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Category Archives: Reader’s Advisory

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

Readers Advisory: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

HarperTeen, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062241524, October 2014

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed. Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

‘Tis the season for scaring oneself silly, and this paranormal chiller will fit the bill for Southern Gothic fans. Atmospheric and tightly woven, Parker’s story of a sister who refuses to let malevolent swamp spirits swallow up her beloved brother will tingle a few spines. Surprising depth comes from the inclusion of Lenora May, the false sister who comes from the swamp. Everyone except Sterling forgets Phin immediately, but in his place they remember Lenora May. Even Sterling remembers growing up with this cuckoo’s child, although she realizes some outside force has planted those memories in her mind. She immediately assumes Lenora May is the villain, but as the story progresses, we learn that she’s as much a victim as the kids taken by the swamp. Complex relationships and motivations keep this bayou folktale from sinking into the marsh of oversimplification. The market is filling with Southern horror stories at the moment (Servants of the Storm and Fiendish being two examples released in the last couple of months) but despite a somewhat flat romance, this one isn’t just another face in the crowd.

Recommend to: Fans of Southern Gothic tales, although claims of similarity to Beautiful Creatures are overstated

To buy or not to buy: For larger YA collections.

Readers Advisory: Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

Random House Books for Young Readers, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0375870431, September 2014

Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town. Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.

In her usual fashion, Sarah Rees Brennan delivers a funny, heartwarming story wrapped in danger and adventure. The Lynburn Legacy explodes into a satisfying conclusion. The ending may come a bit too easily for some readers, but nonetheless it fits the story well. The death of a much-loved character somewhat balances a sudden surfeit of happy endings. What else can I say? Oh, Jared is still kind of a jerk, but I think he’s starting to figure out how to have a heart and share it, too.

As a complete series, Lynburn Legacy is dark yet charming and witty. Brennan’s original premise of a boy and a girl who hear each others’ thoughts matured nicely into an epic battle between the peasants and the despots, with right on the side of the people, and quite a bit of smoochy time into the bargain.

Recommend to: Fantasy fans who like a heavy dose of romantic angst

To buy or not to buy: A great choice for public library YA collections

Readers Advisory: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0312643004, October 2014

Rose Howard has OCD, Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter. Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.

Rose loves homonyms. Rose loves prime numbers. Rose (rows) loves Rain (reign), a little blonde dog with seven white (wight) toes (tows) that her father found behind his favorite bar (barre). But when her father, an angry alcoholic, lets Rain outside during a hurricane with no collar, Rain disappears. Rose frantically searches for her, eventually finding her. Unfortunately, all does not end happily. The shelter that takes Rain in scans her for a microchip and finds one. Rain has owners, a family who love her and want her back badly. Rose loves Rain, but Rose also believes in following the rules, and Rain isn’t really hers. Her eventual decision makes complete sense for the character, but it also makes this the saddest dog book ever in which the dog does not tragically die. Ever. EVER. Side note: This book scared me a little because we recently adopted a rescue dog. He was dumped at our local shelter. The chances that his actual owners did the dumping are high, but I know that it’s not unusual for neighbors to steal dogs they find annoying and ditch them at a shelter, hoping the owner won’t catch on. The dog we adopted was not found to be microchipped (as Rain is in the story), but I have this recurring fear that we’ll be out on a walk and run into someone who says, “You found my dog! He was stolen!” and that they will want me to give him back. So the point of this long side note is that kids with rescue dogs might feel a little iffy about Rose losing Rain to her “real” family.

The autism spectrum is a hot topic in fiction right now, but Martin goes out of her way to make Rose realistic instead of charmingly quirky, and the character is all the more lovable for it. Rose remains resilient and true to her own compass, winning over classmates whose first instinct is to mock her and weathering the storms of her father’s outbursts. Be warned before recommending this one that it contains a good deal of parental verbal abuse and one incident of physical abuse, and that readers young and old will want to reach into the book and pull Rose out of the path of Hurricane Rose’s Dad. Some readers may also be put off by the frequent homonym insertions in sentences throughout the book, as exemplified in my third full sentence of this review. However, the gimmick does add to Rose’s character development, and she’s so lovingly crafted, so rigid and yet so vulnerable, that I double-dog-dare you not to root for her.

Recommend to: Fans of contemporary middle grade drama, fans of the sad dog story

To buy or not to buy: Highly recommended

Readers Advisory: Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), $13.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0805099700, October 2014

Introducing Isabel, aka Bunjitsu Bunny! She is the BEST bunjitsu artist in her school, and she can throw farther, kick higher, and hit harder than anyone else! But she never hurts another creature . . . unless she has to. This series of brief stories about Isabel’s adventures are a beguiling combination of child-friendly scenarios and Eastern wisdom perfect for the youngest readers.

Warning: Severe cuteness may result in cases of “awws” and “squees”, particularly in adult readers.

You may know Himmelman from his lovable picture books, including Katie Loves the Kittens and Cows to the Rescue (also sheep, duck, and I think pigs to the rescue in other volumes.) Bunjitsu Bunny has the same sense of fun with a heavy dash of Zen parable thrown in. Isabel may be able to kick serious booty, but she never does unless someone else attacks her first. In fact, the Bunjitsu Code at the end of the book specifies you must avoid confrontation at all costs and never fight unless you truly have no other option. In episodic chapters, Isabel uses her skills and wisdom to inspire those around her. For example, in one chapter, she races a turtle who’s certain he’ll never win against a speedy bunny. Somehow, though, every time he looks back, Isabel is still behind him, and that encourages him to run faster and faster and finally, barely, win. When he asks Isabel if she let him win, she replies that at first, she held back her speed, but that once he believed he could win, he did the rest all by himself.

The illustrations, inspired by historic Japanese art, convey a delightful energy. The low page count is perfect for beginning readers, and the stories impart morals in a thoughtful, not a didactic, manner. Highly recommended.

Recommend to: Beginner readers, fans of Zen Shorts

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase.