Saturday, October 31, 2015

A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl

A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl is a witty Regency story set at a finishing school.

The young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy have a problem: though they are enrolled at a finishing school which should provide them with the necessary polish for marriage, matrimonial prospects are few and far between in the sleepy little town where the school is located. How will they ever find husbands when they are stuck in an out-of-the-way corner of Yorkshire? Fortunately, where there is a will, there is a way -- and will is something that none of these young ladies lacks!

Here's a story just as much fun as Keeping the Castle, Kindl's last foray into the Regency genre. In fact, some of the characters from that book make cameo appearances in this one, but readers unfamiliar with Kindl's earlier work do not particularly need to worry about catching up, as this title stands alone admirably. The characters are fun, the shenanigans amusing, the romances sweet, and the general tone as light as a good sponge cake. Fans of historical romance are sure to enjoy this one.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Pountry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones is a delightful tale of magic and poultry.

Sophie's not super excited about moving to the farm her father inherited from a great-uncle, but if she's going to live in the country, at least she can have some chickens, right? And then the chickens start showing up on their own, identified by the neighbors as birds that used to belong to Great-Uncle Jim. But these chickens have some . . . interesting . . . abilities. And it turns out that Sophie is not the only one who wants these chickens. Where are the chickens coming from -- and who is trying to take them away?

This book, written in epistolary style, is just as fun and quirky as you might expect from the title. I, too, had chickens when I was Sophie's age (though mine were just ordinary ones) so that might have influenced me somewhat in favor of this book, but I believe country folks and city dwellers alike will find this story charming.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley is juvenile fiction set during World War II, and possibly one of the best children's books I've read all year.

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her family's London apartment. Her mother is ashamed of Ada's club foot and refuses to let her appear in public. When Ada's little brother Jamie comes home from school with the news that children in London are being evacuated to the countryside because of the danger of bombings, Ada hatches a daring plan: she knows her mother would not give her permission to go, but what if she were to go anyway? She sneaks out with Jamie on the morning the children are to leave, and just like that, enters what might as well be another world. In the country, Jamie and Ada are placed with Susan, a spinster who did not intend to take in children. Slowly, Ada and Jamie learn to trust Susan, and Susan learns to care for, and even love, the children. But what will happen when the war ends and Ada and Jamie must return to London?

This book has a multitude of strengths (plot, pacing, setting to name a few) but the characters are what make it really stand out. Each of the three main characters has a distinct and beautifully rendered emotional journey as the story progresses, and I was completely wrapped up in their lives while reading. I would not be surprised to see it garner some accolades when awards are handed out this winter!

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown is a graphic novel depicting Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans. This is a gripping and sobering read, well-researched and well-drawn. For those of us who remember watching this disaster unfold on the evening news, it's hard to believe it was ten years ago (and no doubt, for the residents of New Orleans and the gulf shore, it's even more omnipresent). However, this book does an excellent job of making the tragedy real and immediate to young readers who don't have any clear memories of those events.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a delightful graphic novel about an evil villain's unconventional sidekick.

Ballister Blackheart doesn't need a sidekick, so he's none too pleased when he comes home and finds one, Nimona, making herself at home in his lair. Nimona convinces him that she could be useful to his plots -- she is a shapeshifter, after all. Together, they can take down the Institute, an organization that Ballister believes is not as benevolent as everyone has been led to suppose. However, he and Nimona have some slight differences of opinion as to correct tactics for achieving their goals . . .

I'm not always a big fan of the graphic novel, but this is the best one I've read in some time. The characters are so delightfully complex, the worldbuilding is so fascinating, and there's such great humor in the story. Highly recommended to graphic novel fans, fantasy readers, and just about anyone, really.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners is a wacky story about a girl with out of this world babysitting skills.

Gabby Duran has never shied away from challenging clients. She may be only 12, but she has the creativity and composure to deal with the most mischievous or obstinate child, and her babysitting business is booming. In fact, her skills draw the attention of some highly unusual clients: aliens. Gabby's career is about to be launched in a whole new direction. If she's successful the rewards could be huge, enough to put her through college and set her entire family on stable financial footing -- but if she fails, the consequences could be, well, cosmic.

I had so much fun reading this book. It's a light, quick read, packed with the sort of humor that will delight young readers. I'm hoping that this is just the first of many adventures for Gabby Duran!

