Customer Review: Doll Bones

9781416963981Doll Bones

Holly Black

Margaret K. McElderry Books


Available now

When I first saw Doll Bones, I wasn’t sure if I would like it. After all, it looked like the cover to a horror story! But once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down!

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends a long time, and almost as long they’ve been playing an ongoing game with dolls. In the game they travel through oceans, strange lands, and past rich towns; and all the lands they travel through belong to a bone china doll locked in a cabinet who curses anyone who displeases her. But when Zach’s dad throws away his dolls, Zach quits the game and Poppy and Alice don’t know why! The three friends seem to be split apart . . . until Poppy says she had a dream about the bone china doll. She claims they need to bury her. So Zach, Poppy, and Alice go on their last adventure together to bury the queen. Everything seems okay . . . until it isn’t.

I loved Doll Bones even though it was a little creepy. I hope people who read it will love it too!

~Emma, Age 10

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Customer Review: The Swap

9780062311696The Swap  Megan Shull Katherine Tegen Books $16.99 Available now Books written from other people’s perspectives are always some of my favorite and The Swap is one of them. It is written from two points of view, a boy named Jack and a girl, Ellie. It reminded me of Eleven Birthdays, which is one of my favorite books. Both stories involve a mysterious person who is behind the events. At the end of both the stories the characters have learned so much and found who they really were. The book was well-written and kept me on my toes because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. It was suspenseful! It is listed as for ages 10 and up and that seems appropriate. ~ Celeste, age 12

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Staff Review: A Sudden Light

9781439187036A Sudden Light

Garth Stein

Simon & Schuster


Available September 2014

The narrator of this story is the adult Trevor Riddell but the story takes place in 1990, when Trevor was fourteen. His parents have gone bankrupt and are having a trial separation. While his Mom has gone home to England, Trevor accompanies his father to the huge but dilapidated family estate, Riddell House. Built with the massive fortune of the timber trade and made from giant whole trees, it was situated on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. Trever’s father, Jones, is there to join forces with his sister Serena. The plan is to sell off the house and property for development  and then send Grandpa Samuel, experiencing dementia, to a nursing home.

Trevor has an agenda to keep his parents together and believes the money from the sale will help. He becomes acquainted with Ben the ghost of the mansion, a Riddell who was a passionate environmentalist and determined to reveal to Trevor the reasons that it is imperative to respect the wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah. Elijah had mandated that the estate be returned to the forestland as payback for the millions of trees harvested by the Riddell family. Trevor learns more about the history of the family and the curse that plagues it with the help of old journals and even experiencing Ben’s life through dreams. Trevor realizes that he wants to do the right thing and help Ben achieve the goal to keep the land pristine and undeveloped, even if doing so violates his father’s wishes and threatens to destroy his chance of connecting with his father and his parents reuniting.

This beautifully written story pays tribute to the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with an atmospheric moodiness that contains a hint of danger. At once a family saga and ghost story it speaks of the weight of past generations and the present family’s struggle to connect with each other even after death.

Cathy v

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Customer Review: The Terror of the Southlands


Caroline Carlson

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: The Terror of the Southlands

Illustrated by Dave Phillips


Available in September

In the sequel to Magic Marks the Spot, Caroline Carlson creates an epic adventure featuring Hilary Westfield that’s just as magical, quirky, and hilarious as the first! Filled with new dangers, shocking discoveries, strange magic, and heroic talking gargoyles, fantasy and adventure-loving readers will definitely enjoy The Terror of the Southlands.

In the sequel, Hilary Westfield is now the captain of her own ship, calmly sailing in the harbor; living life without much adventure. But The VNHLP has a problem with that: They think she’s not being “piraty” enough, and are willing to strip her of her title (Terror of the Southlands) and her membership with the VNHLP for this! Desperate to prove her worth, Hilary sets out on a swash-buckling adventure to save Mrs. Pimms (otherwise known as the Enchantress of the Northlands) who has mysteriously disappeared.

Facing many challenges along the way, including rude inspectors, a sly group called “The Mutineers,” and nagging governesses, Hilary will stop at nothing to rescue the Enchantress . . . even if it means attending a high society ball!

