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Books & other thoughts

Updated: 2018-03-22T07:48:37.599-04:00


Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell


This one had been on my reading list for ages, and when I saw my library owned a digital copy I checked it out. It is a delightful mystery told in a nontraditional way, and I enjoyed it very much. A group of young lawyers is alarmed when one of their own is accused of murder while away on a vacation in Venice, and the story unfolds in a series of letters sent by their friend and accounts by other people who become involved.

Our main sleuth and first-person narrator is one Hilary Tamar - and it is never actually stated if Hilary is a man or a woman, which was kind of annoying but kind of fun. He or she is a law professor and, while he or she interacts with the others, acts more as an observer than anything else. This was a really fun read, a sort of Wodehousian mystery novel, with humor and heart, and I was so sad to see that the author has died, and that there are only four books in this series. The writing is truly delightful, and I’m very much looking forward to the next mystery in this series.

Books in the Hilary Tamar series:

1. Thus Was Adonis Murdered
2. The Shortest Way to Hades
3. The Sirens Sang of Murder
4. The Sibyl in Her Grave

Thus Was Adonis Murdered (#1 in the Hilary Tamar series) by Sarah Caudwell (Scribner, 1981)

Dead Ice by Laurell Hamilton


It’s hard to believe that this is the 26th book in this series, which I started back when the first one was published in 1993. I continue to care about the characters, and the cast has grown enormously since the early days. This series started out as one of the first urban fantasy/paranormal series out there, and I will forever be fond of Anita Blake, who is tough but not unbelievably so, and has been through some terrible things yet strives to maintain her ethical beliefs even as more and more difficult choices keep coming her way. I’m not sure that I would be as engaged by these books were I to pick a volume up at random, never having read any of them before, but since I’ve been with them from the beginning, the series has become a part of my life. It just doesn’t seem like summer until I’m sitting outside on my deck on a beautiful day, reading the latest Anita Blake novel.In this installment, the mystery element involves someone raising zombies, putting their souls back inside the bodies, and turning them into slaves for adult movies. The mystery is pretty thin, and I found it fairly obvious who the perpetrator was. Perhaps Anita is slow on the uptake because of the usual upheaval in her always fascinating personal life. I didn’t really mind - it was Hamilton's usual gripping read with plenty of fun moments among characters I’ve known for decades. I’ll be looking forward to the next one!Books in the Anita Blake series:1. Guilty Pleasures 2. The Laughing Corpse 3. Circus of the Damned4. The Lunatic Cafe 5. Bloody Bones 6. The Killing Dance 7. Burnt Offerings 8. Blue Moon 9. Obsidian Butterfly 10. Narcissus in Chains11. Cerulean Sins 12. Incubus Dreams13. Micah 14. Danse Macabre 15. The Harlequin 16. Blood Noir 17. Skin Trade18. Flirt19. Bullet20. Hit List 20.5 Beauty21. Kiss the Dead22. Affliction22.5 Dancing23. Jason24. Dead IceDead Ice (#24 in the Anita Blake series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Books, 2015)[...]

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke


Wow! I just loved this graphic novel. Our heroine is a witch who finds herself out of work - the life of witch just isn't what it used to be. She ends up (with help from her familiar/dog) finding a job as the cafeteria lady at a nearby school.

Unfortunately, her secret identity is threatened by one of the students, a girl who needs some witchy assistance. The child threatens to blow the witch's cover if she doesn't do a spell for her. Fun and madcap high jinks ensue.

Great story, delightful characters, surprising plot - what's not to like? The illustrations are fantastic, too - the quirky style and monochromatic color scheme are a perfect fit for this engaging tale. Oh, and the bats. I love the bats! Check this one out. You won't regret it.

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke (Papercut, 2015)

The Secret of the Haunted Mirror (The Three Investigators)


This was one of my favorite series when I was a kid - I liked it way better than the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I remember feeling wistful that there wasn't a female main character, but I did like the three boys, and I loved the California setting. It seemed so totally cool to me that the boys could take a bus into Hollywood when they were on a case.  And that they sometimes had a limousine and driver at their disposal! They were so independent and clever, and the mysteries were interesting and evocative.

