Book Reviews: Hearts & Other Body Parts by Ira Bloom and P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Hearts & Other Body Parts
Ira Bloom
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03073-0
Hardcover

Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks.  Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride.  With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.

The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible.  Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed.  Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.

Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change.  Not so when Norman enters the picture.  All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face.  Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear.  When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.

Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body.  Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious.  Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger.  Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

P.S. I Like You
Kasie West
Point, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85097-1
Hardcover

This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet.  First and foremost:  I love the Abbott family.  I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness.  Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily.  Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable.  Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.

I adore Lily.  She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager.  Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine.  It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her.  She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget.  The reminders are welcome and appreciated.

There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect:  putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind.  I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach).  So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start.  Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.

This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed.  The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters.  Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated.  My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library.  I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Review: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

pip-bartletts-guide-to-magical-creaturesPip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures
Pip Bartlett #1
Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70926-2
Hardcover

Little-Girl-Me would have loved every single thing about this book.  The Not-Young-Adult-Me was completely captivated and charmed.  In the interest of full disclosure, I expected nothing short of stunning brilliance with two of my very favorite authors joining forces.  My expectations were exceeded.

Pip Bartlett not only loves Magical Creatures more than life itself, she can actually talk to them.  They understand her and when they “speak” she understands them.  Although absolutely no one believes her, this spunky soul is unstoppable.  Her curiosity, tenacity and determination are admirable and this reader could not stop rooting for her.

When Pip spends the summer with her aunt, a Magical Creature veterinarian, the tiny town is invaded by cute, yet combustible, Fuzzles.  The townsfolk may see the situation as hopeless, but I had no doubts about Pip’s ability to save the day…..and the Fuzzles.

I sat down and read this cover to cover, coming up with at least a dozen children that I’ll need to give this book to.  I can easily recommend it for the reluctant reader because I believe the drawings and journal-esque style make it easy to read and I like it for the voracious reader because it is stand-out-something-different.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

More Teeny Reviews

lost-in-wonderlandLost in Wonderland
The Twisted and the Brave #1
Nicky Peacock
Evernight Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-77233-867-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Monsters, serial killers, and imaginary friends—being a Wonderlander can be murder… Once upon a time, Kayla was lost. Then she found Wonderland, but not the one you know. Run by ex-government agents and funded by an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire, this Wonderland is the name of a collective of highly trained vigilantes who hunt serial killers. Now Kayla, aka Mouse, works tirelessly alongside her fellow Wonderlanders, Rabbit and Cheshire, baiting dangerous murderers. But even her extensive training hasn’t prepared her for the return of her older brother…

Shilo has spent most of his life in an insane asylum, convinced his mother was abducted by a sinister Alaskan monster who lures the lost away to feast upon their flesh. And now he’s certain that his sister is in the same monster’s crosshairs. But if Shilo is going to save what’s left of his family, he’ll have to convince his sister that maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little mad.

The retelling of fairy tales has become almost a cottage industry but, for me, the fun is in discovering how a particular author approaches the task. Now, Wonderland is not, precisely speaking, a fairy tale but, hey, it’s close enough and I quite simply loved all the oddities and eccentricities, the madness, to be found in any Wonderland, even one that involves vigilantes and serial killers. That does mean there’s a certain amount of violence and the tale is quite dark so the squeamish may want to think before reading Lost in Wonderland. Still, I believe many will like Kayla a great deal and appreciate the story as much as I did.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

house-of-silenceHouse of Silence
Sarah Barthel
Kensington Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-0608-9
Trade Paperback
From the publisher—

Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin’s future—like that of every young woman—hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle’s visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiancé commit a horrific crime—and no one believes her.

Gregory denies all, and Isabelle’s mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband’s assassination.

In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.

Desperation sometimes leads to dire measures and none is more dire than pretending mental illness and landing in an asylum. In the days when treatment of mental patients was something close to horrific, such an escape would have been even riskier but Isabelle certainly couldn’t have expected to find friendship with such a woman. That in itself leads to some interesting conversations and behaviors but the overall tone wasn’t as ominous as it should have been considering the setting and the times. The appeal of the story was further lessened for me by somewhat stilted language that could have been “softened” just a little to make it more amenable to the modern reader and yet there were also occasional anachronisms that simply didn’t work. Overall, while I don’t really consider this to be one of the better historical fiction novels I’ve read, I do see potential for future works from Ms. Barthel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

the-purloined-poodleThe Purloined Poodle
Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
Kevin Hearne
Narrated by Luke Daniels
Audible, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

Thanks to his relationship with the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, Oberon the Irish wolfhound knows trouble when he smells it – and furthermore, he knows he can handle it.

When he discovers that a prizewinning poodle has been abducted in Eugene, Oregon, he learns that it’s part of a rash of hound abductions all over the Pacific Northwest. Since the police aren’t too worried about dogs they assume have run away, Oberon knows it’s up to him to track down those hounds and reunite them with their humans. For justice! And gravy!