This book certainly kept me turning its pages, and surprised me a little at the end, but overall was a fun and quirky book, and I can’t wait for the 3rd book to come out!

~ Emma, age 10

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Staff Review: Into the Grey

9780763670610Into the Grey

Celine Kiernan

Candlewick Press


Available August 2014

Why are we attracted to a novel? I mean, what makes us pick it up in the first place? What makes us put it down? What makes us pick it up again and want to read it?

I find myself attracted to certain themes, or times, or countries, over and over again.  Sometimes I feel as if I am just looking for stories that are variations on the same theme. Sometimes I think I am searching for books that make me feel the kinds of emotions that I felt in childhood and adolescence.  Sometimes I wonder if the books that I choose to read now, as an adult, are an unending search for what I read as a child. And sometimes I wonder if I am just constantly looking for that one perfect story – that one that will change my life, or that will be SO GOOD that I never want to read another story. So far I haven’t found anything that would stop me from reading another word again, thank goodness, but occasionally I read a book that kind of ruins me from reading another book for a few days, anyway.

Are the stories that we look for as adults a repeat of the stories we read as children? Do we spend our adult lives yearning for the stories of our childhood, as if we are searching for something that was lost?

I really really like English novels – and Welsh, and Scottish, and Irish novels. Not all of them, obviously, but the kind of novel that evokes the feelings from childhood I remember. As though there is more going on than what we see in front of us, and where it is not always apparent which time we are in.  More than American stories, British stories have this feeling of the past and the present existing simultaneously.  I always thought this was because the weight of the past is so much heavier – having more baggage, if you want to call it that – in Britain than here in the New World. Here in the Americas, there is less history to contend with and so our stories tend to be less about the past and more about  the future. When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved anything to do with Celtic history and King Arthur and I loved two stories in particular: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, and Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp.

Into the Grey is a story by the Irish author Celine Kiernan, and there is nothing Arthurian or mythological about it, being set in 1974 Ireland; yet the feeling that I got from this book reminded me of those beloved childhood books.  The story is about two fifteen year old twin brothers, Pat and Dom Finnerty. Their Nan, who hasn’t been herself since her stroke, accidentally burns down the family home, and the boys, their parents, their young sister, Dee, and Nan must move to the seaside cottage that they have summered in. Only now it is winter, and the cottage is desolate, cold and windy. The past is never over, remember, particularly in Ireland in the 1970s, and it soon becomes obvious to Pat that Dom is haunted by a ghost. Dom will die unless Pat can figure out how to save him, but Pat is afraid to say anything to his parents, who are overwhelmed with their own problems. The ghost turns out to be a young boy (Francis) who died of diphtheria prior to World War I, and whose twin (Laurence) died in the mud at Passchendaele. They both exist in a limbo between the living and the dead. Nan holds the key to figuring this out — if only she can remember her past, because she is one of the links.

The past and the present seem to co-exist simultaneously, and this eerie, dreamy kind of feeling is what reminded me of some of those childhood novels.

Robert Dunbar’s review of Into the Grey, which is on Celine Kiernan’s blog (, talks about the theme of loss far better than I ever could. He talks about the loss of life, of brothers, of friends and comrades, of home, of memory. He mentions a heartbreaking passage about the horrific loss of life in the mud of World War I: “So. That’s how it happens. All the time. All over the world. People just fall away. There’s no warning, and you can’t do anything about it. No matter how old you get. You just lose people and lose people and lose them again, and you never get them back.”  I loved this passage (I had highlighted it in my copy of Into the Grey, too) because it sums up the complete randomness of loss of life, no matter how much meaning we may attach to it. It’s a pretty dark sentiment for a YA novel, really.

However, I think there is one more important theme in this novel: the bond of love between brothers. Pat will do anything to get Dom back from being haunted to death. And Laurence has never given up looking for his brother Francis, with the result that they have been stuck in the Grey area between life and death for over 50 years. Patrick must venture Into the Grey to save Dom, risking his own life to save the life of his brother.

Into the Grey is a quiet novel that gradually grew on me, and I heartily recommend it to both YA and adult readers.

