Posted in Uncategorized

White Rabbit: A YA Whodunit

White Rabbit, by Caleb Roehrig, (Apr. 2018, Feiwel & Friends), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250085658

Recommended for readers 13+

Rufus Holt started out having a great evening at his best friend’s birthday party, but things have gone downhill pretty quickly. His ex-boyfriend, Sebastian – who ghosted him after Rufus told him he loved him – showed up at the party, looking for him, and his younger half-sister, April, called him and begged for his help. When Rufus and Sebastian head over to Fox Whitney’s place, where his sister was partying with the other rich, in-crowd teens, they find April holding a bloody knife, and Fox, laying dead in a pool of blood. Thus starts White Rabbit, a first-person narrated whodunit.

Rufus is the bastard son of a wealthy lawyer who refuses to acknowledge him. Unfortunately for Rufus, his half-siblings notice him just fine. He’s the school outcast, bullied and harassed by his borderline sociopath half-brother and his friends, and their rich kid crowd. When he came out, the abuse ratcheted up several notches, but Rufus refuses to break. He starts seeing Sebastian – one of the rich kid in-crowd – on the down-low, but Sebastian broke things off in a panic, afraid of how his parents would react. But Sebastian is back, and wants to try to patch things up with Rufus, so he rides along  as Rufus spends the night frantically trying to clear April’s name so he can get a payoff from her mother. The killer is still lurking, and systematically killing off anyone who can tie him – or her – to the night’s events, and Rufus is asking way too many questions.

White Rabbit is similar to Natasha Preston’s The Cabin: a group of awful teens with too much money get into trouble and the outcast has to save the day. The pace is fast, and the subplot surrounding Rufus and Sebastian’s relationship will pull readers in and keep them turning pages. Rufus can be a frustrating hero at points; his motivation to help April before the money came into play still makes me scratch my head, but Sebastian emerges as the deeper, more interesting character to follow here. Give this book to your thriller fans.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Nightvale for tweens: Welcome to Oddity

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, (Nov. 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250123282

Recommended for readers 10-13

A desert town where zombie rabbits roam freely, and a vague, yet menacing, government agency holds sway over the populace… Welcome to Oddity (said in Cecil’s Welcome to Nightvale voice). Okay, here’s the scoop: Ada is an 11 year-old rebel who loves to push the boundaries in her New Mexico hometown, Oddity. She’s flanked by her best friend, Raymond, and the new kid in town, Cayden; Cayden, who comes from Chicago and just wants to go back to normalcy, which Ada finds incredibly boring. After all, does Chicago come with a Blurmonster? Or zombie rabbits who fiend on marshmallows and play Punkball games with the aliens hanging around town? But see, Ada’s got some issues. Pearl, her twin sister, won the town’s annual Sweepstakes last year, and hasn’t been heard from since. Her mother’s all but withdrawn from life and her father buries himself in work, which leaves her aunt – who puts up with no foolishness – in charge. Ada and her friends are Nopesers (think Snopes, but with more danger) and go on the sneak to solve Oddity’s various mysteries, but when one sneak goes haywire, Ada finds something off about the Sweepstakes… one thing leads to another, and just like that, Ada’s leading a resistance and demanding to find out the truth about Pearl and about Oddity.

I LOVED this book. I love the Welcome to Nightvale podcast, and this book could be an episode on its own. Ada is a brilliant role model: smart, spunky, and willing to stand up for what’s right. She’s a child of color who takes pride in her braids, leading to a giggle-worthy moment when she crosses her aunt. Raymond is a Latinx character with two moms, one of whom he refers to as “jefa” – The Boss. I love the world Sarah Cannon’s created with Oddity: even seemingly peripheral characters leap off the page, coming to life as sentient mannequins and misunderstood monsters. There are countless great moments in this book, giving you endless amounts of talking points for a discussion (or writing exercises, for the English teachers in my life).

Do yourself a favor and pick up Oddity, and (for grownups and teens) check out the Welcome to Nightvale podcast. You know Tamika Flynn and Ada would be best friends.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Regency romance and mystery: Duels & Deception

Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey, (Apr. 2017, Macmillan/Swoon Reads), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250119094

Recommended for readers 12+

It’s 1817, and Lydia Whitfield is an English society heiress with her future planned out for her – even her marriage partner is planned for her, thanks to her departed father. She will run the family estate until her marriage, when Lord Aldershot, her intended, will take over the day to day work. Until then, her drunkard uncle and his unbearable wife and daughters are living at Roseberry Hall with Lydia and her mother. She wants to be free of her meddling uncle, so she contacts Mr. Robert Newton, a law clerk, to begin drawing up marriage contracts, and everything seems to be progressing nicely. Until Lydia is kidnapped!