Engaging the services of his faithful Druid, Oberon must travel throughout Oregon and Washington to question a man with a huge salami, thwart the plans of diabolical squirrels, and avoid, at all costs, a fight with a great big bear.

But if he’s going to solve the case of the Purloined Poodle, Oberon will have to recruit the help of a Boston terrier named Starbuck, survive the vegetables in a hipster pot pie, and firmly refuse to be distracted by fire hydrants and rabbits hiding in the rose bushes.

At the end of the day, will it be a sad bowl of dry kibble for the world’s finest hound detective, or will everything be coming up sirloins?

There are a handful of series that I always read by listening because I’m so entranced with the narrator and the Iron Druid Chronicles is one of those. Further, I also always get the ebooks because there are foreign and/or mythological names and terms that I can’t always pick up by listening so I play the audio books and then use the ebook to verify those words.

Besides the delights of Luke Daniels‘ narration, Oberon, a goofy Irish wolfhound, is one of my all-time favorite characters. Oberon talks to his druid pal, Atticus, and is totally charming while being very dog-like, focused largely on his next meal, and he has an eye for the ladies, particularly of the French poodle variety. When he finds out that a nefarious ring of dognappers is operating in the Northwest, he naturally feels it’s his duty to sniff out these bad guys so off he goes, with a little help from his friends. What ensues is an entertaining story with a satisfying resolution and I smiled all the way to the end. As always, Oberon’s voice alone had me going and I highly recommend readers who haven’t tried the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne listen to this tale for a taste of the joy you’ll get from these audio books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Reviews: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Endure by Sara B. Larson

i-let-you-goI Let You Go
Clare Mackintosh
Berkley, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-98749-0
Trade Paperback

I Let You Go grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me into a suspenseful, fast-paced mystery with tight twists that had me paging backwards a couple of times to truly keep up.  The gripping, heart-stopping story unfolds from different perspectives, revealing varying pieces of the puzzle until suddenly I saw the big picture and it was nothing I envisioned.

Two victims of a random tragedy try to piece their lives together—independently, and wholly alone.  As a year stretched out, the crime remained unsolved and it seemed as if each of them may be successful.  After an arrest, a trial, new information revealed and slowly, the big picture shimmers and changes.

So happy to have a new author to add to my list of favorites; I cannot wait to read more by Ms. Mackintosh.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

endureEndure
A Defy Novel #3
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-64490-7
Hardcover

Endure is the final book in the Defy trilogy by Sara B. Larson.  I didn’t realize that, going into it.  Earnestly entering Antion, enchanted by Alexa and King Damien, it was evident the story did not begin here.  (Yes, thus the title.  I get it, now.)  While I did immediately add Defy and Ignite to my To-Be- Read stack, I never truly felt late to the party.

The bond between Alexa and Rylan blatantly had background, but was too authentic to warrant doubt.  Maybe that hot fudge sundae wows with whipped cream, but it’s also delectable despite the absence.  Similarly, Damien’s trust in Alexa—both in her abilities as well as her commitment to him, is astounding…and unquestionable.

But this isn’t just a story of passionate people, complex choices and difficult, dangerous decisions….it’s about community, doing for the greater good, even if incurring loss.  Listening and learning, evolving, even—or especially—when plowing forward.

And there’s magic!  Good and bad; healing and harmful.  Also, a battle! One that’s been brewing, boils over, beating down kingdoms. It is a fantastically furious, frantic, ferocious fight to a final victory.  Grief and hope, strength and support, friendships and fondness bring balance to angst and action.

If you happen to know of a Middle Grader searching for good reads, the Defy trilogy may do the trick.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

Book Review: A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

a-tangle-of-goldA Tangle of Gold
The Colors of Madeleine, Book 3
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-39740-7
Hardcover

This third installment in the Colors of Madeleine series begins with Elliot in our world, but after he makes an amazing discovery that tosses much of what he believed out the window, his stay is cut very short. Instead of building on what he and Madeleine developed as they worked to open the cracks in order to rescue the royals from our world, he’s whisked back to Cello, only to find himself tortured by very strong Greys while being held a hostage by the hostiles.

Meanwhile everything else is thrown into chaos. Princess Ko is branded a traitor and thrown in prison, the colors are becoming more aggressive and disrupting everything and it becomes ever harder to figure out who is really in the various factions. The Jagged Edge seems to have assumed control, while yet another group, the Circle, not before apparent but with strong connections to our world, becomes a player.

Madeleine suffers ever stronger nosebleeds, mixed with vivid visions of notable historic figures from our world and has to fight hard to save what little sanity she still has as she faces the very real possibility that her connection to Cello is about to be permanently closed. Her desperation, coupled with who she really is, help propel her back there at the right moment.