~ Lysbeth Abrams

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Staff Review: The Turtle of Oman

9780062019721The Turtle of Oman

Naomi Shihab Nye



Available August 6, 2014

Aref is 8 or 9 years old and lives in Muscat, the capital city of Oman, a place he loves. His parents are university professors preparing to move the family to Ann Arbor, Michigan for three years of graduate study, and Aref is NOT happy at the prospect. The book covers the week before leaving (starting with the father’s advance departure) and how Aref gradually adjusts to the move as his mother hurries to finish all the preparations. One senses that he may have been a bit of a pill about it, and that his mother may have conferred with her wise, elderly father, known as Sidi, because Sidi effectively takes Aref out of her hair for extended periods. Aref and Sidi camp overnight in the desert, they visit an old fisherman friend on the coast, they enjoy a breakfast together at Sidi’s familiar house, and Sidi gently helps Aref grow up just enough to be able to pack his bag and cooperate with the family’s larger plans. Nye’s poetic voice shines through in the charming dialogue, the affectionate descriptions, the longing for that which cannot be. The Turtle of Oman is not a book of adventure, suspense or romance. It’s a book about the foundations of self: place, family, nature, experience. It’s a small jewel, perfect for sharing aloud as a family prepares for change.

~ Carol

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Staff Review: Nuts to You


Nuts to You

Lynne Rae Perkins

Greenwillow Books


Available August 2014

Play is the organic form of childhood learning, and Perkins uses the apparently playful nature of squirrels to create child characters who love adventure, sometimes take undue risks, help one another, get carried away with their games, and try hard to do the right thing. When a hawk nabs Jed and then accidentally drops him into the tree canopy near the “frozen spiderweb” half a mile distant, TsTs happens to see the escape and note that it appears to be “three, maybe four realms” away. She alerts a skeptical Chai and they set out along the “buzzpaths” in search of Jed. Through luck and squirrel sense, they do eventually reconnect with Jed, but in the meantime a new problem emerges: people with chainsaws are clearing trees and brush from beneath the power lines, drawing closer and closer to the squirrels’ home territory. The adventurers set out to warn their home community, and try to move the entire group to a safer neighborhood. Excitement escalates as they rush to stay ahead of the threat, and at the same time devise a plan to persuade their friends and families to accept the change before it’s too late. Perkins does an especially skillful job of creating distinctive characters, both major and minor, admirable and otherwise, whose roles play out in believable fashion. Illustrations and amusing footnotes throughout the book top up the entertainment.


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Staff Review: A Man Called Ove

9781476738017Frederik Backman

A Man Called Ove



Available now

There is a lot of great Scandinavian fiction out there right now, so I was excited to hear about a novel from an author unfamiliar to me . A Man Called Ove is written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman. I was looking for something on the lighter side. I like quirky, and I love European fiction. I had finished Jonas Jonasson’s book, The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and I had enjoyed The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna.

Ove is a cranky old man who lives by himself. Recently widowed, he can’t seem to connect with anyone else, nor does he especially want to. He is lost without his wife Sonja, who brought color and life to Ove’s regimented black-and-white world. He can’t see any point in going on without Sonja, and methodically plans how to kill himself. However, circumstances keep intervening, and time after time, Ove’s plans for suicide are interrupted, due to a young family that has just moved in next door, upsetting Ove’s inflexible rules and routines, and unconsciously insinuating themselves into Ove’s life. The mother, in particular, seems oblivious to Ove’s grumpiness, and Ove finds himself being gradually absorbed into her family. He finds an unexpected lease on life, no longer trying to leave it. Fences with old foes are mended, new ties are forged, and the ending, while bittersweet, is heartwarming. There are a few nice little twists along the way, but I don’t want to give them away!

Ove is a stand-up honest guy who will always do the right thing, and he dedicates his life to fighting against “the men in white shirts”, the pencil-pushing bureaucracy. I love the metaphor of Ove’s colorless world being contrasted with the color that his wife Sonja brings, and this comes up in a variety of ways throughout the novel.