(Reviewed from a coup borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar is a modern children's classic and a Newbery medal winner.

Camp Green Lake is a juvenile detention facility where there is neither a lake nor any greenery. Stanley Yelnats is sent there when he is accused of a crime he didn't commit. He blames his great-great-grandfather for his bad luck -- ever since that ancestor's pig-stealing incident, all of his family has been unlucky. At Camp Green Lake, the Warden has the boys go out in the wasteland where a lake once was and dig holes. Perhaps the Warden thinks this will build character -- or perhaps there's some other motive. . . .

Part mystery, part adventure story, with a secondary historical narrative woven through, Holes really is a triumph of a book. The plot is tight, the characters are nuanced, the setting is detailed. I'd recommend this to anyone who has an interest in juvenile fiction, but I'd also recommend it to anyone who has a low opinion of children's books -- this is the sort of book that might change your mind!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is a charming story featuring a mysterious and magical circus.

Micah doesn't want to believe that his grandpa Ephraim is dying, but in his heart, he knows it's true. All his life, Micah has listened to, and believed in, his grandfather's stories about the magical Circus Mirandus and the enigmatic Lightbender. Once upon a time, the Lightbender promised Grandpa Ephraim a miracle . . . and Micah thinks that now would be the perfect time to call in that promise. But how can Micah find the circus before it's too late -- and even if he does, is the Lightbender powerful enough to save Grandpa Ephraim's life?

This charming story touches on so many themes: the power of belief, the bonds of familial love and friendship, courage in the face of adversity. I'd have loved to see more of the circus, and on reflection I think some of the characters may be a bit flat, but this is still an exceptionally good read and an impressive debut from a talented and promising author.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy is the conclusion of a rollicking adventure series.

The members of the League of Princes are in a bad situation: they are accused of the murder of Briar Rose. Now, the dashing princes must go to great lengths to clear their names, and to undermine yet another nefarious plot by a villain bent on world domination. It's their greatest challenge yet -- can they overcome it? Also, pirates.

This is the third book in a trilogy, so of course it's a bad place to start if you are unfamiliar with the series. However, for series fans, this action-packed laugh-fest delivers a satisfying conclusion. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Bronson Pinchot. He does exaggerated and distinctive voices for each character, which would not work for more serious literature, but suits this sort of novel well. It's a fun book and a fun series, and I'll be interested to see what the author does next, now that the League of Princes have attained their happily ever after.

(Reviewed from an e-audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a spooky novel set in a grand location.

Years ago, Serafina's father helped build the Biltmore mansion. The house has many secrets -- and Serafina is one of them. She sleeps most of the day and prowls the house at night, catching rats and observing the midnight life of the house. She does not, however, venture into the woods surrounding the estate, because her father has often warned her of the many dangers that lurk there. But when danger comes to Biltmore, Serafina may be the only one who can stop it -- if she is brave and daring and willing to move beyond the confines of her hidden life.

This book has fascinating notes of mystery and suspense. It's definitely on the creepy side, though it has its moments of sweetness as well. The atmosphere and setting are the best parts of the book -- while the plot is also fairly good, I thought the characterization faltered in spots. But it's still an enjoyable read, one that will appeal to kids who enjoy books like The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier and Doll Bones by Holly Black.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon is a folksy tale of two youngsters on a runaway road trip.

When Ivy's mother up and runs away with a traveling preacher named Hallelujah Dave from the Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle, Florida, Ivy doesn't know what to make of it. Why would her mother leave? Why does her father not try harder to get her to come back? In the midst of all her worry, an unexpected friendship springs up between Ivy and science nerd Paul, who is mourning the death of the space shuttle program. The two hatch up a scheme to go to Florida and find Ivy's mother (and maybe pay a visit to Kennedy Space Center as well). Of course, things don't go exactly as planned. . . .

I liked this book well enough, but did not love it. I know it's intended as contemporary (aside from the definite, anchoring detail about the end of the space shuttle program, there were cell phones and such), but I kept having to remind myself that this was not historical fiction set in the sixties or seventies. I can't exactly put my finger on why this was, but it puzzled and annoyed me throughout the book. Maybe it's just me? I also found Ivy very similar to other feisty young girls in this sort of book; she doesn't stand out as a distinct character in my mind. Again, I'm jaded when it comes to books with a folksy southern tone like this one has, so I can see others enjoying this book more than I did -- in the end, I think it's just not my cup of tea.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)