Saturday, September 23, 2023

Summer Reading 2023 Bring Me Your Midnight

I am impressed with how Rachel Griffin can write several books that all feature young women who are witches, yet make each of them different. One creates a spell that is carried off by an owl and she has to retrieve it before it is too late. Another has magic that can actually affect the Earth's climate. And then we have Bring Me Your Midnight with its coven of witches who have exiled themselves to an island off the coast and maintain a fragile peace with those who live on the mainland. Tana's engagement to the son of the most powerful family of mainlanders should cement the truce and keep everyone safe, but there will be a price. Can she give up ties to another who has made her feel alive and powerful for the sake of the coven? Is the coven hiding dangerous secrets even from its own members? Whom should she trust with her heart and her magic?

The descriptions of how working with magic makes Tana feel, as well as the pull between her and the character of Wolfe make it easy to believe that her choice is a difficult one. Especially with her intended husband so sure that it is a marriage of convenience and benefit with no need to worry about hearts and messy emotions. The effects of the Surge of magic from the coven on the waters surrounding their island seem to parallel the effects of human activity on the climate. Will any of the leaders make the right choices to prevent further damage, or continue with the status quo? At times it was hard to turn the page and discover the answers along with Tana.

For those who enjoy romance, mystery, and magic all wrapped up in a complicated bundle of conflicted loyalties and desires - this is your next read.

Summer Reading 2023 The Last Devil to Die: A Thursday Murder Club Mystery


The fourth installment in the Thursday Murder Club mystery series once again has our stalwart cast of characters facing off against bad guys of all sorts, police officers from out of town trying to muscle their friends out of an investigation, and the steady march of time itself. Joyce has found a new resident of Coopers Chase to nurture. She doesn't wish to date him, but is concerned about a rapidly developing online relationship with a woman he has never met. Elizabeth is preoccupied with the increasing severity of Stephen's dementia. Ibrahim continues to visit drug dealer Connie in prison as her therapist. And Ron is on the outs with his girlfriend. 

Everything seems pretty much status quo, one might think. And then they hear that a friend of Stephen's has been killed and his business ransacked. The gang goes into action against an international smuggling ring, shady characters in the antiquities scene, officers from the National Crime Agency taking over the case from Chris and Donna, and all the usual obstacles they always work their way around. Between villains close to home and some flying in from overseas, the area becomes a dangerous place to tackle a mystery.

Four friends from a retirement community are solving something that the police seem stumped by. It seems incredible when you stop to think about it - but you never do actually stop to think. The characters with all their quirks and foibles and ties of affection seem so real that you willingly suspend disbelief and get pulled along with them for the ride. Joyce says that "Life continues, whatever you do. It's a bulldozer like that." Sometimes the murder club seems that way too, they keep going no matter what personal heartache or danger comes their way. Here's hoping that they will continue to do so, for the sake of our continued reading pleasure.

Summer Reading 2023 The Evers: Forever Twelve


Okay, I admit that it might sound like someone took the situation of the vampires in the Twilight saga and mixed it with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. What would you do if you looked twelve years old forever? How would you hide it from the world? Answer: move a lot and try to find safe havens that you can return to over time. But in the increasingly digital world of security cameras, facial recognition software, and folks from Child Protective Services on the lookout for unaccompanied minors - it gets harder every year to find such a place.  A boarding school makes sense because you can live there, get your meals there, and have a peer group to blend into as camouflage. If you can finesse your way through not having any parents around on move-in day and set up some fake accounts for the school to contact your guardians long distance, you just might succeed.

Unfortunately for this group,  a new student at their chosen home of West Archer Academy looks remarkably like a missing member of their family. She isn't the same person. She can't be a descendant because they don't age. So how is she such a match? Intrigue swirls as the group tries to find a connection or at least a reason for the resemblance, while the object of their interest is just trying to keep her head down and follow her planned path to reaching a Supreme Court appointment as quickly as possible. It doesn't help that another classmate from her former school seems to be developing odd powers and is determined to mix himself up in the situation. 

I met author Stacy McAnulty at the Children's Festival of Reading in Knoxville, Tennessee this summer. She was delightful to talk to and her session on middle grade fiction was very enlightening, but she was careful not to let any spoilers slip. I couldn't wait to get a copy of the book and find out the answers for myself. Your middle grade readers who enjoy stories based in a school setting and those that involve mysteries or mysterious powers should have a wonderful time with this book.

Summer Reading 2023 Murder in the Book Lover's Loft

Jane Steward and Edwin Alcott are off for some time alone, away from the cares of Storyton Hall and the Daily Bread Cafe. Leaving Jane's sons and their poodles (Merry and Pippin) in the care of Jane's aunt and uncle and all the faithful staff at the inn, the couple visits Oyster Bay. As Ellery Adams fans know, the bay is home to Olivia Limoges (from the Books by the Bay mystery series), who had visited Storyton and then invited Jane and Edwin to visit her when they had the chance. Sadly, their rest and relaxation is not meant to be. Edwin steps on a stingray and Jane discovers a dead body with a Storyton keychain nearby. Is this death linked to the inn somehow?

