Thursday, August 9, 2018

Bob by Wendy Maas and Rebecca Stead

Bob by Wendy Maas and Rebecca Stead
  • ASIN: B076B4RT7F - Paperback $16
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (May 1, 2018), 224 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.

The blurb:
It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.
It turns out she’s right.
Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.
Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but had enjoyed Wendy Maas's The Candymakers and Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me.  Bob tells the story about the friendship between Livy and a magical creature.  

When Livy returns to Australia to spend time with her grandmother on her farm, it's a difficult time of transition.  Grandmother has suffered from a drought and the farm is close to bankruptcy.  The drought forced Grandmother to get rid of her horses and much of her animal stock and if it doesn't rain soon the farm's crops and animals won't be able to survive.  Livy's also been having a hard time with the birth of her younger sister.  With her parents seemingly focused entirely on her sister, Livy finds herself unable to sleep away from her parents. This separation anxiety has started to affect her own friendships as she no longer stays for sleepaways.  This stay with her grandmother will be a big change for Livy and her stomach has started to ache as she thinks about her mother and her baby sister leaving.

In the 5 years since Livy's visit, she's forgotten much about her stay with Grandmother.  Her favorite toys and things to do, etc. - but Livy discovers an old friend, Bob.  Bob is green, small, and dressed in a chicken suit that Livy made 5 years ago.  He's been waiting for her to return - 5 years much of it spent in Livy's closet playing chess by himself, reading the dictionary, crying and missing his friend.  

When Livy and Bob are reunited, it takes less than a day before their friendship comes back in full force. They try to solve the mystery of Bob's origins, but there is only so much a 10 year old girl and her magical friend can do.

Bob is a fun read - it celebrates friendship without being overly sentimental. There are moments of magic, humor and sadness.  It's the sort of book one can read to a child or they are likely to enjoy reading themselves. 

About the Authors:
Wendy Mass is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Candymakers series and many other novels for young readers, including the Schneider Family Book Award-winner A Mango-Shaped SpaceJeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (which was made into a feature film), Every Soul a StarPi in the Sky, the Twice Upon a Time series, and the Willow Falls series that began with 11 Birthdays. She and her family live in New Jersey.

Rebecca Stead is the New York Times-bestselling author of When You Reach Mewinner of the Newbery Medal; Liar & SpyFirstLightand Goodbye Stranger. Her work has been also been awarded the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award. She lives in New York City with her family and their lazy but beautiful cat.

The Darkdeep by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs

The Darkdeep by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs
  • ISBN-10: 1547600462 - Hardcover $16
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books (October 2, 2018), 272 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Everyone in Timbers knows Still Cove is off-limits, with its creepy Beast sightings and equally terrifying legends. But when a bullying incident sends twelve-year-old Nico Holland over a cliff and into Still Cove's icy waters, friends Tyler and Emma--and even Opal Walsh, who usually runs with the popular kids--rush to his rescue . . . and discover a mysterious island hiding in the murky, swirling mists below.
Though the island appears uninhabited, the kids can't shake a feeling that something about it is definitely not right. Their suspicions grow when they stumble upon an abandoned houseboat filled with all sorts of curiosities: odd-looking weapons, unnerving portraits, maps to unknown places, and a glass jar containing something completely unidentifiable. And in its lowest depths churns a dark, deep secret.
As the group delves deeper into this mysterious new clubhouse, their lives begin to intertwine in weird and dangerous ways. For something ancient has awakened . . . and it can detect not only their wishes and dreams, but also their darkest, most terrible imaginings. Do they have what it takes to face the shadowy secrets lurking within their own hearts?
Told from alternating points of view, this pulse-racing tale from bestselling duo Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs is the start of a high-stakes, thrilling series about friendship and believing in yourself--and each other.


I hadn't planned to stay up much of the night reading The Darkdeep. I was just going to start a chapter, see if this would be the next book on my list.  But I found myself drawn into the world of five 12-year olds.  Nico Holland's father works for the Parks Department and found that the horned owl lives in the woods near Timbers.  Mr. Holland's efforts to save the horned owl meant that much of the woods were saved from deforestation, that the main employer, a lumber company, had to let go of a majority of its workers.  Nico was suddenly persona non grata in town and the target of bullying. Lucas, whose father owns the timber mill, is especially angry with Nico and delights in tormenting him. 

When a bullying incident goes too far and Nico's life is endangered, his best friends risk their own lives to enter a foggy area with a deep drop and murky water.  The children discover that this strange isolated place has some strange magic and an abandoned houseboat with unusual powers.  There are fascinating artifacts -- Opal and Tyler start taking an inventory (kids after my own heart!) but Emma's curiosity leads them to the Darkdeep, a pool of water that has the ability to read what is in their hearts and make it come alive. When the kids go through Darkdeep, they are able to make their thoughts, dreams, fears take shape in the real world.  First it is sparkly unicorns and imaginary friends from childhood but the imaginings take a darker turn and their nightmares come alive. When these imaginings are able to cross out of the special space and invade the town, the children must work together - even Lucas, Nico's nemesis, becomes part of the group.

