Reading descriptions of new books is extremely dangerous, at least for me. I find myself reading well into the morning hours a couple times each week and the siren call of a partially read book when I should be finishing a backyard project is incredibly powerful. After all, sitting in September sunshine, engrossed in another world beats the tar off raking up rotten apples or sifting dirt. This time around, I’ll share reviews of some books recently enjoyed. While not all are mysteries, each one is worth exploring should the description catch your fantasy. All are available on interlibrary loan through MaineCat.
Undone by Brooke Taylor, Walker & Company, 2008. ISBN: 9780802720757. When you’re fifteen and feeling lost, what do you do? In Serena’s case, she holds on to her friendship with Kori, who did a complete 180 degree change two years ago. She went from being a blonde cheerleader type to what other kids call a ‘dark angel.’ Despite their friendship, Kori won’t tell Serena what happened to flip the switch, but then Serena has some secrets and unanswered questions of her own. Why does she look like Kori? Who is her father? What’s the deal with her mother avoiding meaningful conversations, but leaving post-it notes that say ‘let’s talk’ every time Serena does something that rocks the boat.
When one of their teachers gives them an assignment that asks them to think about ways they might change in the next six months and to list five things they could do that might tempt fate. Kori’s always pushing Serena to stop being so timid and as they create their lists, the secrets begin to mount. Who is the guy that’s instant messaging Serena, but thinks she’s Kori? What do some of the veiled references Kori makes mean? Suddenly it’s too late for Serena to get direct answers from her best friend. Kori dies in a horrific car crash in front of the high school just as Serena and Anthony, her new maybe boyfriend, arrive for class.
Serena is completely devastated, pushing her other friends away and trying to hide under the covers. Her mind can’t accept that Kori is really dead. When she does finally let reality back into her life, she decides she must complete Kori’s list of five, not only to honor her, but to get some answers that she desperately needs if she’ll ever have any hope of moving on.
How she completes them and what she discovers along the way pulled me in so much that the world around me seemed to fade and I was inside the story. That’s high praise for a first book. This one is gritty, sad and at times painful to read, but teens, particularly those who have experienced loss of a friend or who love an intricate plot with interesting characters will eat this book up in one sitting.
The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. Putnam, 2014. ISBN: 9780399162428. Warning: Do not even try reading this book unless you read the first one because you’ll be hopelessly lost. In fact many readers may want to reread The Fifth Wave in order to jump right into this one. Second books of a trilogy are particularly tricky. The author needs to build a bridge without giving too much away or making things drag. Well there’s no drag here, just plenty of violence, evil aliens and action. After all, space invaders who have pretty much wiped out 7 billion humans aren’t going to play nice no matter what. I understand the numerous complaints about the book not focusing as much on Cassie and Evan. There’s too much going on that WILL grab the reader for this to bother most who do get into the book. By the end, you’re likely to feel a bit like a wrung out sponge and have plenty of questions you’re dying to have answered in the final installment and that, after all, is what a good middle book should do for readers.
There’s lots of violence in this that might turn off some YA readers, but it’s completely appropriate given the plot. It’s a great addition to both school and public libraries. If you haven’t laid your hands on the first book, do so and give yourself a double-decker dystopian treat. (Rumor has it that the first book is going to be made into a movie).
For those who like their fiction in audio format, here’s one I got a chance to enjoy as a School Library Journal reviewer. It’s also available in print. Pattou, Edith, Ghosting, 1 MP3 CD. 4:25 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2014. $9.99. ISBN 9781491529638. Maxie has returned to the midwestern town she grew up in after a failed family move to Colorado. School begins on Monday and she’s nervous about how she’ll fit in after everything changing. When Emma, her former best friend, reluctantly invites her to a party, it sets in motion an evening full of self-discovery and mistakes in judgment that set them on a collision course with tragedy. Told in alternating voices and viewpoints by the girls, along with their other old friend, Felix, Chloe, Brendan, Emma’s very angry and impulsive boyfriend, and Anil, a quiet, but very smart son of two physicians, the teens pull listeners into what could have been an uneventful last night before school starts. Instead, the tension ramps steadily upward and expands to include a sad and possibly mentally ill boy living with his grandmother as well as the sheriff and Emma’s younger sister, Faith.
This is a terrific audio book, one that teens will relate to because many of them will have had nights that could have gone this wrong. The cast is excellent as is the pacing. A great choice for both school and public libraries.
Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff, Razorbill, 2014. ISBN: 9781595146380. Want creepy? Want Southern Gothic with a paranormal twist? Read this book and get both. Clementine has been hidden away in the cellar under what remains of her house. She’s held by willow roots and floats in a dream state, aware of subtle sounds and movement around her. She’s been there for years, ever since someone took her there during what was called The Reckoning, a time when townspeople went crazy and torched homes of those they thought were involved in the Craft. When a strange boy named Fisher frees her, she discovers it’s been years since that insane night. Her home is destroyed, her mother dead and her favorite aunt wanders about in a haze, unable or unwilling to recognize her.
Clementine struggles to adjust with the help of her cousin Shiny who also possesses the power townspeople refer to as the Craft. Shiny tries to warn her off Fisher, but the attraction between the two is too powerful. They, along with Rae, a black girl who wasn’t targeted during the Reckoning, Fisher and Davenport, the sad daughter of a really crazy and dangerous man, make up a group Fisher’s grandmother says matches a surreal star painting that hangs in town. When they all become aware of their connection, the Craft in a scary area known as the Hollow, starts coming to life again and the teens must find a way to get things back to normal (or as normal as things can get when you live in a really creepy and unstable place).
How they survive makes for a really gripping read. There’s violence and creepiness aplenty, so I wouldn’t suggest this for younger teens. YA readers who like industrial strength strange with some very interesting characters will really like this book.
Love, Inc. by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout. Hyperion, 2011. ISBN: 9781423131151. Zahra’s stuck between splitting parents. That’s bad enough, but her Pakistani grandparents have arrived for an extended stay and are driving her crazy as they turn her mom into some sort of squishy religious stranger. To add insult to injury, she’s been sentenced to group therapy because her estranged parents can’t communicate with her and think that therapy will fix, by proxy, the mess they created and can’t deal with.
The group is a mix of boys and girls, all of whom have unstable and/or divorcing parents.
There’s cynicism aplenty and at first, very little mutual support. When Zahra, Kali and Syd all realize they’ve been dating the same guy, they suddenly have a target to focus all their anger and frustration. Eric, aka Rico, aka Rick loves his fancy rebuilt car, so the girls hatch a plot to trash and befoul Miss Daisy as he calls his ride. Their scheme is not only well done, but the description as they complete it is funny as heck.
Word gets around and it isn’t long before the three girls realize there’s plenty of money to be made exacting revenge for other kids, but why stop there. It doesn’t take long for them to start taking on spying assignments for other teens who suspect their significant other is cheating on them. It’s just a skip and a hop from this to facilitating breakups and finding the perfect match for teens floundering in the dating pool.
Too bad Zahra can’t find her own hottie, even though a perfect match is right under her nose. Toss in more and more stress from her grandparents, worry over what’s happening to her younger sister, some jobs that go too well and a few that go bad, plus a dog in desperate need of a pacemaker and you have one great read. Teens who like a smart, sassy and funny romance will eat this book up in a couple sessions. It’s definitely one to add to any library that likes to provide teens with good reading material.
A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall, Swoon Reads, 2014. ISBN: 9781250061454. Do we realize how many people watch us? Lea and Gabe are two shy, awkward and undeniably likable college students. When they find themselves in the same creative writing class, it’s clear to Inga, the instructor that they are the ‘couple’ for that semester. She’s picked two students every term that she’s convinced are made for each other and has often tailored the assignments to help them find each other.
Inga’s not the only one who realizes that Lea and Gabe are meant for each other. The barristas at the local Starbucks get it, Maxine, the older and slightly cynical but still romantic waitress at a nearby restaurant sees their unconscious attraction, Gabes’ older brother Sam in in, as is Lea’s roommate Maribel. Heck even the friendly campus squirrel and a bench that thinks Gabe’s butt is the best one that ever sat on it gets their unconscious mutual attraction. In fact Lea and Gabe are possibly the least aware of how made for each other they are…At least when they’re near each other.
Told from fourteen different viewpoints, this is a maddeningly delightful love story. At times you want to scream something like “Can you two get a clue, for heaven’s sake?”, but as their history is revealed, particularly the tragic events that affected Gabe during what should have been his sophomore year, you can’t help but become sympathetic and start rooting for them to get that bag of clues that’s dancing in front of them.
