Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

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The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel – Deborah Hopkinson

Action, death, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Life for Eel is difficult as he tries to survive the streets of London as an orphan, doing odd jobs and being a “mudlark” who searches along the River Themes for trinkets to sell.  With a cruel man after him, no parents to protect him, and a little brother he pays lodging for, life is worse than for most 13 year olds.  And then an outbreak of cholera (“the blue death”) occurs the streets of his friends and community.

Together with the good doctor, Eel uses his wits and familiarity with the locals to try to help the doctor learn more of the disease and how it spreads.  Happy to have a safe place – even though it’s a shed – and two meals a day, Eel feels important in trying to protect his neighbors as he learns the ways of medicine and science.  After losing a few friends he is even more focused with Doctor Snow.  Can Eel get past his station as a mudlark and help the good doctor?  Will Henry remain safe?

I love a good historical fiction, and this doesn’t disappoint.  There is action until the end and things get wrapped up quite nicely as many juvenile books do.  The reader is even lucky enough to have author’s notes at the end and learn more about the mid 1800’s, this real epidemic, and some of the real people – like Doctor Snow.

P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.


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Inherit Midnight -Kate Kae Myers

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Young Readers

Depending on your take – Avery VanDemere either has a privileged life or an unfortunate one.  Being raised by her incredibly wealthy grandmother in her mansion sounds great, but her alcoholic father has been gone for years, her mother is dead, and her extended family resents her presence.  Seeking a little freedom from the confines of mansion walls, Avery begins sneaking out and is soon shipped off to a boarding school, which is more of a prison.

Avery is picked up by the son of her Grandmother’s lawyer with no explanation as to why and taken back to the law firm where all of her extended family awaits.  Avery is not eager to see them and they make no attempt to hide their disdain for her.  After all, they view Avery as the illegitimate daughter of the drunken brother and nanny.  What they all soon learn is that they will begin an adventure of traveling focused on inheritance and legacy.  Their matriarch is not pleased with the selfishness, laziness, unruly behavior of her descendants and now they must compete against one another in order to receive their inheritance.  Among the players are two power hungry uncles, a bully of a cousin, a half brother who she has never had a relationship with, and two self-important female cousins – and Avery.  Her only ally is Riley, the son of the lawyer who picked her up.

As the competitors travel the world, they must remember family stories and histories Grandmother VanDemere has shared over Christmas dinners and brunches.  This is both a test of family heritage and wit, but also a test of strength and resourcefulness.  Besides this new challenge which can keep Avery from returning to a violet boarding school, Avery has also learned that her mother did not die – but was bought off and sent back to Croatia.  With each new challenge she successfully completes, she is rewarded with letters her mother has sent each year on her birthday.  Finding  more about her mother is more important to Avery than and amount of inheritance.  Determined to win the challenge only to escape this  hateful, selfish family and find her mother, Avery plays the game.

Add to the plot – a romance, violence, a secret message, and world travel and it’s worth sharing.  The challenges take the family through such important events in their family’s history as the Civil War, mining for diamonds, and the American Revolution.  The mix of a current, adventurous challenge and a mysterious, personal past is a plot so detailed with secrets and depth, it makes for an entertaining and surprising plot.

The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.


Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

The Distance Between Lost and Found – Kathryn Holmes

Action, religious, Young Readers

If ever there was a metaphor, this title is the icing on the cake (get it?)

In all seriousness, Hallie (Hallelujah) is dealing with a deep secret and some serious isolation and bullying.  On a youth group trip, the story begins reliving the last 6 months of Hallie’s life as well as the current predicament of trying to both be invisible and also how to stand her ground towards the cause of her troubles – Luke.  She explains early on to a newcomer Rachel, that Luke didn’t raper her, but while you read you wonder what could have done to her besides that which led to rumors resulting in her friends abandoning her, her parents distrusting her, and her inner anxiety and self of irrelevancy that removed her voice, both figuratively and literally (the singing voice, that is).

On the day of a 12 mile hike with her youth group, Hallie finds herself with Rachel, both willing to lose the group and be reprimanded with being sent home.  Only they, and a once-friend, now foe Jonah, end up isolated from the group and lost in the woods ….. for days.  As the rain pours down and their energy bars soggy, the threesome realize their own damaging pasts and guilt, but know for the sake of survival they must focus as a team.  Hallie and Jonah face their past when his friendship abandoned her and together the three of them try to survive the nights and days lost in the woods.

I liked the premise, but it got a  little religious for me and my YA typical reading.  I think it’s fair to believe teenagers have these questions of when God is present, when he is not, how bad things happen, etc.  But it was a bit overkill for me.  I believe the character growth, forgiveness, and facing fear (as well as beauty in nature – yes, even on their 5th day lost, really…..) could have been covered with a little less focus on spirituality, but some may dig it.  I imagine preteens or parents of who want certain behavior from children and want them to be devout would enjoy the book.  I really liked the three friends coming together and finally Hallie stands up for herself once rescued.  But I feel the adventure and survivalist plot was overshadowed by the religious conversations.  Still, teenagers could all learn some to focus on treating people kindly and also on the skill of forgiveness so maybe I’m reading too much into this plot [get it?  another pun …. “reading into it” and it’s a novel, ha].

 

 

Scarlett Undercover – Jennifer Lathiam

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, Female Leads, Young Readers

Scarlett is a Muslim-American, private detective.  Not much past teenage years, she seems to have either insanely good luck or an unprecedented ability of street smarts, an unrealistic ability in observational tendencies (more than the local police), and is very smart and able to defend herself.  In summary – this is a bit far fetched (and that’s before we get to the mystery of a suicide with secrets, relics which hold special power, and the murder of her own father.)

