The Cure for Dreaming

by Cat Winters
First sentence: “The Metropolitan Theater simmered with the heat of more than a thousand bodies packed together in red velvet chairs.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty disturbing parenting, and enough horrible people to make anyone angry. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’d be appropriate (though they might have a difficult time understanding the politics of the situation) for younger readers.

It’s the turn of the 20th century, Olivia Mead is several things: a burgeoning scholar, the daughter of the local dentist, 17-years-old, and (most importantly) a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement.

This does not make Olivia’s father happy. So, when a hypnotist comes to town, he decides to hire the hypnotist to change Olivia, and make her bend to his will.

Fortunately, Henri the hypnotist is on Olivia’s side. Even though he does what her father wants, despicable as it is (he needs the money), he phrases the words so that Olivia will see the world as it Truly Is. Which means, her father is demonic, covered in blood. The rich socialites are bloodthirsty vampires. Women who don’t support suffrage are slowly turning invisible. And the women who do? They’re glowing from the inside out.

Sure, there’s more plot to this one than that, but who cares? This one has a strong feminist agenda and it’s not afraid of it. The father had me seething. The rich handsy boy whom the father liked made me want to smack him. Henri was nice enough, but I really loved Olivia and her struggle against the system (and the Man) and her desire to be Free. I was just cheering her on: you go girl!

I’m not entirely sure that the historical details were completely accurate, and I was kind of hoping for more of a supernatural element (like her father turned out to REALLY be a demon). But I’m not sure it matters. This is one of those books that’s just enough of a fun ride to let everything else slide.

Chasing Power

by Sarah Beth Durst
First sentence: “Razor blade.”
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Review e-copy sent to me by the author.
Release date: October 14, 2014
Content: It says it’s for 14 and up, and maybe they did that because most of Sarah Beth Durst’s books lately have been aimed toward that crowd. That said, there’s really nothing that I think a 7th- or 8th-grader couldn’t handle (mild swearing, some pretty bad parenting, etc.). It’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Kayla and her mother — Moonbeam — are on the run. They have been for eight years now, moving frequently, changing their names, trying to keep a low profile. Why? Because Kayla’s dad killed Kayla’s sister, Amanda. Why? Because Kayla — and her sister, presumably — have magical powers.

Kayla’s powers aren’t that big, and mostly she uses them to steal little things — cash, jewelry — to help keep her and her mother afloat. Thing is: her mother doesn’t want Kayla to use her powers. She says it’ll help her dad find them. And then, one day, someone does find her. His name is Daniel, and he knows about her and her powers. And he needs her help to rescue his mom.

What Daniel starts is an epic quest to find not only Daniel’s mother, but Kayla’s past. And not everything is as it

I adore Sarah Beth Durst (and I’m not just saying this because she offered me this e-book (and an interview!), I really do enjoy her writing and world-building. I loved Kayla for her strength and for her insecurities. I was often annoyed with Moonbeam and her “I know better, trust me, it’s for your protection” routine, but in the end, she was someone worth cheering for as well. And I love the way Durst used the magic — both Kayla’s telekinesis and Daniels transporting — to forward the story; the quest couldn’t have happened without their powers, rather than them just being incidental to the whole story.

A fantastic read.

Just Call My Name

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
First sentence:
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Others in the series: I’ll Be There
Content: To say that this is intense is an understatement. Violence, yes, but also psychological intensity. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

When we last left Sam and Riddle, their father was safely behind bars and they were living with Emily Bell and her family. A happily ever after, right?

Well, only Holly Goldberg Sloan would take a happily ever after and turn it into a nightmare.

First, there’s the whole issue of security: Sam and Riddle (especially Riddle) were controlled and abused for so long that it’s difficult for them to trust their own decisions, to get back into “real” life. They’re suffering, and much of that is the residual affects from the years spent with their father. It doesn’t help that Emily and her family (well, except for her brother, who’s resentful) are super nice. Sam and Riddle don’t know how to handle super nice.

And then their happily ever after starts unraveling. First, it’s Destiney Vance, one of those girls that just screams trouble. Sam just knows it: like calls to like, and he understand’s Destiny’s hard life. But, she won’t be gotten rid of, and sticks to Sam and Emily (and Emily’s former boyfriend, Bobby) like glue.

