worried about going broke buying gifts this season? I discovered No Bake Makery as I was looking for things that I could give to friends and family. I’ve already made cherry bomb -- which is an amazing mix of chocolate, dried cherries, and almonds -- and mini dirt puddings (and I ate about a pound of extra gummy worms).
Most of the recipes don’t require weird ingredients and they almost all take an hour or less to make. For example, Beary Surprise uses butter, marshmallows, Rice Krispies, gummi bears and jam to make a super gooey Rice Krispies treat that, according to the book "you can literally throw...against the wall and they will stick."
Love to read books by John Green? You’re not alone. John Green is one of my favorite authors, and based on how quickly his books fly off the shelves, I suspect he may be one of your favorites as well. But what to do when you’ve already read all his books? For starters, follow his VlogBrothers channel on YouTube (Tagline: raising nerdy to the power of awesome). But you might also want to try some of these other books:
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews: Greg is friendly with everyone, but he really has only one friend, Earl. He and Earl spend all their time making movies, knowing nobody will ever watch them (or want to watch them). His mother throws this blissful existence off track when she forces him to spend time with Rachel, a girl he knew as a kid who now has leukemia.
Winger by Andrew Smith: Ryan Dean (Winger, to his rugby teammates) is two years younger than his classmates at boarding school. As a result, he spends a lot of his time trying to fit in and a lot of his time trying not to get beat up. This year, he finds himself living in the troublemaker dorm, sharing a room with one of the biggest bullies at school, and falling in love with his best friend.
Winter Town by Stephen Emond: Evan and Lucy have been best friends forever, but now that Lucy Lives in Atlanta they only see each other when she comes home for the winter holidays. This separation has never mattered before, but this winter Lucy looks totally different and is full of some seriously bad attitude. Will their friendship survive now that they are growing into different people?
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park are two misfits who meet on a school bus and fall in love. I fell in love with them too on every page of this book.
There is a problem in London. Fifty years ago ghosts started popping up all over the city. While some of them are harmless, too many of them are dangerous and even deadly. Lockhart, Lucy and George are three ghost-hunters doing their part to make the city a safer place, eliminating ghostly threats and even solving some mysteries along the way.
This book felt very real to me. The author (who also wrote the Bartimaeus books) does an excellent job setting up the history of the ghost problem as well as the current strategies and organizations involved. While I was reading it I truly believed that of course ghosts are haunting London! And of course we need to all be carrying around charms and gadgets in order to keep them away!
If you’re looking for a great ghost story to keep you up reading all night, The Screaming Staircase might be the book for you. But be careful--after reading this one all I want to do is read more scary ghost books. I may never get a good night of sleep again!