No matter where Jane and Edwin go they are always involved in some sort of mystery. And when they return home, the mystery follows along as they try to find out how that keychain fits in with everything they have learned. All the suspects in the murder were people whose life stories the victim had made his career out of fictionalizing and making a profit from. Could Jane have been his next target for a new book deal? Every family has secrets - the Stewards more than most.

It was entertaining to see Jane and Edwin without the buffer (or interruptions) of everyone at the inn for a short while. And with the tie between the characters from Storyton and Oyster Bay (see Murder in the Cookbook Nook) reinforced by this second murder investigation, fans may hope to see even more crossover between the characters from the two series. A satisfying murder mystery with plenty of book references. As Mrs. Pratt says, "Books can't solve all our problems, but they can always help us escape them for a little while." I hope readers find this an engaging escape from their own concerns. After reading the description of the book lover's loft that the couple stays in for their getaway, I want to find a similar spot to vacation.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Summer Reading 2023 The Wild Journey of Juniper Berry

Imagine that you have lived your whole life off grid in the woods with your parents, older sister, and younger brother. Then you suddenly have to stay with your uncle and cousins in an apartment in the city, attend public school, and deal with bullies and social pressures that you don't even understand. That is where readers find Juniper Berry. An emergency has her family returning to the town her parents left behind and she has no idea how things function at school or even in the apartment. Her parents have always said that "society" puts too  much pressure on everyone and it is impossible to be happy there. Is that really true?

As Juniper explores middle school, fashion, the concept of money, the mysteries of microwaves and cell phones, we get the chance to see the world through her eyes. I especially enjoyed her comparisons of students in her school to creatures in the forest. Her explanation that you can choose to be helpful (like a bee working for the good of the hive), or you can be beautiful but destructive and mean (like a mink killing just for sport), was especially apt for the girl she was describing.

This is a great story for those who enjoy realistic fiction, looking at everyday events from the viewpoint of an outsider, and strong female characters who refuse to give in to "society's pressure" and remain true to themselves.

Summer Reading 2023 The Secret Sisters

Master storyteller Avi returns to his Roaring Twenties setting of The Secret School to continue the story of Ida Bidson.  As she moves from her family's farm to the town of Steamboat Springs to attend high school, Ida is excited and nervous. She has never attended a school other than the one-room schoolhouse she and the other kids out in the county shared. Now she is boarding with a school system employee and taking classes like Latin. Ida also learns many lessons that are not academic, things like - some people expect rural kids to fail, some people don't like progress, and some judge you by the friends you keep or by outmoded social standards.

Ida makes a group of friends who form a club and name themselves the Secret Sisters. I enjoyed the way each girl has her own personality and backstory, but they could all support each other. A flapper, a miner's daughter, a girl from a sheep ranch...they all have strengths and can help each other succeed. They can also make each other brave enough to stand up for what is right.

Readers who are unfamiliar with the era may appreciate the glossary of flapper terms, as well as the author's note about the 1920s. A touch I especially liked was the way musical lyrics from songs of the day were worked into the story. Just published August 29 - don't let your middle grade readers miss it!

Summer Reading 2023 - new from minedition

 Astra Publishing House's imprint, mineditionUS, has some delightful new board books coming out this fall. All of them are interactive in some way, have colorful illustrations to catch the eyes of very young readers, and sturdy pages for little hands.

Hello, Tiny Bear! is the first in a new series featuring the cuddly and curious little bear cub from Japanese creator Yosuke Yonezu. As you can see, he loves to climb things. The problem is that he doesn't always choose the best place to do so. Readers will have fun guessing before they turn the page to see what Tiny Bear will find. He encounters a flamingo, an elephant, even a hungry snake! A final lift-the-flap reveals that climbing safely into mama's lap is the best thing of all. (pub. date August 29, 2023)

Where Do You Sleep? by Italian author Agnese Baruzzi features tabs to pull and reveal the best place for each baby animal to go to sleep. Even the front cover has a winking owl that appears in the hollow of the tree. Other animals include a bat in a cave, a hedgehog under a pile of leaves, and finally a baby asleep in a crib. There is a fun mix of animals and the tabs vary in location from one page to another to keep things fresh. (pub. date November 7, 2023)

The Rabbit Magician by French author Adeline Ruel uses lift-the-flap action to reveal the contents of a magician's top hat. What could be in there? A rabbit? A scarf? Some confetti? Each item is shown under the flap, then it takes up a position on the left-hand page and awaits the next reveal. Those left-hand pages become more and more crowded with flowers, rings, doves, a magic wand...until the final reveal of all. The last page encourages readers to clap now that the show is over. They will probably do so and then beg to read it again. (pub. date December 5, 2023)

If you have any very young readers in your life, or need books for an upcoming baby shower or holiday gift for tiny tots - these would be perfect.