Trouble Makes a Comeback

troublemakesby Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After.”
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Others in the series: Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Content: There’s some drinking by other teens in the book, but it’s mostly off-screen. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Digby has been gone for six months and Zoe’s moved on. Popular friends at the school, dating a football player, living the “life”. And then, Digby shows back up. (Of course.) Still looking for his sister, he’s back in town to, well, stir up some more trouble. And, of course, he ropes Zoe into it. While the over-arching plot is trying to find out what happened to Digby’s sister nine years ago, there’s a nice little subplot involving a steroid ring on the football team. So, with two mysteries to solve (one of which they do, and the other they get closer to figuring out), Zoe and Digby are on the case again.

Much like the first book, this was a lot of fun. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud fun, but it was entertaining. I like the Zoe-Digby push and pull, and I like the way Tromly handles the situations she puts the two of them into. It’s nothing deep (though the unfolding story surrounding the sister’s disappearance is turning into a sad one), but it is entertaining.

Which is really all anyone can ask for. Right?

I am Princess X

iamprincessxby Cherie Priest
First sentence: “Libby Deaton and May Harper invented Princess X in fifth grade, when Libby’s leg was in a cast, and May had a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t run around the track anymore because her asthma would totally kill her.”
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Content: It’s a bit intense at times and there is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Libby died three years ago in a car accident. May knows this. She’s moved on (sort of). But, when she’s back in Seattle the summer before she’s 17, she starts seeing stickers around town. Ones of a princess in a pink dress, red Chucks, and wielding a katana sword. The spitting image of the comic that Libby and May created in fifth grade. At first, it seems like a coincidence: maybe someone got a hold of all the pages Libby left when she died. Or, maybe — just maybe — Libby’s still alive.

After reading the webcomic, May is convinced of the latter. She’s convinced that Libby’s mom was murdered, that Libby was kidnapped, and that she’s the only one who can find Libby. She enlists the help of a recently-graduated computer geek (with a bit of a dark side), Patrick, and together they follow the clues May says are left. The thing is: what started out as an innocent investigation becomes increasingly more dangerous the further they get involved.

Ohmygosh! I don’t know why this took me too long to read this!

Seriously though, people: it’s a tight, interesting thriller, one that kept me guessing along as May and Patrick figure out and follow the clues. It gets intense at times and it definitely kept me turning pages.  THIS is what a good YA mystery is about. No extra lame love story. Cool characters. A fantastic mix of graphic and prose. So, so very good.

Can you tell I liked it?

A Curious Tale of the In-Between

by Lauren DeStefano
First sentence: “Pram died just before she was born.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some slight romance and a few scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to the older end of that range.

Pram sees ghosts. She has ever since she was a little girl, the theory (of the narrator, anyway) is that it’s because her mother committed suicide when she was 9 months pregnant and the doctors had to revive Pram. But, thankfully, all that’s taken care of in the first chapter of the book, and it’s pretty vague so that it would probably go over most kids heads.


Pram’s best friend is a ghost, Felix. They do everything together because Pram’s aunts have decided that she needs protecting from the world and homeschool her. But then, the State decides that Pram needs to go to school, and so off she goes. Where she meets Clarence, whose mother has just died. (So many dead mothers.) He convinces Pram (much to Felix’s distress) to go searching for a spiritualist in order to contact his mother. It turns out, however, that this spiritualist is not a nice person. Like INCREDIBLY not nice. And so Pram has to figure out how to get out of the clutches of a greedy, evil woman.

This is a weird book. On the one hand, I liked the ghost angle, how Pram could see ghosts and communicate with them and see their memories. Even the creepy weird spiritualist was intriguing and I thought that DeStefano played around with memories and the afterlife was quite original. But the whole relationship with Clarence was a little… odd. It wasn’t quite a romance, but it wasn’t quite just friendship either. I suppose some kids will like it, but I thought it was a bit out of place in a ghost story.

But, aside from that, it was a good book. Not a great one, but a good story.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)


by MarcyKate Connolly
First sentence: “I will never forget my first breath.”
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Content: It’s long and slow and while the romance is fairly age-appropriate, it’s not just alluded to. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d gear it to the older end of the age range/young YA.