I understand and appreciate the diversity Lathiam offers with a Muslim narrator and her community, but it’s not enough for this book to have my vote for the Arkansas Teen Book Award, which is why I read it.  I enjoyed some of the mystery when we first learned a suicide isn’t all it appears to be and the scrappy little siblings of a pair of friends who have more depth to them then the detective, even though she is older and is the main character.  It’s a light mystery, but mostly far fetched, even if the effort is to bring about minorities in a young adult novel, the plot isn’t enough.  Well done on diversity and a little creativity, but it doesn’t totally deliver.  Or maybe it does for the pre-teen crowd, I was just expecting more.

Although, before you hand it to the preteen crowd, there are deaths within this story besides the suicide or Scarlett’s dad.  Also, there is a strong focus on the Muslim community and Arabic appears throughout – in greetings and mention of prayers – but for such a focus on a devout Muslim family, and a sister named Reem who wears a hijab, I don’t find the name Scarlett fitting with the family.

The Cipher – John C. Ford

Action, Award Nominee, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Any fan of action plots, computer geeks and techy secrets, and a discovery that would both break into any computer account or basic internet connections will find this fast paced plot entertaining – oh, there’s also a mysterious death and a beautiful girl.

Smiles is the misfit son of a successful, computer systems genius millionaire. On a whim to accompany his neighbor genius to a math conference (because it’s in Vegas and he’s a gambler), Smiles and Ben not only cause a scene at the conference, but Ben has uncovered a cipher that can break into any bank account, computer account, online anything.  And then Smiles has the plan to sell it and make his own millions, away from his father’s company.  So they try to deal with the government, which you know isn’t going to go smoothly.

The other part of the plot is Smile’s ex-girlfriend Melanie who is uncovering a mystery of her own dealing with the company Smile’s dad created and her dad’s employer.  There’s a suicide decades ago that seems to have raised questions recently.  Also,  a secret letter Smiles was to receive when he turned 18 was destroyed by his father and Melanie is piecing together clues of what that suicide has to do with her father and Smile’s dad.

Vegas, disappearances, and a code to break the internet accounts and government records…. it will certainly appeal to fans of mysteries, those who believe in conspiracy theories, and any misfit trying to find his identity.  What makes it special is the twist.  It all comes full circle and besides a lovely plot wrap up, the reader will see how good guys can sometimes be bad and how bad guys can sometimes be good people.  A mind blowing realization that even a cipher couldn’t uncover.

Forbidden – Eve Bunting

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Read-a-Likes, Young Readers

It is 1807 in Edinburgh, Scotland and Josie, a recent orphan is carted off to an unknown uncle and aunt to live for the next two years until she becomes of age.  Immediately Josie sees how her life is to change.  Not just in wealth and love, but also in expected behavior and told to be a participant of a continuing crime.

Soon Josie learns the truth of her uncle’s “fishing” and a town secret is uncovered.  The story is a short one with a little mystery involved, but the length does not leave any element or secret uncovered.  It focuses more on Josie who grows from a formal, privileged girl of wealth into one who is strong, determined, and focused on doing the right thing.  In one moment she finds her inner will – both confident against her rough aunt or uncle but also against their fierce dog, mistakenly named Lamb.   She is offered a little kindness from Eli, the boy her uncle and the town warn her against, and his grandmother who know the truth of the town’s pillaging.

This is a safe little mystery for young readers.  With only a hint of romance, but a larger focus on finding the courage to do what is right even if it means you must do it alone.  Not as Dark as Seraphina and the Black Cloak, but a similar mystery and young girl who lives to do what is right in the world.

 

A School for Unusual Girls – Kathleen Baldwin

Female Leads, period pieces, Safe Bets, Series, Young Readers

It’s 1814 and Georgiana Fitzwilliam is not the submissive, dainty, quiet daughter her high society parents expect in a daughter.  In fact, she’s a scientist (!)  and after setting the family’s barn and fields on fire (oops!) from a failed science experiment, she is sent to Miss. Stranje – a woman known for breaking wild girls of their strong spirit and reforming them into high society’s expectations of a well behaved female…… or so the Stranje House is believed to do.

As any smart spy knows, one must have a good cover – and that’s what the Stranje House is: a cover for girls with skills to be honed in an effort to help Britain avoid another war.  Emma Stranje is not the harsh Headmistress who reforms wild girls, as parents believe, but she is a clever, atypical female herself who will train these young females and place them in dangerous situations with some of England’s most secretive of spies. A truly bold woman using the innate skills of young ladies to help her country.  A patriot in a corset!

A period piece, not historical fiction but a story that takes elements of history (not as accurate as a Dateline episode, but far better than a Lifetime movie), but a setting that readers will enjoy dreaming about even once the book is finished. Another tale of young females dreaming of living outside of their sexist, limited options.

Gerogie and the other girls of Stranje House all have skills that will help the British army and keep the French Napoleon sympathizers from gaining control of France.  Throw in a few spy scenarios, a ball to attend, and secrets from a few sinister characters, as well as a gallant hero and that’s the story.  But it isn’t as romance-novel as it sounds since, after all, Georgie and the other ladies from Stranje House are some of the most clever, ranging from realistically sloppy to the most naturally beautiful, heroes of this adventure.   It ends with a new foe and challenge even the Strange House ladies do not know how to conquor, but (sweetly) concludes with Georgie finally finding a home among the other “unusual” girls.


A Stranje House series continues with Exile for Dreamers

exile