The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black
First sentence: “On a drowsy Sunday afternoon, a man in a long coat hesitated in front of a house on a tree-lined street.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s violent. And dark. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a willing 7th grader.

Jude has lived in Faerie ever since she was 10, when her mother’s first husband, a faerie general named Madoc, came to the human world and slaughtered her parents, and spirited away her, her twin sister, Taryn, and her mother’s first child, Vivian. It’s not been a comfortable life, being a human in Faerie, but Jude had made do. In fact, she’s done better than that: in spite of her terror at everything (because her life is constantly in danger), she has learned to fight, to strategize, and to, well, thrive.

And so when, as Faerie prepares to crown a new High King, she gets involved in the Court drama, she feels capable of handling what’s thrown at her. Except, things don’t quite go the way she thinks.

I loved this one. I like faerie stories generally, and Holly Black’s are particularly gorgeously told. I loved the dark undertones, and I loved the way Jude worked with her limitations and made the best of her situations, the way she played the situation. And, since this is the first in a series, I can’t wait to see how it all will play out in the next one.

Advertisements

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!

Kids of Appetite

kidsofappetiteby David Arnold
First sentence: “Consider this: billions of people in the world, each with billions of I ams.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 20, 2016
Content: There are a bunch of f-bombs, some teenage smoking, and some depictions of domestic abuse. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Vic is many things: a teenage boy, a son whose father has died of cancer, a lover of music and math. He also has Moebius syndrome, but he doesn’t let that define him. No, these days, he lets his dad’s absence and his mom’s new relationship define him. And one night, when things become unbearable, Vic grabs his dad’s ashes and takes off. Out there, he runs into an interesting group of kids, under the protection of a Congolese immigrant named Baz. They fly under the radar, taking people in who need help, give them the help they need, and send them on their way. And Vic most definitely needs help. Especially after he opens his father’s urn and discovers instructions as to where his ashes should be spread. So Vic, with his new-found friends, takes it upon himself to scatter his dad according to his wishes.

Things aren’t that simple, though. Vic gets caught up in the lives of what comes to be called Kids of Appetite, and when the uncle of one kid ends up dead (and Baz is a suspect), Vic finds himself in the police station.

There’s a lot going on in this novel: there’s a main character with a disability, and some discussion on etiquette when dealing with someone who doesn’t look like you. There’s diversity and refugee and immigration issues with Baz and his younger brother as they try to make a new life for themselves. There’s a semi-traditional love story. There’s a murder. But, even with all these weird eclectic elements, it works. It’s such a character-driven novel and each and every character (well at least with the Kids of Appetite) is a gem. The novel alternates between Vic and Mad, an 18-year-old girl who is kind-of a runaway as well, and each of their voices was delightful. I liked that there was a dark edge to this, that there are things to think about, and yet it’s ultimately a story of hope and redemption.

Highly, highly recommended.

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

curiosityhouseby Lauren Oliver (and H. C. Chester)
First sentence: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: step right up and don’t be shy.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s murder and some adult smoking and drunkenness. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have basically grown up in Dumfrey’s Dime House, a place where unusual kids like them — Philippa is a mentalist, Sam is a strong man, and Thomas is a super-math-genius — are welcome. But, soon after Max (knife thrower extraordinaire) arrives, Mr. Dumfrey’s prize shrunken head goes missing and then people around the city start dying. It’s up to the four kids to figure out what is going on. And, in the process, figure out who they Really Are.

I found the mystery end of this delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed the four kids as they learned to work together and puzzle out who exactly was the person behind the killings. I figured it out before they did, but not much before, and I loved that the clues were there for anyone to pick up. Even the big twist ending wasn’t a huge surprise. It’s only vaguely speculative fiction (mentalist abilities and all that), so it’s perfect for those who don’t want much magic or ficitonal places. The only complaint is one I remember Ms. Yingling having: I wish the historical context was more explicitly put out there. Like her, I was able to figure it out, but I’m not sure that kids would get it (in fact I know so: this is one that my kid review group at work read and they didn’t even notice). Though that’s probably not something that would bother them.

At any rate, it’s a lot of fun.

(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.)

All Fall Down

embassyrowby Ally Carter
First sentence: “‘When I was twelve I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,’ I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some intense situations, but no swearing and  no sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Grace saw her mother murdered three years ago. She is 100% sure of this fact. She knows it was a man with a scar on his face, that her mother was shot, not burned in an accidental fire. The problem? No. One. Believes. Her.

She’s spent the past three years in and out of therapy and in and out of drugs, and now has come to Embassy Row in Adria to live with her grandfather and forget what happened. The problem? Grace can’t let it go.

And it doesn’t help that Grace is positive that she’s seen the man who murdered her father. So, she ropes her new friends Noah and Megan (and her German neighbor, Rosie) into spying on the man. The further she goes, however, the more confusing everything becomes. Grace has no idea who’s her friend and who isn’t.