This one is about a woman who collects mirrors, and when a friend gives her an antique mirror that used to belong to a stage magician, strange and dangerous things start to happen.

It's been ages since I've ready any of the books in this series, and I was a little worried they wouldn't hold up to my fond memories of them. But this one certainly did. They are not big on characterization, but the plot is action-packed and the setting was as fun as I remembered.

The Secret of the Haunted Mirror (#21 in the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series) by M. V. Carey (Random House, 1974)

Finnikin of the Rock by Marlena Marchetta


This is the best fantasy novel I have ready since Graceling.  I have read so much traditional/high fantasy in my life that it really takes something different, something gripping that is well written withe complex, sympathetic characters to hold my attention. Finnikin of the Rock has all that and more. While the main character is male, the female characters, particularly that of the mysterious Evanjalin, are strong, inspiring and admirable. This is a gripping tale that pulls no punches, and explores the best and worst of humankind the way only exceptional fantasy novels can.  Highly recommended.

Books in the Lumatere Chronicles:
1. Finnikin of the Rock
2. Froi of the Exiles
3. Quintana of Charyn

Finnikin of the Rock (#1 in the Lumatere Chronicles) by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick Press, 2008)

Also by Melina Marchetta: Jellicoe Road

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright


Happy New Year, everyone! One of my resolutions is to be a little more regular in keeping up this blog. Life is so busy these days, but I'm going to try.

This book is the current pick of my elementary-age book club that I've been leading at my library for over a year now (our one-year anniversary was in September). I offer up two choices, and the kids vote for their favorite, and this is the one they picked (over Madelene L'Engle's Meet the Austins, another favorite of mine).

Basically I read the book to the kids (age 9-11), and when the hour is up, I stop reading. If they are enjoying the book, they can check out one from the pile of copies I've placed on hold from around the library system. We don't spend too much time talking about the books the following month - just enough for them to chat about whatever they feel inspired to. I am not one (having taught English) to suck the joy out of books by dissecting them into a tedious compilation of symbols and foreshadowing and theme - it's just a relaxed conversation, if they'd like to have it. At any rate, I read this one to them and, even though it was written in the 40s, I could see that it still captivates after all this time. I remembered enjoying it when I was a child, although I couldn't remember much about it.

The story is about four children, two brothers and two sisters, living in New York City in the 40s. There are a lot of interesting details about life in the 40s - the coal furnace, the war, etc., which the book club children found pretty interesting. The four protagonists range in age from six to thirteen, and the story opens on a rainy Saturday where they just can't find anything interesting to do. One of the sisters comes up with a plan in which each Saturday they pool their allowance money, which doesn't stretch very far on its own, and they take turns using the money to have their own personal adventure - going to a museum, or the theater, or exploring the city.

I could tell that my book club kids were wistfully amazed that these young children were allowed to go off on their own in the middle of New York City (with such warnings as not to talk to strangers, not to get run over, and to talk to a policeman if they lost their way). I remembered feeling the same way reading the book as a child. What fun! Each child decides on his or her Saturday adventure, but they usually end up having a surprise or two along the way, and the adventure turns out to be something they never expected. Enright has a way of painting vivid pictures with her words, something that the book club kids noticed as I read to them, so that some fairly long descriptive passages really held everyone's attention. This is a truly enjoyable classic, and I look forward to rereading the rest of the books in the Melendy Quartet.

Books in the Melendy Quartet: 
1. The Saturdays
2. Four-Story Mistake
3. Then There Were Five
4. Spiderweb for Two

The Saturdays (#1 in the Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright (Henry Hold and Company, 1941)

Kitty's Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn


I continue to enjoy this series about radio host/werewolf Kitty Norville, with its interesting long-term narrative arc that carries throughout the series, as well as each individual book's self-contained mystery. In this installment, Kitty is thinking about the use of werewolves in military situations, after having experienced such use firsthand in the previous book. She uncovers some interesting information about Wyatt Earp, and then is called to San Francisco to help out in an apparently unconnected situation involving some vampires.

