Podcasts are just the thing for shelving, I find, but I often struggle to find good ones. So I was excited to find four that I really enjoy. Like a lot of my recommendations, they err on the side of the creepy and/or mysterious. All are free and all are available on iTunes. All have quality voice acting and excellent production values.
The Black Tapes
Borrowing Serial’s format, this (fictional) podcast follows Alex Reagan, a reporter investigation Dr. Strand, a mysterious figure who’s offered a million dollars for scientific evidence of the supernatural. The podcast takes its name from a mysterious collection of tapes that contain footage that Dr. Strand has never been able to definitively debunk. What seems a straightforward assignment takes Alex (and the listeners) on a strange journey involving mysterious deaths, sacred geometry and Dr. Strand’s missing wife.
Tanis is made by the same people who make The Black Tapes- both in real life and in universe. Like The Black Tapes, the podcast follows a single journalist, Nic Silver, as he investigates the mysterious concept or place or conspiracy known as Tanis. Nic is searching for a real mystery in the internet age – like Alex, he finds a lot more than he’s looking for. While TBT focuses on the supernatural, Tanis skews more to strange conspiracies. Nic relies on the services of Meerkatnip, a hacker who spends as much time wryly dealing with Nic’s naivety as searching for information on the hidden side of the internet.
Both are in their second season, so there’s a plenty to catch up on.
Limetown’s my pick for the best of the bunch – once again, a journalist seeks to find out the truth, this time behind the mysterious disappearance of over 300 people from a small town in America. Like Tanis and TBT, the journalist gets a lot more than she’s bargained for; the tense atmosphere starts at episode 2 and doesn’t let up until its shocking conclusion. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of a second season, but there may be a TV show in the future and the creators are working on a prequel novel.
Alice isn’t dead
Like the previous three, Alice isn’t dead follows a narrator chasing after a central mystery; what happened to her wife, Alice, whom she had presumed dead. Unlike the others, the narrator isn’t a professional journalist; instead, she’s a long haul truck driver, transporting mundane domestic items across America. The podcast consists of her audio diaries, which she narrates to Alice. Along the way, the narrator encounters many other strange occurances and people, some of which are connected to the central mystery of Alice, others which are not.
Hooked On NZ Books is all about YA books written by New Zealanders. You talk about movies, music, fashion and apps, and now some clever people have come up with a way for you to talk about books too.
You can get recommendations for what’s new and what others are reading and enjoying. If you want free copies of books to review, then you can get that too. And there’s even the opportunity to interview YA authors. Your opinions will feed directly into New Zealand’s publishing market, influencing what types of books are written and published in the future.
Not sure what to review? Grab a copy of our Top Teen Reads booklet from your local library for some inspo.
Wings, by Aprilynne Pike (Young Adult Fiction)
I thought it was a really interesting book with lots of different genres like romance, fantasy, adventure and more. it changes your whole view on fantasy creatures and makes you wonder what could be out there. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait the rest of the series.
Reviewed by Nadya from Brooklyn, 11 years old
Firelight, by Sophie Jordan (Young Adult Fiction)
It is a well written book, but I found that not much really happens. The conflict is not really resolved, which I was slightly disappointed at. Apart from that flaw, it has its fair share of suspense and action.
Reviewed by Julia from Brooklyn, 11 years old
Oh, Young Avengers. I love you. Let me count the ways. This is a relatively new title from Marvel, documenting the, well, Young Avengers. A group of teenagers fighting super villains while dealing with typical adolescent angst might seem like a tired concept, but the great writers on this title make it so much more than that. The line-up includes Miss America, a mysterious supe who is so strong she can kick holes into other dimensions, “Kid” Loki, a teen version of the villain from the Marvel Universe, who isn’t exactly the most trustworthy member of the team (for obvious reasons), the Wiccan, son of the Scarlet Witch, and many more besides. One of the things I love about this title is that the line-up changes every couple of issues, which keeps things fairly fresh while staying true to the original spirit of the series.
The Young Avengers also have to cope with other problems, outside the usual teenage angst. They struggle with getting acceptance from the ‘real’ Avengers, ethical dilemmas and the changing roster of the team. Not all of their problems are easily solved by applications of their powers and they have to deal with the consequences. Another notable feature is the diversity of the team: Miss America is Hispanic, the Patriot is African American and there are several members of the team who are gay or bisexual. In fact, this series has won two GLAAD awards for its sensitive portrayal of their struggles. Although this may not be the most unique feature of these guys, since at least two of the teens are aliens and one is the reincarnation of a Norse deity.
