Category Archives: fiction

The mean girls of Deepdean

Jolly_us-200x300Wells and Wong are back again, uncovering secrets and solving mysteries.  This time, an especially horrible and mean Head Girl and her minions are terrorizing the girls at Deepdean Academy, until the meanest of them dies in an “accident” or something set up to look like an accident.

Amid the bunbreaks and late night escapades, dangerous and upsetting secrets are revealed, girls go missing, friendships are tested, and probably no one is getting their French homework done. But do we mind?  We do not.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

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So much there there

there thereIf you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive not to find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger.  (p. 138-139)

I’m not a big one for direct quoting from books, mostly because it means I have to hunt down the quote.  This time I wisely bookmarked it right after I read it.  I kept going back to it and re-reading it as I finished the book.

Earlier on, Tommy Orange’s prologue points out the many ways American history has been revised to fit a benign image white people want to look back on fondly.  And while there is more history and more commentary on the state of American society, this book is also a fascinating human story about a group of urban Native Americans gathering for a powwow.

If you are white, it might make you rethink a few of your easy privileges, which is never a bad thing.  I could hope that people in power would read it, but given the state of our political world these days, I suspect the people who need to read it most would never read it – both because they seem to not be readers at all and because they are unlikely to seek out any criticism of a world where they are on top and feel like they deserve to be there.

But don’t miss it if you have a chance to pick it up.  The writing is beautiful, powerful, intense, and challenging, and the time you’ll spend on it will make you think differently about the world we live in and your place in it.

There There by Tommy Orange

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Peacenik wannabes, the real thing, and the choices we make every day

until tomorrowReenie and her brothers have just moved to Lake Liberty, a small town with just enough going on for people to have a lot of opinions.  It might be a small town where you’d rather not be noticed, especially if you are Reenie– a girl taking on a paper route at a time when girls don’t do that sort of thing, a girl who talks peace while mixing it up with some nasty town bullies, a girl who loves her older brother (who could be drafted into the Vietnam War) but knows enough about things to not want him to go.

Enter the mysterious Mr. Marsworth.  Over time, we get a picture of why he might be a bit of a recluse, but at first, he’s just a mystery for Reenie to solve.  And she’s persistent.

This book does a wonderful job of talking about patriotism and how we see it and live it out.  Reenie and her family have a lot of challenges along the way, because they are independent thinkers, and sometimes that makes you a target.  It might just be what Lake Liberty needs.  It might be what Mr. Marsworth needs, too.

It’s also a wonderful use of letters to develop the characters’ relationships – epistolary joy!

Until tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

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Good book, confusing title

inventors at no 8George might be the unluckiest boy in London.  He’s sure got lists of all the awful things that happen to him.  It’s only after someone tries to steal his last precious item that he connects with the future Ada Lovelace — now acknowledged as the computer programmer extraordinaire of the 19th century—before there even were computers as we know them.

It’s a steampunky kind of world we enter, with automatons, flying mechanical birds, airships, and the like.  You’re never quite sure who George can trust, but Ada is fierce and smart and sneaky, all the things you need in a sidekick that involves traveling to other countries, disguises, orangutans.  It almost makes you wonder why she wasn’t the main character.  Too interesting, maybe.

The only thing I found annoying about the book is the title.  George lives at No. 8 with his “man” Frobisher.  They are not what I would call inventors.  Ada is the inventor, but she lives across the street.  Very little of the book actually takes place at No. 8, since they are out and about trying to get the precious item back.  So I must be missing something.  Maybe it will all be explained in what is sure to involve a sequel?

The Inventors at No. 8 by A.M. Morgen

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Alcatraz, oh, Alcatraz

If you’ve been longing for a little break from reality and favor prison stories and mysteries, especially if you are already a fan of the Book Scavenger series or Moose & Natalie’s Al Capone adventures,  you’ll want to check out these two.  Both take place at Alcatraz.  Both bring back favorite characters solving new puzzles, while dealing with self-doubt and growing up.  Both are a nice escape from reality and offer some insight into the history of Alcatraz.  Summer reading, anyone?