This series is best read in order, as the characters and their situations change and develop from one book to the next.  There is humor, peril, solid world-building, memorable characters, mystery, and a little romance. I tend to save up these books as I do J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas books, for when I want a dependable, gripping read.

Books in the Kitty Norville series:
 1. Kitty and the Midnight Hour
2. Kitty Goes to Washington 
3. Kitty Takes a Holiday
4. Kitty and the Silver Bullet
5. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
6. Kitty Raises Hell
 Kitty's House of Horrors
8. Kitty Goes to War
9. Kitty's Big Trouble
9.5. Kitty's Greatest Hits (short story collection)
10. Kitty Steals the Show
11. Kitty Rocks the House
12. Kitty in the Underworld
13. Low Midnight
14. Kitty Saves the World

Kitty's Big Trouble (#9 in the Kitty Norville series) by Carrie Vaughn (Tor, 2011)

Tempt the Stars by Karen Chance


This is one of my current favorite series, and whenever a new book comes out, I'm always very excited to get to it - but want to wait as long as possible before I give in and read it, because then I'm stuck waiting for the next installment to be published.  I enjoy this series in particular because it features supernatural elements that are fresh and unusual - such as the heroine's ability, as Pythia, to time travel and influence the time stream - as well as some more typical elements - such as vampires - that are presented in a fresh, unusual, interesting way. Not the same old, same old, which is always nice.

This book proceeds at the usual breakneck pace, full of adventure, peril, humor and new insights into Cassie's world and the characters there. The structure of the novel didn't feel as unified as usual - there are many loose ends and unexplored things that will, presumably, be addressed in future installments. I did enjoy the trip to the demon realms and seeing a new side of Pritkin, and it was great to see Cassie coming to terms with her powers and her responsibilities. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book. Fans of Laurell Hamilton and Patricia Briggs would be likely to enjoy this series, too.

Books in the Cassandra Palmer series:
 1. Touch the Dark 
Claimed by Shadow 
3. Embrace the Night
4. Curse the Dawn

5. Hunt the Moon
6. Tempt the Stars
7. Reap the Wind

Tempt the Stars (#6 in the Cassandra Palmer series) by Karen Chance (Signet Select, 2013)

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint


This book is a retelling, with quite a bit more detail, of the story in the picture book A Circle of Cats, and happily it also is graced by Charles Vess's lovely illustrations.

Our heroine is 12-year-old Lillian, who is bitten by a poisonous snake. The wild cats of the forest, who care about her because she is always kind to them, manage to save her life - but the only way they can succeed in doing so is by turning her into a kitten. The book tells of Lillian's quest to turn back into a girl and be reunited with her grandmother, who is heartbroken by Lillian's unexplained absence.

I enjoyed this book, as I do all of de Lint's stories, particularly its evocative atmosphere, a tale steeped in folklore and magic. The illustrations are gorgeous - and I was lucky enough to see some of the original artwork in person when I attended the World Fantasy Convention just a few weeks ago. This lovely book would make a great read-aloud or children's book group choice.

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint (Hachette Book Group, 2013)

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist


Four teenage girls live on a tiny, isolated island. One is blonde, one brunette, one ginger, and one has black hair; but other than that, they are identical. Veronika, the redhead, narrates the story, telling how the girls' days are spent the same peaceful way, taking lessons from their teachers, two adults who are the only others who live on the island. They take walks around the island, carefully noticing the tiniest details about everything they encounter, talking with their teachers and among themselves until it is time for them to go to sleep - which entails the simple matter of their teacher pressing a button behind their ears.