Kymera is a newly formed creation of her Father’s.She’s part girl, yes, but also part bird and part.. something else with a scaled, stinging tail. Her purpose, her father tells her, is to rescue the girls that have been imprisoned by the wizard. She heads into Bryre every night, stinging the guards and bringing out one girl which her father then tells her is being taken to the safety of Belladoma, a nearby country.

If you’re not getting huge creeper undertone vibes from this, I’m really not doing it justice. See: everything is not what it seems. One of the best things about the first half of this book is the unease that Connolly writes into it. I just KNEW something wasn’t right, that Kymera was being too trusting (then again, being new-born she didn’t know any better), that something would go horribly wrong.

And, once she meets a boy, Ren, against her father’s wishes, it does.

I  won’t tell you how it all unravels; the twists and turns are best left to surprise. So, even though this is a slow book, with a lot of internal dialogue and musings, I was still interested enough to keep reading. I loved the dark Frankenstein-like aura it has, though it has a very Grimm-like overlay. Like Connolly couldn’t decide whether to tell a fairy tale or a monster story. But, the mashup works.

Until the end.

See, it turns fairy tale in the end, and I think we were supposed to be Moved by the ending, but I felt cheated. I suppose I wanted some sort of middle-grade happily ever after, and I should be happy Connolly refused to give it to us, but it felt… forced. And that made me dissatisfied.

But, overall, it was a well-done, dark middle grade fantasy.

Skink No Surrender

by Carl Hiaasen
First sentence: “I walked down to the beach and waited for Malley, but she didn’t show up”
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Content: Even though the reading level isn’t very difficult, the nature of this book solidly lands it on the YA (grades 6-8) shelves. Not for the young or the faint of heart.

Richard has grown up in a little beachside town in Florida his whole life. And it hasn’t been a bad life; even though his father died in a freak accident a few years ago, Richard has his mother, older brothers, an okay stepfather, and his best friend — his cousin Malley.

Richard and Malley had a long-standing nighttime ritual on the beach: walking and looking for turtle nests. Then one night, two things happen: Malley doesn’t show up, and Richard meets former-governer-turned-ecoterrorist Clint Tyree, otherwise known as Skink.

It turns out that Malley has run away with a guy she met online in a chat room. And even though it started out okay — there was video of her willingly getting in his car — it took a turn south. And the people on tap to rescue her? Richard and Skink.

I wanted to like this. And sometimes, I did. I really did laugh at the oddness of Skink, at the adventures that Richard found himself in. But I couldn’t get past the whole SHE RAN AWAY WITH A GUY SHE MET IN A CHAT ROOM problem. And it’s corollary: SHE NEEDED A GUY TO RESCUE HER. Aren’t we past all this? I do have to give Hiaasen one bonus point: when the guy tried something on Malley she punched him in the nose, breaking it. She also said that he needed to be caught and punished because the next girl might not be as strong as her. So, she’s not completely helpless. And Richard rescued her not as part of some macho thing, but because he truly cared for her. So, there’s that as well.

And I did like the environmental trivia that Hiaasen threw in, as well; he really does make Florida come alive. So, I didn’t hate the book in the end. I just wish there was a better premise for it.

The Shadowhand Covenant

by Brian Farrey
First sentence: “It was exactly the funeral Nanni always wanted.”
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Others in the series: The Vengekeep Prophecies
Content: There’s some intense action-related moments, and a small amount of violence, but nothing else. It’s perfectly happy in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

When we last left our fair Grimjinx family, they were trying to leave behind thieving. Jaxter was off to the Dowager’s estate to become apprentice to her, and the rest of the family was becoming (mostly) clean. Six months later, things aren’t exactly happy. Jaxter and the Dowager are fighting and he’s seriously considering giving up the internship altogether. So, when he heads back for Nanni’s “funeral” (it’s Par-Goblin custom to throw a funeral when a thief retires), he’s pretty much sure that he’s going to try and find another line of work.

