Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Regency, betrayal, superpowers: These Ruthless Deeds March 17, 2017

These Ruthless Deeds (These Vicious Masks #2), by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, (March 2017, Macmillan), $10.00, ISBN: 9781250127952

Recommended for readers 12+

The sequel to These Vicious Masks (2016) picks up shortly after the first novel leaves off. Evelyn is grieving the loss of her sister and finds herself working with a secret society that promises her they are devoted to protecting and working with Evelyn and her friends: friends with special abilities. She’s reunited with Mr. Kent, and even manages to locate Mr. Braddock. Her reputation is intact, even if she does have to be around the awful Mrs. Atherton, who is somehow involved with the society’s work. Still, Evelyn has a bad feeling about things. She’s going to have to take a deeper look into the society, and what she finds may not sit so well with her, after all.

I loved These Vicious Masks, and was excited for the sequel. While it did take a little bit of reading to get as into the second book as I did the first, it was worth it. If you haven’t picked up These Vicious Masks, I suggest you read it before diving into These Ruthless Deeds – you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of key characters and situations otherwise. Everything that made book one such a strong read is here: secret organizations, heroes and villains (and you may not always know who is who), intrigue, betrayal, witty banter, and a strong heroine.

Display and booktalk with Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen series (Dark Days Club and Dark Days Pact), and Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, for readers with a craving for more steampunk.

 

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage February 21, 2017

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

 

Two kids discover an uncommon society below modern-day London January 25, 2017

uncommonThe Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence, by Jennifer Bell, (Jan. 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553498431

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Sparrow and her big brother, Seb, are worried about their grandmother Sylvie when she has a fall. Their parents are away on business, and it’s just the two of them, so when they discover that Grandma Sylvie’s home has been ransacked, and a strange, toilet brush-wielding policeman tries to arrest them, they have the feeling that strange things are afoot. They manage to escape, via suitcase – no, not carrying one, IN one – to a secret, underground city called Lundinor, where seemingly everyday objects can hold fantastic powers. They’re uncommon, and so are the people with a gift for wielding them. Healing buttons, weaponized drumsticks and yo-yos, almost anything can be uncommon in Lundinor. But Ivy and Seb don’t have the luxury of time; an evil force wants something that Grandma Sylvie has, and they’re willing to do anything to get it back from them. In trying to figure out what they want, Ivy and Seb will meet new friends and discover things about Grandma Sylvie’s past that they never could have imagined.

The Uncommoners is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series by debut author Jennifer Bell. In parts, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, The Crooked Sixpence is a good beginning with worldbuilding and character creation, but was missing the spark that made this book – for me – truly unputdownable. Ms. Bell is at her best when she brings us her Lundinors: Ethel, the proprieter of a bell shop and Scratch, the bell; Violet, who trades in magical buttons, and Erebus and Cerebus, hellhounds who can be summoned with a specific bell and by yelling, “WALKIES!”, stole my heart and made me fall in love with Lundinor, much as I adore Gaiman’s London Below. The horrific selkies made for delightfully skin-crawling reading.

This is a promising start to a new fantasy series. Give this to your middle grade fans who enjoy some British wit (Roald Dahl, David Walliams) and fans who enjoy a little magic in their reality.

 

 

 

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper January 17, 2017

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.

 

There’s a Section 13 loose in the Lost Property Office! December 27, 2016

lost-propertyThe Lost Property Office, by James R. Hannibal, (Nov. 2016, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481467094

Recommended for ages 10-14

Thirteen year-old Jack Buckles is usually pretty great at finding things, but that doesn’t extend to his father, who’s disappeared in London. His mother goes out to search for him, leaving Jack in charge of his younger sister, Sadie. All they need to do is stay in the hotel room until their mom gets back, but Sadie manages to nudge Jack into going for breakfast – and then she swears she sees their dad, and takes off. Before Jack knows what’s going on, he’s learned that his father was a member of a secret society of detectives, and Jack is next in line for membership – maybe. He also learns that a villain calling himself the Clockmaker is holding his dad hostage in exchange for the Ember, an artifact linked to the Great Fire of London. Jack and Gwen, a young clerk at the Lost Property Office, dive into adventure that takes them through the history of London in order to save Jack’s father and her uncle, who worked with Jack’s dad.