Life passes in this way, full of sameness and predictability, until May, a girl who washes up on the beach following a shipwreck, appears in their lives. May has a lot of questions about the girls, the imperative for absolute secrecy that surrounds them, and she makes them think about things they have never before considered, first and foremost that their life on the island isn't as safe and peaceful as they have been led to believe.

This is a fascinating story, particularly in the way that it is told from Veronika's limited point of view. The reader only knows what Veronika sees and thinks, but there is so much more happening that it is necessary to draw inferences from Veronika's words and try to understand things that she cannot yet comprehend. It is an effective means of storytelling, but some readers my be a little frustrated at the end of the novel because there are so many unanswered questions - which would make this a good choice for a group read. There is a lot to talk about here.

I do not know if Dahlquist has plans for a sequel, but there is certainly a lot more of this story that could be told. I plan to include this book among my summer reading choices for next year, when I go to schools to book talk possible reading choices. It should appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic fiction as well as to those who enjoy a thoughtful character-driven story.

The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist (Dutton Books, 2013)

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs


This adult paranormal mystery series continues to be among my very favorites. It has all the things I enjoy in fiction - a strong, believable protagonist, characters who are complex and likable, solid world-building, and plots that always continue to surprise. I particularly enjoy the relationships that have formed among the various characters and the way those relationships influence and are influenced by the story line.

In this installment Mercy's post-honeymoon high is disturbed when her husband gets a phone call form his ex-wife, Christy, who is terrified because an abusive and dangerous ex-boyfriend is stalking her. Against her better judgment, Mercy agrees to have Christy stay with them. Their house - and werewolf pack - should be more than enough protection for Christy, and she hopes it will be a brief, temporary measure. Unfortunately Christy is way more sneaky and manipulative than Mercy realizes, and she immediately sets to work at stressing Mercy and Adam's relationship - as well as Mercy's tenuous bond with the werewolf pack. And when the ex-boyfriend turns out to be a greater force than they expected, their attempt to protect Christy sets a dangerous chain of events into motion.

This is another excellent book in this series, with action and adventure, great characters, and a story that will keep readers hooked all the way through.

Books in the Mercy Thompson series:
1. Moon Called
2. Blood Bound
3. Iron Kissed 

4. Bone Crossed
5. Silver Borne
6. River Marked
7. Frost Burned 
8. Night Broken
8.5 Shifting Shadows (short fiction from Mercy's world)

Night Broken (#8 in the Mercy Thompson series) by Patricia Briggs (Berkley, 2014)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Oh, the joy of a children's science fiction book with a strong female protagonist! Add to that joy a beautifully illustrated - in full color - graphic novel featuring characters and a story line that appeals to boys and girls, and you have one happy librarian.

In this second installment of the Zita series, Zita has saved a world and become a bit of a superstar. A defective robot "imprint-a-tron" crawls out of its box in a junkyard and imprints on Zita, effectively becoming her doppelganger. Zita takes advantage of its presence to get away from all the attention and ends up on an adventure of her own, and a face-paced, humorous, witty, charming course of events ensues. The artwork is expressive and gorgeous, and the characters are delightfully engaging. There are more adventures to come, thank goodness, and I am very much looking forward to them.

Books in the Zita the Spacegirl series:
1. Zita the Spacegirl
2. Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
3. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl  (Zita the Spacegirl #2) by Ben Hatke (First Second, 2012)

Sorcery and Cecelia:or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede


While this is the at least the third time I've read this book, since it’s one of my favorites, it’s the first time I've read it since I started reviewing books here on this blog. It seems odd to be only reviewing it now, but I want to tell everyone about it because it’s such a fun read.

It is an epistolary novel set in an alternate Regency England in which wizards and magic exist. Our two heroines, Kate and Cecelia, are cousins who tell the story through their letters that are exchanged with each other (each character’s written by one of the authors of the book). The story opens with one cousin going to London for her big debut, and the other having to remain in the country. They are sad to be separated at such an exciting time in their lives.

