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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.

Readers Advisory: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Harper Teen, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062278967, November 2014

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him. Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

Multiverse/parallel universe stories look like the next hot trend in YA scifi, first with the release of Dissonance by Erika O’Rourke, and now with this new series from the popular Claudia Gray.

Gray gives readers plenty to like: mystery/conspiracy, a love triangle, an intriguing technology that lets characters jump between vastly different worlds. Those who like their stories plot-driven and escapist will think it’s heaven. However, readers looking to connect with realistic, developed characters will find the cast falls flat. Also, the large span of plot devoted to Marguerite’s stay in a parallel universe where she’s royalty in Tsarist Russia will enchant or annoy readers depending on how much patience they have for princess fantasies.

One concern about character ethics, and this is a spoiler: the heroine has sex with a parallel universe version of one of the other points of the love triangle while she’s inhabiting the body of that universe’s version of her. Now, each different universe’s version of a person is a different person. You might be in a body that looks just like yours, but it is not yours, and the person it belongs to has no control over it. The fact that the heroine uses someone else’s body for sex with no way of getting the owner’s consent and then has no guilty feelings beyond “Should I feel guilty for sleeping with him since she liked him first and missed the experience?” is more than a bit rapey, methinks.

Recommend to: Fans of quick ‘n’ easy scifi

To buy or not to buy: Gray has a big following. Good choice for public library YA collections.

Readers Advisory: The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, (price currently unavailable) hardbound, ISBN-10 031624077X, November 2014

To Master Thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere–but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if they can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!

Do you have readers searching for a great getaway book? One of those stories that lets you immerse yourself in a world and step into the lives of the people there? The kind of story you don’t so much finish as fall off of, suddenly waking up in shock that the real world is still out there? Something complex and challenging to the imagination but fun and satisfying at the same time? Found one!

Although the hefty length may deter some reluctant readers, the fantasy world, colorful characters, and quest/villain-thwarting plot will engross any who choose to enter into this adventure. Especially endearing is Fin, probably the youngest Master Thief in any world, his career blessed by the fact that no one can remember him for more than a couple of moments. He can even steal the same pawned object and return it to the person who pawned it, who will then pawn it again and so on–although this point stretches credulity; wouldn’t the pawnshop owner and the owner of the object remember their transactions even if they forgot Fin? Perhaps his blessing is just that strong, although in the rest of his life, it’s a curse. Fin has no family and can’t make friends since everyone forgets him. He’s completely isolated until he stows away on the Kraken, ship of the good-natured and absent-minded wizard Ardent, which happens to also carry Marrill, a feisty girl from our world who doesn’t forget Fin. Their friendship grows as they face life-threatening magical dangers including a literal forest of gossip, a sob-inducing soothsayer, and a prophecy forecasting the end of the world.

Co-authors/spouses Ryan and Davis make a fabulous team, and their creation is filled with friendship, adventure, and a lot of laughs. The Map to Everywhere is the first in a planned series of four novels, and the wait for the next book is going to feel endless.

Recommend to: Fantasy fans, adventure fans

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase

ARC from Netgalley/Edelweiss, honest review, no money exchanged, etc. Final art not seen.

Readers Advisory: How We Fall by Kate Brauning

Merit Press, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1440581797, October 2014

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus. Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus–and deepens Jackie’s despair. Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Before I say anything about the book, a couple of facts:

  • Despite the usual jokes about the Deep South, first cousins can legally marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Even stereotypically cosmopolitan states like California and New York allow it. Six other states allow cousin marriage under special circumstances, usually that the parties are too old to bear children.
  • According to a study published in The Journal of Genetic Counseling in 2002, the children of first cousin couple are twice as likely to have birth defects as those of unrelated couples, but in this case, “twice as likely” means a 4-6% chance versus a 2-3% chance. The real problems crop up when a family group has repeated intermarriage.
  • Historically, families wanted cousins to marry. Not only did they figure that people from the same family would have similar values and therefore get along and raise the children the “right” way, resources such as land stayed in the family that way. However, sticking to that policy does lead to repeated intermarriage, and then you do wind up with birth defects. Perhaps that’s why in North Carolina, double cousin marriage is prohibited. (Double cousin: Say John and Dave Smith are brothers. Ida and Clara Johnson are sisters. John and Ida marry and have a daughter. Dave and Clara marry and have a son. Said son and daughter are double cousins, related on both sides of the family, and could not marry in North Carolina. Apparently it’s come up, which isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that we were a much less mobile society when the law passed. Smaller dating pools, you understand.)

In other words, although the West has a societal taboo against them, first cousin relationships aren’t as icky as we’ve been led to believe. I for one am glad to know the gross factor is actually non-existent, because although the blurb might lead one to think this story is about a girl who’s flirting with her cousin, she is in fact having regular make out sessions with her cousin and has been for a year when the story opens. Their rules: just friends who make out, no labels, no dating, and for goodness’s sakes, no telling friends or family! Keeping the secret isn’t easy; their families share a house, although until Jackie’s family moved in with Marcus’s about a year ago, the two teens barely knew each other.

Jackie wants to stop liking Marcus and can’t handle the thought of how people would see them if the truth came out. At the same time, she doesn’t want to give him up. They’re great together; heck, they’d be the perfect couple if they just weren’t related. When a gorgeous new girl with a crush on Marcus moves to town, Jackie vacillates between intense jealousy and telling Marcus he needs someone he can openly love. Soon, though, she realizes the new girl might know something about the disappearance of her friend Ellie.

Between Marcus’s truck getting vandalized, some weird stalker guy popping up around town, and trying to end their relationship without going insane, the two leads really pour on the drama. Brauning also packs in the steamy make out scenes at high volume, and I’m not going to lie: they’re pretty darn hot. Most readers will easily guess the answer to the mysterious subplot, but the will-they-won’t-they forbidden love story will keep its hook in you right up until the end.

***SPOILER*** The lovebirds finally decide to be together no matter the cost, so if you’re looking for a story about withstanding temptation, keep on looking.

Recommend to: Contemporary romance fans who want a little taboo in their reading

To buy or not to buy: Great choice for public YA collections