Sunday, July 31, 2011


Grounded by Kate Klise (NY: Feiwel and Friends, 2010).

Twelve-year-old Daralynn Oakland was grounded for going out alone fishing in their Ozark town of Digginsville, Missouri, so she wasn't on the plane that crashed and killed her dad, brother, and sister. Now it's just her and her mom struggling with their loss. The 237 dolls that people have given her don't really help her much, and even worse, she's getting called Dolly because of them, which she hates, as would any self-respecting tomboy. Her new nickname isn't the only change, of course. Her mom gets a job; first she's styling hair for dead people at the funeral home and then she buys the town's beauty parlor after the owner dies. Daralynn's mom will hardly let her out of her sight now, so Daralynn ends up learning how to style hair, too, and even makes money doing it. Then newcomer Clem Munroe opens a crematorium, which is not a ice cream parlor as Daralynn initially believes. The crematorium threatens the funeral home's business, and her mom's sideline. Daralynn comes up with the idea of Living Funerals, but then the crematorium owner starts a similar service. Worse, Daralynn's Aunt Josie falls in love with the nefarious newcomer. Daralynn's quest to discredit him leads her into a dangerous mystery that teaches her about everything that anchors her life.

A poignant situation and quirky characters make this historical novel, set in the 1970s, an excellent read. Daralynn is spunky yet soulful as she deals with her own grief and tries to understand her mother's seemingly unfeeling behavior as well. A fine mystery plus a nuanced examination of the many meanings of grounding round out this superb novel. Highly recommended for ages 9 and up.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. Illustrated by Laura Park (NY: Little, Brown, 2011).

Rafe Khatchadorian's life isn't that great, and middle school probably isn't going to help. His mom is working double shifts at the diner to support Rafe and her fiance, Bear, who sleeps on the couch all day except for when he goes to cash his unemployment checks. To beat the inevitable boredom of school and just add a dash of excitement to his life, Rafe decides to make a game of breaking every rule in the Hills Village Middle School conduct book, starting with pulling the fire alarm during the first day of school assembly. The game is fun, and his best friend Leo the Silent eggs him on. Not so much fun is getting threatened by the school bully, Miller the Killer, and going to detention with the Dragon Lady, Ms. Ruthless Donatello. Between the game and Rafe's rich fantasy life, amply illustrated by the talented Leo, Rafe doesn't have much time for his school work, which means more detentions and tutoring. And he would have continued this pattern indefinitely except his mom tearfully asks him to try to be normal for awhile. So he does. But then Miller steals his notebook and threatens to reveal all to Rafe's crush, Jeanne Galletta, who seems to like Rafe a lot more when he's being normal than when he's breaking rules. Too bad Rafe has to go back to dealing soda out of his locker to make enough money to get all the pages of his notebook back before he's utterly humiliated.

This novel starts out seeming like an obvious derivative of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but it soon become clear that it's not. Rafe has some serious issues in his life, not least of which is his mother's brutish fiance and their precarious finances. The illustrations are wonderful, and Rafe's Thurberesque fantasies are hilariously hyperbolic. This book's structure, with supershort chapters and torrential pictures, will appeal to reluctant readers of both genders. Highly recommended for ages 9 and up.

Withering Tights

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison (NY: Harper Teen, 2011).

Tallulah Casey is heading out on a summer adventure! She loves drama, she thinks, though her main talent is Irish dancing and random outbursts of awkwardness largely attributable to her knobby knees and ridiculous stature. Plus her outstanding lack in the chest area. Her cousin Georgia claims this will all change in time, but really, how long must Tallulah suffer without a jiggle to her front? Still, she goes to Yorkshire for a summer performing arts course hoping for the best of everything--new friends, new talents, and BOYS! Sure there will be a few bumps, like she has to stay with a village family, the Dobbins aka the Dibdobs, rather than living in the dorm, but this has the advantage of encounters with cutie Alex, whose family owns the pub and whose little sister Ruby immediately befriends Tallulah.