But soon they are each caught up in a fascinating mystery. In London, Kate is nearly poisoned by a nasty sorceress and teams up with an “odious” but attractive Marquis to foil a dastardly plot. And in the country, Cecelia’s rather ordinary cousin seems to suddenly possess the ability to charm every male who sets eyes on her. The plot twists and turns, full of danger and possible social disasters, humor, and romance. Fans of Austen and Wodehouse who enjoy fantastical elements in their fiction will fall in love with this book. Highly recommended.

Books in the Sorcery and Cecelia series: 
1. Sorcery and Cecelia
2. The Grand Tour
3. The Mislaid Magician

Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (Magic Carpet Books, 2003

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow


I found this book on the returns cart at the library where I work, and I picked it up, attracted by the steampunk elements mentioned in the blurb on the back, as well as some choice phrases such as dragons ruling the ironworks and clockwork horses. Our heroine is Emma Bannon, a forensic sorceress who is working for the crown, and she is partnered up with a “mentath,” a man whose abilities are a bit like Sherlock Holmes’ – but on magical steroids.

What I liked: the magical world was atmospheric and interesting, and Bannon is a strong female protagonist, which is great. The magic system was interesting and fresh, and I enjoyed the way the magical world revealed itself gradually through the course of the novel, instead of having things explained in a long, boring infodump.

What didn’t work so well for me: The relationships between the characters left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. It seemed like there was a little too much going on under the surface, but I never got close enough to what the characters were actually thinking and feeling to become as emotionally invested as I would have liked to be.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and if you are in the mood for an adventurous steampunk murder mystery with a dash of romance, you probably will enjoy it, too.

Books in the Bannon and Clare series:
1. The Iron Wyrm Affair
1.5 The Damnation Affair (novella)
2. The Red Plague Affair
3. The Ripper Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair (#1 in the Bannon and Clare series) by Lilith Saintcrow (Orbit, 2012)

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


This is quite possibly the funniest book I have ever read. So funny that I repeatedly had to set the book down, wipe my eyes, and take a deep breath to compose myself. So, so funny that I get a little giggle building up inside me even now, thinking about the part with the goose. And the part with the cake. Oh, and the part where they are lost in the woods. Seriously hysterical.I couldn't even remember why I'd put the book on hold, or how I'd heard about it, but when I found it waiting for me on my desk at the library, I started flipping through it and knew I had a winner. How on earth I'd missed Allie Brosh's amazing blog, I have no idea. This book is made up of some of the best stories she's written, and even though most (all?) of it is probably available through her blog, this is one of the few books I will end up buying so I can have it. For me. Mine, mine, mine! (Picture Daffy Duck on the treasure pile in the cartoon with Aladdin's cave.)Brosh has the rare gift of being able to remember childhood realistically - to remember how amazing and powerless and baffling childhood can be.  So that even when you are laughing you feel such compassion for the child she is writing about - and her parents, too, poor things. The drawings are deceptively childlike and simple, but as I read I found myself becoming more and more impressed by the skillful way she manages to infuse such emotion into the facial expressions and the posture of the characters.Even though this is such a funny book, it also contains the most thoughtful and insightful portrayal I have ever read of what it is like to be acutely depressed. Anyone who has coped with depression will appreciate this aspect of the book. And anyone who has friends or loved ones who cope with depression (and that is just about everybody), should definitely read this book. And learn not to tell depressed people unhelpful things like this:I also adored the stories about her dogs. It makes me grin just thinking about them.At first glance this seems like a silly and lighthearted book, which it certainly is, but there is more here than meets the eye, and I was delighted by the unexpected depth and the cleverness and compassion in Brosh's stories. There is definitely some adult language here, but I would still recommend this as an excellent crossover book for teens. In fact, both my children (now 13 and 15) read and loved it, and it sparked some thoughtful conversations that we wouldn't otherwise have had. Highly recommended!Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh (Touchstone, 2013)[...]

