York: The Shadow Cipher

by Laura Ruby
First sentence: “The true story of any city is never a single tale; it’s a vast collection of stories with many different heroes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s long, and there are some challenging vocabulary words, as well as a few intense moments. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to any adventuresome 4th grader and up.

I’ve been looking at this book since before it came out in May, thinking, “I really need to get to this one.” And so I was overjoyed that it ended up on the Cybils list. Even so, I put it off… perhaps thinking it wouldn’t live up to the hype I’ve heard surrounding it.

Boy, was I wrong! This is a difficult one to describe: it’s an alternative New York City, one in which there were genius twins — the Morningstarrs — in the 19th century who invented steampunk-like machines (many of which are still in use “today”), and then, when they disappeared mysteriously, left behind a Cipher to be figured out. Except in the intervening 160 years, no one has figured it out. That is, until a different set of twins, Tess and Theo Biedermann, and their friend Jaime Cruz, get a mysterious letter and set about following a whole new set of clues, in the hopes of saving their apartment building. Following the clues leads them on an increasingly dangerous path, full of wonders and betrayals, all the way to the end. Or perhaps: just another beginning? (Yes, it’s a first in a series.)

I was talking about this to A the other day, and trying to explain it, and she looked at me like this was crazy. And in a way, it is. But it’s SO very good. The characters are fun (Cricket needed a larger role!) and Ruby keeps the plot moving along. I have heard some say that it’s complicated, but I think she manages to mesh the mystery and the steampunk elements (plus good, if distracted, parents) quite seamlessly. I’m definitely on board for their next adventure!

Advertisements

Turtles all the Way Down

by John Green
First sentence: “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time — between 12:37 p.m. and 1:14 p.m. — by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  Lots and lots of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This is a book about OCD and anxiety. This is also a book, I think (having followed John Green for at least 7 years or so on YouTube/Podcasts/Social Media), that channels John Green the best out of all of them. The plot, really, is almost incidental: it’s about a girl, Aza, and her friend, Daisy, who decide that they’re going to find out what happened to this developer who was on the lamb. The catch: Aza knew the developer’s son, Davis, when they were eleven. Mostly, though, it’s a chance to be inside Aza’s head, to experience first-hand what it’s like to be someone with OCD, with anxiety, and how crippling it can sometimes be.

I’m not sure if it’s “good” or not; it made me cry at the end, and I think that it’s probably a more mature book than his other ones. (There really aren’t any pretentious, super-smart teenagers here; everyone, even Davis, seemed relatable and not annoying.) But there was also a disconnect to it that I hadn’t felt in his other books. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable; it was. Green knows how to craft a story, and throw in asides that don’t really feel like asides. But, I didn’t feel totally immersed in it (which may be me more than anything). Still, worth a read.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

by Joe Ballarini
First sentence: “‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some scary moments, and monsters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Those monsters under your bed? They’re real. And they want to eat you. You knew that. Right? But what if there was a secret society of babysitters (yes, you read that right) who are super martial arts fighting awesome people who keep the monsters at bay (literally) and protect their charges (especially those kids with “special” abilities) from the Evil Lurking out there.

Such is the society that Kelly fell into when she accepted a babysitting job for Jacob, who then gets kidnapped by the Bogeyman. She has Halloween night to find him and bring him back, or the whole world will be destroyed.

This was so much fun! If Adventures in Babysitting and Labyrinth and Goosebumps all had a baby, it would be this book. It’s scary, but not overly so, and I loved the idea of a secret cool babysitters society. It really just read like a movie, which isn’t always what I want from a book, but it works perfectly here. This is definitely one to hand to the kids who like scary stories.

Reread: The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s violent. But, if there’s a kid, say, 11 years old or so, who is interested in dark fairy-type tales, I’d give it to them. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up again after Maggie visited the store on her All the Crooked Saints tour, and I took pictures of fans for her, and listened to her chat them up. She said, over and over, that Scorpio Races was her favorite. And so, I decided that while I’d read it before, it had been a while, and I should revisit it.

