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Category Archives: Reader’s Advisory

Readers Advisory: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

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Disney-Hyperion, ISBN-10 1484713788 , May 2015

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests–making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade–goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. When Sparkles’s leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what’s wrong. Sparkles doesn’t want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won’t want to hear. What Sparkles doesn’t know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

If you work with beginning readers or the picture book set, you know Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems have a large and enthusiastic fan base. You also know a young reader can get through the series quickly and still want more. If you’re in need of readalikes, Ballet Cat is ideal. Although Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony sound like girly names, the story isn’t frou frou at all. Sparkle Pony, despite his fabulous name, wants to take a day off from playing ballet and maybe get out the checkerboard or have some lemonade instead, but he’s afraid Ballet Cat will stop liking him. Of course friendship prevails in the end. This brightly colored, comical series is sure to take off.

To buy or not to buy: First purchase!


Readers Advisory: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

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Balzer + Bray, ISBN-10 0062317601 , March 2015

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame? Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

Advice about Bone Gap for readers: Find out as little as possible about this book before you start it. Be surprised. It’s beautiful, magical, and romantic. The young women are fierce and the young men are heroic but flawed, and the journey is epic and redemptive.

Advice about Bone Gap for librarians: Buy it and talk it up to your teens.

Readers Advisory: Story Thieves by James Riley

I’m adopting a new review policy: only mentioning books I think merit special notice, rather than trying to review everything I read. This decision is part of a larger New Year’s resolution about my ratios of reading time to writing time, reading time to life time, reading time to professional development/reflection time… Basically it’s a whole thing you don’t want to read about. Anyway, first mention-worthy book of the year!

Aladdin, ISBN-10 1481409190, January 2015

Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores. But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character. Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

Holy Harry Potter, fanfolks! This rib-tickling series opener features a half-fictional heroine who can jump in and out of books, which attracts the attention of naive classmate Owen who uses her power to “fix” the ending of a volume in his favorite series, Harry Potter knockoff (the text says so) Kiel Gnomenfoot. He saves the life of a Dumbledore-like character called the Magister without knowing that the soon-to-be-released last volume would reveal the Magister as a villain. When the Magister escapes into the real world and drags young Kiel Gnomenfoot with him, Owen has to fill in for Kiel while Bethany rounds up the Magister. The Kiel Gnomenfoot story line that follows Owen and Kiel’s fictional cyborg sidekick Charm Mentus might appeal to Potterheads (that’s the correct term, right? it’s what I’m calling us) with its battle between magic and science. However, the most fun part of the story comes from watching Bethany try to contain the fictional characters and elements the Magister unleashes on the real world as well as her interactions with Kiel, who lends a hand and a couple of wands. Kiel, in typical action hero fashion, is brash, egotistical, overly optimistic, and brave to the point of idiocy, but he’s also so charming in a wink-nudge way that the reader has to laugh at him. Bethany is smart, but she’s also a worrier who stays safe in the fictional world through strict adherence to a set of rules (like, stay out of horror books, don’t change anything, et cetera.) Through her partnership with Kiel, she learns to step out of her comfort zone and own her powers, and the ending gives hope that their relationship will continue in the next volume.

Recommend to: Harry Potter fans, fantasy fans, possibly younger fanfic fans might find this funny




Readers Advisory: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18 hardbound, ISBN-10 0316213071, January 2015

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for. Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does…

Black is back with a dark and eerie fairy tale reminiscent of her early works Tithe and Valiant but shining with a definite patina of artistic maturity. She’s moved past simply pointing out that the faerie world is full of darkness, backstabbing, and shady deals and gone on to explore what that means for humans who live in proximity to magical, amoral creatures. A great deal of the plot and Hazel’s characterization focus on the fallout from making deals with otherworldly beings. In that respect, it reminded me of the show Supernatural–you think you’re prepared to pay the price of your deal, but you always find out you didn’t fully understand the promise you made, and the human always gets the short end of the stick. Anyway, mystery, romance, powerful writing, and a dramatic declaration of love near the end all roll into another winner from Black. Although it’s a standalone, Black leaves plenty of room for future stories in the same setting, and I hope she will write a few.

Recommend to: Fans of fantasy and of the author

To buy or not to buy: A general purchase

Readers Advisory: The Boy with the Hidden Name by Skylar Dorset

Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade, ISBN-10 1402292562, December 2014

Selkie Stewart has just saved her quasi-boyfriend, Ben, from a fairy prison run by the Seelie Court. If they weren’t the two most-wanted individuals in the Otherworld before, they definitely are now. Along with Ben and the rest of their ragtag group of allies-Selkie’s ogre aunts; a wizard named Will; Ben’s cousin Safford; and Kelsey, Selkie’s best friend-Selkie is ready to embrace her destiny and bring the Court down. Until she hears the rest of her prophecy: Benedict le Fay will betray you, and then he will die. 