This is darker than Carter’s usual fare, and without the swoon factor (ahhh HALE). But what it lacks in fluff and swoon it more than makes up for with a completely unreliable narrator, several twists and turns, and a pretty amazing ending. Grace is a fascinating character, angsty (well, I prefer to think of it more as PTSD-y), smart, and completely wrong about so much. It makes for a trippy ride, one where I had no idea what was going to happen next. I loved that about this book. And I’m completely in the dark as to where the next book is going.

Of course I’m going to have to read it.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “Persephone stood on the bare mountaintop, her ruffled ivory dress whipping around her legs, her masses of white-blond curls streaming behind her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 21, 2014
Others in the series: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves
Content: There’s swearing, lots of it, including f-bombs, but nothing felt gratuitous. There’s also violence and some adult drinking. Plus, it’s a complicated story arc that may prove confusing for younger readers. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when dealing with this series. I just want to throw it at everyone (especially people who come in the store. WHY WON’T THEY BUY THIS BOOK?) and say “READ THIS! THIS IS WHAT STORYTELLING AND WRITING IS.” It really doesn’t matter that I love the characters (“What [Orla] didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another.” Count me in on that.), and I am intrigued and fascinated by the people they meet. In this book, most especially, it was Jesse Dittley, the man who took care of the cave in the hills, who talked in ALL CAPS and called Blue an ANT. He was wonderful.

The basic plot that Stiefvater weaves is that Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are getting closer to waking their unknown king, Glendower. Blue’s mom, Maura is missing, gone off on a quest of her own. And Mr. Gray’s employer, Greenmantle (“Greenmantle had always liked the idea of being a mysterious hit man, but that career goal invariably paled in comparison with his enjoyment of going out in the town and having people admire his reputation and driving his Audi with its custom plate (GRNMNTL) and going on cheese holidays in countries that put little hats over their vowels like so: ê.”), has shown up in town, furious at Mr. Gray for defying him, determined to make him pay.

But, things don’t necessarily go right. (There is one more book, after all.) And Blue and the boys are possibly in deeper than they can handle.

What I love most (as evidenced by the frequency of quotes already), however, is the writing. It’s so drop-dead gorgeous. Stiefvater is a poet here, capturing so much — mood, character, events — with so little (even her use of swearing has Meaning.), it’s breathtaking.

If you haven’t picked these up yet, the series is almost done. Now is a good time to start. You won’t regret it.

Afterworlds

by Scott Westerfeld
First sentence: “The most important email that Darcy Patel ever wrote was three paragraphs long.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 23, 2014
Content: There’s some grizzly murders, terrorists, and a lot of swearing. Plus the huge length and the amount of patience it’s going to take to get through this one, and I’m not sure it’s for the faint of heart. It’s in the teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because it’s the New Scott Westerfeld. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I have loved (more or less) everything I read by him. (Also: I’ve met him, at KidlitCon in Seattle. He was pretty chill.) Even so, I didn’t know what to expect. And this was nothing like I’ve ever read before.

It’s really two books in one. Half of it is a ghost/terrorist/murder story. Lizzie, a high school senior, is traveling back to California after visiting her father, and some terrorists attack her airplane. She survives by playing dead, and soon discovers that she can see ghosts. But it’s more than that: she is a psychopomp, a valkyrie, a person who helps the dead find peace. And she’s in love with the underworld’s lord, Yamaraj.

The second half of the story is about Darcy, a recently graduated girl, who “wrote” the Lizzie half of the book during NANOWRIMO her senior year, and got it snapped up by a major publisher for 6 figures. Suddenly, her life is turned upside down, and she decides that college is not an option. Instead, she moves to New York and is thrust head first into the world of YA publishing. It’s a fictional account because Darcy is a fictional person, but very it much felt like an inside peek into the life of a writer.

I liked each of the stories individually; Westerfeld knows how to plot, and how to hold a reader’s interest. The Lizzie story was sufficiently chilling (while also being a bit swoony) and had some clever and interesting takes on the afterworld. And the Darcy story was well-done as well; Westerfeld caught the uncertainty of a first-time published author as well as the excitement and naivete of someone just out of high school facing the Big Wide World.

But, what I enjoyed most, and what kept me reading, was the connection between the two parts. I loved seeing Darcy angst over her book, and how different parts of her life fit into the book. I loved reading about how parts of the story were changed and adapted. And I loved all the different teasers about the end, and how it could have been different. I’m not a writer but I loved seeing how the author and the story are tied up together and the effort it takes to write a story.

I don’t know how well this is going to go over with non-Westerfeld fans; I do hope it goes over well. There’s a couple of good stories here. And I’d be more than happy to read more of Darcy and Lizzie’s story.