The Supernormal Sleuthing Service

by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe
First sentence: “Stephen stepped over the low iron fence and past a sign that said ‘DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS.'”
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Content: There’s some mildly scary situations. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Stephen has grown up his whole life with his father believing that it was just the two of them, plus a grandmother who came to visit every once in a while. But after his grandma’s death, Stephen and his dad move to New York City, and Stephen is thrust into a whole new world. One with “supernormals” which is how the supernatural — faeries, ogres, dragons, vampires, gargoyles, etc — prefer to refer to themselves, and one where Stephen, who isn’t always the best with rules, quickly learns that he’s got a LOT to learn. Especially when a priceless heirloom, and his family’s “permission” to stay in this world, goes missing.

This was a lot of fun. I liked Stephen’s growth arc as he learned about the supernormal world, and the friends he made — there’s a team of three kids who solve the mystery about the missing book. I liked the other characters he met, especially the dragon (whose name escapes me right now). I thought the authors did really well with their worldbuilding, and it was an interesting take on the whole supernatural world. I also like that, though this looks like it’ll be a series, it didn’t feel like a “first-in-a”.

Definitely worth taking a look.

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The Falconer

by Elizabeth May
First sentence: “I’ve memorized every accusation: Murderess.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of violence, and some “improper” situations. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

A year ago Lady Ailena Kameron witnessed her mother’s death at the hand of the Faerie Queen. It changed her life forever, not only because of the death of her mother, but because she was wearing a special Scottish thistle that allowed her to see the faerie… not just that night, but always. Bent on revenge, she found a fae — 3,000-year-old Kieran — to train her in the art of killing. Little does she know, though, that the problem is much, much bigger than simple revenge: the seal that has kept the fae at bay for 2,000 years is breaking and she’s the only one who can fix it.

On the one hand: awesome cover, fierce girl, steampunk. evil faeries. On the other hand: it didn’t quite work. I wanted it to. I really did. I even finished it, hoping that it would turn fantastic. But, it… didn’t. It was set in 1844 but felt off with the steampunk-ish-ness: both too progressive with the technology and too regressive with the way that society treated Aileana. It was a weird mix. And I disliked the love story — it just didn’t work. I did like the action sequences and I loved Derek, Ailena’s pixie friend. But other than that, there wasn’t much to, well, recommend it.

Which is really too bad.

The Shepherd’s Crown

shepherdscrownby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.”
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Others in the series: Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, WintersmithI Shall Wear Midnight
Content: It’s perfectly appropriate for all ages; no swearing, some drinking by hard working adults, though it might be a bit complex, plot-wise for the younger set. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think the Tiffany Aching series needed another book to end the series, but since Sir Terry has passed away, and this came out, this one must be read. I did put it off, mostly because if I didn’t read it, the whole thing can’t end. Right?

It’s spare-er than the other Tiffany Aching books, mostly because Pratchett didn’t have as much time to fiddle with it. Still, it has a story with a decent plot, even if it feels somehow less full. Granny Weatherwax has passed on, making Tiffany  her successor, and so Tiffany is trying to balance being the witch of two steads. And her death created in the elf world: the queen is overthrown and the elves are back in the human world making mischief again. It’s a lot for one young woman to handle.

Thankfully, solutions come her way: Geoffry, the son of some lord or another, is much maligned at home, but he leaves and Tiffany takes him on as a helper. It turns out that he’s a great witch. And Tiffany takes in the elf queen once she gets thrown out, and discovers that sometimes the person you’ve always thought of as awful, may not be.

I loved it. I love Tiffany Aching so much anyway, with her practical witchiness (yes, there is magic, but being a witch in this world is such a practical affair). I loved the gender-bendiness with Geoffrey wanting to be a witch (not a wizard, which is what men Traditionally Do), and how the witches just accepted that. I appreciated that Geoffrey got a bunch of elder men, who were generally considered Useless, to help out with the Final Battle. And I loved the end. So much that I cried.

And while I am sad that there really won’t ever be any more Tiffany Aching books, I’m so very happy that Sir Terry thought up this one for us.

The Golden Specific

by S. E. Grove
First sentence: “Dear Shadrack, You ask me for news of the Eerie, and I can tell you that there is no recent news of them in the Indian Territories.”
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Others in the series: The Glass Sentence
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: It’s a long book, and it’s one of those that take some investment. Probably not for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, even if it’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore. I’m actually wondering if these might do better in the YA (grades 6-8) section, with the Philip Pullman books…

I’ll be honest: I don’t really remember what happened in the first book. The good thing? You don’t really need to. There’s no real sum-up at the beginning (thank heavens!) but you get the sense, fairly quickly, about what’s going on. And Grove is nice enough to let us know what we need to know as the book progresses.

