Framed: A TOAST Mystery

framedby James Ponti
First sentence: “My name’s Florian Bates.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: The names might be tough for younger/not as strong readers to manage, but other than that, it’s great for the 3rd to 5th/6th grade range. It’s in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore.

Florian has this theory he calls T.O.A.S.T, which stands for Theory of All Small Things. The idea is this: if you observe the little things, it adds up to the bigger things, which helps you make deductions of situations. So, yeah, Florian is pretty much Sherlock Holmes. Which comes in handy when he and his parents move to Washington, DC, and get involved — with Florian’s new friend, Margaret — in helping the FBI solve an art heist at the National Gallery of Art.

Oh, this was so much fun! Seriously. No sick or dead parents (though Margaret is adopted). A pretty straight-forward mystery to solve, with clues along the way. A bit of action — Florian does get kidnapped at one point — and some intense moments, but it was never really dark. And I loved the friendship between Florian and Margaret. They make an excellent team. I’m sure I’m not the first one to come up with the Sherlock Holmes comparison, but that’s really what it reminded me of. There’s not a lot of really good middle grade mysteries, and so this one definitely fills a hole.

And it’s a lot of fun.

Getie’s Leap to Greatness

gertieby Kate Beasley
First sentence: “The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 4, 2016
Content: Aside from Gertie’s tendency to say “Oh my Lord!” which drove me batty, there’s really nothing that the 3-5th grade set couldn’t handle. It will be in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore.

Gertie has a plan: she’s going to tackle 5th grade with a vengeance and going to be the Best 5th Grader in her southern Mississippi town. Maybe then her mother, who walked out on Gertie and her father years ago, will pay attention. Unfortunately, her plan is a bit thwarted by the arrival of a new girl, the daughter of a movie director and an environmentalist. Mary Sue takes the wind out of Gertie’s sails, and so what does Gertie do? Try harder. Unfortunately, that may cost Gertie not only the title of the Best 5th Grader, but her friendships as well.

It was an absolutely adorable book. Gertie is such a fun character (she reminded me of an older Clementine or Ramona), that you can’t help but fall in love with her. Sure, the plot hangs on low stakes (aside from the absent mom and the father who works on an oil rig that Mary Sue’s mother is trying to get shut down), but when you’re 10, even the low stakes seem big. It’s very much a southern story, full of southern charm and quirks. But, the real star is Gertie. She really is the heart and soul of this book, and she really makes it completely worth reading.

So much fun.

Spontaneous

9780525429746by Aaron Starmer
First sentence: “When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year.”
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Content: Um, well. You name it, it’s got it: sex, drugs, drinking, many many f-bombs. It’s all out there. And it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but it’s not for sensitive souls.

The senior class of  Covington High starts out thinking that this year will be like any other: go to school, apply for college, take the tests, graduate. But then, people start blowing up. Seriously: spontaneously combusting for no reason. They just… explode. First one, then four, and soon it’s an epidemic. It only affects the senior class, and soon they become pariahs in their town. Is it catching? What’s the reason? Who is going to live and who’s going to be the next one to blow up.

And Mara Carlyle is in the middle of it. She witnesses the first few deaths, and suddenly is swept away in the macabre fascination of it all. The FBI get involved and Mara’s there. Scientists come to try and figure out why, and Mara’s there.  She gets a boyfriend, trying to find love in all this (spoiler: he explodes). She tries to keep the school together. She and her best friend try to keep their friendship together. It’s all falling apart around her.

This is the WEIRDEST book I’ve ever read. And I read Grasshopper Jungle. In fact, that’s an apt comparison: it’s a lot like Smith’s book with its sex and drugs and just out-there plot. I think this book was trying to explore what happens to a group when everything (literally) blows up around them. Most authors go for dystopian (or giant, man-eating grasshoppers), but Starmer picked the weirdness of people blowing up. And, for a long time, it worked. As it was going along, people were trying to figure out they why behind it, so there was a bit of a mystery. Is it DNA? Is it government conspiracy? Is it bad drugs? It was foul and it was weird, but it wasn’t really bad. Until it made a sharp left (after the boyfriend exploded) and became bitter and hopeless. The last quarter of the book just wasn’t, well, good. (At least for me.) I wanted some sort of answer, some sort of reason, some sort of solution, but it all fell apart in hopeless bitterness. At least with Grasshopper Jungle, there was a hope that things would work out in the future. But, with this, it was just passive acceptance, a knowledge that every. single. person. in the senior class was doomed to die. And it was depressing, frankly.

And weird. Definitely very, very weird.

The Secret Keepers

secretkeepersby Trenton Lee Stewart
First sentence: “That summer morning in the Lower Downs began as usual for Reuben Pedley.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher. Full disclosure: I had dinner with the author at Children’s Institute, and think he’s delightful.
Release date: September 27th
Content: There’s a few scary moments, and it is long (500+ pages), so it might be intimidating for young/reluctant readers. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Reuben has perfected the art of being invisible. He can sneak in and out of places, and knows just how to go unnoticed in a crowd. And then, one summer day, he climbs up to a ledge (just because he can) and discovers something Wonderful: an antique pocket watch shaped like a globe in a wooden box engraven “Property of P. Wm Light”. It’s cool enough as it is; but once Reuben (accidentally) discovers that it can actually turn him invisible, he’s thrilled. Except the watch is wanted by the big mob boss in town, a man known as The Smoke. And suddenly Reuben isn’t quite so invisible anymore.

