Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Danger Box

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (NY: Scholastic, 2010)

Zoomy Chamberlain has some special needs--for one, he's legally blind--but he's a smart kid who has learned to manage his needs. He keeps lists so he feels in control of his activities, and he maintains routines. He loves his Gams and Gamps Chamberlain and can't imagine life without them, their vegetable garden, the antique shop, and the familiarity of Three Oaks, Michigan. He doesn't know his father Buckeye Chamberlain because someone left him on his grandparents' doorstep when he was just a baby. They've pieced together that Zoomy was born after Buckeye took off. But Zoomy is OK with it because Buckeye sounds too wild, and Zoomy has no interest in wild! He's somewhat apprehensive about the new girl who is hanging out at the library while he's there. She runs around loudly in flip flops, earning her the nickname of Firecracker Girl, though she quickly introduces herself as Lorrol.

Then Buckeye shows up in a stolen truck with a mysterious package. A prologue indicates that the package holds a valuable item that has been procured through labyrinthine methods and was meant to be restored to its rightful owners, if only the collector who was attempting to procure it had lived long enough to take delivery. Buckeye happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the box really is a danger box for Zoomy and his family. What could be so important about an old notebook? Zoomy and his new friend attempt to investigate even though doing so ratchets Zoomy out of his comfort zone.

Balliett has written another fine mystery that will keep upper elementary readers interested but not overwhelmed. Zoomy is a marvelous character supported by a cast of well drawn individuals in a small town. Highly recommended for ages 8 & up.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (NY: Scholastic AudioBook on CD, 2010).

The audio format works very well for this novel because the narrators switch off from chapter to chapter among Grace, Sam, Isabelle (the sister of the boy who dies in Shiver), and Cole, a rock star who has recently become a werewolf. Again Stiefvater manages the many strands of her story well and makes the existence of werewolves alongside humans seem plausible, though again there are iffy medical aspects that require suspension of disbelief. The romance, once more, makes that eminently doable.

Sam has survived the dubious cure concocted by Isabelle at the end Shiver, and now faces a future he never thought he'd have. Grace, meanwhile, is suffering symptoms that she's afraid to dwell on. Grace's parents, completely oblivious of their daughter's nearly live-in boyfriend up to now, somehow catch on that Sam does not leave at night and decide to act like parents. Isabelle, still grieving the loss of her brother, feels unwillingly drawn to the new werewolf Cole, and helps him in spite of her negative feelings toward the wolves. Cole's human past haunts him and he has to confront past mistakes and issues he thought turning wolf would obliterate. In the end, Cole & Isabelle help Sam try to save Grace in an exciting conclusion that leaves the reader pining for the final installment of this trilogy.

Super romance, great characters, and superb writing make Linger as awesome as Shiver. Highly recommended for ages 13 & up. Intense & sexual situations.


Shiver by Maggie Stievfater (NY: Scholastic, 2009).

This is a phenomenal paranormal romance featuring werewolves, but the werewolf aspect does not overshadow the romance, thankfully. The story revolves around Grace, a teen girl who had been snatched by wolves ten years earlier, but survived when a yellow-eyed wolf looks at her and then somehow manages to get the rest of the pack to halt the attack. For years after that Grace feels drawn to the wolves, and the yellow-eyed wolf turns out to be Sam. Eventually he and Grace connect in the summer while he's in human form. Grace saves Sam after a hunting accident and then Sam practically moves into her house, while Grace's parents obliviously go about their lives, ignoring Grace as usual. Grace learns about werewolves as her relationship with Sam develops. Meanwhile, another boy becomes infected and Grace helps his sister figure out a way to save him, though they're not sure if that's possible. Grace hopes that whatever works for this boy might also help Sam, who wants to stay human so he can be with Grace.

Stiefvater orchestrates the werewolf pack's existence alongside humans well. The fake medical aspects are somewhat iffy, but the romance more than makes up for this weakness. Sam's penchant for song writing and poetry plays well with Stiefvater's lyrical prose riffs on the natural world. There's a great ending, too, that leaves the reader not knowing if Sam will survive.

Overall, an awesome YA read, highly recommended for ages 13 & up. Intense & sexual situations, violence.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Virals by Kathy Reichs (NY: Razorbill, 2010).

This novel debuts Tory Brennan, the 14-year-old niece of Tempe Brennan, a leading forensic anthropologist (from Reichs's adult mystery series and the TV show Bones). Recently uprooted after her mother's death, Tory is living for the first time with her previously unknown father on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Luckily she finds a group of friends who are as science oriented (and admittedly geeky) as she is. The chance discovery of some old dog tags on another island ensconces the group in the mysterious death of long-missing teen. Then they rescue a sick dog at a research institute on the island and are exposed to a mutated virus. Investigating both of these mysteries changes them--forever!

Awesome start to a great new series for young adults! Highly recommended for teens, 13 & up. Intense situations, language.

I, Emma Freke

I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson (Minneapolis: Carolrhoda, 2010).

As if her name isn't bad enough, 12-year-old Emma is freakishly tall, red-haired, and brainy. She can't exactly hide with features like that, but she does her best to lie low. Her only friend is her young neighbor, and she spends most of her time doing everything her free-spirited, New Age mom, Donatella, refuses to do--like work in her bead store, cook, clean, and care for Emma's grandfather. Emma longs for information about her father, the long-gone Walter Freke, nearly as much as she longs for a sense of belonging. An invitation to a Freke family reunion in the wilds of Wisconsin takes Emma to a place where she finally feels some sense of home, but even that needs some tweaking.