The Darkdeep is delightful read. It's the sort of book I'd recommend gifting to a reluctant reader - it has just enough adventure, magic and the delights of friendship to get a child to fall in love with reading.

About the Authors:
Ally Condie is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Matched Trilogy and of the middle-grade novel Summerlost, a 2016 Edgar Award Finalist for Best Juvenile Mystery. A former English teacher, she lives with her husband and four children outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the founder of the non-profit WriteOut Foundation.
Brendan Reichs is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller Nemesis and its sequel Genesis, and co-author of the six-volume Virals series. Brendan is also a member of the Executive Board for both YALLFEST and YALLWEST literary festivals and has received a MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.

Earthly Remains by Donna Leon

Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
  • ISBN-10: 080212772X - Paperback $16
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (March 20, 2018), 288 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
Donna Leon’s bestselling mystery novels set in Venice have won a multitude of fans for their insider’s portrayal of La Serenissima. From family meals to coffee bars, and from vaporetti rides to the homes and apartments of Venetians, the details and rhythms of everyday life are an integral part of this beloved series. But so are the suffocating corruption, the never-ending influx of tourists, and crimes big and small. Through it all, Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has been an enduring figure. A good man who loves his family and his city, Brunetti is relentless in his pursuit of truth and some measure of justice.

In Earthly Remains, the twenty-sixth novel in this series, Brunetti’s endurance is tested more than ever before. During an interrogation of an entitled, arrogant man suspected of giving drugs to a young girl who then died, Brunetti acts rashly, doing something he will quickly come to regret. In the fallout, he realizes that he needs a break, needs to get away from the stifling problems of his work.

When Brunetti is granted leave from the Questura, his wife, Paola, suggests he stay at the villa of a relative on Sant’Erasmo, one of the largest islands in the laguna. There he intends to pass his days rowing, and his nights reading Pliny’s Natural History. The recuperative stay goes according to plan until Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house on Sant’Erasmo, goes missing following a sudden storm. Now, Brunetti feels compelled to investigate, to set aside his leave of absence and understand what happened to the man who had become his friend.

In Earthly Remains, we follow Brunetti to an island in the laguna as he takes time away from Venice and his family.  Brunetti discovers that the caretaker is an old friend of his father's.  As Brunetti had so little time with his father, this chance to reestablish acquaintances and to learn more about his father is important to him. 

When the old man goes missing, Brunetti is compelled to investigate. But Sant'Erasmo is very different from Venice and the ties and relationships that Brunetti knows and relies on in his hometown are not helpful to him here.  I enjoyed reading Earthly Remains in part because we learn more about Brunetti and his childhood but also because we're given the chance to observe his and his skills in a new place.  Overall, Earthly Remains is a satisfying addition to a delightful series.

About the Author:
A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Donna Leon first went to Italy in 1965, returning regularly over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, China and finally Saudi Arabia. Leon has received both the CWA Macallon Silver Dagger for Fiction and the German Corrine Prize for her novels featuring Commisario Guido Brunetti. She lives in Venice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal (A Maggie Hope Mystery)

The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal 
(A Maggie Hope Mystery)
  • ISBN-10: 0399593829 - Hardcover $26
  • Publisher: Bantam (August 7, 2018), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:

World War II is raging, and former spy Maggie Hope knows too much.

She knows what the British government is willing to do to keep its secrets.

She knows the real location of the planned invasion of France.

She knows who’s lying. She knows who the double-crossers are. She knows exactly who is sending agents to their deaths.

These are the reasons Maggie is isolated on a remote Scottish island, in a prison known as Killoch Castle, out of contact with friends and family.

Then one of her fellow inmates drops dead in the middle of his after-dinner drink—and he’s only the first. As victims fall one by one, Maggie will have to call upon all her wits and skills to escape—not just certain death . . . but certain murder.

For what’s the most important thing Maggie Hope knows?

She must survive.

It's important to read Susan Elia MacNeal's novels in order! Maggie Hope's story develops throughout WWII but begins with Mr. Churchill's Secretary.  Her own progress from secretary to secret agent is unexpected and unusual.  If you catch up with Maggie Hope at The Prisoner in the Castle, this 8th book in the series, you find her hidden and isolated in Western Scotland.  She's kept with other secret agents and denied communications, correspondence, the news and access to the outside world.  We only know that many of these agents are being kept away, possibly punished, and could be too dangerous to release.  There is the threat and risk of further prosecution or punishment, particularly as we learn more about Maggie's companions. 

When a young debutante/secret agent joins the group, there are sudden suspicious deaths on the island. Violent deaths, poisoning, etc.  it is clear that a murder is among them.  Maggie and her companions must find the killer and survive. 

Fortunately, Maggie has made loyal friends and two of them are determined to find out where she is being kept and help her return to London.  The question is whether they will find her in time and if she will be allowed her freedom.

