Tuesday, July 22, 2014


It's 1867, and the Civil War is over, but life in Richmond is nothing close to back to normal.  Richmond residents have lost the war, their property, and their pride.  The city is overrun with Yankee soldiers who are eager for any opportunity to kick the beaten rebels while they are down.

Shad's father died in the war, and he and his mother work for Granddaddy's tailoring business to support the family.  Shad is becoming a skilled tailor even though he is only fourteen.  None of that matters because his older brother, Jeremiah, is the favorite.  Jeremiah will inherit the tailoring business even though he's never shown any interest, and Shad is pretty sure his hothead older brother is drinking and antagonizing Yankees when he should be looking for work.

Jeremiah is a bully who never did anything for his little brother, so Shad knows the only way to find out what Jeremiah is up to at night is to follow him.  That's how he accidentally gets initiated into the brotherhood, the KKK.  They don't seem too bad to Shad though--just good old boys getting together to sing songs on take care of war widows.

Something else is happening to change Shad's world.  He's always felt stupid because he can't read, but there's a new teacher in town who thinks he can help.  The only problem is Mr. Nelson is in Richmond to teach at a colored school, and he wants Shad to go there, too.

Shad knows it would be devastating for Jeremiah and the brotherhood to find out about the colored school and his participation in it, but the promise of learning to read is too good to pass up.  But when the brotherhood turns out to be more dangerous than he could have dreamed, Shad will be caught up in conflicting loyalties and choices that could have deadly consequences.

A.B. Westrick's story of postwar Richmond is fascinating and thought provoking.  This is a tale with few moral absolutes and plenty of danger and intrigue.  It's the story of Shad's transformation, and we see him in a way we rarely see characters in children' literature.  You won't like Shad all the time, but you will see him for what he is--a product of his upbringing and environment.  This makes the changes in his character all the more powerful.  I highly recommend it!

Friday, July 18, 2014

West of the Moon

Astri and her younger sister, Greta, live with their aunt, uncle, and cousins.  Their mother died when Greta was just a baby, and their father left for America.  He is saving money to bring his daughters over from Norway, but he's been gone for years.

When Svaalberd the goat man shows up looking to buy a girl work on his farm, Astri knows it won't be like the fairy tale.  In that story, when the bear shows up to take the girl, he leaves her family with riches, and takes her to a world with soft furnishings, full bellies, and kindness.  Svaalberd is a a goat man.  He smells like the goats he keeps, has a hump on his back, bad breath, and a foul temper.

As she suspected, Svaalberd is not a kind a master, and Astri takes the her chance when she sees it to try to escape.  Thus begins her quest to save her sister and get the two of them on a ship to America to find their father.

They will have to face many dangers and challenges along the way, but they will also find friends and uncover the secrets of the past.  Astri knows the traditional Norwegian folktales by heart, and she blends them into her own tale of survival.  But life is not a fairy tale, and as Astri realizes early in the story, no one is going to show up to save her by magical or mortal means.  If Astri wants to be saved, she will have to save herself.

This story was inspired by the diary of Margi Preus's great great grandmother.  Make sure to read the author's note at the end for more information about Preus's ancestor and Norwegian fairy tales.  It probably won't surprise you to learn that I loved this book.  The mix of fairy tales and reality is wonderful, and Astri's tale is dark and painful but also hopeful.  A great read!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Siege and Storm


Alina and Mal are on the run and in hiding, following the events at the end of Shadow and Bone.  They are hungry and dirty but happy to be free from the world of the Darkling.  Of course this time of romantic bliss won't last long.  The Darkling will stop at nothing to get Alina under his control.  When he captures Alina and Mal, there seems to be little hope for survival.

Thus begins the continued search for power, and Alina will gain a new ally in a long lost prince.  Nicholai is roguish and charming, and he wants to make changes in Ravka for the better including making Alina the leader of the Second Army.  They will both face opposition from the establishment, but the Darkling and his forces continue to build their strength, and an attack is imminent.