Tokyo Heist


Sixteen-year-old Violet Rossi is a Japanophile who adores Japanese culture, food, fashion - and manga in particular. She hopes to become a manga author and is always drawing and thinking about stories to write. When her father gets a painting commission in Tokyo, she’s thrilled about being able to visit Japan during summer vacation. Once she is there, though, her fun vacation turns into a harrowing adventure as she finds herself involved in a years-old mystery involving stolen artwork by Van Gogh. Lives are at stake if she cannot locate the missing art. The few clues she finds are baffling, and time is quickly running out.

This is a fantastic mystery, packed full of danger and excitement, with a feisty protagonist it’s easy to relate to and care about. It was refreshing to read a book that is a standalone (as far as I know, at any rate), doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger, and doesn’t have a love triangle. The plot doesn’t hinge on romance, but there is a romantic element there as well. I loved the setting and the way it informs the plot, and I loved Violet’s passion for art and manga. This is the perfect summer read for fans of mysteries and exotic adventure stories.

Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn (Viking, 2012)

Nim's Island by Wendy Orr


I started a book club at my library this year, specifically for third and fourth graders. This is one of the first books that they picked (I do a short book-talk about two potential choices, and then the kids vote for their pick). I had seen the movie several years earlier, but hadn't read the book. It turned out to be a hit among the book club members, and I enjoyed my own read of it as well.

This story, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's whimsical tales, is about a young girl named Nim who lives on a tropical island with her scientist father. When her father doesn't come back from a boating trip, and a huge storm hits the island, Nim has to survive on her own (along with her animal companions, a seal and an iguana). She is having a difficult time of it, but luckily she has struck up a friendship via email with a favorite author of adventure and survival stories.

I enjoyed the sweetness and whimsy of this story, which was perfectly captured by Kerry Millard's illustrations. I loved the strong female protagonist, who is resourceful but not unbelievably so, as well as the relationships among the characters (including Nim's animal pals) and the delightful surprises that occur as the story unfolds.

Nim's Island
 by Wendy Orr; illustrated by Kerry Millard (Borzoi Books, 1999)

Hopeless Savages (graphic novel) by Meter, Norrie and Clugston-Major


I picked this up at my library because I'm always interested in checking out whatever graphic novels come my way. Sadly, this is the only book in the four-volume series that my library owns. It is a funny, sweet story about a group of siblings whose parents are famous punk rockers. When their parents are kidnapped, the kids decide to track down their estranged older brother, because he may know things about their parents' past that will help them figure out who and why they've been abducted.

I love a character-driven book, and when it is packaged as a graphic novel with arresting artwork and witty dialogue, then it is truly delightful. The mystery element is fun, but I loved the unfolding of the relationships among the characters, and the fact that the villain isn't a super-villain bent on evil deeds, but someone human and, it seems, redeemable. I will be on the lookout for the subsequent volumes in this charming series.

Books in the Hopeless Savages series:
1. Hopeless Savages
2. Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero
3. Too Much Hopeless Savages!
4. Hopeless Savages: B Sides: The Origin of the Dusted Bunnies

Hopeless Savages, Volume 1 by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, and Chynna Clugston Major (Oni Press, 2003)