And it was everything I thought about it and SO MUCH MORE. I don’t think, six years ago, that I was prepared for the awesomeness that is Maggie’s writing. Now, after Raven Cycle and Saints, I think I’m beginning to appreciate how wonderful a wordsmith she is. She captured a place — granted it doesn’t really exist — and a mythology so well, it could be real. And she made me FEEL so much that I cried during the last couple of chapters. Maybe this isn’t the best place to start with Maggie’s writing, but it’s definitely a truly breathtaking book.

She really is one of my favorite authors.

Renegades

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “We were all villains in the beginning.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s violence, but nothing graphic, and some mild swearing. It is is the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Nova grew up on one side of the divide, as an Anarchist. It was their side that was in charge for so long, until the Day of Reckoning, where the Other Side, the Renegades, took power. So, Nova grew up as a “villain”, resenting the Renegades, training to defeat them.

Adam grew up on the other side of the divide, as the son of the two most prominent Renegades. He believes in the mission of the Renegades, to bring justice to those who want to be outside the law.

When Nova’s home and life are threatened (because she was part of an assassination attempt that went bad), she is persuaded — mostly because she’s not well known — to join the Renegades and spy on them for the Anarchists. But, when she ends up on Adam’s team, things get… complicated.

This is a solid first in a series book. I like the world that Meyer has created: while she’s playing off the ideas behind the X-Men — there are people with special “abilities” that were shunned by society, and Meyer’s playing with what would happen if those people were in charge. There’s also a bit of Captain America: Civil War going on here, as well, with the exploration of the amount of responsibility a superhero should have for the “regular” people. And I liked the characters: both Nova and Adam were conflicted in their own ways. And while the (slight) romance felt a bit forced, it wasn’t enough to take me entirely out of the story.

I am definitely curious to see where Meyer takes the story from here.

Audio book: Disappeared

by Francisco X. Stork
Read by: Roxana Ortega and  Christian Barillas
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There is talk of selling and doing drugs, of girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade and there’s violence.  It’s not explicit, but it is there. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

This one is hard to describe: nominally, it’s the after-effects of what happens to one reporter in Juarez, Mexico, when she won’t stop trying to find her friend who disappeared one night. Sara has spent the last four months trying to honor her friend, mostly through telling the stories of all the girls who have disappeared over the years in Juarez. But, she hits too close to home, and she sets off a chain of events that puts her and her family — her mother and brother — in danger.

But it’s also the story of her brother, Emiliano, who has fallen for a rich girl. The problem: he’s not. Sure, he works hard, has a small folk art business, helps out his family. But he can’t provide for this girl the way her family wants him to. Not without going into “business” in the one trade that makes money in Juarez: drugs.

I’ve not read all of Stork’s writing, but every time I read one of his books I am reminded what a powerful storyteller he is. He weaves together Sara and Emiliano’s stories in a way that they compliment each other, coming to a head at the climax. He had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was driving much of the time) wondering what was coming next. And while it isn’t a happy ending, it’s an honest and hopeful one.

And the readers were fabulous. Both of them make the story come alive, helped me connect to this tale.

Highly recommended.

Daughter of the Pirate King

by Tricia Levenseller
First sentence: “I hate having to dress like a man.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence, some mild swearing, and references to torture. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Pirate captain, and daughter of the pirate king, Alosa is on a secret mission to retrieve a part of a map from one of her father’s enemies. Which means, she is deliberately captured in order to search the ship. This is not a pleasant experience for her; Alosa is used to 1) commanding her own ship and 2) besting everyone around her. She knows her father is placing his trust in her, though, and she’s determined to succeed. At whatever cost.

Oh heavens, this was fun. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good pirate book (and this IS a good pirate book) where the girl gets to be awesome (and gets to do it mostly on her own terms; the ship Alosa captains is made up mostly of women, and it’s just amazing. She’s just amazing!) AND gets to have the guy (oh the banter was delightful). It was well-written, well-paced, and just OH so much fun.

And the bonus? The sequel’s coming out soon. (In fact, that’s entirely why I picked this one up: I got an ARC of the sequel at work.)  I can’t wait to dive into that!