The nation is not the only thing at stake as Alina questions her sanity, and Mal feels useless and threatened by the princes who see Alina as a political asset and potential marriage partner.  Will their relationship survive Alina's new status and the stresses of preparing for war against the Darkling?

Leigh Bardugo's sequel is just as dark, lush, and romantic as the first book in the series, but about halfway through the story got a little bogged down, and Mal is just annoying for most of the story.  The conclusion really picks back up, so I have high hopes for book three!

Liv Forever

Wickham Hall is full of snotty rich kids as far as Liv is concerned, but the promise of her own art studio is enough to lure her from Las Vegas to the lush grounds and historic buildings of Virginia.  Liv grew up as a foster child, and she guards her heart closely, but deep down she is a true romantic with a real appreciation of art and poetry.

Soon after arriving she meets Malcolm.  They shouldn't have anything in common.  Malcolm is one of the elite, but the more time they spend together, the more Liv comes to know Malcolm as true romantic, just like she is.

Most of the other kids at Wickham Hall ignore her at best.  She is a scholarship kid after all.  Her only friend other than Malcolm is Gabe, another scholarship kid with a huge chip on his shoulder who believes he can see and hear ghosts at Wickham Hall.  Liv doesn't believe him--at least not until she becomes one of those ghosts herself.

Now she, Malcolm, and Gabe form an unlikely trio determined to uncover the truth behind Liv's death and the history of suicides at Wickham Hall before it's too late for all of them.

Romance, suspense, grisly murders, creep ghosts, secret societies.  This is a good Gothic lite read.  My only real issue with the story is Liv and Malcolm's instant and all consuming love for each other.  It's a little far-fetched, but if you can let that go, you'll get a good thrill from Amy Talkington's paranormal love story.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Vengekeep Prophecies

Jaxter Grimjinx is one in a long line of thieves and con artists.  His family has pulled off some of the greatest heists in the five provinces, and Jaxter is destined to join their ranks.  The only problem is Jaxter is the clumsiest kid in Vengekeep, maybe in all the five provinces.  It's hard to pick a lock when when you keep dropping the instruments.  His only real skill is the ability to use plants and herbs to nullify magical charms and wards.

Many years ago a pair of prophetic twins wove a series of tapestries, one for each year, that would warn the inhabitants of Vengekeep of troubles in the year to come.  Each year that tapestry is revealed at celebration.  This year, the tapestry reveals the worst series of catastrophes in history:  fire, flood, earthquakes, horrifying beasts.  But the tapestry also reveals the Grimjinx family will save the town.  Can this be true?  The most reviled family of thieves in town will save them all?

Jaxter comes up with a plan to save Vengekeep, but it will involve sneaking out of town to gather ingredients from all over the five provinces.  With the help of his new friend, Callie, Jaxter will have to overcome his own insecurities and match wits with a range of mages and con artists.  Can Jaxter Grimjinx, klutz and failed thief really become a hero?

Brian Farrey's book is a fast-paced fantasy adventure.  If you think the cover art looks familiar, you might recognize the style.  The cover art and the chapter heading illustrations were down by Brent Helquist, illustrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Jake Cullen has grown up in the shadow of his family's football legacy in small town Texas.  His older brother, Wyatt, was the star of the Granger High School team for four years and is the starting quarterback at UT as a freshman this year.  Their father Troy was a high school and college star who even played in the NFL for a while until one last concussion forced him to quit and come home to Granger to run the family cattle ranch.

Jake feels like no one really sees him for who he is, including his father.  Troy Cullen barely even notices his younger son with all the excitement and drama going on in Austin with Wyatt.