Hurray! A new series by the creator of the Georgia Nicolson books. And it's good in the same ways--funny neologisms, wacky scenarios, and general silliness. Tallulah's first kiss is a total hoot, and the wild bicycle ballet is equally hilarious. Highly recommended for ages 12 & up. Mild sexual situations (kissing).

The Darlings are Forever

The Darlings are Forever by Melissa Kantor (NY: Hyperion, 2011).

Jane, Victoria, and Natalya are best friends facing a challenge--they're starting high school now, but at three different schools in NYC! Can they maintain their close connection? Jane will be attending a performing arts high school and is immediately drawn into multiple dramas of all types, including a role in the fall production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a totally crushworthy director. Victoria will attend a magnet school close to her home, but her dad is running for the Senate and she has to step outside her comfort zone in many ways to support him. Still, she also wants to be true to herself. Natalya is anxious about fitting in as a scholarship student at an exclusive prep school. She's got brains, but can she distinguish between real friends and self-involved rich girls who are only interested in meeting Victoria?

This would have been a good middle grade story about friendship and transitions, but the high school setting pretty much necessitates some mild sexual situations and alcohol. Not a lot, but enough to push it into the middle school/high school level. All three girls have romantic interests as well, though Jane's is inappropriate and she has to learn a hard lesson. The girls themselves are fairly immature, and middle school readers will be able to identify with the difficulties they face and the wrong choices they make along the way. Recommended for ages 12 & up.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bass Ackwards and Belly Up

Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (NY: Little, Brown, 2006).

It all started with Harper's Big Lie to her best friends. Instead of telling them that she didn't get accepted at NYU, or any other school because she failed to apply anywhere else, she tells them she's decided to follow her dream and write a novel. At home in Boulder, Colorado, in her parents' basement. She doesn't mean to imply that they should all reassess their lives and goals, too, but that's what happens. Actress wannabe Sophie moves to LA to pursue film stardom, and perfect, Harvard-bound Kate heads to Europe instead of Cambridge. Becca decides to stay the course and head to college since getting far away from her dysfunctional family and skiing for the awesome coach at Middlebury College in Vermont IS her dream. Following dreams, though, sounds great in theory, but in practice is fraught with something akin to terror--and hilarity.

I enjoyed this novel a lot. Initially, I had concerns that it would be difficult to follow the four narratives of the four different characters, but their lives intersect via e-mail and phone calls, and they really are quite different. It helps that they're in completely different locations, too, which adds a lot of interest to the story. Yes, some of the trauma is typical YA fodder, yet it's all authentic and related with great understanding and good humor. Notice the publication date: 2006. I found this one by doing a readalike search for Sarah Dessen on NoveList (available through my local library's research tools). While I see the similarities to Dessen, this novel doesn't delve quite as deeply into the underlying issues of each of the characters and is really more about entertainment, which is fine! There's a sequel, too, entitled Footfree and Fancyloose (2008), which I also recommend. Once you start reading about these girls, you will want to see how the full Year of the Dream resolves. Recommended for teens ages 14 & up. Sexual situations, alcohol.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (NY: Delacorte Press, 2009).

Mary's mother and father aren't dead, but they're not alive anymore either. They're outside the fences that surround the village, separating it from the Forest, because of they've been infected and are Unconsecrated. The Guardians tend the fences and kill any Unconsecrated that get too close. The Sisters dictate the rules. Mary understands all of this, including the choice that is foisted on her after her mother's departure and her brother's dismissal of her--she has to join the Sisterhood. No one has claimed her as a wife--even Harry has decided against her after what her mother did. But Mary hadn't wanted to be Joined to Harry anyway; she'd always loved Travis, Harry's brother. And even more than that, Mary had always loved the stories her mother told her about the ocean beyond the fences and the Forest where there was freedom from the oppressive rules and restrictive fences. Everyone tells Mary that these are just stories, but Mary believes and yearns to leave. The arrival of someone from beyond the fences reinforces Mary's belief and when circumstances lead her to flee the village, she runs with the hope of finding something other than death.