Readers will find the first part of the book is slower, but that’s necessary to expand the threads which need to be pretty clear as things speed up and numerous plot twists start unfurling in order for the somewhat frenetic finish to happen. Those make for a toe crimping experience as readers race along with the two characters you really want to be happy together in their attempt to figure out how and where to find the elusive thing needed to save Cello and the lands surrounding it by conquering the color storms and resurrecting the Cello Wind. It’s a dandy finish that will amply reward readers who have come along for the ride and, best of all, they’ll get to imagine their own happily ever after.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.

Book Review: Woven by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

wovenWoven
Michael Jensen and David Powers King
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-68572-6
Hardcover

When I was very young, I was in 4-H.  There were projects.  Mine: sewing.  Always, sewing.  Much to my chagrin, we did not live on a farm.  Sewing was difficult.  And frustrating.  At first.  But, I learned.  I realized this brand-new way to create and express myself.  Also, a pretty handy skill.  Like magic!

Imagine my delight (many years later) upon discovering Woven, the rare, needle-in-a-haystack book to spotlight sewing as actual magic.  Brilliant concept.  Mr. Jensen and Mr. King weave a wondrous yarn, spinning back to a time when royalty and peasants were distinctly different and most certainly did not mingle.  On the outside, each class is separate and easily identified.  Underneath, unseen…some souls are stitched together; hierarchy be damned.

It’s easy to envision everyone’s enchantment and immediate empathy. The authors unravel overt appearances; the true characters of the noble peasant boy and the prim, proper, petulant princess are displayed.  Your heart may feel a tug here and there.  Unapologetically honest and open-minded, Nels is as refreshing as an arctic breeze on a sticky-hot summer day when his bafflement turns to frustration as he hears prejudices against the traveling, gypsy-esque Vagas.  He flatly informs everyone: “You can’t blame a whole people for one crime.”

And.

(Yes, there’s more.)

Woven is a ghost story.    Also, an adventure with wonderful wrestling matches, smashing swords, and an epic quest to free two kingdoms, right countless wrongs and save their own lives.  I found Woven to be happy and hopeful without being determinedly cheerful, sickening sweet.  It hooked me and carried me along, weaving me right into the fabric of this fantastic and fanciful tale.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Cracks in the KingdomThe Cracks in the Kingdom
The Colors of Madeleine #2
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39738-4
Hardcover

First an admission, I bought A Corner of White, book one  in this series when it came out in 2013, started reading it and lost interest about 50 pages in. As a result, I wondered how I’d find the middle book. I was surprised to discover it grabbed me pretty fast and I read straight through.

Imagine two worlds in parallel dimensions that once allowed travel between them via invisible cracks. Only the very adventurous took advantage of them and when the plague from our world seeped through to Cello, killing many, their monarchy established the WSU, a powerful agency charged with finding and sealing all the cracks and executing anyone trying to access them.

Princess Po is a teen and the only member of the royal family not captured by factions intent upon bringing down the monarchy. She’s pretty certain her parents, older sister and younger brother have been exiled to the World (our planet), but has no idea how to find or rescue them. She’s got her hands full just keeping up the illusion that all four family members are busy elsewhere while she keeps the daily affairs of state going. Po knows she’s in over her head, so she creates what she calls the Royal Youth Alliance as a cover for a small group of teens who might be able to figure out where her family members are and how to get them back.

Chief among the members is Elliot who discovered a crack in the first book (inside an ancient TV on a rock behind his school) that is connected to a parking meter in our world near the home of Madeleine Tully, another teen who is somewhat lost since her dad left. Her link to Elliot was forged when he was able to give her a string of beads that cured her mother’s near fatal illness in the first book. The fact that intense emotional energy allowed them to connect is literally all they have to work with as they try to figure out where the missing royals are and how to retrieve them.

Their mission is complicated by the fact that most who have moved to our world soon lose all memories of Cello, who they are, where they lived, what they did, who family members are. Add in that the four members of the royal family are widely dispersed and you have a giant puzzle for Po, Elliot, Madeleine and the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance to solve.

The challenge is further complicated by Elliot’s missing father, gone for more than a year, who has supposedly been located by two government agents, but said agents keep coming up with barely plausible reasons why Dad hasn’t been freed and returned home. Then, there’s the Monty Python-like weather in Cello, affected by unpredictable magic that can change summer into winter and back in a heartbeat, not to mention the wildly differing customs in various provinces that the teen rescue team must deal with as they travel around the kingdom, seeking clues to where the cracks are and how to open them enough so they can retrieve the missing family members. There are twists and surprises galore near the end of the story, setting up plenty of anticipation for the final installment.

I really like this book and don’t feel I lost much by not finishing book one. Princess Po isn’t particularly likable, but given her desperation, that’s almost forgivable. Elliot is a great guy who is conflicted about who he likes, Madeleine or one of the members of the Royal Youth Alliance. There’s plenty of action and mystery in this story and I’m eager to read the final installment.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.