Which is a good thing, because their dad, Clarence, finds his way out of jail and is coming for the boys. And the Bells.

Few authors have the power to completely wreck me emotionally, and yet keep me turning pages at an ever more furious pace, dying to know: WHAT NEXT? Sloan is one of those authors. She captures the inner lives of all the characters, deftly balancing between Sam, Riddle, Emily, Jared, Destiny, Robb, and Clarence. You wouldn’t think it would work, but Sloan pulls it off not only well, but spectacularly. It probably would have been even more powerful if I’d read the first book right before, but even though I didn’t, I was able to immerse myself in this story, my heart simultaneously aching and pounding as I read about Sam and Riddle and their not-so-happily ever after.

Amazing.

Audiobook: Randi Rhodes Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time Capsule Bandit

by Octavia Spencer
Read by the author.
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Content: There wasn’t anything objectionable. I don’t know how it’d be reading it, but my 8-year-old followed the story pretty well while listening to it. We did have to stop the audio a few times to explain some things, however. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I threw this in the audiobook pile mostly because I’ve seen it at the store and wondered if it was any good. (I know: celebrity authors. Ugh. But, sometimes they surprise me. Not often, though.)

Randi Rhodes is a die-hard city girl. She’s grown up in Brooklyn and loved every minute of it. Her family summers in Deer Creek, Tennessee, which is just about the right length of time for a city girl to spend in a boring, dull, small town. But the year after her mother dies (I called that pretty early on; I do get so tired of dead parents), her father, a mystery writer, packs the two of them up to live full-time in Deer Creek. Randi is not happy about this.

But, once there, she falls head-first into a mystery: the 200-year-old time capsule for the town’s Founder’s Day has been stolen. And they have 72 hours to get it back. Much against her over-protective father’s wishes, Randi (and her two new friends, D. C. and Pudge) decide that they are the only ones to solve the mystery.

It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill middle grade mystery book. Nothing too fantastic or brilliant; in fact, as an adult, I’ve seen all the tropes before. The banker is a Bad Guy, as is the power-grabbing Mayor. There’s a grumpy old man with a heart of gold, and a woman sheriff who’s a bit bumbling. (Though — spoiler — this isn’t a true middle grade novel, because by the end, you discover that the sheriff isn’t bumbling at all, but has instead figured out the mystery WAY before the kids ever did.) The best parts of the book are when Randi and her friends are out being detectives; the worst are the angsty tensions between her and her overprotective dad. I got extremely tired of the rants Randi went on about not being “understood.” (But that’s a parent speaking. I did appreciate that Randi was a non-girly girl; she was often ranting about how she wasn’t a princess and didn’t need protection. She’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, after all.)

In the end, it wasn’t anything special, though A and K enjoyed listening to it. But, it wasn’t absolutely horrible, either, and Spencer did an admirable job of narrating her book (which I would expect, with her being an actress and all).

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders

by Geoff Herbach
First sentence: “Shortly before midnight on June 15, Gabriel Johnson, a sixteen-year-old from Minnekota, MN, was apprehended outside Cub Foods by Officer Rex McCoy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, none of it strong. I put it in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore primarily because I like to keep the YA section toned down. Also, because that’s where all of Herbach’s other books are. I’d say, depending on your kid, it’s good for as young as 7th graders.

In high school, there are two types of people: the jocks and everyone else. Gabe is everyone else. ¬†Actually, Gabe is a band geek, and a mostly friend-less loser. He’s been going downhill since his mom ran off with a Japanese guy a few years back, and his grandpa moved in. It’s not just that he has only two friends, it’s that he’s overweight. Massively so. In fact, everyone (including his friends) call him Chunk. And he’s okay with that.

Gabe spends his days chugging Code Red, primarily because the money in the school’s soda vending machine goes to support the band that is Gabe’s lifeline. He figures he can chug 5 bottles of the stuff, if the money goes to fund his program. Then he finds out that a Super Sekrit school board meeting took away the vending machine money from the band and gave it to the Brand Spanking New dance team. Which makes Gabe mad. Eventually.

There’s more to the plot, of course, but it’s more about Gabe gaining self-respect than any eventual result. You know from the start — the whole book is his confession; a one-sided conversation with a Mr. Rodriguez — that he’s gotten arrested for doing something. You assume it’s for stealing money out of the vending machine. But, things are more complex than that.