Which helps, because there are three story lines going here. One is Sophia’s continuing quest to figure out what happened to her parents 10 years ago. This involves going to restricted libraries and ending up across the Atlantic (accidentally by herself) in the Papal States, looking for the lost land of Ausentintia. (I read that Austen-tia every. single. time.) Her adventures there are weird and wild, and the way Grove messes with time, religion, and fantasy are quite mesmerizing. She makes new friends, particularly Errol and Goldenrod, who are fascinating additions to the world Grove has built.

The second story line is related: it’s the diaries that Sophia goes looking  for, the writing of her mother that Sophia was looking for. (This is a second in a trilogy, so there’s a lot of loose ends.) This was the least interesting part to me; yeah, I was curious about Sophia’s parents, but not especially invested in their journey, so to have the story I was interested in interrupted with this one was a bit annoying.

The third — and my favorite this time around — story line was that of Theo, who stays behind in Boston, and attempts to prove that Sophia’s uncle Shadrack didn’t, in fact, kill the prime minister. It’s a fascinating plot line, full of deceptions and intrigue. Additionally, it has the most intriguing characters; Theo’s new friend, Nettie, is the daughter of the police inspector, and absolutely delightful.

I don’t know if it’s as strong as The Glass Sentence was, but I do think that this will be a compelling series once it’s completed.

The Darkest Part of the Forest

by Holly Black
First sentence: “Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin.”
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Content: There’s a few f-bombs and some teen drinking at the beginning. And some intense kissing, not to mention violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Siblings Hazel and Benjamin have grown up in Fairfold, where they know that faeries are in the forest. They know not to mess with the fairies, but since Ben was blessed (cursed) to make gorgeous music as a child and Hazel has always been drawn to the forest, they really didn’t listen. They made up stories about the prince that was in the glass coffin, they fought some bad faeries, and Hazel even made a bargain with the Alderking to help with Ben getting some musical training.

But all that was in the past. Hazel, now 16, is reckless with boys’ hearts and Ben stopped making music years ago.

And now the prince in the coffin is awake and Hazel’s life is falling apart. The question is whether or not Hazel can figure things out before her life is completely destroyed.

I love Black’s storytelling. Wholly and completely. She pulls you into the world she creates, and makes you believe everything she writes. I loved Hazel in her brokenness, and her relationship with Ben. I loved that there were faerie characters and human characters in all shades of the rainbow (both in terms of skin color and morality). I loved the myth she spun around the town and these characters, and the way she worked with the whole idea of the fey.

I just loved the book. Period.

Cuckoo Song

by Frances Hardinge
First sentence: “Her head hurt.”
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Review copy left for me by the publisher rep.
Comtent: It’s more than a bit creepy, and it’s slow (like many Hardinge) books. I’ll probably put it in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d give it to a 10-year-old who showed interest and was willing to be patient with it.

I have not read everything Hardinge has read, but what I’ve read I’ve (almost) wholeheartedly loved. She is not an easy author to love; she makes you work for the story, often having a very slow start and building from there. Cuckoo Song was no different in that respect. It was a slow and somewhat confusing beginning, one that took me a bit to get into.

Triss has been ill for a good long while. She is Delicate, and often prone to Sickness. And so when she wakes after an accident during her family’s vacation no one seems to think that anything is the matter. Except she feels like something is … off. And her younger sister, Pen, (with whom she has always had a contentious relationship) is screaming awful things at her.  And so Triss does what any 12-year-old would do: she tries to figure out what’s wrong with her. And the deeper she goes into that mystery, the more she discovers that there are things Wrong with her family in some very dark (and somewhat magical) ways. And it’s probably up to her and Pen to fix things.

I don’t want to give away too much because much of what I loved about this was the slow realization of what was going on. There’s a reason the beginning is slow and confusing: Triss, herself, is slow and confused. The reader figures things out as Triss does, peeling one glorious, dark, delicious layer back after another. And no to worry: once the story really gets going, Hardinge’s writing is so lyrical it pulls you in, increasing the tension until the immensely satisfying ending.

It’s absolutely wonderful.

Fragile Eternity

by Melissa Marr
ages: 14+
First sentence: “Seth knew the moment Aislinn slipped into the house; the slight rise in temperature would’ve told him even if he hadn’t seen the glimmer of sunlight in the middle of the night.”

I don’t know if it’s me, or the book, or my waning interest in the world, but I just couldn’t get into the story.

I tried; I gave it 150 pages, but everything was so angst-y, and off-kilter and… well, let’s just say that every single character, even Seth and Aislinn, was driving me bonkers.

So, I skipped forward, read the last four chapters to see how it ended, and then bailed. (Hey, at least I know how it ends…)

For more legitimate reviews, check out Becky’s or Softdrink’s or Amy’s.