But then, he, his Ma and Da get summoned by the Shadowhand, a super-secret organization of thieves. Someone’s making them disappear. And it seems to be tied up with valuable relics that were stolen from the High Laird. And the Sarosans — a group of gypsy-like people who are against magic and the Palatinate, the group of mages who seem to be grabbing too much power.

Of course, Jaxter gets involved (though not because he wants to; his hand is kind of forced), and he uses his knowledge of plants and powers of deduction to help him — and his friends — out.

Much of what I loved about the first book in this series is back: I adore the Grimjinxes as a family. They’re fantastic. It’s not very often that you have amazing parents in middle grade, but Ma and Da are them. Sure, Farrey has to find a way to separate Jaxter from them so he can have adventures. But they’re so supportive and just plain good people (thieving aside, of course). And I still love how bookish Jaxter is. He’s not athletic, and he’s terrible at magic, but somehow he makes his book knowledge work for him.

I also liked the action in this one; Farrey has a good sense of action sequences, and there were a couple of moments when I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what’s going to happen next.

And Farrey does a series right: each of these books have their own plot, wrapping it up by the final pages, while having a slower over-arcing plot weave them together. The writing’s smart, the characters fun. It’s fantastic.


by Teri Terry
First sentence: “I run.”
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Content: It’s a pretty intense book, and I think the plot would be a bit difficult for younger readers to understand. But there’s nothing “objectionable” it. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Kyla has no memory beyond the past six months she’s been in the hospital in London. See, she’s been Slated by the government: a process done to criminals and terrorists to remove their memories. It’s most effective the younger you are — Kyla is only 16 — and after the process, they tie your consciousness to a device called a Levo, which monitors your endorphin levels. If you get too low, you black out. And die. Obviously, it’s supposed to reform the people who have it done, make them happy, productive members of society.

Except it didn’t quite work on Kyla.

While she doesn’t have any memories of her former life, she has nightmares. And she’s not as compliant as she should be. And so, back with her “Mom” and “Dad” in their small village outside of London, she starts noticing things. Noticing things which leads to questions. And we all know that in books like this, questions are never good.

This is a much less futuristic dystopian fantasy than most, and that’s one of the things, I think, that make it stand out. (The other being that it’s set in London. It’s nice to know that Big Brother is happening over there, too!) Sure, it’s set in the future — roughly 30 or 40 years — but there’s a lot that ties it to contemporary culture. The anti-terrorism movement, which leads to a really broad definition of “terrorist”. A government that seeks to control their population. The other thing that made this one unique for me is that Kyla wasn’t (for this book, at least; it might change) a lynchpin on which the Revolution of the Evil Government resides. She’s a girl who’s lost her memory but retained her consciousness. And it’s not until her friends start disappearing that she feels she needs to take action.

That lack of action is also a downside. I’m hoping that this is mostly just a world-building book, and that there’s more going on in the next one. While I did find the situations Terry put her character in fascinating, by the end of the book, there was more unanswered questions then there were answered ones. Additionally, I think the love interest was a bit forced; there was no need for her friendship to end up as a romance, and because of that, there was no underlying chemistry between the two of them.

That said, it was unique enough to hold my attention, I am curious to see where the next book goes.

How to Catch a Bogle

by Catherine Jinks
First line: “The front door was painted black, with a shiny brass knocker that made a satisfying noise when Alfred used it.”
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Review copy off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a few mild swear words and some very intense moments. I’d put it in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore, but I’d be wary about giving it to a sensitive younger kid.

Imagine a Dickensian London, complete with orphans, pickpockets, unsavory doctors, toshers, and blackmailing landladies. And then add… bogles.

What are bogles, you might ask?

Well, it’s what our fair heroine, Birdie, and her master, Arthur, call the paranormal creatures that they get rid of for the people of  London town. Not everyone believes in them, but Arthur and Birdie know one thing: if there’s children disappearing, it’s most likely a bogle.

(I’ll let you read the book to find out how to catch them, though.)

