Fiendish

Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff, Razorbill, 2014. ISBN: 9781595146380. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

Fiendish

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.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12

A Hitch At The Fairmont

 

A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, Athenum, 2014. ISBN: 9781442494473. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

a hitch at

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.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Uncategorized

In Too Deep

In Too Deep by Coert Voorhees, Disney Hyperion, 2013. ISBN: 9781423140351 . Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS

In Too Deep

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 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.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Through To You

Through To You by Lauren Barnholdt, Simon Pulse, 2014. ISBN: 9781442434639. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

through to you

It started when Harper’s best friend Anna convinces her to put school color tinsel in her hair as an acknowledgment of school pride day. When Penn, an aloof, but hot guy in her class drops a folded note on her desk, Harper is surprised and intrigued by what it says “I like your sparkle.” Right after reading it, she’s called to the nurse’s office for the mandatory physical she’s avoided all year. Instead of going these, she heads for the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Penn’s going through mental gymnastics, wondering what in heck made him write the note in the first place. He’s a mess inside, in part because his dad is a serious binge drinker and the family pretends nothing is wrong. Then there’s the issue with his shoulder, the one seriously damaged in a collision at home plate with his former best friend. Penn has been told there’s no way it can be fixed, but there’s a tiny ray of maybe in the form of a specialist in Boston, but getting in to see her is almost impossible. In short, Penn is a hurting unit who hooks up, but shuts down when anything close to feelings are involved.

For reasons he can’t explain, Penn gets a bathroom pass and follows Harper. Before either know it, he’s convinced her to skip school and ride around with him. Thus begins the uneasy and so very interesting not-romance between a budding choreographer who has never even been kissed and a player who is a world of hurt inside and runs when anyone comes close to getting him to open up.

How Harper and Penn navigate this teen minefield makes for a great romantic read. I particularly like the way the author sets you up with a prologue called ‘The End” that has Harper crying her eyes out in a hotel bathroom. Teens who like romance, who have had their heart broken or who have painful family secrets will all like this book a lot. It’s a definite add for both school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Day of the Cyclone: Disaster Strikes Book 7

Day of the Cyclone: Disaster Strikes Book 7 by Penny Draper, Coteau Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781550504811. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

Day of the Cyclone

 

Modern teens and pre-teens have trouble imagining just how rigid and constricting life was for girls a hundred years ago. Thirteen year old Ella lives in Regina, the burgeoning capitol of Saskatchewan in Canada. Her father is a prominent banker, her mother a member of Regina’s high society, who spends her day (it would seem) telling her daughter what she CAN’T do, or bossing the servants around. She surprises her daughter on her birthday with a Kodak Brownie camera, but admonishes Ella not to intrude when taking pictures. Her father, however, encourages her to use her new gift to see what’s not so easily apparent to the eye and, as she takes risks in her picture taking, dad points out how she’s learning to be a true photographer.

Enter Billy, a new boy at her school who reacts by grabbing her camera when she takes his picture. He has good reasons to worry about having his picture taken. Billy is on the run, having escaped from a horrible slave-like existence that was completely opposite what he and his Mam back in England believed awaited him when he came to Canada.

There’s something about Billy that Ella finds refreshing and intriguing. Even though her mother has admonished her time and again about interacting with people who are lower class, Billy has an enthusiasm and love of life that really resonates with Ella.

When Billy is accused of stealing from Ella’s mother, she knows he couldn’t have done it, but she’s hard pressed to come up with a way to prove his innocence. Then a horrific tornado hits Regina, devastating much of the town. Ella is unable to find Billy, but is pressed into service, tending to the injured and getting to see a completely different side of her mother.

How she finds Billy, uses her camera skills to prove his innocence and get her mother to see her in a completely new way, make this an amazing example of historical fiction. The author did a very good job of researching the original disaster, not only blending what really happened into the story, but including numerous historical photographs to make it seem real.

