The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson
First sentence: “‘Has anyone seen Dottie?’ Miss Nelson asked.”
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Others in the series: Truly Devious
Content: There’s some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. Somehow, this ended up in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid interested in mysteries.

Picking up where we left off… (Thankfully, Johnson gives us a bit of background to help out in the beginning) Stevie was at Ellingham, a non-conformist boarding school in Vermont, until Hayes, a fellow student, turned up dead, and Ellie, another student went missing. Stevie was pulled out of school and brought home, that is, until a powerful senator convinces her parents to send her back. The reason? So she can keep an eye on his son David. Whom Stevie happens to really like. But things don’t go as planned; there’s still a kidnapping/murder left from the 1930s left to be solved, a fellow student is still missing. And Stevie seems to be at the center of it all.

This is a good solid second book in a series, answering some questions left over from the first book, and bringing up new ones. It’s still a delight to spend time with Stevie, Noah, Janelle, and David, and Johnson has a way of spooling out a mystery with just the right amount of information at the right time.

And bonus: the last one is already out! I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Of Curses and Kisses

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Just outside Aspen, Colorado, nestled between the sentinel mountains and an inkblot lake, lies St. Rosetta’s International Academy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the bookstore.
Release date: February 18, 2019
Content: There is some talk of teenage drinking and swearing, including a half-dozen or so f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid if they were okay with the language.

One of the perks of working at a bookstore is the galley shelves in our basement. All the ARCs that come in (and aren’t nabbed and never returned) are put on these shelves for booksellers to pilfer through. I was down there a week or so ago, looking for something new to read (because it’s not like I don’t have enough on my shelves; it’s just that there was nothing on my shelves I really felt like reading. You get that, right?) and I stumbled across this one. I’ve read her before, and enjoyed it well enough, so I took this one home.

And was I glad I did! Jaya Rao is a “princess” of a small state in southern India. She’s basically the ruling class, and takes her responsibility of being the heir incredibly seriously. Grey Emerson is the son of a British lord, whose family used to be part of the British Empire in India. In fact, the Emersons stole a precious ruby from the Rao family temple when they left India in 1947. And Jaya’s great-great grandmother cursed the Emerson line.

So, when Jaya and her sister Isha are forced to go to a new boarding school because of a scandal involving Isha, a couple of boys, and Isha’s desire to be a mechanic (which is not a very princess-like thing to do), and they end up at the same school as Grey Emerson, Jaya decides to get revenge: make Grey fall in love with her and then break his heart.

Of course (of course!) it’s not that simple or easy. But it is thoroughly delightful. Switching between Jaya’s and Grey’s perspectives allowed the reader to get the full perspective, and the fact that both Grey and Jaya are conflicted about their position in their respective families as well as their future helped deepen the characters. And even though they were surrounded with the children of the rich and elite, Menon made pretty much everyone Jaya came into contact with a three-dimensional character. It’s a fluffy romance book, sure, but it’s a fluffy romance book with LAYERS. Which is the best kind.

Absolutely a delightful read.

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid

by Marcus Emerson
First Sentence: “Sixty miles per hour.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (it’s probably better if you read this first): The Super Life of Ben Braver
Content: There’s fart and poop jokes (of course). There’s also lots of illustrations and white space with short chapters. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

This is a second in a series, and for many reasons (well, time mostly) I didn’t read the first. From what I can tell: Ben Braver is a perfectly normal kid who got sent to this boarding school for kids with superpowers. And he saved them from an evil supervillain. Except no one at the school knows that Ben doesn’t have powers (well, except for the Headmaster — who’s about as reliable as Dumbledore — and his best friends). It’s the new year, and there’s a new menace — sort of — and Ben’s doing his level best to hide his lack of powers while he gets more and more popular.

Actually, this one is more about the ability of fame to go to one’s head. Ben gets SUPER obnoxious while he gets more and more attention, but (of course) everything comes crashing down around him. And when the real threat presents itself, he does what he can to save the other students, but in the end, it’s an outside person (whose appearance was explained away in a sentence) who solves the problem. (Yeah, I have a problem with easy solutions like that.)

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I think I was hoping for something fun and funny, and while there were some amusing points (humor is REALLY hard to do), it kind of all just fell flat for me. (There was one one-page comic that made me laugh, but that was it.) It’s probably great for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid crowd (I didn’t like those much either) and for those reluctant readers who want a lot of illustrations in their stories. But it really wasn’t my thing.


The Deceivers

by Kristen Simmons
First sentence: “Some parents tell their kids they can be anything.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 5, 2019
Content: There’s some pretty intense kissing scenes, and some drug use and drinking by teenagers. There’s also a bit of mild swearing. It will probably be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 7th graders who were interested.

Brynn wants nothing more than to get out of her crappy Devon Park neighborhood, out under the thumb of her mom’s drug-running boyfriend, out of her crime-ridden neighborhoods, and into a better life. She knows that college is the key, but money is an issue. She doesn’t want to peddle drugs for Pete (that’s the boyfriend) so she takes to something … better: conning rich people out of their money. She’s saved up a hefty chunk when two things converge:  Pete finds the stash, and she follows a good-looking boy to an “audition” to get into the prestigious (and little-known) Vale Hall. Get into Vale, he tells Brynn, and your future is set.

What that good-looking boy neglected to mention was that Vale Hall is a school for con artists. Their job is primarily to discover (and divulge) secrets of the rich and powerful in their Chicago-like city (it’s not called Chicago, but it might as well be Chicago…). And soon Brynn finds out that the cost of having everything is, well, Everything.

Oh. My. Gosh. I couldn’t put this one down. Yes, I am a sucker for heist books (The Great Green Heist or Heist Society anyone?)  but this was a particularly good con book. Seriously good. There were long cons and short cons and cons that I didn’t see coming (though the clues were there). There were characters to root for (Brynn and Caleb) and love (more Henry!) and villains to root against. It was engrossing and readable and dang if I didn’t just love every moment spent at Vale Hall.

So, yeah, watch out for this one. And I would not mind spending more time with these characters at all!

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson
First sentence: “Fate came for Dottie Epstein a year before, in the form of a call to the principal’s office.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: January 16, 2018
Content: There’s a smattering of mild swear words, and a couple f-bombs. It’ll probably be in the YA section of the bookstore.

This is the story of a boarding school, Ellingham Academy,  with a sordid past – in 1936 a girl was murdered and the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and never recovered. Which makes it the perfect school for Stevie Bell, a true crime aficionado who thinks she can solve the decades-old crime. But when she gets to Ellingham, things aren’t so simple as waltzing in there and putting the pieces together. There’s friendships and relationships to navigate, and then more… sinister things start happening.

I’ve loved Johnson’s work for a while, and her ability to capture the quirkiness of teenagers. I loved Stevie, and the friends she made. Though this book is less about friendship and more about the mystery, which Johnson also does really well. She wove the 1936 mystery through the book as the contemporary mystery was unfolding, which helped with the air of creepiness, and kept me looking for parallels between the two. (I’m a terrible mystery reader; I never pick up the clues.)

My only complaint was that I was hoping it would be a stand-alone. (Johnson does have a problem with starting a series and then not finishing them. I’m still waiting for the last Suite Scarlett book…) But, alas, it’s not. It comes close; one of the two mysteries solved, sort of, but there are still lots of questions to be answered. Which means, I’m waiting for the next one. Here’s hoping it’ll come soon!

Nevermoor

by Jessica Townsend
First sentence: “The journalists arrived before the coffin did.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 31, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments, and it’s a bit long (almost 450 pages). It will be in the Middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Morrigan has grown up thinking she was cursed. Everyone — from the townspeople to her own father — blames her for everything that goes wrong. No one speaks to her, and worst of all, she is slated to die on Eventide. It’s a miserable existence.

So when, on Eventide, a mysterious man named Jupiter North swoops in and takes her away (with permission; but that’s a long story), Morrigan doesn’t know how to react.  She’s swept away to a city called Nevermoor to not only live with Jupiter in a magical hotel, but to compete in the trials to become part of the Wundrous Society, an exclusive magical society/school. There are conflicts and challenges, and Morrigan makes friends as she goes along.

So, I know what you’re thinking: it sounds an awful lot like Harry Potter. And you’re right: it is. But, it’s also its own thing. It’s not just that it’s a different sort of magic, it’s also lighter. More like Sorcerer’s Stone, even though that’s darker than this one is. Nevermoor is a delightful sort of fantasy, with a wonderful world kids can fall into. Yes, this is a beginning of a series (argh!), but it’s also a complete story on its own. There are delightful characters to meet and get to know, and the trials themselves are interesting and fun.

In short: it’s a fun read. Definitely hand this to those Harry Potter fans.

The Magicians

magiciansby Lev Grossman
First sentence: “Quentin did a magic trick.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a bunch of f-bombs, some references to drugs and sex (off screen). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

I’ve been told for years that I would like The Magicians. It’s been billed as Harry Potter for adults, and I’ve been curious about it. So, I finally got the time/nerve/inclination to pick it up, just to see what all the fuss is about.

And it’s everything I hate about adult fiction: pretentious kids, a complete lack of plot, inadequate world building, covered in “good” writing.

Ugh.

I admit: I bailed less than halfway through. I just didn’t care enough to  keep going. It was, quite frankly, Boring.

I’ll stick to Harry Potter, thanks.