The Alcatraz Escape (Book Scavenger) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertmann

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve  by Gennifer Choldenko

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A boy on the run, a man struggling with grief, a special bird

boy bird coffin makerThere is an island with flowers made of rubies.

It’s not where Tito, Fia, and Alberto live, but it’s out there, either in someone’s imagination, or maybe just maybe across the horizon – away from an abusive father, far from grief and sadness, just a boat ride away.  But how to get there?

A beautiful, sweet story about love, trust, and the things that make us a family.

The Boy, the Bird, the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

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Math is beautiful, Lightning Girl

lightning girlThere’s nothing quite like a math teacher who really LOVES math.

I have many fond memories of my high school calculus teacher showing us something new and suddenly bursting out with, “Oh wow.  You guys are going to love this!  Isn’t it cool?”  He would bounce around the room when we were doing something he really loved – boing, boing, boing.  “You guys, look at this!!”

Every kid needs to have at least one math teacher like that, but sadly, not everyone gets one.

Lightning Girl, who has acquired her awesome math ability by being hit by lightning, has a nice math teacher who’s got some potential, but she’s in middle school after years of being homeschooled and could not be less interested in revealing her abilities.  There are also other kids who are not so kind, although you realize later in the book that they’ve probably got some reasons to be unhappy themselves.

Being different in any way can have its challenges, and it’s hard to realize that your life is going to move far beyond the boundaries that seem so set when you’re 12 or 13.  This one might be a nice way to provoke some discussion.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

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Penderwicks. More Penderwicks.

Penderwicks-At-Last-450wThere is nothing quite like a good Penderwicks story.  Cozy – no murders or anything too awful – and just enough drama and anger to keep things churning.  Dare I say it – meaning only nice things by it – they are comforting?  The characters are relatable.  The settings are safe other than the occasional roof-climbing or pasture-breaching.  The family is supportive and quirky.

In The Penderwicks at Last, the family is returning to Arundel, where they started.  Rosalind is getting married.  Jeffrey’s unhappy mom has turned over Arundel to him, so he’s invited the family to celebrate there.  The youngest, Lydia, is the center of it all – making new friends, appreciating sheep, finding out what Arundel is really about for them all.  The perfect read for a Sunday afternoon.

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

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Calling Prince Charming… anyone? Anyone?

Boy-Who-Went-MagicPrince Voss is just all kinds of bad decisions and misplaced anger, with a side of evil thrown in.  He’d be happy to join the Dark Side if it meant bringing his royal family (meaning him) back into complete control of, well, everything.

Sadly for him, pesky Young Bert and his extremely calm sidekick, Norton, are going to mess up the best of his evil plans.  Bert lives most of his life in a boarding school, trying to lie low and not be too noticeable, so being the center of any attention is not his happy place.

However, there will be a lot of excitement before this story is through.  Also an airship, a pirate called the Professor, and a smartypants girl named Finch to add to the fun.

There is magic, but this is not a lame trying-to-be-Harry-Potter-and-failing story.  It’s all its own and a wonderful ride.

The Boy Who Went Magic by A.P. Winter

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Final frontiers and beyond. With poison.

waste of spaceOne reason I love pretty much any book by Stuart Gibbs is that he throws in interesting facts, and he’s done all kinds of research, just so he can drop a line or two in the middle of an otherwise action-packed and kind of silly story, and suddenly you’ve learned something about rocket science.  Look through his website ( and you’ll see what I mean  In a world of fake news, this is – for book-loving nerds – like strawberry pie on a summer day.  I don’t really know where I was going with that.  I might just have been thinking about strawberry pie.

In any case, right in there with the mystery about who poisoned an entitled rick jerk named Lars is some cool space travel information about what life on the moon might really be like, as well as an explanation of how someone might make cyanide on the moon.  You never know what you’ll come across.

It’s the last of the Moon Base Alpha series, but I know he’ll be on to something else awesome, so it’s ok.  It’s really ok.  Really.

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs

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