Part of the charm of this book is the format; I was entertained by hearing only one side of the conversation, and imagining what Mr. Rodriguez’s side was. But, it was also Gabe. He was such a loser to start with, and it’s empowering to see how he regains control over his life, in spite of the people — from his friends to his father — who are trying to hold him back. Everyone needs a summer in which they find their best selves, and this story of Gabe’s was a truly fun one.

Audiobook: The Killer’s Cousin

by Nancy Werlin
Read by: Nick Podehl
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Content: There’s talk about a murder and a suicide, a lot of mild language, and one f-bomb. Plus a lot of intense situations. It’s in the teen section, (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an 8th grader if they showed interest.

David Yaffe is a killer. Sure, he was acquitted at trial for murdering his girlfriend, but he knows in his heart that he. is. a. killer. So, even though he’s off to Boston to live with his Uncle Vic and Aunt Julia (and their daughter, Lily) and to start over at a new school, he knows — knows — that things will never, ever be the same again.

It doesn’t help that Vic and Julia have waged a cold war with David’s parents for years, and that Julia (at least) is not happy to have David there. It also doesn’t help that their daughter, Kathy, committed suicide in the attic apartment where David’s currently living. And it really doesn’t help that Lily resents David’s presence. Not because he’s a killer — which is the reason most people can’t be around David — but because he’s an intrusion in her perfect little (albeit warped) world.

I don’t know how this is in print form, but listening to Podehl narrate the book, I was completely creeped out. Especially by Lily. It was one of those books where I was yelling at the CD in the car “NO. SHE NEEDS HELP!!” pages (discs) before the characters realized it. And Vic and Julia? I don’t care if it was the mid-1990s (I realized, at one point, that Kathy was my age, which means Vic and Julia were my parents age), they were horrible, horrible, horrible parents. (So were David’s, for that matter.) The epitome of controlling and judgmental. And there was very little growth arc, for them, at least. (Though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the point of the book.) However, David and Lily, were fascinating characters, and the book is more about their relationship than anything else.

And that had me compelled — even if I thought Podehl’s voice for Lily was a bit on the whiny side — from the first disc to the last.

The Winner’s Curse

by Marie Rutkoski
First sentence: “She shouldn’t have been tempted.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at the bookstore.
Content: There is some violence, an attempted rape scene, some mild swearing, and a lot of politics. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8th) of the bookstore.

Ever since I finished this book, I’ve been trying to think up a book talk about it. Some 30-second summary that I can give to entice people to want to read it. But I can’t. It’s partially because I’m enthralled with the book and once I start talking about it I just want to keep going and tell everyone ALL the good bits. And it’s partially because this one is REALLY hard to sum up.

I’m going to try, though.

It’s set in the fantasy world of Valoria, an empire of warriors loosely based on ancient Rome. Ten years ago they conquered Haran and enslaved all the people (they didn’t kill, of course). This is the world that Kestrel has grown up in. Her mother died when she was a young girl and her father — the general who led the invasion of Haran — has mostly raised her. He wants her to join the army — one of the two choices a Valorian girl has; it’s either that or get married — but Kestrel has resisted. Partially because she’s devoted to her music (taboo in Valorian society; music is for the slaves) and partially because she’s no good at it. What she is good at, however, is gambling.

I’m going to stop here and say that Kestrel is one of the more interesting characters I’ve read about, and one of the reasons I really liked this book. She wasn’t a “kick butt” heroine in the “traditional” fantasy sense of the word; she sucks at swordplay, is more interested in protecting her hands than learning how to slit a throat. But she is cunning. And observant. And willing to take risks and use what she knows (or deduces) to win a hand, whether that be in her game of choice, or in her life.

In fact, watching her strategize and manipulate the people around her was one of the most enjoyable aspects of this book. She’s not cruel — she’s actually sympathetic to the Haran rebellion that comes up — but she has her priorities, and she will do anything (anything!) to fill them. And even though it’s the first in a trilogy, this story line wraps up quite nicely.

The only weak leak is the Haran slave, Arin, that Kestrel falls in love with. He’s pretty much a one-dimensional character, and the love story felt, well, weak. Thankfully, there’s some nice twists near the end that fill it out much nicer. And maybe Arin will become more complex and fleshed out in later books.

Even with that minor quibble, I more than thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. I’m hooked.