Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the tag “Family Life”

The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach

The Eye of Midnight.jpgSet in 1929, this fast-paced historical adventure is filled with mystery, intrigue and danger. The main characters are Maxine and William, who are cousins, though they barely remember each other. The young pair, both in their early teens, have just arrived on the doorstep of Battersea Manor, somewhere along the Jersey Shore. They’ve been sent to stay with their grandfather, Colonel Horatius Battersea, at his estate for the summer.

Soon after the cousins’ arrival, their grandfather receives a mysterious telegram. He must quickly get to New York City to retrieve an important package. Not willing to leave Maxine and William behind, he brings them along as he prepares to meet with an unknown courier in possession of the parcel. Before he gets to meet with the courier, the Colonel mysteriously vanishes without a trace.

The cousins make a surprise friend in Nura, a bold and daring girl from Turkey, who just so happens to be the courier their grandfather came to meet. The package she was to deliver was a powerful magical artifact, but the item has been stolen by an unknown thief. The three join forces on a daring adventure to find the missing Colonel Battersea and the magical package. They soon find out they aren’t the only ones who are searching.

There are plenty of cliffhangers and twists of fate as the cousins and their friend tangle with gangsters, bootleggers, and a secret order of assassins, some of whom are intent on taking over the world. This book is a great piece of historical fiction with lots of suspense and adventure.

– Mark

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Kookooland by Gloria Norris

Kookooland.jpgGrowing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Manchester, New Hampshire, Gloria Norris learned early on that her family was like no other. Her father, Jimmy, was a no-good, brutish lout who dodged the law every chance he got; skating by on his illegal money-making schemes. Mother Shirley, the good wife, suffers in silence as she endures the worst kind of abuse, even though she would never dream of leaving Jimmy. Little Gloria is also subject to Jimmy’s verbal and emotional abuse, even as she seems unfazed by their bizarre relationship and unorthodox lifestyle.

The one true constant in Gloria’s life is her relationship with Susan Piasceny, daughter of Jimmy’s best friend Hank. It is with Susan that Gloria finds her North Star, her moral compass, her friend for life. As Gloria spends more and more time with Susan, she begins to believe that someday she can rise above their desolate circumstances and attain a level of safety and happiness.

All that changes when a shocking and violent incident rocks Susan’s world. The story takes on an even more sinister tone as Gloria becomes witness to Susan’s downward spiral. Afraid of making the same mistakes as her beloved mentor, Gloria decides she must try to escape her bleak and dangerous environment.

Norris writes in a blunt, gritty, overwhelmingly crass style that at times overshadows her story. But this memoir is a testimony that speaks of the harsh and unforgiving world that she lived in. It is the world of a little girl lost who must ultimately come to terms with her tragic history and make herself whole again.

– Susan

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This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging LightIt’s been two weeks since Lucille’s mom left and didn’t come back. Her dad hasn’t been around either after abandoning the family with a nervous breakdown. Now Lucille is playing mom to her little sister, Wren, trying to keep their mother’s departure a secret, and dealing with her feelings for her best friend’s twin brother.

One of the strongest things about this debut is Lucille’s voice. I felt like I was sharing in her struggle to pay the bills and keep her sister’s stomach full. Anonymous helpers eventually stock Lucille and Wren’s fridge, and Lucille does secure a job, but the author does not let her off that easy. This story feels well-balanced between the seemingly insurmountable odds of making it on your own with enough hopeful plot twists to encourage teenage readers who need a little light in their lives.

While some plot points made life a bit easier for Lucille and Wren than it may be in the real world, a plot twist keeps the pacing quick and keeps the story from dragging. Lucille and Wren are the most fleshed-out characters, and by story’s end, I found myself disappointed that I will not be spending more time with them, as many contemporary young adult novels are standalone titles.

There is so much inspiration packed into this book, along with just the right amount of romance. I recommend This Raging Light to John Green fans that are itching for another meaningful contemporary read.

– Travis

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The Peddler’s Road by Matthew Cody

The Peddlers RoadTaking its inspiration from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, The Peddler’s Road can be thought of as a modern-day continuation of the original story. Remembering back to the 13th century telling, the Pied Piper made a deal with the townspeople of Hamelin to rid them of their rat infestation. The Piper used his magical flute to lure the rats away from town and into the river where they drowned. The mayor refused to pay as agreed so the Piper left town vowing revenge. He came back months later dressed as a woodsman and, using his magic flute again, lured the town’s children away from their families – never to be heard from again.

