The Museum of Heartbreak

museumofheartbreakby Meg Leder
First sentence: “In her junior year of high school, Penelope Madeira Marx, age sixteen going on seventeen, experienced for the first time in her young life the devastating, lonely-making, ass-kicking phenomenon known as heartbreak.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: Lots and lots of swearing. So much that it landed itself in the teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Penelope has been friends with Audrey and Eph for forever. They’ve been a trio, with traditions and in-jokes, and Penelope loves it that way. She loves the consistency, the predictability, the comfort of it all. Except, in their junior year, things aren’t right. Audrey has been going off with another girl, one who is mean to Penelope, and Eph is, well , increasingly distant. Things just aren’t the same.

The best thing about this book (well, aside from Pen and Eph; they’re both fantastic characters) is the format. Every chapter starts with an “artifact” from Pen’s friendship history. A sweatshirt, a piece of paper, a toy. A memory, a connection. It’s very much a book about things falling apart, about changes that are spiraling out of control. The format fit the theme of the book, which I found wonderfully delightful.  (Even the douchebag characters who totally deserved everything.)

In fact, I found the whole thing delightful. A perfect summer read.

Counting Thyme

countingthymeby Melanie Conklin
First sentence: “When someone tells you your little brother might die, you’re quick to agree to anything.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a slight bit of romance (no kissing, just like likeing), but otherwise, it’s great for 4th grade on up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Thyme has a good life: a best friend, a home near her grandmother in sunny San Diego. But her younger brother has a rare form cancer, and an opportunity for a new treatment has opened up in New York City. Suddenly, Thyme’s good life is taken away from her: in the middle of her sixth grade year her family up and moves. To say she’s not happy with this is an understatement.

It doesn’t help that home isn’t the best place. The treatment is hard on her younger brother, which puts everyone on edge. Her older sister is lobbying for more freedom, which terrifies her mother. And Thyme is just trying to find a place to fit in at school; it’s so very different from home. Which is where she’d rather be.

Cancer books are a dime a dozen, it seems like, so it takes something different to make one stand out. Told from the perspective of a sibling rather than the cancer patient helps. But it’s really the fish out of water theme that makes this one stand out for me. Sure, Conklin captures the stress cancer treatment puts on a family and how difficult it is for everyone, not just the cancer patient. But the parts I liked better were the ones where Thyme was torn between her old life and making a new one. That feeling of being in two places, of having to start over when you move is one that’s hard to capture. And I think Conklin did that well. I liked the variety of people — from the grumpy downstairs neighbor to the Italian babysitter to the friends the Thyme made at school — that populated the book.

A good read.

Driving Heat

drivingheatby Richard Castle
First sentence: “The last thing Nikki Heat expected when she received her promotion to captain of the NYPD was how much the proud expression on Rook’s face in the audience would make her want him.”
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Others in the series: Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Heat Rises, Frozen Heat, Deadly Heat, Raging Heat  (Yes, I really have read the whole series.)
Content : Loads of f-bombs (though less than other books, I think), plus some tasteful sexytimes. It’s in the adult mystery section at the bookstore.

I realized, at some point while reading this, that I don’t actually remember much of what happened in the 7th season of Castle (not its best season) and I waited a lot longer before getting around to this one, so I really didn’t pick up on all the show references in the book. Which means, I was forced to take it on its own merit.

Nikki Heat has been promoted to captain and has to deal with the new pressures that come with that job. It doesn’t help that she catches a high-profile case right off the bat: the murder of a police psychologist, Lon King. HER psychologist. It’s not an easy death for Heat to deal with, especially since King had been helping her deal with her feelings about her impending marriage to Jamison Rook.

But, things aren’t always as it seems, and soon one murder turns into five (and the entire NYPD gets hacked)  as Heat and Rook try and solve this case.

Y’know, on its own merit, these still aren’t bad. The mystery was complex enough that I didn’t quite figure it out (though it did leave out one crucial piece of information, I think, in order to fully solve the mystery)  but it wasn’t super out of left field when they finally figured it all out. The plotting’s good, the writing’s not half-bad (I’ve read worse), and aside from a few editing mistakes (c’mon editors, get your act together. I know you’re trying to churn these out but, take a deep  breath and double check your work), it really is a halfway decent (if pulpy) mystery series.

These Shallow Graves

theseshallowgravesby Jennifer Donnelly
First sentence: “Josephine Montfort stared at the newly mounded grave in front of her and at the wooden cross marking it.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, murder, and some questionable situations. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th or 8th grader, who was interested.