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse, if the Undead were taking over the world? Mary lives in one postapocalyptic cell, and it's a rigid, frightening reality for her. Ryan artfully blends action, adventure, horror, and romance to narrate Mary's story. The novel drags a bit at the beginning as Mary endures some time with the Sisters, but it picks up a lot once she leaves the cloister and begins her escape. The romance itself--Mary's nursing of Travis in the Cathedral and their reunion while fleeing--is fairly muted compared to the wild zombie chases and harrowing escapes during the long journey away from the Village. I enjoyed the uncertainty of not knowing what the characters would find as they traveled further away from their old home. I usually avoid zombie stories, but this one had enough dystopic elements, especially the religious fanaticism, to keep me interested--and not totally grossed out! Recommended for ages 12 & up. Mild sexual situations, violence.

The Future Perfect

Vonnegut and Douglas Adams Rewrite Brave New World and Find the Future Perfect by Kirk Mustard (2009). Reviewed from Kindle edition provided by author.

In this amazing science fiction/fantasy treatise, Mustard portrays a hyperactive world where artificial intelligence has progressed to the point that no one dies and technology has everyone and everything moving at a frenetic pace. As the novel opens, our hero, Zenith, is chatting on his WristComp with his cousin Melody, who has just gone "Nophy," meaning she's dead (although this archaic term no longer exists). A computer has stored her personality and now she exists virtually, a process invented by HarMoney, a massive global corporation. As quickly as Zenith mourns his cousin he accepts her new version and moves on to the pressing concern of a looming deadline for three new products for the marketing firm, TOAC, where he works. He and his coworkers Sparkle and Apex hustle out the products, hoping that one will catch on and be popular for a day or two, the usual lifespan for products. Amazingly enough, one of the products, a cute animal called a Smelix (rhymes with helix) crests and then maintains popularity and even boosts the country's GNM (Gross National Morale). This is a development that causes the government to realize that people miss Nature, or at least the idea of Nature. Everyone lives in cities carefully sequestered from the outside to keep out insects, bacteria, and viruses that are a constant threat. Two competing theories, sponsored by two rival companies, rapidly arise to reestablish Nature--TOAC Merchandising's Wild Kingdom and HarMoney's HumaNature. What people watch on DemocraTV will determine the course of the world!

Actually, it's hard to summarize Future Perfect because of its whizbang pacing. Also, Mustard's sharp social satire jabs at so many targets: sustainability, cupidity, overreliance on science and (especially) computers and technology, consumerism, social networking, television, herd mentality, politics and pandering politicians, propaganda, the military machine, and boom/bust cycles, just to list a few. More than a novel, Future Perfect is a gut wrenching experience that causes readers to question the parameters of human existence while satirizing those who tend toward navel gazing. I found myself laughing derisively one moment then shrieking in horror at recognizing myself in this fun house distortion. Truly, Mustard has held up a mirror to the disastrous collision course upon which humanity has embarked and its inevitable end. Like a train wreck, it's hard to watch yet impossible to turn away from. Even as you're aware of what you think will be the inevitable and horrifying outcome, you continue to gape at this pitch perfect rendering of humanity's mad dash to extinction.

I loved reading this novel, and I don't usually like science fiction. There's a lot more going on that what I could mention in this brief review without spoilers. Zenith is a fascinating character, and there are some dueling scientists, too, who are both interesting and hilarious. I could go on and on. Highly recommended for teens and adults. Available from Amazon and at


Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien (NY: Roaring Brook Press, 2010).

The dystopic world of Birthmarked takes a society of haves and have nots to a new level. Gaia Stone, a teen-aged midwife who lives outside the walls of the Enclave in the village of Wharton, is definitely a have not. And her already harsh life has taken a turn for the worse as the novel opens and she finds that her parents have been arrested and taken to the prison inside the walls of the Enclave. She has been ostracized her entire life because of her scarred face--the result of a childhood accident. Despite this she has lived happily enough with her friend Emily and her parents, and she has learned to be a midwife from her mother. She knows her place as a midwife--to supervise births and hand over a quota of babies to the Nursery in the Enclave every month, babies that are needed to diversify the gene pool of the elite inhabitants who are falling prey to genetic illnesses like hemophilia after years of inbreeding. With her parents gone, suspected of treason, Gaia is not only alone, but under suspicion herself. A family friend gives her a codified message on a ribbon from Gaia's mother that may contain the information Gaia needs to get her parents out of prison--or get them killed. Gaia's efforts to save her parents lead her into the Enclave where she witnesses the barbarity of the government's controls, and begins to understand how far the officials will go to maintain their positions and their society.

