Tag Archives: fiction

What to do when your new neighbor tries to bury you or your bike starts talking…

Guinevere St. Clair is always in some kind of pickle, which is probably why I liked her so darn much.

Reading the flap of this book almost made me not read it.  It describes a girl moving to Iowa after living in New York City, and her mother just happens to have amnesia. But then, where’s the challenge if your parents remember who you are, get up and go to work every day, and aren’t alcoholics, drug addicts or about to die?  Maybe I’m a wee bit cynical about this vein of storytelling.  Also, you just know Iowa is going to suck after subways and all kinds of cool city stuff.

Fortunately, I also read the back flap of the book, which led me to notice that Amy Makechnie is originally from Nebraska, so we’re practically neighbors, and she’d probably only make fun of Iowa if she hated growing up in the Midwest.  What the heck, I gave it three chapters.

And it is a delight.  Gwyn is a piece of work, but in a good way, and along with her little sister, Bitty, and the kids who hang around Gaysie Cutter’s house and the local bullies, you just know there will be shenanigans.  There is just enough action and crazy drama to keep things interesting and not make the situation of Gwyn’s mom so horrible.  Kids find a lot of ways to cope, after all, and Gwyn’s version seems to favor solving mysteries and standing up for herself.  Superb.

If you like this one, you might also like The Adventures of a Girl called Bicycle by Christina Uss.  Bicycle (the girl) takes a trip ON a bicycle across the country by herself, hoping desperately to meet her biking hero in San Francisco.  She meets a lot of quirky and good folks as she winds her way across the U.S. and is sometimes trying to avoid being captured by responsible adults and a few potentially evil folks as well, which keeps things interesting.  I found the main character’s name being “Bicycle” more annoying or confusing than cute or funny, and it’s sort of an odd book, but it’s worth a look if you favor a unique sort of road trip.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Adventures of a Girl called Bicycle by Christina Uss.


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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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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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Why you should not mess with the nice ones


Millie has her share of burdens to carry – her weight, her parents’ fears, her own fears, obnoxious boys who think it’s funny to torment the fat girl.  But she has a secret spine of steel which she hides under her sweet smile and good manners.  The world is not going to bring this girl down.

It’s bizarre, really, that Julie Murphy managed to take such a unicorn and stardust gal and match her up perfectly with a fallen mean girl like Callie, but it works.  There are all kinds of disasters and misunderstandings and no shortage of drama, but this one’s a treat.  There might not be quite as much Dolly Parton as I’d like. (See here.)

But there’s oh so much to love.

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Parallel worlds, similar crap

an-unkindness-of-magicians-9781481451192_lgMagic and the mundane operate in the same but sometimes separate spaces.  It’s not like Harry Potter, this author seems to say.  Then again, power, revenge, and secrets are universal.

Sidney’s lived her life, if you can call it that, apart from the magical world until she’s somehow able to escape the horrors of her childhood.  Her choices will certainly upend the magical establishment and expose uncomfortable truths about what magicians have accepted in order to maintain their status quo.  And there is an evil twisting in and through the whole fabric of the magical world.  It might destroy it, unless something can stop it.  Will she be that something?

I’m not sure it matters that this book is about a magical world.  The magic is an elegant, challenging, and complicated thing, but you could translate the story into more realistic settings, and it would simply be a great story about persistence and overcoming institutionalized whatever.

But the magic adds to the beauty and horror of the story.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it–about the choices the characters make, how power corrupts, and how good people let things slide or stand up.  I can’t always remember what I read last week if I don’t check my own blog postings, so believe me when I say it’s great, people.  Don’t miss this one.  Neil Gaiman likes it, too.

(Also, even though this book’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy at our library, it would be a great one for older teens.)

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

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A creepy one, if you like that kind of thing

hazel woodThere’s a moment in this book when I gasped and slammed the book shut.  Is that a good thing?

Shutting the book didn’t change the ending, of course, or what Alice was going to have to endure before the last page.  Melissa Albert masterfully weaves fairy tale storytelling with modern life, action movie visuals and the twists and turns of a thriller.  And maybe you can consider it a compliment that I had bad dreams a few nights while reading it.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Sunny spins. Sunny shines.

sunny-9781481450218_lgWhat I know about throwing a discus could fit on a baby’s fingernail, but you know what?  It just doesn’t matter if Jason Reynolds is writing about it.  I love Sunny as much I love Ghost and Patina and the rest of the team.  They are everyboys and everygirls.  We read about them and we know, deep inside, that while they look good on the outside — just like us– and can kick butt on the track –maybe not like us– they have problems, just like we all do, and they have the power to overcome them, especially if they’ve got a team, a family, some support.

And that’s the key for me and reading Jason Reynolds.  He is not writing for me, but he’s really writing for all of us, because his stories are so universal.  The representation he brings to and the light he shines on stories for kids is so important for kids who look like Sunny on the outside, and for kids who look like Sunny on the inside, and for kids who don’t look like Sunny at all inside or out, because these stories speak to us all.

Also, I feel like the beginning is very jazz and poetic and a little wacky.  And I totally dig that.

If you haven’t read the other two in the series, don’t miss them, either:

Ghost  — liowabrary review

Patinaliowabrary review

Sunny by Jason Reynolds

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