Skylar Dorset closes out her Otherworld series (at least, this storyline) with a grand adventure to stop an apocalypse of Fae proportions. Dorset hits all the right notes for an urban fantasy featuring faerie creatures, from a magical clock that keeps its own time to an Unseelie Court visit to cursed objects. Of course, the big question is not so much whether Selkie will save the world but whether Benedict Le Fay will actually betray her and die, and more importantly, whether they’ll wind up together either way. After Ben ditched Selkie at the end of the first book (The Girl Who Never Was), she’s learned not to trust a Le Fay.

As in the last outing, shades of Doctor Who and Alice in Wonderland give the proceedings a delightfully screwball cant. Dorset has a gift for illogical logic and for snappy dialogue. Although the plot is a bit jumpy and the resolution comes out of left field, the characters and pacing more than make up for it, as does the romance. While it’s not conventional these days to write a two-parter–trilogies being the norm with quadrilogies increasing in occurrence–the length feels perfect, and hopefully Dorset will return to the same world with new characters.

Recommend to: Urban fantasy fans, readers who like a bit of silliness

To buy or not to buy: A good choice where the genre is still popular

Readers Advisory: Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1423168321, November 2014

Seventeen-year-old Cassie Hobbes has a gift for profiling people. Her talent has landed her a spot in an elite FBI program for teens with innate crime-solving abilities, and into some harrowing situations. After barely escaping a confrontation with an unbalanced killer obsessed with her mother’s murder, Cassie hopes she and the rest of the team can stick to solving cold cases from a distance. But when victims of a brutal new serial killer start turning up, the Naturals are pulled into an active case that strikes too close to home: the killer is a perfect copycat of Dean’s incarcerated father—a man he’d do anything to forget. Forced deeper into a murderer’s psyche than ever before, will the Naturals be able to outsmart the enigmatic killer’s brutal mind games before this copycat twists them into his web for good?

Book 2 of The Naturals, a CSI-type series about five teenagers with extraordinary natural gifts for criminal investigation, is here. Readers can join Cassie and Dean the profilers, Michael the emotion reader, Lia the human lie detector, and Sloane the statistician/savant as they track a new killer. This time, the murders seem connected to Dean’s father, an incarcerated serial killer. To complicate matters, a new agent has taken Locke’s place, and she wants the Naturals to take a step back from investigating for their own safety. If they don’t toe the line, she might recommend the FBI disband the program altogether.

Barnes keeps the focus on chasing the killer, so while fans looking forward to more of the Cassie-Michael-Dean love triangle will get a small fix, don’t expect the romance angle to overwhelm this story. Pulling Dean’s father into the plot provides an organic in-road to keep developing Dean’s character without taking away from the plot. Secondary female characters Lia and Sloane feel more sympathetic this time and add some humor. Hopefully the next book will focus more on these underutilized characters.

Teens who like forensic investigation shows and books will welcome the latest in this series.

Recommend to: Procedural mystery fans

To buy or not to buy: For public library YA collections.


Readers Advisory: Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little

HarperCollins, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062194976, November 2014

In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart. Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.

While the plot breaks bupkis in the way of new ground in historical fiction–girl meets boy, boy and girl fall in love, but girl is already betrothed to a giant jerk–Forbidden boasts an unusual location for YA historicals, a romance you’ll root for, and plenty of belly dancing. Little uses just enough historical detail to set the scene, keeping it to more of a pleasure read than a deep exploration of another time and place. No boring politics here, just brutal desert conditions, camel rides, and sexy dancing in goddess temples. The heroine, if somewhat of a hand-wringer, is thoroughly developed and caught in a genuinely tough situation.

On the downside, Jayden’s betrothed makes for a rather one-note villain, cruel and power-mad. Little missed a chance to flesh him out, although making him too sympathetic could have turned this into yet another love triangle in a saturated market. Likewise, the female character Jayden begs to nurse her little sister after their mother dies in childbirth is sour and unsympathetic. A couple of quickie plot devices at the end steer what feels like a standalone into a cliffhanger ending, and the reader can see the ghost of a more permanent ending floating behind the setup for volume two.

Recommend to: Romance and historical fic fans

To buy or not to buy: A great choice for public library YA collections; probably a bit thin to pair with any social studies units.