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich


It's just not summer without a new Stephanie Plum novel! I'm always excited when my copy comes in at the library. One of the great things about working at the library is showing up at work to find books waiting on my desk, and when one of those books is the latest Stephanie Plum, I know it's going to be a good day. The only sad thing is how quickly I read through it!This one did not disappoint. Stephanie, bounty hunter not-so-extraordinaire, is trying to locate used-car dealer Jimmy Poletti, who is able to stay one step ahead of her while bodies, apparently connected to his crimes, are discovered one by one. There are many familiar elements here: cars exploding, apartments burning down, romantic tension between Stephanie and Ranger (and, of course, Morelli), Grandma Mazur excited about going to funeral homes, and pot roast dinners at Stephanie's house. I find these elements enjoyable, part of revisiting Trenton with some of my favorite fictional characters, and I continue to enjoy the way Evanovich is able to make me laugh while drawing me into another fun screwball mystery.I'm a bit baffled by some of negative reviews I've seen out there by fans of the early books who find recent ones to be repetitive and predictable. Why, exactly, would they pick up a book in this series expecting something different? I wouldn't watch a James Bond movie and then complain that oh, there's Q again, going on and on about the gadgets, and oh, there's Moneypenny lusting after James, and James is with another woman, and oh, jeez, a villain stroking a white cat again? It seems unfair to criticize a series for being exactly what it sets out to be. Evanovich delivers a fun, gripping, delightful summer read for me, and of course I enjoy some books in the series more than others, but I know what I'm getting when I open to the first page. It works for me. If it didn't, I'd simply drop the series and move on to something else.Books in the Stephanie Plum series:1. One for the Money2. Two for the Dough3. Three to Get Deadly4. Four to Score5. High Five6. Hot Six7. Seven Up8. Hard Eight9. To the Nines10. Ten Big Ones11. Eleven on Top12. Twelve Sharp13. Lean Mean Thirteen14. Fearless Fourteen15. Finger Lickin' Fifteen16. Sizzling Sixteen17. Smokin' Seventeen18. Explosive Eighteen19. Notorious Nineteen20. Takedown Twenty21. Top Secret Twenty-OneTop Secret Twenty-One (#21 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (Bantam Books, 2104)[...]

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso


This first book in the new graphic novel series about a young witch, The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, opens with irrepressible young witch Salem learning about an upcoming spelling bee at school. She assumes it’s a contest for casting spells, not spelling words, and when a classmate taunts her for being unable to spell “dinosaur,” Salem inadvertently turns the elderly school crossing guard into a dinosaur and gets into trouble at school. Salem’s parents, who possess no magical talents (although Salem’s aunt is a witch), decide that Salem needs an animal companion to help her sort out her spelling ability, not to mention her impulsiveness. But when the companion, a cat named Whammy who is scared of flying (but is a good magic teacher) arrives, Salem is not interested. She wants a monkey butler. Or a unicorn. Definitely not a boring old cat.

This is a sweet and fun story that will appeal to fans of Calvin and Hobbes and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, full of humor and heart. Salem treads a thin line between independent and slightly bratty, but she kept my sympathy and made me curious to follow her next adventures in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #2: The Big Birthday Bash. This will be a very easy sell to young readers at my library.

Books in the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series:
1. Spelling Trouble
2. Big Birthday Bash
3.Cookie Catastrophe

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso (Amulet Books, 2013)

Joyland by Stephen King


It's been years since I picked up a Stephen King novel, not because I don't like them (I do), and not because he isn't a fantastic storyteller (he is), but because they can be so scary and intense that, given all the stress and demands of my life right now, I prefer a slightly less heart-pumping, under-the-skin experience when I finally have the time to relax with a book. However, I heard King interviewed on Fresh Air back when this book first came out, and it sounded so appealing that I had to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did! It turned out to be a fascinating, character-driven read set in the 70s about a young man named Devin who, recovering from a broken heart, takes a job at Joyland, a seaside theme park in North Carolina. There Devin lives in a boarding house, makes friends with his fellow teen employees, and becomes fascinated by a years-old mystery about a girl who disappeared from a ride called the Horror House. The first part of the book is atmospheric and almost relaxing - yet it has the feel of a roller coaster car slowly creeping up the track to that highest point. The second part of the book has the reader hurtling back down, hanging on tight. King is a wonderful storyteller, giving us characters worth caring about, and a story that is romantic, spooky, mysterious, and ultimately very satisfying. This is the perfect summer read.