O'Brien has created an oppressive world with an odd blend of the modern and archaic. The story moves along well, though the romance between Gaia and Officer Grey seems forced and unlikely. The mystery of the coded ribbon and Gaia's quest to save her parents provide an excellent focus that pushes the story forward and builds to a satisfying climax as Gaia has to decide what to do with the knowledge she gains within the walls. I would have liked more pointed criticism of the global climate change that led to the formation of this world, given that Wharton is situated on the banks of "Unlake Superior" and surrounded, supposedly, by wasteland. Perhaps in the sequel? Recommended for ages 12 & up.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Imaginary Girls

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma (NY: Dutton Books, 2011).

Chloe's life has always revolved around her older sister Ruby. Ruby and Chloe have managed on their own for years, their drunken mother living in the town but not part of their lives. Ruby has a car and a job at a convenience store. And she's got something more--Ruby has some kind of mesmerizing effect on everyone in her orbit. They bend to her will and Ruby gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants, however she wants. Then one night she convinces everyone that Chloe can swim across the reservoir, and even Chloe believes her. But something happens, and Chloe finds a girl dead in a boat in the reservoir. Questions are asked and Chloe ends up in Pennsylvania for two years living with her father, away from Ruby from whom she hears nothing the entire time. Then Ruby manages to contact Chloe and Chloe goes back to her town, where she sees London, the girl who died, and reality starts fracturing.

This is an eerily compelling novel that's partly about family bonds, but also about the line between fantasy and reality. Ruby tells stories that Chloe has no reason to question--until she starts seeing things that make her doubt Ruby's words, and the doubt has a ripple effect on all her perceptions and makes her see how Ruby has manipulated their reality. It's part paranormal, part imaginary realism, and completely unique and riveting. Recommended for ages 14 & up. Sexual and intense situations, alcohol, drugs.

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (NY: Speak, 2010).

Lennie feels lost without her sister Bailey, who died suddenly. Or at least she doesn't feel like herself, and she's not even sure what herself is anymore. For instance, why does she feel like kissing boys all the time? Even at the funeral! Her best friend says that's one normal reaction to the loss of a loved one--wanting to connect to other people--but mostly Lennie wants to be alone and pretend that Bailey will be home any second, will just pop back into her room, and start telling Lennie about play practice and her boyfriend Toby. Her Gram and Big (her dope smoking uncle) seem equally lost in their grief. But life has to go on, and Lennie's friend Sarah tries to drag her back to life, which means school, which means band, which means the new guy Joe Fontaine, who is an amazing musician. He seems to help all of them find a new balance in their lives. Love blooms even as Lennie struggles with feelings about Toby, of all people. Yes, they're helping each other cope with Bailey's death, but why is there such a sexual facet to their comforting of each other? And shouldn't she feel guilty for moving forward since that means moving away from Bailey? Through all of this, Lennie writes poems about Bailey and her feelings and leaves them scattered all over town on bits of paper, shoes, benches, walls.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, or can imagine such a loss, will relate to Lennie's confusion and odd actions. How can it be such a beautiful sunny day when the loved one is gone forever? How can a joke be funny, anything be funny, without the loved one? Lennie has to deal with her tumultuous grief and all sorts of conflicting feelings, including the odd connection with Toby that makes her feel both guilty and comforted. Then there's Joe--who makes her insanely happy in a way she never thought possible, then crushingly sad because she can't share it with her sister.

Nelson captures all the conflicting emotions in captivatingly beautiful prose and Lennie's own poetic snippets. The emotions are raw and real, and the situations make sense even in their randomness because they mirror the seeming randomness of a senseless death. Death can be right around any corner, but so can love. The possibilities, like the sky, are endless. You just have to reach out and grab them. Highly recommended for ages 14 & up. Sexual situations, intense emotions, alcohol, drugs, language.