So what ever happened to those lost children you ask? Well, wonder no more as this tale may solve the mystery.

Set in current time, we meet a pink-haired girl named Max and her younger brother Carter. They’ve just traveled from New York with their dad who is doing a summer research project in Hamelin, Germany. It’s here that they meet a mysterious man who refers to himself as a ‘pest control professional’. He’s come to their rental home to investigate a rodent problem they’ve been having but Max can’t shake the feeling that the stranger is up to no good.

As it turns out, the peculiar man is the Piper himself, and he’s been subtly playing a tune that’s caused Max and Carter to be cast under his spell. He spirits them away to a place called the Summer Isle where they discover the original children who were lured away from Hamelin hundreds of years ago. The pair sets out on a dangerous quest to discover the secrets of the Piper in hopes of figuring out how to get themselves, and the lost children, back home. This book is the first in a trilogy that will leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment.

– Mark

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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

The Shallow GravesSet in 1890’s New York, this book revolves around a 17-year-old socialite named Josephine (Jo) Montfort. Being born into a well-to-do family, there are certain expectations for how Jo’s life should unfold.  Her sheltered life should consist of ritzy parties and soirées, graduating from an all-girl finishing school, and marrying a wealthy bachelor from a well-placed family. In fact, a likely suitor has already been picked out. That’s not quite how Jo sees things though as she is feisty and determined with aspirations of following in the footsteps of her idol; the trail-blazing journalist, Nellie Bly.

Early in the story we learn that Jo’s father (Charles Montfort) has died and the authorities are claiming he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol.  Jo isn’t buying this as she knows him to be far too experienced with firearms to make the mistake of cleaning a loaded gun. Charles was one of New York’s wealthiest men as he was owner of the city newspaper and partner in a very large shipping firm. Certainly with his wealth and power, he must have made enemies along the way.

Jo is determined to investigate her father’s death and teams up with an equally inquisitive junior reporter named Eddie Gallagher. Eddie and Jo come from different backgrounds but that doesn’t stop Jo from falling for him as he introduces her to parts of the city that she didn’t even know existed. Together they track down clues from the unlikeliest of places – the wharf, the slums, a brothel, and even from the grave. As she gets closer to discovering the truth, she begins to realize that it may shatter what she thought she knew about her family and father.

– Mark

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The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle

The Bubble Wrap BoyThis is the story of Charlie Han, a boy who is short in stature but big in heart. Charlie is more than a little clumsy, which combined with his diminutive frame, has made him an easy target for the bullies of the world. Now add in his mother who takes being overprotective to the next level and you have a recipe for trouble which seems to have no problem finding Charlie.

Charlie’s best friend is Sinus, a boy with a super-big nose and an equally low ranking in the pecking order of high school. Sinus seems resigned to his (lack of) social status, but Charlie wants to find a way to stand out and get noticed. He decides that if he could develop a skill, something he’s really good at, then people will finally see him as an equal.

While out on a delivery for his father’s Chinese restaurant, Charlie sees a boy on a skateboard sail by doing amazing tricks. He quickly starts to obsess about becoming a top-notch skateboarder and sees this as his big chance to finally fit in. This isn’t going to be easy with Charlie’s mom in the picture. Even when she gives in to allowing him to do the food deliveries (on a three-wheeled bike), she makes him wear so much protective gear that he’s quickly the butt of more jokes and taunts. She has her reasons for the way she is though and that becomes clear with a shocking revelation later in the book.

Don’t hesitate to pick up this book as it is a great story of friendship, family, and overcoming obstacles to become something more than you thought you could.

– Mark

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Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak

Wonders of The InvisiableSome families have a few skeletons in their closets, but Aiden Lockwood’s family really takes this to another level. The book starts out with 17-year-old Aiden who is going through life in a bit of a haze. His childhood memories, in particular, are hard to recall until the return of a friend that he hadn’t seen in many years. With his friend’s help, Aiden starts to piece together memories from his past. Memories that lead to strange dreams and a mysterious voice that calls to him.