Lydia is taken as she’s about to meet with Mr. Newton regarding the contracts, and he ends up a victim of circumstance; first kidnapped with her, then rudely thrown out of the coach. But the kidnappers aren’t very thorough, and make it way too easy for Lydia to escape (with Robert’s help). Lydia starts wondering if the kidnapping had far deeper motives than a ransom, and Mr. Newton is too happy to help her investigate. After all, it keeps him close to Lydia, who he finds himself falling for… and she feels the same about him. Can the two get to the bottom of the plot and work through their feelings for one another while maintaining a sense of propriety?

Duels & Deception is a fun mix of proper Regency romance and a complex whodunit. The kidnapping comes with an interesting twist that stands out, and the main characters engage in witty, flirty banter that is sweet and funny. I did struggle with the pace of the novel at times, but overall, romance and historical fiction fans will enjoy this one. A glossary and discussion questions round out the book.

Duels & Deception was named one of Entertainment Weekly‘s 35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017 and received a starred review from Voya magazine. Add Cindy Anstey’s previous historical romance, Love, Lies & Spies to your booktalking list, and spice it up a little with some superpowers, courtesy of Tarun Shanker’s These Vicious Masks series.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Regency, betrayal, superpowers: These Ruthless Deeds

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.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A little girl on a mission: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

gerties-leapGertie’s Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley/Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, (Oct. 2016, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374302610

Recommended for ages 8-12

Gertie Reece Foy is a fifth grader on a mission. She lives in Alabama with her dad, who works on an oil rig, and her great-aunt, who loves her to pieces. But Gertie’s on a mission to be the GREATEST fifth grader: she’s got quite a few plans. See, she wants to go up to her absentee mother – who lives in the same town – and let her know that she didn’t need her after all. Only one thing is standing in Gertie’s way, and that’s the new girl, Mary Sue Spivey. Mary Sue has a Hollywood director daddy and seems to have the world on a string, and she and Gertie do not hit it off at all.

This is a quick read that middle graders will enjoy. Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki’s (This One Summer) illustrations really bring a gentle life to the characters, particularly the headstrong Gertie, who takes a little bit to love, no lie. Like most middle grade protagonists, she can get a bit caught up in herself, especially considering her circumstances. Her mom abandoned her family when Gertie was just a baby, yet lives in the same town. Gertie passes her mother’s house on the bus route to school every day, and by some crazy happenstance, she and Aunt Rae only bumped into her mother once while grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. I was confused as to why someone would abandon her husband and child, yet stay in the same neighborhood to continue on with her life.

Gertie becomes much more sympathetic when Mary Sue’s mean girl act kicks into high gear. Mary Sue is a truly awful mean girl. The author tried to soften her and make her  more human at the end, but I wasn’t having it, nor was I having what appeared, to me, her mother sanctioning Mary Sue and her new mean girl clique’s behavior in targeting Gertie via a “Clean Earth Club” (Gertie’s dad works on an oil rig, and Mary Sue’s mom is an environmental lobbyist.) There’s some good diversity in the book, as you’ll see in the illustrations and the descriptions of some characters.

Entertainment Weekly is calling Gertie the “next Ramona Quimby”, and that’s a great starting point for display and booktalk/readalikes. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a good middle grade addition to collections where realistic fiction is popular. A story thread about oil rigs and the environment provides some good discussion topics.

There’s a Gertie webpage that offers some of Gertie’s Tips for Greatness, and illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s webpage has more artwork to enjoy.


Some pages from Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, courtesy of Macmillan:


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Sacred Geometry: Rebel Genius

rebel-geniusRebel Genius (Geniuses #1), by Michael Dante DiMartino, (Oct. 2016, Roaring Brook Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723368

Recommended for ages 10+

When the co-creator of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra writes a new middle grade fantasy series, you read that book ASAP.