The Lost Property Office stumbled a bit for me because I had trouble unraveling exactly what the Lost Property Office was. Was it the secret headquarters of the secret society? Was it a more amorphous concept that I wasn’t getting? The action kicks in quickly and the pace doesn’t let up, but a bit more exposition would have given me a more helpful grasp on the story; I found myself getting lost trying to relate all the subplots and elements. I wasn’t a big fan of Gwen, who I found more obnoxious than a foil/humorous frenemy.

This one’s an additional purchase for your puzzle and mystery/espionage fans. Pair this with Gitty Daneshvari’s League of Unexceptional Children, and James Ponti’s Florian Bates series. The Alex Rider series is always a good pick for adventure fans, too.

 

What makes a monster? Matthew J. Kirby explores in A Taste for Monsters December 14, 2016

taste-for-monstersA Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Sept. 2016, Scholastic), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545817844

Recommended for ages 12+

Evelyn is a young woman left to fend for herself on the streets of Victorian London’s infamous East End. Orphaned and disfigured by her work in a matchstick factory, she seemingly has few prospects; she applies to London Hospital as a nurse, and is instead assigned to be the maid to the hospital’s most famous patient: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. As she attends to Merrick, she finds a gentle, beautiful soul with whom she shares a love of Jane Austen, easy conversation, and sadly, pain.

And then the ghosts come. They visit nightly, terrifying Merrick and Evelyn, who stays with him to support him through the nightly terrors. Evelyn discovers that the ghosts are the restless spirits of women murdered by Jack the Ripper, whose work makes gruesome headlines. Evelyn takes it upon herself to help these spirits find peace so that they’ll leave Joseph alone, but are they really haunting him? And is Evelyn putting herself in the Ripper’s sights by getting involved?

This is my third Kirby book, and it’s safe to say I am hooked on his writing. His historical fiction places you right in the middle of the action, and his fantastic elements are so believable – especially in an age where spiritualists ran wild – that I had no problem believing that ghosts existed and sought out the kindness of a gentle man like Joseph Merrick. The character development is brilliant and complex; the characters had a depth to them that made we want to sit with them and share tea and conversation. There’s a thread of tension running through the book that will keep readers turning pages, whether it’s the tension between Evelyn and several key supporting characters in the novel, the tension of waiting for the spirits to arrive, and the gripping conclusion. Historical fiction fans that appreciate a touch of the supernatural will love this book; readers interested in the Jack the Ripper story or the Elephant Man will love this book. Conservative readers may shy away from some of the gory descriptions of the Ripper’s victims as read from the newspapers and sideshow attractions. There’s some excellent YA Ripper-related fiction available, including Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star; the graphic novel From Hell is another great booktalking and display choice. There is a children’s picture book about The Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore that would be a good display choice. Get this book on your shelves and into hands.

Matthew J. Kirby is an Edgar Award-winning novelist.

 

 

Ivy Pocket’s back in Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket July 24, 2016

ivy pocketSomebody Stop Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Krisp, (May 2016, Greenwillow Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062364371

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Pocket, the resourceful, sarcastic 12 year-old from Anyone But Ivy Pocket, is back for her second adventure. This time, she’s the adopted daughter of two economical coffin makers, and she’s still searching for the evil Miss Always, who’s still on the loose. She’s got the Clock Diamond, a gem with mysterious powers, and she’s trying to figure out how to use it to bring her dear friend Rebecca back from… wherever it is Rebecca’s gone. Plus, she’s found herself in the middle of a mystery, as an heiress wants Ivy to investigate her brother’s disappearance, which seems to be tied into her new family. Somehow. Ivy’s going to happily blunder into and out of the craziest circumstances… after all, she has all the instincts of a secret agent, a sedated cow, a writer of penny dreadfuls…

This was my first Ivy Pocket adventure, and while readers familiar with the first book will be more savvy when it comes to characters and previous events, new readers can enter the story here, with exposition providing important details throughout the book. Ivy is insanely funny, self-assured to the point of hilarity, and delightfully sarcastic to everyone around her. The Victorian London setting adds to the playfully macabre atmosphere, and Barbara Cantini’s black and white art throughout the book adds even more fun to the story.

This is the second in an Ivy Pocket trilogy. The publisher’s Ivy Pocket website sports a book trailer, interview with none other than Ivy Pocket herself, and web samplers of both Anyone But Ivy Pocket and Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket. Give these to your Lemony Snicket fans!