Jake has other battles to fight as a freshman on his high school team.  He's the third string QB after a senior who's been waiting in line behind Wyatt for his chance to play and a transfer student who isn't willing to be backup to a freshman.  An injury in the first game of the season turns things into a QB battle.  Jake has talent, but he doesn't believe in himself.  He's a good teammate who wants to win but not at the expense of the team rapport.

Will Jake be able to step into the limelight and get his father to finally notice him?  Read Mike Lupica's new book about football in small town Texas to find out.

The Warrior's Heart

Eric Greitens's memoir is a great read.  After weeks of putting it off thinking it would be too manly for me, I read the whole thing in one day!  What a great story about the importance of living a life of service.

The story starts when Greitens was in college and went on several humanitarian trips.  The first one led him to China where he taught English to college students and learned for the first time what it is like to live in a world with strong government control.  His students were hungry to learn anything about America, and when he learned that several of his students participated in the protests at Tienanmen Square, his view of the world really began to change.  These were normal people who were willing to risk everything to fight for their rights.

Greitens when on several other humanitarian trips before eventually deciding to join the military.  He knew that if he really wanted to make a difference in the world, he would need to step up and protect those who couldn't protect themselves.

The first half of the book describes Greitens humanitarian efforts that led him to the decision to join the military, and the second half mostly focuses on his SEAL training.  There he learned about strength, perseverance, and learning to protect his team.  Greitens class started with over 200 men, most owhom dropped out before graduation.

This is such a great read and an inspiring story.  I do want to mention that in the military section of book there is some "bleeped" profanity--the first and last letters with a dash in between.

The Maze Runner

OK, I confess I'm a bad librarian, and I just now read The Maze Runner for the first time, and I was motivated by the movie.  The important thing is that I finally did read it, and it was a great twisty ride.  If you haven't read this series by James Dashner, what are you waiting for?  You only have a few more months until the movie comes out!

When Thomas wakes up in dark elevator car, he can't remember anything but his name.  He has no idea where he came from or where he is, but he quickly learns he is in The Glade, a large open area surrounded by the heavy stone walls of a shifting maze.  The other gladers, all boys, have jobs to keep the society moving, and there is definitely a power structure.  Thomas feels inexplicably drawn to the maze.

He wants to be one of the runners who go out every day to explore and map the maze.  It's a difficult job with a time limit.  Every night the walls of the maze slide shut keeping the gladers out and the grievers in.  Grievers are large creatures with stingers and metallic arms.  Occasionally, they will get a glader outside the maze.  Their sting is incredibly painful and deadly if not treated immediately.

Soon after Thomas's arrival, something strange happens.  A girl arrives.  She comes with a message that everything is about to change, and then falls into a coma.

Some of the boys have been suspicious of Thomas from the start, and the arrival of the girl only makes things worse.  His urgency to get into the maze only increases.  He believes there is a way to escape even if the others insist they've tried everything.

As the action heats up, the world of the glade gets more dangerous, and Thomas's compulsion to escape the maze intensifies.  It's clear that they must escape, but no one knows how many gladers will die in the process.


Maisie has lived a pretty sheltered life.  Her mom home schools her, and her only real friend is another home schooler named Luther.  Her world is small.  It seems like a huge joke that her middle name is Danger.  She's a science wiz, and her life long dream is to be an astronaut.  As difficult as that dream would be normally, for Maisie it is practically impossible.  She was born without a right hand.

When she finds a contest to win a spot at a space camp run by one of the greatest minds in space exploration, she thinks her dreams have come true.  She has a great time at the camp, and she even starts a camp romance with the super-hot and super-rich Wilder.

But there is more going on here than Maisie realizes, and a close encounter with alien technology changes everything.  Soon Maisie Danger Brown may the earth's only hope against an invading force.

I can't really give you too many details about Shannon Hale's new book because I don't want to ruin any of the surprises.  This is a bit of an experiment for Hale whose other books are fantasy novels.  Hale is one of my favorite authors, and I was excited to read this one.  It takes a bit to really get going, but once it does, it's a great ride!