Josephine is a thing that an 1890s socialite isn’t supposed to be: curious. She’s supposed to obey her parents, be elegant and ladylike, and marry a wealthy, eligible bachelor of her parent’s choosing. But, when her father unexpectedly turns up dead, supposedly having shot himself, Josephine won’t — can’t — settle for that. She heads out, teaming up with a reporter by the name of Eddie Gallagher, to find the Truth.

Thus starts a winding, sometimes scary, path that will lead Josephine down paths that would scandalize her family if they knew, but ultimately opens Josephine’s eyes and changes her forever.

I’ll be honest: the mystery was kind of predictable. I guess who it was fairly early on, as well as guessing the “big secret”. I didn’t have the how and why, but eventually, I figured out that too. The thing that kept me reading was Jo herself. I enjoyed the push and pull she had with Upper Crust New York Society, how she was willing to go against the expectations of her family. I found it all fascinating, and found Jo a character worth spending time with this.

Which made it worth reading.

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.”
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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.)

The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen

by Katherine Howe
First sentence: “The cafe in the basement of Tisch, the art and film school at New York University, was redecorated this year.”
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Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s talk of teenage drinking (and some actual), plus drug use. There’s also one almost-sex scene. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section at the bookstore.

There is no way to write this, I think, without spoiling the premise. If you choose to go into this without knowing what it is, then you should probably stop reading now.

Wes is at NYU for the summer film workshop for a reason: he wants to transfer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to NYU because Madison is, well, small. Constricting. The Same. He needs something different, and he Knows he can find it in New York City. (Well, can’t we all?) He’s out helping one of his friends, Tyler, film an art film at a seance when his life really changes: he meets Annie and Maddie. They’re edgy, they’re different, they are most definitely not from Wisconsin. And as Annie pulls Wes into her story (and he gets more tangled up with Maddie), he discovers that maybe the life-changing event he thought New York would offer him isn’t going to be in film school.

I’m going to say it, even though Howe danced around it: this is a ghost story. And, as such, it’s quite good. I liked not knowing that Annie was a ghost for a while — it took the whole first section for me to figure it out, though there’s a pretty big clue at the end of the prologue. I liked Wes’s discovering of her story, and how Annie flitted back and forth in time. I liked Howe’s historical detail; it’s most definitely something she excels at. And I thought the love triangle-ish thing between Wes, Annie, and Maddie was unique as well.

The only thing that really bothered me was that Howe refused to call a spade a spade. She never, once, admitted, in words, that Annie was a Ghost. She was a Rip Van Winkle. Every time it came up, they dodged the bullet. It got old. Just say she’s a ghost, please.

But, other than that, it was an intriguing weaving between past and present, and a unique way to look at ghost stories.

Husky

by Justin Sayre
First sentence: “Ducks, now would you look at this!”
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Release date: September 22, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: There’s really nothing objectionable, though the subject matter is a bit on the more mature side. It will be in the YA section of the bookstore, though it’s probably good for 5th graders as well.

Davis is an only child, living with his mother — who is gone all the time, working at the bakery she owns — and his grandmother. His father’s out of the picture (dead? I think?) and his grandpa died a few years ago. And his grandmother is one of those Irish Grandmothers: overprotective, nosy, loud. The only real escape Davis has is his opera music (yes, he likes opera. No, it doesn’t come off as weird) and his friends, Sophie and Ellen. Except that Ellen is a sarcastic mean and likes Charlie (whom Davis isn’t really quite sure of), and Sophie has been hanging out with Allegra who is one of those stereotypical Mean Girls. So, where does that leave Davis?

During this summer before high school, Davis tries to figure all of it out.

I wanted to like it. Partially because I like our rep, and she really liked this one. But. I just didn’t get it. Davis was bothered by his weight, but it’s not a fat book. Which is a good thing. It’s not one of those books where he has to Overcome Being Fat in order to be happy. But, it’s also not a Accept Yourself and Be Happy book, either. On the one hand, it’s a process, and it doesn’t have a tidy happily-ever-after, which I respect. But I didn’t like the underlying assumption — especially at the end — that Davis was gay. A boy who listens to opera and whose best friends are girls isn’t necessarily gay. (Way to play into stereotypes.) That really bothered me, in the end.

Davis was a decent enough character; a bit lethargic for my tastes, and prone to being a reactor instead of someone who actually participates in his own life. But, it wasn’t a bad thing.

Aside from the stereotypes, I really can’t pinpoint why I didn’t love this book. It just wasn’t my thing.