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime, 2013)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green


There's not a whole lot to say about this book that hasn't been said by dozens of other book-reviewing bloggers out there. But this blog is about reviewing whatever I happen to read, so here we go. Our hero is Colin Singleton, a young man who for some bizarre reason has only dated women named Katherine. Nineteen Katherines, in fact, all of whom have dumped him. Colin is also a former child prodigy, and now that he's nearly grown up, he has to come to terms with the fact that for the most part, child prodigies tend to turn out as normal in adulthood as everyone else - as far as performing amazing feats of genius and saving the world goes, at any rate.

Having just been dumped by the most recent Katherine, Colin is completely heartbroken. He needs a fresh perspective, and what better way to attain one than going on a road trip with his best friend. And that's where the fun begins. Friendship, humor, romance, coming of age - all these elements combine with unforgettable characters and a plot that never fails to surprise and delight. Highly recommended.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton Books, 2006)

Also by John Green:
Looking for Alaska
Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan)

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm


Libby Kelting loves Jane Austen novels, historical romances, and everything to do with the past, so she is delighted when she gets a summer internship at Camden Harbor, the Museum of Maine and the Sea. It's a place like Williamsburg, except in Camden Harbor the year is always 1791. She gets to wear period costumes and teach summer campers about all the things she loves about the past. Unfortunately, her dream job involves some unpleasant aspects, including a difficult roommate situation and rumors that Camden Harbor is haunted. Soon Libby finds herself bunking in a period ship with a geeky reporter, all the while falling for a super hot sailor named Cam.

I really liked the premise of this book, and I think it would be a good summer read for teens who enjoy romance and humor. I did find the characters to be stereotypical to the point that it was difficult to identify with them as closely as I would have liked to. I found it difficult to believe that a summer camp would permit a teenage female employee to share a bedroom on a ship with a boy. Libby was also annoyingly obtuse about her relationships and allowed herself to be treated terribly by one of the boys, putting up with more than I felt was believable for the strong, independent teen she is purported to be. Still, she gets a clue by the end of the book, and it turned out to be a light and entertaining "historical" romance with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Books in the Pilgrims series:
1. Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink
2. Confederates Don't Wear Couture

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink (#1 in the Pilgrims series) by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore


Although this is technically the second book in the Goodnight Family series, it really is a standalone novel featuring a different character from the first book. Even though I'm a huge stickler about reading things in order, even I would say you could read either one of these books first without any spoiler issues arising.

Our heroine is Daisy Goodnight (little sister to Texas Gothic's Amy Goodnight), a teen who is yanked from her classroom by the FBI and whisked off to Minnesota to help them solve a kidnapping/murder case through her ability to communicate with the dead.  Before she knows what's going on, Daisy herself is kidnapped and thrown into a perilous situation that involves ancient Egypt, a mysterious (but hot) boy, and all kinds of unexpected elements that kept me laughing, happy to hang on for the ride.

Daisy has a strong narrative voice that drew me in immediately. I knew from the first page that I was going to have fun with this one, particularly when Daisy tells us at the crime scene: "I like to pretend that I'm all Daisy Goodnight, kick-ass teen psychic, when really most of the time I'm all Please don't let me puke in front of the FBI." 

Spirit and Dust is the perfect gripping summer read, with action, adventure, humor and romance, a mystery to be solved, creating that sense of wonder I've come to expect from Clement-Moore's books.

Books in the Goodnight Family series:
1. Texas Gothic
2. Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust (#2 in the Goodnight Family series) by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte Press, 2013)

Also by Rosemary Clement-Moore:
Prom Dates from Hell

The Professor's Daughter


I picked up this graphic novel when I found it on the shelves at my library. The cover was intriguing, and when I flipped through the pages, I found the artwork was so attractive that I had to bring it home to read. The story is, disappointingly, not as compelling as the illustrations, but it is silly and fun. Set in Victorian times, it tells the story of Lillian, the daughter of a prominent Egyptologist, who is in love with a mummified ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

There's a little be of everything here - romance, comedy, action, adventure, and drama. The characters are not very well developed, and the plot doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense when you stop to think about it, but the story is still fun and engaging, and the artwork is delightful.

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert (First Second, 1997)