Aiden’s mother turns out to be a central figure in his memory block. As she gradually lifts the veil that has been clouding his mind, he learns of mystical powers inherited from a family of seers and psychics. He’ll need all of these special abilities once he discovers the source of the curse that was placed on his family long ago. A curse that insures the men of the Lockwood family will all meet death before their time.

Some elements of this story I enjoyed very much, and some I did not. For the most part, though, it was well written and the tangled web of family history with all its secrets and tragedy came together in a satisfying conclusion.

– Mark

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Purity by Jonathan Franzen

purityI am the first to admit that I have not read Franzen before now. With all of the hullabaloo that usually surrounds his books, I was always a little leery and wondered if they lived up to the hype. However, I like to keep an open mind about these things so I took the plunge to read his latest endeavor.

Right out the gate, I will say that Purity will be this summer’s Goldfinch, which means that it is a long and complicated novel, full of many characters, plot twists, and intricate details. The book has a lot going on, so it may be too heavy (literally and figuratively) to be your beach read, but once you get started you won’t be able to put it down.

The title character, also known as Pip, is a 20-something troubled soul trying to find her purpose in life while simultaneously wondering how to pay off her staggering student loan debt. If only she could locate her long lost father who (by her mother’s account) is very well to do, her problems would be solved. Unfortunately, her mother refuses to reveal who Pip’s father is so she is left to her own devices to try to find him. Thus begins her bizarre and somewhat unlikely odyssey.

One surely cannot discredit Franzen’s writing chops and it can be assured, this novel takes you on a strange, manic, and crazy ride. It is not for the faint of heart, and can be quite brutal and even dismal in parts. Yet an inexplicable curiosity (or madness!) will keep you soldiering on, if for nothing more than to cheer on Pip and her never-ending hope of finding what she is looking for.

– Susan

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerThis book begins against the backdrop of middle school; the primary focus of which is three girls who are best of friends. The main character, Bridget, lives with her musician mother and coffee shop owner father in New York City.  The story actually starts several years earlier, when Bridget miraculously survives being struck by a car as she skates through an intersection. The incident affected her significantly, as she then begins to view herself differently and wonders if there was a special reason why she survived.

Fast forward several years and Bridge (as she wanted to be called after the accident) along with her best friends, Tabitha and Emily, are trying to navigate the changes and challenges that come with seventh grade and their teen years. With the introduction of new friends (especially boys), the trio finds it’s not so easy to honor the friendship pact they made years earlier.

This book accurately portrays a lot of issues that face youth today, especially those walking the fine line between being a kid and a teenager. A variety of relevant topics are introduced such as friendship, peer pressure, sexting, shaming, bullying, and forgiveness. Many characters are intertwined and the descriptive nature of the writing is intricate and rich.

Although the majority of the book takes place in the third person, there are chapters written in second person that are set at a time that’s slightly ahead of the rest of the book. Eventually the two narratives do catch up with each other however this was initially confusing and took some getting used to. Ultimately though, this isn’t a major distraction from what was an interesting and believable read.

– Mark

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Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing SecretsThis book drew me in so completely, I did not want to put it down.

We are introduced to Elizabeth Kennedy or Lizzie to her friends, a young girl who aspires to be a scientist. Unfortunately for her, there’s a bit of a problem, it’s the 1900s.

While Lizzie does go to school, it’s a finishing school and not one where she fits in well. The other girls are snobby, and Lizzie has a difficult time making friends.  One of the highlights of her weeks is going on calls with her father, who is a doctor, and encourages her love of science. These outings are frowned upon by her Aunt who helps to take care of Lizzie and her brother William. Her Aunt does not approve of Lizzie’s interest in science and thinks the focus of their father’s attention should be on young William.

Lizzie will soon discover that there is more to life than her interest in science. Like how to make friends at school, or learning more about Noah, the son of her family’s Chinese cook. When Lizzie discovers he is hiding in the servant’s quarters, she wants to know why and how is it that she never knew of him.

Lizzie finds out that Noah has questions of his own. He wants to know if he can go back and live with his uncle in China Town, and why some people are dying of an illness and some survive.  Lizzie and Noah team up to find out if there is a plague in San Francisco and what they can do to help.

So pick up this book and see how Lizzie survives her triumphs and trials and if she will continue on with her in interest in science.

– Ellen

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