The Goddess Test

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter (NY: Harlequin Teen, 2011).

Kate will do anything for her cancer-stricken mother. She's devoted the last four years to caring for her mother and now they're moving from New York to her mother's hometown to fulfill her dying wish. Eden, Michigan, is an odd town, though. First there's the huge estate on the outskirts, obscured by enormous hedges, where Kate nearly has an accident when she and her mom first arrive--but the cow she thought she saw and barely avoided morphs into a dark stranger. At school, a nerdy guy immediately befriends her and the school queen bee, Ava, seems to think Kate is after her hunky boyfriend. But then Ava invites Kate to a party, which turns out to be a trick, which turns into a wildly impossible situation: Ava dies and the dark stranger revives her, right before Kate's eyes. This forces Kate to have to decide whether or not Ava will stay alive, for the dark stranger, Henry, spins a mythic tale that just might save Kate's mom, too. If Kate passes seven tests, her mom will live, but Kate will have to spend six months of each year as Henry's wife.

This is a quirky novel that managed to maintain my interest despite its oddities. The relationship between Kate and Henry is hard to understand. Kate does not seem attracted to him at all, and Henry just seems sad all the time (because he is still pining for Persephone). The seven tests are not well defined and while Kate is told she won't know what they were until the end, it still seems as if the tests should be more obvious. In the end, I felt that too much was left unstated and hidden, including whether or not Kate would or could love Henry. Kate's main reason for wanting to pass the tests is to save her mother, and this does not seem like a good foundation for a relationship. In the end, it's not clear to me that Kate should pass, but I'd probably check out the next installment in the series to see what happens. Fine for ages 14 & up. Sexual situations, alcohol drugs.

Playing Hurt

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler (Woodbury, MN: Flux, 2011).

Chelsea "Nitro" Keyes is having a brutally hard time re-establishing her identity after the horrible, career-ending hip injury that's left her scarred inside and out. She has the perfect boyfriend, Gabe, and friends, but feels disconnected without basketball. And she feels as if her father blames her for the accident. He thinks that working out at a boot camp with a personal trainer while they're on a family vacation will help bring her out of her funk. Instead, Chelsea finds herself madly attracted to her trainer, Clint. And he's equally attracted to her--even though he's still nursing a heart broken by the tragic loss of his first love. Rosie had been traveling to see him play hockey when she lost control of her car. Clint blames himself for her death and has quit playing hockey and thrown himself into his work--three jobs plus university courses. Chelsea and Clint try to deny their feelings, but in the end they can't and have to deal with the fallout. Chelsea, in particular, has to face her boyfriend who has stood by her during her entire recovery.

This is a romance novel masquerading as something more serious. If you like steamy romances, you will love this novel. It's mainly about sexy times for Chelsea and Clint. Yes, Chelsea and Clint have both suffered losses, but the novel really devotes a lot of verbiage to their sexual tension and (unsuccessful) efforts to conquer it and not really too much to their sadness, which their hormones pretty much annihilate. The treatment of Chelsea's relationship with Gabe is somewhat uneven because as soon as Chelsea sees Clint, Gabe is all but forgotten. Gabe seems controlling and possessive even before Chelsea meets Clint and that only becomes more apparent afterward. Chelsea's relationships with her father, mother, and brother are more footnotes than integral parts of the story. That goes for the Minnesota setting, too, and the so-called boot camp. (And, by the way, isn't Minnesota home to monster mosquitoes in the summer months? Not in this novel.) Fine for ages 14 &up. Sexual situations, alcohol, language.

Old Loves Die Hard

Old Loves Die Hard (A Mac Faraday Mystery) by Lauren Carr (2011). Review copy provided by author.

Mac is settling in to his new life as a multimillionaire after inheriting the estate of his biological mother, famous mystery writer Robin Spencer. It's quite a step up from being on the brink of bankruptcy following his divorce. He loves his new stone and cedar lakefront mansion and has grown quite fond of his mother's editor, Archie, who lives in the guest house. He's even tolerating the rambunctious German shepherd Gnarly reasonably well. Then his ex-wife shows up, drunk, on his doorstep, begging for a reconciliation. Mac quickly disabuses her of this possibility and drives her to the guest suite at his five-star resort, Spencer Inn. Unfortunately, there's a nasty scene in the lobby with his ex's estranged lover, who has turned out to be a profligate philanderer. But that's not Mac's problem, or so he thinks, until he discovers his ex and the jerk dead in his suite the next morning. Mac cranks up his recently retired homicide detective skills once again to investigate. What he finds along the way illuminates some murky cases from his past and proves, once again, how lucky he is to have his new friends in his life (especially Gnarly!).

Once again, Carr knocks out a superb murder mystery. The clues point to one suspect after another, then lead in a completely different, impossible to guess, direction, which keeps the reader guessing. Mac continues to learn about his mother and his half-brother David, and his relationship with Archie evolves as well, in this installment of the series, though it's not necessary to have read the first novel to enjoy this one. Mac's wacky in-laws and the intrepid Gnarly inject some excellent humor into the mix, though there's also danger and intrigue as Mac delves into some past cases. This is a super read, satisfying and complex, highly recommended for lovers of detective fiction.

It's Murder, My Son

It's Murder, My Son (A Mac Faraday Mystery) by Lauren Carr (2010). Review copy provided by author.

This novel introduces the incredibly fortunate Mac Faraday. He's just been rescued from the brink of bankruptcy following a messy divorce by learning that his biological mother, famous mystery writer Robin Spencer, has died and left him millions. Mac buys a fancy sports car and drives to his new estate on exclusive Deer Creek Lake in Spencer, Maryland. In addition to his fabulous new stone and cedar mansion, Mac finds his mother's dog, Gnarly, her editor, Archie, a half-brother David--and a recent murder to investigate--right next door to his new home! The latter is just what a newly retired homicide detective needs, and it turns out he needs the others as well.

Carr has begun an excellent new series with It's Murder, My Son. The plot is satisfyingly complex, full of twists that make it nearly impossible to guess the murderer's identity. The characters, none of them superfluous, are interesting and, in some cases, quite humorous. My favorite by far is the German shepherd, Gnarly, who initially seems like a nuisance to Mac, but quickly becomes a vital partner in the investigation--and Mac's life! Gnarly has a sixth sense when it comes to rescuing Mac from sticky situations, even such small ones as hiring the right maid. Carr doles out just the right amount of background information on Mac's mother Robin Spencer, mainly through her journals, but also through her editor, the beautiful Archie, who lives in the guest house and soon spends a lot of time with Mac. Overall, this novel is well worth reading for mystery lovers! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Coexist: Keegan's Chronicles by Julia Crane (Smashwords edition/Valknut Press, 2011). Kindle copy provided by author.

Keegan is a sixteen-year-old elf living among humans with a major secret she can't tell her human friends (besides that she's an elf): in elfin society everyone has a Chosen mate determined at birth though they cannot legally meet until they are both eighteen. Keegan's mate is Rourk. Because her brother Thaddeus, a seer, told her Rourk's name, Keegan thinks of him often, which summons him to her location. He doesn't know her name, but he often watches her now. Thaddeus has foreseen horrible danger in Keegan's future and wants her to have the best protection possible, which happens to be Rourk. Thaddeus has also foreseen a great battle between the light (good) and dark (bad) elves that could destroy their world. Fate intercedes, so Keegan and Rourk meet and immediately fall deeply in love. Then the great battle starts--will both Rourk and Keegan survive?

Crane's fresh take on the paranormal romance--elves--makes her novel enticing. Unfortunately, she fails to deliver on a number of fronts. The story is short and relies more on telling than showing. For instance, some characters' arrival at the great battle is described as "It felt like they walked into a scene from Braveheart." Awkward phrasing, stilted dialogue, trite expressions, and many errors mar the text. Rourk initially seems like a stalker, and while all the lore about elves having Chosen mates is interesting, it kind of takes the mystery out of the romance. Of course they will fall in love at first sight! They're destined to! Crane does not seem to have a good grasp of how to move a story forward and uses such pedestrian tactics as "the day passed quickly." It's a story, not a day planner, right? I wanted to like Coexist because it sounded cute (elves!), but overall it just didn't work for me.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Veiled by S.B. Niccum (TreasureLine Publishing, 2011). Reviewed from Kindle edition provided by author.