This is an excellent coming-of-age novel, perfect for tweens who always feel that no one understands what they're going through, especially their parents. Recommended for ages 9 & up.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford (NY: Scholastic, 2010).

This is a quick and easy read about a wealthy Baltimore family whose matriarch, the Almighty Lou (simply known as Almighty), announces on Christmas Eve that she is about to die and will cut the whole family out of her will unless the person who has displeased her apologizes in writing for his or her actions. The boys quickly decide that the girls have probably done something, so all the girls write confessions. Norrie, the oldest, has always been a good girl, but is now having a love affair with an older guy--she even ditches her debut to run away with him! Jane, the middle girl, has created a blog titled that details what she views as the sins of her relatives, past and present, including Almighty! The youngest girl, Sassy, feels responsible for the death of Almighty's third husband. Distinct and distinctly humorous, all the confessions detail complex family relations and unique characters.

Recommended for ages 13 & up. Sexual situations, language.

Moon over Manifest

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (NY: Delacorte, 2010).

It's 1936 and Abilene Tucker's father Gideon has sent her to live in the town of Manifest, Kansas, because he lived there once when he was a boy. He's a drifter now, and Abilene has enjoyed the rough-and-tumble life on the rails, but a close call with a bad infection has convinced her father that she needs a more settled existence. Manifest is quiet on the surface, but has many hidden secrets that Abilene is aching to uncover, including any evidence of her dad's childhood. Instead she discovers the hidden trove of a boy named Jinx from 1918. As Abilene learns the story behind each treasure from the Hungarian medium who lives next door, she pieces together an old mystery with tentacles that reach into the present.

Colorful characters and vivid narration make this a novel well deserving of the Newbery Medal. Highly recommended for ages 9 & up.

The Death of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief

The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom: The Body Thief by Stephen M. Giles (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010). First published in Australia in 2009.

This quirky thriller is set in Australia and features the evil Silas Winterbottom whose desire for immortality overrides human decency (if he ever had any). He invites his three young relatives to his island estate, setting them up as competitors to become his heir. Adele's mother will send her to a horrible children's reformatory if she doesn't become the heir. Spoiled, ruthless Isabelle and her father will be broke unless she inherits the estate. Milo only wants revenge on the uncle who is responsible for the deaths of his parents. It soon becomes clear that money is just one factor in competition. Uncle Silas has something much more sinister in mind. Can the kids figure it out in time?

Fun but fairly scary read for grades 4 & up.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Three Black Swans

Three Black Swans by Caroline Cooney (NY: Delacorte, 2010).

Missy Vianello and her cousin Claire look enough alike that Missy is sure she can pull off a hoax, as assigned by her biology teacher, that they are identical twins. She persuades a classmate to get them on the school morning video news feed and everyone believes that Missy has, indeed, discovered that Claire is her twin. Then the video goes viral, and another girl turns up who looks just like them. What's going on?

Great suspenseful mystery from Cooney. Recommended for ages 12 & up.

The Candidates

The Candidates, vol. 1 of Delacroix Academy, by Inara Scott (NY: Hyperion, 2010).

Dancia Lewis knows something is amiss when recruiters from the exclusive Delacroix Academy show up at the home she shares with her grandmother. Why would they want her, an average student in every way? She's cultivated her mediocrity throughout middle school to blend in, so she won't care about anyone. She's sure high school will have to be the same. That's because she's found that when she cares about someone, she can make things happen to protect that person. In fact, that's how the Delacroix people found her--the article in the paper about how she saved her grandmother from the homicidal lunatic at the hospital. She'd tried to shrug it off as dumb luck, these two people are here, and the guy is really cute. And he seems to care about her, his eyes drawing her in, making it hard for her to resist the idea that Delacroix Academy was the right choice for her, the only choice.

Her grandmother sees it as a golden opportunity for Dancia, so Dancia reluctantly decides to give it a try. She makes a few friends and continues seeing the student recruiter, who still seems to care about her. Plus there's Jack, another new student, who seems dangerous yet vulnerable. Still, she's not gifted, talented, or smart the way the rest of the students are. Nor is Jack. So why are they there, and on full scholarships? What kind of a school is Delacroix Academy?

Despite its utter transparency from the start, the novel manages to draw the reader in with believable characters who have unbelievable powers. Recommended for ages 13 & up. Sex, violence, language.


Matched by Ally Condie (NY: Dutton, 2010).

Seventeen-year-old Cassia should be happier than ever--she's been matched to her best friend, Xander--but as she looks at his information microcard, another face flashes onto the screen, Ky. She shouldn't doubt, but she does, and the doubts build up into further doubts not just about the whole matching process, but even the way the Society orchestrates her life, everyone's lives. Why only 100 books, 100 poems, 100 works of art? Why this career, not another? Why this food, not something else? Why these clothes, just like everyone else's? Why this activity at this location? The Society arranges everyone's lives for optimum performance, so there are no choices. Cassia hasn't questioned it, until now. And it's not just her match with Xander, it's her grandfather's scheduled death on his 80th birthday, her mother's secret trips out to the Farmland where something is growing that shouldn't be, her father's destruction projects, Ky's undesirable job in food preparation, and the Matching Official's increasingly determined efforts to keep her and Ky apart.

Matched headily combines romance, suspense, and dystopia. Readers who enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy will like Matched as well. Highly recommended for grades 7 & up.