This is a risky book. Keeping this many viewpoints clean and interesting is no mean feat, but the author pulls it off quite nicely. Teens and many adults who remember how awkward the dating scene was when they were younger will like this book a lot. It’s certainly a good addition for both school and public libraries.
A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, Athenum, 2014. ISBN: 9781442494473. Jack’s quite an artist for his age. He can draw almost anything, even places and people he’s seen very briefly. All he has to do is close his eyes and grip a pencil and something magic happens. Sadly, the only exception to this is his late father who was killed in World war II. No matter how hard Jack tries, he comes up blank. Before she vanished by driving a car into the ocean in an apparent suicide, his mom, a small time actress, told him that he looked just like his father.
The story opens in 1956 with Jack being hauled off from Los Angeles to San Francisco by his aunt Edith who not only is cruel and cold, but didn’t give him time to pack his own belongings. Instead, she packed two crates, one with some of his stuff, the other with stuff his mother left behind.
When they arrive in San Francisco, Jack discovers that his aunt is a permanent resident on an upper floor in the Fairmont Hotel and doesn’t trust anyone. She’s addicted to fancy chocolates which he has to get from a shop on the hotel’s main floor whenever she’s out. When he goes to get on the elevator for a late evening chocolate run, he’s greeted by a large man whose voice is eerily familiar. Jack recognizes one of his favorite TV personalities, Alfred Hitchcock and notices that he enters the room next to Aunt Edith’s.
When he returns with the chocolates, Jack discovers that his aunt has been kidnapped and a ransom note has been spelled out on her bed in chocolates she’d discarded because of their flavor. At first, he’s frozen and ready to panic. What can a ten year old boy who has recently been orphaned do? When he remembers who is in the next room, he begins to take control of things. It is a challenge to convince Mr. Hitchcock to help him, especially since he has a fear of policemen, but despite a comedy of errors when they try to report Aunt Edith’s abduction, Jack manages to get Alfred to help figure out what really happened to his aunt, why one of the supposed ransom notes may not have come from whoever grabbed her and what the real significance of the seven characters on the silver coffin-shaped charm allegedly left by his deceased father is. Before the crime is solved, Jack and his hero have disrupted the funeral of a perfect stranger by singing bawdy lyrics, dressed in drag, outwitted some really evil people and discovered an amazing secret about Jack’s late father. This is a fun read for tweens who like mysteries and books with plenty of action. If they know anything about the history of early television, that will make this even more fun to read. It’s a book worthy of a juvenile Edgar nomination as well as being in pretty much every public and school library.
In Too Deep by Coert Voorhees, Disney Hyperion, 2013. ISBN: 9781423140351 . Annie Fleet doesn’t fit in as well as she’d like at the exclusive private school she attends. She’s on scholarship because her dad teaches there. He gave her his love of history and of lost treasure ships, but lost his own enthusiasm along the way. Her mom runs a barely breaking-even dive shop. Scuba diving is Annie’s other passion. Most of the teens attending the school have rich and famous parents like Josh, the son of a famous movie star that she’s crushing on. There’s no way on earth, she’ll ever get even a glance from him, or is there?
When Josh wants to get certified so he can dive on a trip his mother is planning, he uses Annie’s mom’s shop, but Mom thinks Annie’s better qualified to teach him. Josh, however, blows off the manual and what Annie is trying to teach him. The result is his nearly drowning in the practice pool and Annie has to perform rescue breathing. It’s not the way she’s imagined their mouths meeting, but it starts a slightly different connection between them, one that will drive her nuts as the story progresses.
Annie, Josh and siblings Kate and Nate are the only ones in her history class willing to sign on for a humanitarian trip with their teacher. Annie desperately wants to take her diving gear along, but Mom and Dad nix that. However, when the teens reach their destination, it’s soon clear that something else is going on. When their teacher convinces them that he may know the location of a clue to the Golden Jaguar, a huge gold statue supposedly left behind by Cortez, Annie’s all over diving for it, even if it means doing so at night and in unfamiliar waters. She’s nearly killed in the process, but finds something that just might lead to the mythical statue.
Unsure who to trust, she decides to keep her find a secret until she can figure out what to do. This is where things speed up and get really interesting. Between her roller-coaster relationship with Josh, made even more up and down because she’s pretty clueless about guy stuff, and the way she and Josh have to try and stay one step ahead of the bad guys, the story grabs you and doesn’t let go until the last page. There’s a great mix of action, mystery and romance here, creating a book that teens will really like.