But?? Do you sense a “but”? Remember the movie “Up”, with the grumpy widowed old man, the little boy, and the house held aloft with balloons? That was heartwarming too, but not trite. And while there are some wonderful moments in A Man Called Ove, they are overcome with the quirkiness factor. Too much quirk!

What really disappointed me was the use of suicide attempts as a plot device.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery turned me off for the same reason. If I want to read about a suicidal character, I’m going to read something like The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon, or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, or La Petite by Michele Halberstadt. Ove attempts suicide five different times, each with a different method: I actually made a list of these. Suicide does not equal cute and quirky, at least in my opinion.

I may be biased, as I do tend to prefer darker novels, and there are so many great books by Scandinavian authors available. For example, I recently enjoyed Before I Burn by Gaute Heivoll; I love anything by Per Petterson, and I am slowly working through Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I also love Jo Nesbo’s novels. Although A Man Called Ove is not my cup of tea, I do think it may appeal to others.

~ Lysbeth Abrams

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Staff Review: Dog On It

9781416585848Spencer Quinn

Dog On It

Atria Books


Available now

What is more delightful than a dog? A missing-persons mystery narrated by a detective’s dog! This book is the perfect combination of well-crafted mystery and witty narration. Spencer Quinn is a master not only of pacing, but also of voice and characterization. He spins a detective tail (yes, that is a pun) that I challenge any reader to try to put down.

When fifteen-year-old Madison is kidnapped, her frantic mother calls up Bernie Little who, along with his faithful flunked-out police dog Chet, works as a private detective. The duo travel around their southwestern town, grappling with a dearth of clues, the wake of an unpleasant divorce, unhelpful clients, and Bernie’s refreshingly environmentalistic views on water and land use in the desert. In the course of their search, the two become missing persons themselves on multiple occasions, with action sequences sprinkled in at just the right moments.

The truly brilliant part of the story is that Chet occasionally witnesses key events and clues that Bernie does not . . . but he’s a dog, and most scientists would agree that dogs cannot talk, and therefore cannot communicate what he knows to Bernie. What this means for the reader is that a beautiful thread of dramatic irony has been woven throughout the story, with Chet, and therefore readers, straining to tell Bernie everything we know, and sitting helplessly as Bernie follows up red herrings instead.

All of the characters in this book are brilliantly written, even those who appear and disappear in the span of three pages. Of course, in this mystery, not everybody is as they seem, and they are seldom telling the truth.

Chet in particular is a truly lovable character. Quinn writes from the perspective of a dog better than even my own dog could (provided he could write). Anybody who reads this book will immediately begin to wonder just what exactly is going on between their own dog’s floppy ears. Chet thinks exactly like somebody would expect a perspicacious canine to think, and speaks with a voice that keeps the reader perpetually engaged.

The only thing better about this book than the characters is the plot, which weaves and worms its way on a path that is never once boring or formulaic. Quinn gives away just enough for an especially sharp reader to be able to figure out the mystery just one or two steps ahead of Bernie. It isn’t too hard, but definitely is not simplistic.

Any adult or teen who likes mysteries and dogs should definitely stop by eight cousins and pick up a copy. This is probably the best doggone book I’ve read in a long time!


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Staff Review: Em and the Big Hoom

9780143124764Jerry Pinto

Em and the Big Hoom


Available now

Oh, I loved this book! Jerry Pinto joins a cadre of wonderful Indian authors writing great new fiction.

Em and the Big Hoom is narrated by the 17-year-old son, about his mother, Em, his father, the Big Hoom, and his sister, Susan. They are a family of four, but Em’s bipolar disorder is like the fifth person in the family. Her mental illness makes her either a manic force, wild and unpredictable, or else a depressive suicidal wreck. In either case, her family never knows which Em they will get at any particular time. The narrator tries to make sense of his mother’s past life, looking for the real Em underneath the illness. The Big Hoom remains devoted to his wife throughout their marriage. Mental illness has the power to either bring families close together, forging unbreakable bonds, or to break them apart in a million pieces, spinning them out of each other’s lives. To be able to write about this kind of topic in such a realistic, yet compassionate way is a true gift, and Jerry Pinto has it.

~ Lysbeth Abrams

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