This is a gem of a book by a publisher that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the high quality books they publish. This one is worthy of sitting on any library shelf.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Uncaged

Uncaged by John Sandford and Michelle Cook, Knopf, 2014. ISBN: 9780385753067. Reviewed by, John R, Clark, MLIS.

uncaged

John Sandford has followed the recent trend among authors with wide adult appeal and entered the young adult market. He’s done so with a smash. From the prologue and the opening pages, readers are taken on one heck of a ride beginning when Odin, one of two foster siblings, helps an animal rights group break into an Oregon research laboratory to free test critters and expose what they believe to be cruel and unethical experiments. They get more than they bargain for and find themselves on the run and in possession of encrypted thumb drives with damning evidence of the true nature of the experiments. Meanwhile, his sister Shea is really worried about him because his social skills are nowhere near his hacking abilities. When Odin vanishes, she heads to L.A. to find and possibly rescue him.

After realizing that the streets are a lot more dangerous than she thought, Shea meets up with an odd artist named Twist. Her climbing skills are exactly what he needs and it isn’t long before they’re working together to find Odin and expose Singular Corp., the animal research lab, as an utterly evil entity. It’s not going to be easy because Singular is ruthless, in cahoots with law enforcement and certain government officials and employs some very dangerous ex-military people to find Odin, Shea and Twist.

The book is one long and wild ride, starting with a post-midnight graffiti exercise on top of a tall building in downtown L.A. to some scary chase scenes, thugs being surprised by the tenacity of street kids when threatened, a bionic dog and another break-in at a research lab that’s more like a terrorist torture prison. Shea finds herself with real friends for the first time, but also has to figure out who she can trust among the alleged bad guys if she’s going to spring her brother. There’s a ton of violence and some profanity, but these shouldn’t be deal breakers for libraries considering adding this book. It ends with readers set up for what should be a dandy sequel. The reviews on Amazon are all over the place, but if you read many of the negative ones, I suspect you’ll agree with my assessment that they were posted by readers who are unfamiliar with the young adult genre and the trend of duologies and trilogies in that genre.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Effortless With You

Effortless With You by Lizzy Charles, Swoon Romance, 2013. ISBN: 9780615876252 . Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

effortless with you

How easy is it to develop self-confidence when your own mother has never really been able to give you anything? This is how Lucy has grown up. Her mother went into post-partum depression shortly after she was born and sixteen years later, there are still lingering effects. As a result, Lucy hasn’t had that nurturing and special bond that often makes the difference between self-confidence and withdrawing when life becomes overwhelming. After discovering success as a freshman basketball player, she endured severe bullying by older, jealous players and it affected her so much, she quit and even started eating lunch in the janitor’s closet.

Now, at sixteen, she thinks she’s turned a few corners. She has a glitzy best friend, Marissa, who took her on as a rehab project, and a hot boyfriend, Zach. Unfortunately, Marissa is really a self-centered manipulator who sees her more as a toy she can twist and turn, while Zach is a horndog who spends most of their time together trying to get her to do things she’s not ready for, or texting his soccer buddies. What Lucy desperately wants to believe is a cool social life, is really an failing attempt to fit in and be cared about.

When she sneaks out to go to a pool party with Marissa after being grounded, her mom shows up and not only embarrasses the heck out of her, but issues an ultimatum. Lucy will get a summer job to help her learn responsibility. Too bad Mom can’t see just how hurting her daughter really is.

When she’s picked up for her first day of work as a painter bu Justin, perhaps the hottest and most popular guy at her school, sparks fly and there’s lots of snark between them. Lucy is sure he’s smug, self-centered and shallow. Justin doesn’t do much to change her mind at first, because he has reasons why he doesn’t want her to know the real person behind his public image.

Working on his painting crew is more than interesting. Lucy faints because she’s too stubborn to avoid dehydration, catches Marissa and Zach making out at the pool in the complex she’s painting and falls from a ladder when Justin is too stubborn to get the crew to safety when a wild storm approaches.