There isn’t much plot to this one in terms of plot; Birdie and Arthur catch bogles until they meet a woman of Society who decides that bogle catching is an unsuitable occupation for a girl. (Birdie objects.) They catch more bogles until things become Sufficiently Dangerous (that’s when the unsavory doctor comes in). There’s a bit of excitement, a kidnapping, and some hauntings before it’s all over. No, this one’s mostly about atmosphere. It’s a dark book — bogles are not nice creatures — and very  much the dirty London of Dickens’ time.

I loved it.

I know: I don’t usually like atmospheric books, or Dickens for that matter. But the combination of a clever take on the paranormal and the plucky character of Birdie was enough of a combination for me to fall head over heels for this one. It’s a perfect stand alone story (though it — like many this Cybils season — says it’s a “Book one”), one that is perfect for those who love historical fiction as well as the paranormal.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)


by Holly Webb
First sentence: “Rose peered out the corner of the window at the street below, watching interestedly as two little girls walked past with their nursemaid.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy sent to me by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: Aside from the creepy person kidnapping orphans (but it’s really not that scary), there isn’t anything untoward in this book. It would happily sit in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

Rose lives in St. Bridget’s Home for Abandoned Girls in London, with no idea, really, where she came from or who she is. (She’s named after the rose bush that was blooming the day she was found in a fish basket in the churchyard.) She really doesn’t have much hope of ever being adopted, so she trudges on, one day after another. Then one day, a housekeeper for a wealthy alchemist/magician arrives, and Rose ends up as a maid in the house. And she discovers that she has a talent for magic. It turns out, too, that orphan children are disappearing from the London streets. No one is really concerned — they’re orphans, after all — but when a friend of hers from St. Bridget’s goes missing, Rose knows she has to do something. And with the help of the magician’s apprentice, maybe she can.

This is, in many ways, a book that’s already been written. Orphan? Check. Plucky lower class girl outsmarting the gentry? Apprentice story? Check. Check. Evil magician stealing children? Check. It should have been by-the-numbers boring.

And yet, it wasn’t. Partially because of the writing — Webb does know how to keep the pages turning — but mostly because Rose is such an endearing character. She’s neither snarky nor plucky. She just does what Needs To Be Done. She’s hardworking, but doesn’t have any desire to be Great. She’s not terribly smart — she has no idea how she’s doing what she’s doing — but she is willing to learn. And she is, above all, loyal to those she calls her friends.

She is, for all purposes, a Hufflepuff.

And that is why I loved her. The story is good, as well. I think this is a first in a series, but it doesn’t need to be. I can see a lot of kids loving it — boys too, if they can get past the title and cover — because it’s quite accessible.

A true winner. (Go Hufflepuff!)

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)


by Melanie Crowder
First line: “Sniff-sniff.”
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Content: There’s some harsh situations — a character was kidnapped and brutally treated, another character is shot and killed — but there’s no swearing at all. It’s not an action-packed book, so even though it’s on a 3-5th grade writing level, I’d be picky about which kid to give this to.

The world has turned to dust. Water is hard to find. And that makes anyone with water — or who can find water — valuable. Sarel’s family had water, until the gangs came through and killed Sarel’s parents and burned the compound to the ground. All that’s left is Sarel and the dog pack her father trained. It’s not a good thing; Sarel is running out of the little water she has left. Musa has a talent for dowsing, and has been kidnapped (or sold; I was never quite sure) to the gangs to find water. One night, Musa escapes, and finds his way to Sarel’s compound. It’s up to the two of them to work together to survive.

As you can tell, there isn’t much to this slim (seriously: it’s 152 pages.) novel. It’s highly introspective, more narrative than anything else. Even with the tension mounting to the end, it’s a quiet book about survival. I liked it, but I never really connected with it. Some of that was the quietness of it all. But it was also that I wanted more. I am not saying I needed a 300 page action-filled book, but I finished this one feeling like there was something missing. There wasn’t quite enough to it. I wanted more about how the world ended up parched. More about Sarel and her past. More about Musa and his talents. (Though I didn’t want more dog.) I wanted more connection between the characters. And the ending kind of came out of nowhere to me: I wanted answers as to how the book got to that point.

That said, the writing was gorgeous. And I have to give Crowder props for setting a dystopia book in an African-feeling setting. But it just wasn’t all I wanted it to be.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)