In an Italian Renaissance-inspired fantasy world called Zizzolan, we meet 12 year-old Giacomo, a young artist who’s living on the streets after his parents’ death. He lives in a society where Geniuses – animal muses that inspire humans to creativity – are outlawed. When Geniuses are taken from their humans, the humans become empty; dead inside – Lost Souls. This was Giacomo’s parents’ fate. When a Genius discovers Giacomo, he knows he’s in big trouble. He tries to get the bird companion to leave him alone, but the Genius isn’t having it. Just when Giacomo’s luck is about to run out, he’s rescued by a group of teens and tweens that bring him back to the studio where they are students of Pietro Vasari, who trains the kids and their Geniuses in sacred geometry, which will allow them to channel their creative powers. Before Giacomo is able to train for long, though, Vasari tells the group that a renegade artist named Ugolino is on the search for the Sacred Tools that will give him the power to destroy the world and anyone in his way; they need to find him and stop him. Ugolino won’t be so easy to bring down, though – he’s accompanied by his own monstrous work of art: Zanobius, a golem-like sculpture brought to life to carry out Ugolino’s bidding. Giacomo and his new friends set out on a quest that may cost them their lives and their Geniuses – can they save the world?

This is a deep book. DiMartino dives into some massive ideas here, particularly, Sacred Geometry: universal patterns used in the designs of everything in our reality. Think of a spiral: there are spiral galaxies; there are spirals in shells; a chameleon’s tail curls into a spiral, and when you look at it from above, a hurricane appears as a spiral. That’s sacred geometry: math, art, proportion, it all comes together in music and nature. That DiMartino chose such a weighty subject shouldn’t be a surprise; both Avatar and Korra; two hugely popular animated series, delved deeply into Buddhism, religious and cultural conflict, immigration, and identity. DiMartino isn’t afraid to talk to kids about weighty matters; he’s able to communicate layered, complex concepts to his audience. That said, while this is a book aimed at an 8-12 audience, some readers on the younger end of the range may struggle. I’d definitely booktalk this to my 5th and 6th graders, and I’d push this on my teens, too; this is a good crossover to YA. Black and white illustrations add interest and depth to the book, and help illustrate some more abstract concepts.

This is literary fantasy, and it’s beautifully written fantasy. If you’ve got fantasy readers, I think this would be a great book to introduce them to, and it would spark some great discussion. Wnat to read an excerpt? (You know you want to read an excerpt.) Head over to the Rebel Genius Tumblr and download one.


Posted in Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

These Vicious Masks – a Regency X-Men!

viciousThese Vicious Masks, by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (Feb. 2016, Macmillan), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250073891

Recommended for ages 13+

Evelyn is so tired of dealing with society’s expectations. She isn’t interested in the balls her mother insists they attend, she isn’t interested in marriage – she’d rather help her sister, Rose, who has the scandalous dream of becoming a doctor! The two have earned the pearl-clutching reputation for healing people at their country estate, and that just won’t do in London society. The sisters meet an odd gentleman named Sebastian Braddock at one gala, and don’t know what to make of him. Is he eccentric, or just crazy? All bets are off the next morning, when Evelyn wakes up to discover Rose is gone. No matter what her so-called note said, she knows that Mr. Braddock is somehow mixed up in this. She heads off to London to find her sister and bring her home.

Once she arrives in London, though, Evelyn finds out that she, Rose, Mr. Braddock, and even Mr. Kent, the dashing gentleman that’s had eyes for her – are a very special group of people, with special abilities that attract the attention of a scientist who experiments on these gifted individuals. Rose’s time is running out, and Evelyn finds herself forced to trust Mr. Braddock to help her get her sister back home safely.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It’s Heroes, circa 1820; X-Men meets Jane Austen, as I’ve read elsewhere. We’ve got a nefarious underground organization pulling strings, young men and women with incredible abilities that they may not even be aware they have, dashing men and daring young women rushing headlong into danger to save one of their own. I love the witty dialogue here – I chuckled out loud often while reading. Evelyn is a brilliant protagonist, sarcastic and vulnerable, smart and strong. Her banter with Mr. Kent is delicious, and her frustration at her own attraction to Sebastian Braddock is hilarious.

It’s not all laughs, with a very real danger in the form of a doctor hell bent on discovering the source of these abilities. Evelyn is terrified at the prospect of losing her sister, and furious at the time it’s taking to locate her. She finds herself in some of the seediest spots in London and up against people, the likes of whom she’s never encountered before. You’ll laugh, but you’ll white knuckle the covers as you read this book, trust me. The ending of the book leads me to think/hope/wish that there’s another book coming, and while I normally sigh and say, “Everything is a trilogy/quadrilogy/series these days,” here, I’ll say, “Yes, please, more.”

Add this one to your YA collections where you have fantasy fans. No steampunk here, just good storytelling and superpowers, no tights, no capes (unless we’re talking opera cloaks, that’s a different story).