Tess and her clan are angels who have been developing together over a long period of time. First they were intelligences, whizzing around the universe, and now they're spiritual beings about to begin training for their angelic duties before becoming mortals. Each one of them has a special gift which they must further develop as well. Tess's gift is discernment--she can read minds and see auras. As the novel begins, all of the angelic beings are gathering to choose sides in a heavenly conflict between two forces. Tess and her clan, along with the majority of spirits, choose to follow the First One, while the ones who follow the Second One become Fallen Angels. Tess had managed to persuade the former Queen, Agatha, of the renegade group to remain allied to the First One, but Agatha still feels disgruntled and ends up plotting a new uprising with other renegades who stayed behind yet remain loyal to the Second One.

While the story focuses on Tess and her relationships, the world of heaven features prominently in the novel, which makes it both esoteric and interesting but also somewhat offputting. One of Tess's chief worries is that she won't recognize her family members, especially her special friend Alex, once she is living on earth. All of the angels are told that once they cross the Veil they won't remember anything from before. Because of the novel's title, Veiled--in the past tense--I expected more of the novel to occur once Tess had become mortal. The tagline for the novel, "Can love survive the forgetting effects of the Veil?", also made me think more of it would be about Tess and Alex's relationship once they both crossed over. Instead, Tess goes to classes, develops her gifts with the help of some superangels (Cherubs and Seriphs), gets involved in foiling the plot of the renegade angels, and goes on a few relatively brief earthly missions as an angel. She's even the guardian angel to one of the females in her clan at one point. The story ends just as Tess and Alex enter the Veil and begin crossing over.

The treatment of time throughout the novel is fascinating and compells the reader to consider the philosophical stance of viewing mortal existence as merely a brief interlude in the life of the soul. This is obviously pretty abstract stuff, so this novel will not appeal to all readers. Similarly, the physical appearance of the angels is left somewhat undetermined. They're insubstantial spirits, but they can embrace and seem to have human body parts. This remained a little sketchy for me. Other angelic beings do have specific physical attributes of height and weight. Overall, this is a unique and enjoyable novel. It seems an unlikely choice for teens because it is so highly abstract for the most part, but it is suitable for readers over age 12.


Haven by Kristi Cook (NY: Simon Pulse, 2011).

When Violet arrives at her new boarding school, Winterhaven, she immediately feels a sense of home and peace she's never experienced. Her father recently died and her stepmother got a new job in NYC, so Violet had to choose--stay in Atlanta with her grandmother or enroll in a prep school from among the brochures her stepmother handed her. The moment she saw the classic, wooded setting of Woodhaven, she knew she'd belong there. She'd always shyed away from relationships because she feared other people knowing her secret: that she has horrible visions that often predict dire consequences for those she loves. Deaths, accidents, illnesses--she's seen them.

Little does Violet know that Winterhaven has its own secrets. Everyone there, students and staff, has some sort of psychic gift. This is both frightening and deeply comforting to Violet, who now finds herself part of a community rather than a self-imposed outcast. She doesn't have to worry about revealing her visions because everyone can do something and talks about it openly. She quickly makes friends and even crushes on the mysterious Aidan. Her crush takes a serious turn almost immediately as she begins having troubling visions of a frightening future event for Aidan that she can't quite understand, and she feels compelled to help him. He seems to feel drawn to her, too, but frustratingly their relationship develops in jumps and starts as Aidan draws her closer and then pushes her away. Will he let her help?

Haven suckered me in with its setting and the wonderful device of having an entire school full of psychically gifted students and teachers. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel a lot. Violet is somewhat insecure, in an annoying way, and Aidan was predictably aloof. About one-third of the way through the novel I figured out what was going on with Aidan and nearly stopped reading. But there are a few twists that make the novel worth finishing. Overall, I enjoyed this one and do recommend it for teens, ages 13 & up.