Despite all these various problems, there’s plenty of light hearted moments; Loki’s tricks are often centered around his disinclination to pay for his food when he’s in diners. The team genuinely care about each other, despite their many clashes. But the series never feels like an after-school special. It’s well written, it’s funny, it’s action packed, and for a “cape” comic, it’s extremely believable. Even if you’re not a comic reader, this series is definitely worth picking up.
Here’s Volume 1: Sidekicks.
There are some good books around at the moment! Here’s a couple I’ve enjoyed recently:
The Strange Maid, Tessa Gratton
If you haven’t read the United States of Asgard books yet then you should! This is a companion novel to The Lost Sun – it’s not really a sequel because it starts before The Lost Sun, then catches up and passes it. You could read this one first; it might be a bit spoilery but you wouldn’t be confused.
The United States of Asgard are an alternative United States where the Norse gods are real and preside over the running of the country, where there are Beserkers, Valkyries and trolls – it’s a bit dystopian (the trolls help here), but also not at the same time. The Strange Maid introduces Signy Valborn, a Valkyrie-in-waiting who has received a prophetic riddle from Odin she must solve (and, in doing so, fulfill her destiny). Signy is a tough customer with a troubled past, and she’s not going to be outdone by the riddle or other people’s disappointment in her. When a strange man tells her he knows the answer she jumps at the opportunity to crack it, even if the solution is dangerous to the point of impossibility.
This is a great read, particularly if you like strong female characters (too busy being kick-ass to be nice sometimes), a lot of action, and a bit of poetry mixed in here and there. It’s also a good introduction to Beowulf. Really recommend it!
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
E. Lockhart strikes again! We loved Frankie Landau-Banks, and have waited ages for this one.
An old, privileged East-Coast American family owns an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and every summer they stay there, each branch of the family in their own house. Cadence, a couple of her cousins and a close friend make up the Liars, and they’re inseparable.
That’s as far as I go because I don’t want to spoil things, because the book has big secrets! It might not have important things to say like Frankie does, but, wow, that ending will catch you unawares (unless you go snooping for clues on the internet – but we definitely don’t recommend doing that!).
In 2011, DC comics announced a massive overhaul of its superhero titles. All existing titles were cancelled, and 52 new titles were announced This was a controversial move, for many reasons, which you can read about on the wikipedia page. I’m hoping I’ll be able to take you through the continuity changes of both the Marvel and DC universes this year, but to start out, I’ll be discussing a few standalone titles that don’t require you to have extensive knowledge of the Marvel or the DC universes to enjoy. First up: The Demon Knights series, which was started by Paul Cornell. There are three volumes in the series; sadly it was cancelled in 2013. Smaller titles like this one often have a hard time reaching the sales numbers of the “classics” like Batman and Superman. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth picking up!
The heart of the “Demon Knights” is the character of Jason Blood AND the demon Etrigan. Two separate men, bound together by the great wizard Merlin to contain the latter’s infernal power. They, along with six other characters, ranging from an Amazonian fighter to a barbarian to a Knight of Camelot, are called together to protect a small village that stands in the way of an evil horde’s path.
What I like about this title is that the “heroes” all have to face the consequences of their actions; the damage they do to the people of this new land is not brushed aside. They often struggle against the differences between their “home” worlds and the new land in which they find themselves, as well as cultural differences between them. These are not the shining, pure heroes of much of the DC universe; the characters have done truly evil things and the question of redemption hangs over their heads. Are they better than those they are fighting? There are no easy answers. Definitely worth picking up if you see it in our graphic novel collection. It’s in DC under “other”.
I’ve not done any reviews for a while, so here are four quick ones:
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty – the sequel to A Corner of White, and the middle book of the Colours of Madeleine trilogy, so I’ll try not to give too much away. Elliot lives in the kingdom of Cello, where colours rage across the country with very little warning, causing various degrees of havoc, and where the royal family have mysteriously and secretively disappeared (save for Princess Ko, who is keeping up appearances so that Cello doesn’t fall apart). Madeleine lives in the world, and communicates with Elliot through a parking meter. Princess Ko is convinced that the royal family have been moved into the world, and enlists Elliot’s (and Madeleine’s) help to track them down; the clock is ticking.
This is a really original, fantastic story, written really well. It’s sometimes hilarious, sad, surprising and always entertaining.
