The Secret Grave

by Lois Ruby
First sentence: “Lots of people don’t realize that some nightshade plants are poisonous.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some scary moments… but it is a ghost story, so that’s pretty par for the course. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Hannah is the middle child of a big Irish family, who has just moved into a large, old mansion in northern Georgia. She finally gets her own room. She’s turning 12. And even though her best friends are leaving for camp and London and her older sister is a bit of a bear, she’s determined to have the best summer. And when she meets the mysterious Cady in the forest, she knows it’s bound to be great.

But then Cady gets possessive and controlling. And mysterious things start happening at the house. And Hannah’s brother, Scooter’s asthma gets worse. What, really, is going on here?

You know it’s a ghost story going in (because it’s part of the Hauntings series), which is fine. There’s a couple of ghosts, one which is spelled out, and the other which is obvious (at least to me), but the big reveal is held until later in the book, which annoyed me as an adult reader (though I wonder if more observant kids would mind). The characters grated on me; then again, I’m the oldest and it’s been a long while since I was a kid, so I don’t know how I would have felt, had I been in Hannah’s place. That said, I liked that there was a good family surrounding Hannah (don’t often get that), and that the conflict took place in spite of her parents, not because of them. While I found the ending to be a bit, well, cheesy, I did appreciate that there were consequences and that Hannah and Scooter tried to solve the problem, rather than just letting it be.

Not a bad book, just not for me.

Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan
First sentence: “When our dragon declared war on Indiana, I knew it was going to be a bad day.”
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Others in the series: The Hidden Oracle
Content: There’s some dark undercurrents (but those will probably go over the heads of younger readers) and some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

So, Apollo is off on a quest, this time to figure out what Big Bad (really: he’s the worst) Nero is up to, and to get to it and stop it before Nero gets too much power. Tagging along with Leo and Calypso, they head to Indianapolis, where they find a huge mess involving yet another evil Roman Emperor to stop, battle ostriches, and a kidnapped oracle. Not bad, all things considered, and yet Apollo manages to make things worse.

This one definitely has the feeling of a middle book (maybe because it is…). It’s not a bad book; Riordan knows how to pace an action-packed novel, and there’s enough pop culture references to nod and wink at the reader without it being overbearing. They sassy haiku are back (my favorite: Yeah we got the skills/Fake hexes and shooting feet/Teach you ’bout pancakes), which is always fun. Apollo is much less unlikable in this one (he has his moments, but they’re getting fewer) and Riordan seamlessly weaves in ancient myths and stories. It’s much like all the others: good, fun, enjoyable, but nothing that sticks with you for long.

Still, worth reading.

Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.

A Conjuring of Light

by V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “Delilah Bard – always a thief, recently a magician, and one day, hopefully, a pirate — was running as fast as she could.”
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Others in the series: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows
Content: Swearing (including f-bombs) and violence mostly. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the other two, obviously.

When I finished the second book, I told one of my co-workers, who is also in love with this series, that I wasn’t as happy with the second book. But, I said, it’s a middle book in a trilogy. I bet (I hope!) the third will be great.

And it is.

One of the Antari (those are blood magicians, of which there are only three… now…), Holland, has unleashed a bit of sentient magic on the Londons. It came from Black London (and it’s Kell’s fault as well, thinking Holland was dead and pushing him into Black London), and it’s possessed Holland and taken over White London. And now it — Osaran is its name — has it’s sights on Red London. And maybe even Gray. And it’s up to Kell, Lilah, Rhy, and everyone, really, to stop it. If it CAN be stopped.

It’s a long book — 600 pages — but it flies by, and Schwab spares no one. It’s vicious and emotional and heartbreaking and exciting. It’s just a sweeping epic story, (mostly) well-told, and definitely one I’d recommend.

 

Thick as Thieves

thickasthievesby Megan Whalen Turner
First sentence: “It was midday and the passageway quiet and cool.”
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Others in the series: The ThiefThe Queen of AttoliaThe King of AttoliaA Conspiracy of Kings
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s a bit slow, and the main character is an adult. There is also some (not very graphic) violence. It will be in the YA section ( grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Turner writes in the introduction to the ARC that you really don’t have to read the other books in the series in order to enjoy this one. It does help, of course, but this one holds its own on its own. And she’s right: it’s been years since I’ve visited these characters, and it didn’t matter that I can’t quite remember exactly what The Thief was about. (Which means I need to reread it.)

Kamet is a slave of one of the high officials in the Mede empire. He’s happy, pretty much, because he’s his master’s right  hand man, which means he has a certain amount of privilege and power. And then, in the course of a single day he is offered freedom from a strange Attolian soldiear, and he is told that his master was poisoned. He doesn’t want to be blamed (and killed) for the murder, so he takes the Attolian up on his offer and leaves.

Most of the book is Kamet and “the Attolian” (you’re not given a name until the end, but if you’ve read the others, you’ll guess who it is) making their escape. It’s not a straightforward thing: they have difficulties, they’re chased by the emperor’s guard, they meet friends and foes alike. It’s not a fast book, it’s not an intense book, but it is an intriguing journey, and the developing friendship between Kamet (who is not always the most reliable narrator) is a delight.

There are some nice twists at the end as well, ones I kind of saw coming but was still delighted by. And Turner helpfully left the door open for another book. Which is always good, because I’ll happily visit this world anytime she decides to set a story there.

Reread: I Shall Wear Midnight

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people liked noise so much?
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Others in the series: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith
Content: There’s a bit more romance, and some illusions to sex (none actual), and the story’s a bit darker than the other Tiffany Aching books. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Last time I read this, seven years ago, I called it a perfect ending for a perfect series. It’s still a perfect series. But, going back and rereading this, I’ve realized that this isn’t an ending. More like a stopping place. (And I am glad The Shepherd’s Crown got published. It makes for a better ending.)

That said (follow the seven years ago link for the plot), I still loved this one. I loved that the conflict was the negative opinions of witches, the hate that is so often seen in the face of the unknown. It felt very timely. I liked that Pratchett used old lore to battle the hate (if we know and understand our history, we will better be able to fight against the dark), and having recently read Small Gods, I understood all the references to the priests of Om this time. I adore Tiffany’s practicality (and wish I could figure out how to better roll with the challenges in my life), and I love the humor. There can never be too much NacMacFeegle, and I loved the fierceness with which Jeannie (the kelda) watches over her clan.

Really, these books are such a delight to read.

Strange the Dreamer

by Laini Taylor
First sentence: “On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.”
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Content: There’s inferences to rape, but none action. There’s violence, and some off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Lazlo Strange, a peasant orphan from nowhere, has a dream. It’s about a long-gone city, that probably is mythical, and definitely is of no interest to anyone scholarly. And yet, he is drawn to them.

It was more of the same from Taylor, but that more is excellent. I love falling into her world building, and I love her language. So, while it wasn’t a wholly original story (it did feel a lot like Daughter of Smoke and Bone), it was still a delightful one to read.