So Reuben sets off to solve the mystery of the watch: where it came from and why does The Smoke want it so badly. And in doing so, he not only makes several friends for life, he discovers that he is much more than he originally believed.

Even though this is a big book, and starts slowly (I’m not sure we needed Reuben’s entire backstory, as well as the backstory of the watch, but I’m not the editor here…) I was hooked by the middle and sold by the end. (The end, especially.) Stewart knows how to write a puzzle that readers want to solve, and how to keep them guessing along the way. I honestly didn’t know what would happen, at times, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out. And the best part? It’s not a series (yet). Definitely a fun read.

Replica

replicaby Lauren Oliver
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 4, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence, all off screen, and about a dozen f-bombs scattered throughout. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Gemma has spent her whole life feeling like a freak: she’s overweight and her parents are over-protective and yet distant, all of which leads others at school to make fun of her. So, when a rock tied around a Frankenstein mask gets thrown through the window of her house, she figures it’s the school bullies picking on her again. But, she overhears her parents arguing late at night and suddenly everything takes on a new meaning: it’s not HER the mask was meant for, but her father.

See, her father was co-owner of this super pharma business, which had some dealings with Haven, a super-secret island off the coast of Florida. No one knows what they do there, but her father had enough complaints that he got out. But that got Gemma curious: what is Haven, and why all the secrecy?

All that leads Gemma to sneaking off to Florida for spring break, to get answers to figure out what is going on with her parents and why this whole Haven thing is so secretive (and somehow, important).  What she finds out will change her life forever.

In some ways, this is a fascinating novel, playing with the ideas of humanity and just how far science will go to justify the ends it wants. I’m not entirely sure it justified the two-part story, however. I read Gemma’s version first, on a whim, and by the time I got to Lyra’s I wasn’t sure how much I cared. And yet, in retrospect, it’s possibly Lyra’s story that’s more important. Imagining that replicas have thoughts and feelings, that they are individuals, is fascinating thing to think about. And yet, I felt like something was lacking. Perhaps the ending was too abrupt? Maybe I hoped for more understanding or perhaps retribution. It all felt so… tidy.

Even so, I was thoroughly engrossed by the book. I wanted to know Gemma’s (and Lyra’s, as well) story, and the horrors of what the characters were going through was enough to keep me turning pages.

Your Birthday When You’re The Children’s Guru at an Independent Bookstore

Means you write this a week before your actual birthday, because there will be no time ON your birthday, and you don’t want to mess up ten years of birthday posts by missing one.

Means these two things that you’re in charge of will happen:

  • A storytime, in which we will be reading  birthday books and have cupcakes
  • An event with Sarah J. Maas in which we will deal with a large bunch of fans and hope everything goes well

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s going to take up most of the day. And it will be lots of fun. (Pictures later. Tomorrow, maybe.)

After which, you take the girls to see the ICT Rollergirls. Because ROLLER DERBY.

And that is how you should spend your 44th birthday, I think.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

tenantofwildfellby Anne Bronte
Fist sentence: “Dear Halford, When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most remarkable occurrences of your early life, previous to our acquaintance; and then you requested a return of confidence from me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a lot to digest: a lot of characters, etc. and there’s some reference to… unsavory… things but nothing actual. If you can handle any Bronte or Austen book, then this is for you. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up on M’s recommendation (I’m not a Bronte fan); she said it was her favorite of the Bronte books she had to read in class, and that I might like it.

The basic plot is this:  a woman — Mrs. Helen Graham — moves into an empty house with her son. She soon becomes the subject of gossip in the neighborhood, and garners the interest of a young man, Gilbert Markham, who soon professes his love for her. Unfortunately, Mrs. Graham isn’t free to love, and she — through letting Gilbert read her diary — confesses all to him. And the all is sordid. She thought she was marrying a good man (or at the very least, an okay one that she could reform) and it turned out that she, well, didn’t. He was a liar, a cheat, a philanderer, and not very kind her her. She put up with it for a while, for the sake of their child, but eventually had enough and left.  Which was unheard of in 1847.

So, on the one hand: good for her! Good for her for getting her and her child out of the marriage. Good for her for sticking up to her beliefs. Good for her for staying strong.

But.

Ugh, why do the Brontes have to be SO moralistic? Was it just a Victorian thing? Even though she was the victim, and I think her husband was all sorts of Awful, she was SO very moralistic. She had absolutely no faults about her, and was always right. Which makes for a very boring main character. It was all: oh! look at the virtuous woman and how she suffers. And I don’t mean to demean women’s suffering or the fact that they were (are!) treated badly at the hands of men. It’s just that, as a character in a book, reading about someone who is So Good is kind of, well, dull.

And then there’s the end. (Spoilers ahead.) She goes back to her husband when he gets ill (really?) because she’s So Good. And then he dies, so she’s free to remarry Markham and live happily ever after. Nice and all, but I dislike the Victorian (again!) notion that a woman is only happy with the (right) man. I’ll give Anne props for including the (right); I’m sure societal conventions were more along the lines of marry the girl off, as long as he’s rich who cares. (See: Jane Austen.) It makes me glad for how far we’ve come.

Or maybe just reading the Brontes makes me irritable. They’re all melodrama and no humor or societal observation. Give me Austen any day.