Half Bad, Sally Green – this is the first in a new trilogy and it’s been touted as the next big thing by some people. Nathan lives in a world of witches, black ones and white ones; he’s half and half, and because of this he worries the white witches (black witches are, apparently, inherently evil, so will he be?). At the start of the book Nathan lives in a cage in the Scottish countryside, watched over by a white witch prison guard. He needs to track down his father – the mysterious, über-cruel black witch Marcus – before the gifting ceremony on his 17th birthday or face death.
I didn’t find this as Harry Potter-ish as some reviewers (people said Harry Potter was lots of ish also – it’s tough being truly original), and it was an intriguing start to a new series.
Cress, Marissa Meyer – this is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder is the first), and they’re very good – don’t let the book covers put you off, they’re not really that girly. They are all cyborg-sci-fi reworkings of fairytales, and Cress is Rapunzel. Cress has been imprisoned on a remote satelite by the Lunar queen, effectively her spy in the sky. Her job is to find Cinder for the Queen, but she might be more intent on rescue. In the mean time, Scarlet and Wolf are also on the run in France. (The next one, Winter, which is Snow White, will be published next year, which is a while away.)
The reason I mention the book covers is these books are action-packed and the female characters aren’t afraid of, well, getting involved in it. They aren’t really the high-heel types. Maybe the covers are subversive? Certainly, having lots of hair is more impractical than glamorous. Anyway! They’re a great read.
We’ve also got this as a book on CD.
Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson – this was published last year, but it’s so cool I thought it was worth mentioning. Epics are humans who have incredible superpowers, some of them are obscure and not so useful, some of them devastating for non-Epics. They also have a fatal weakness (again, some weaknesses are obscure, some devastating), and exploiting this is the only way to destroy an Epic. Steelheart, Chicago’s self-appointed overlord, is one of the worst. Ever since he saw Steelheart bleed (and then kill his father), David has wanted to join the Reckoners, a group who assassinate Epics. He thinks he can kill Steelheart, if he can figure out what made him bleed.
It’s a long wait for the second book in this series, Firefight (due for publication in 2015). Plenty of time to read Steelheart, which is awesome.
We’ve also got this as a book on CD.
Monty, who is fortunate enough to buy both the YA comics and the YA music, has found this list of best apps of 2012, which contains some incredible creative genius, and also a Monty recommendation:
Chopsticks, Jessica Anthony.
“After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks.”
“But nothing is what it seems, and Glory’s reality is not reality at all. In this stunningly moving novel told in photographs, pictures, and words, it’s up to the reader to decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along…” (goodreads.com)
Monty adds that it’s “a mish-mash of styles and good on the expectations and pressures of society on teens, contains romance and ends with surprise and mystery – what more could you ask for?”
Chopsticks is, as Monty says, a “multi-media extravaganza”! Visit the Chopsticks tumblr for more visuals, including a link to the app at the Apple store (for the downloading (note: it’s not a free app)).
Advent (Advent Trilogy book one), by James Treadwell
A December night 1537 and a powerful mage boards a ship for England. There is a shipwreck and none survive. What has happened to the box he was carrying? The box with a magic mirror and ring inside?
Present day: Gavin knows he is different. He still has his childhood imaginary friend, Miss Grey for a start and he dreams very strange dreams. His parents don’t like him and when they get the chance to go overseas, they pack him off to his Aunt Gwen who lives outside Truro, on an estate called Pendurra. But his aunt isn’t there to meet his train and she isn’t in her cottage and when a girl with dead eyes bangs on his door at midnight and then shuffles away, Gavin is certain this is not going to be an ordinary holiday! The next day he meets the owner of Pendurra and his daughter. The very same dead looking girl whom he’d seen the night before but now very much alive. Marina and Gavin spend time exploring, finding strange things happening and finally realise that ‘magic is rising…’
Radiant Days : A Novel, Elizabeth Hand
This is a book about Merle, a young artist who goes homeless in the late ’70s after her heart is broken. It is also about the nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who, at the age of 16, was already on the way to becoming an established writer. He and Merle meet up via time travel, but this is not a science-fiction novel; this is about the isolation and transcendence of art. Arthur Rimbaud (a real person!) was a hero of mine when I was a teen and so I was thrilled to read a story in which he is a character. AND furthermore the book is beautifully written, something you’d always hope for but is especially appropriate in this case.
Here are more reviews and information.