As the summer progresses, she begins to realize a number of things. She’s more her own person than she thought, Justin is a much nicer and more complex guy than she realized, her mom can’t help being depressed and she misses basketball a heck of a lot more than she ever thought she could.

This started out feeling a bit cheesy, but quickly turned into a very absorbing read. Mature teens who have experienced confidence issues, betrayal, attraction to someone who turned out to be a lot more than meets the eye and those who have experienced family mental health issues will all like this book a lot.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Two Girls Staring At The Ceiling

Two Girls Staring At The Ceiling by Lucy Frank, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780307979742. Reviewed by John R Clark, MLIS.

two girls

Two girls, at first glance, totally unalike. One hospital room, sharing one disease. Shannon is a blue collar profane veteran of Crohn’s disease, a loud and scared fighter. Chess is just entering the bewildering world of dealing with a chronic illness and is much quieter and outwardly compliant. Inside, she’s a roil of conflicting thoughts and she can’t stop obsessing about her feelings of shame about how her first real date with a boy she likes ended on a rock in a lake after their canoe floated away.

The story is told in free verse with each girl’s thoughts and dialogue on alternating sides of the page with a line between them to symbolize the curtain separating their beds. As you read, you are very likely to get pulled into the microcosm created in this hospital room and realize that these completely different girls aren’t so different after all.

Chess has known something was terribly wrong for some time, but kept pretending she could exercise/deny/be the good girl and it would go away. Her shame makes her keep friends and family at arms length, but Shannon, with her hard earned wisdom about the disease, won’t let her stay in self-delusion. It’s wonderful to watch them develop a very off, and sometimes prickly friendship over the eight days they share a hospital room.

Beautiful, a bit profane and able to pull readers in quickly are apt words to describe this book. It is one that teens who have health issues or have friends with one will really like and is a worthy addition to both school and public libraries. Love the afterward.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Three Bird Summer

Cover ArtThree Bird Summer.   Written by Sara St. Antoine.  Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  This coming of age story builds gradually.  Adam and  his parents have spent their summer vacations at their family’s camp for as long as Adam can remember, but things are different now.  Adam’s parents have recently divorced, his grandmother seems to be confused and forgetful at times and Adam is socially insecure, finding it difficult to trust his new friendship with Alice.   Adam and Alice must work together to find a special “treasure”, one that will resolve the past and help to bring Adam’s family closer together again.

This book is a satisfying summer read with characters that are multi-dimensional and easy to relate to.   Adam changes from a lonely, distrustful youth to one who is a more active participant in his own life.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Songs For A Teenage Nomad

Songs For a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson, Sourcebooks Fire, 2010. ISBN: 9781402243011. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

songs for a teenage nomad

Calle Smith feels like no place is home. After all, she’s moved twelve times in the past eight years. That’s not exactly great for feeling a sense of community or making friends, but she’s learned to rely on herself and keeps a song journal as a balance wheel.

This time things are different, despite the same old story about her dad being a complete loser and her mother having finally found and married Mr. Right (for the umpteenth time). Her mom has always told her that her father abandoned them, but as Calle starts making connections and friends, she also begins to question whether her mother has been honest with her.

Making friends is a strange, new experience, but one that grows on her, particularly the kids involved in drama. Sam, enigmatic Sam, intrigues her from the day he sits beside her and she feels a connection. Unfortunately, he won’t treat her in public like he did that day and despite her attraction to him, she begins to think that he’s only playing her. As time goes on, however, she discovers they have more secrets and sadness in common. Near the end of the book, Calle not only has to deal with the truth about her parents’ relationship, but with the reasons, both sad and complex, that make Sam unable to be open about his feelings for her. They are ones she can understand and can help him work through. The ending, while sad and with a real tragedy, is satisfying.

This is an excellent story with extremely well-crafted characters. Teens who like a book that has strong emotional appeal, or who have had difficult family experiences growing up will really relate to it.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9