The Prisoner in the Castle refers to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.  It also shares the same situation - guests trapped and isolated find that they are slowly being picked off by a murderer.  The Prisoner in the Castle combines the suspense of Christie's classic with Maggie Hope's particular dilemma.  It's a satisfying addition to the series.

About the Author:
Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of The New York Times, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and USA Today-bestselling Maggie Hope mystery series, starting with the Edgar Award-nominated and Barry Award-winning MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY, which is now in its 22nd printing. She is currently at work on THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE, the eighth novel in the series.

Her books include: PRINCESS ELIZABETH'S SPY, HIS MAJESTY'S HOPE, THE PRIME MINISTER'S SECRET AGENT, MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE, THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE, and THE PARIS SPY. The Maggie Hope novels have been nominated for the Edgar, the Macavity, the ITW Thriller, the Barry, the Dilys, the Sue Federer Historical Fiction, and the Bruce Alexander Historical Fiction awards. The Maggie Hope series is sold world-wide in English, and has also been translated into Czech, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Turkish, and is also available in large print and audio. The actress Daisy Ridley (Star Wars, Murder on the Orient Express) has bought the film and television rights to the series. 

Susan graduated from Nardin Academy in Buffalo New York, and also cum laude and with honors in English from Wellesley College. She cross-registered for courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard University. Her first job was as the assistant to novelist John Irving in Vermont. She then worked as an editorial assistant at Random House, assistant editor at Viking Penguin, and associate editor and staff writer at Dance Magazine in New York City. As a freelance writer, she wrote two non-fiction books and for the publications of New York City Ballet.

Susan is married and lives with her husband, Noel MacNeal, a television performer, writer and director, and their son in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Hangman's Secret by Laura Joh Rowland

The Hangman's Secret by Laura Joh Rowland
  • ISBN-10: 1683319028 - Hardcover $25.80
  • Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (January 8, 2019), 304 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.

The blurb:
Photographer Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and sometime street urchin Mick O’Reilly are private detectives with a new gig―photographing crime scenes for London’s Daily World newspaper. The Daily World is the latest business venture of their sole client, Sir Gerald Mariner, a fabulously wealthy and powerful banker. 

One cold, snowy January morning, Sarah, Hugh, and Mick are summoned to the goriest crime scene they’ve ever encountered. A pub owner named Harry Warbrick has been found hanged and decapitated amid evidence of foul play. His murder becomes a sensation because he was England’s top hangman and he’s met the same fate that he inflicted on hundreds of criminals. 

Sir Gerald announces that the Daily World―meaning Sarah and her friends―will investigate and solve Harry Warbrick’s murder before the police do. The contest pits Sarah against the man she loves, Police Constable Barrett. She and her friends discover a connection between Harry Warbrick’s murder and the most notorious criminal he ever executed―Amelia Carlisle, the “Baby-Butcher,” who murdered hundreds of infants placed in her care. 

Something happened at Amelia’s execution. The Official Secrets Act forbids the seven witnesses present to divulge any information about it. But Harry had a bad habit of leaking tips to the press. Sarah and her friends suspect that one of the other witnesses killed Harry to prevent him from revealing a secret related to the execution. What is the secret, and who hanged the hangman?

I'd enjoyed Laura Joh Rowland's series focusing the Japanese samurai detective. The Hangman's Secret, the third in Rowland's series with Sarah Bain, the young photographer, and her colleagues Lord Hugh Staunton and young Mike combined romance with a complicated murder mystery.  

We find that Sarah Bain is carrying the secret of her father's criminal history - he has been accused of molesting and murdering a child.  Hugh is homosexual and was spurned by society when this secret was revealed.  But Sarah, Hugh and Mike have the favor and trust of the wealthy and reckless newspaper man, Sir Gerald Mariner.  As Sir Gerald seeks more complicated stories and takes greater risks,  Sarah, Hugh and Mike find themselves in difficult waters.  They are committed to solving the bloody murder of a hangman and are in a contest to beat the police investigators.  As Sarah is in love with/dating Police Constable Barrett, this competition brings an added problem to them both.

The Hangman's Secret takes Sarah, Hugh, Mike and Barrett to grave danger - I found myself rooting for them throughout.  While Mike acts quite young especially when dealing with his infatuation with the actress Catherine, The Hangman's Secret is a fun read.

About the Author:
Laura Joh Rowland is the award-winning author of the samurai detective Sano Ichiro mystery series set in 17th century Japan, as well as a historical suspense series starring Charlotte Bronte. Her work has been published in 21 countries; nominated for the Anthony Award, the Hammett Prize, and the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award; won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award; and been included in the Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist. She lives in New York City with her husband Marty. This is her third Victorian mystery.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz
  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 6
  • ISBN-10: 0765394596 - Hardcover $16.99
  • Publisher: Starscape (October 2, 2018), 228 pages.

The blurb:
An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz's debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery.
After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shantytown of its kind in the Philippines today.
When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
I was excited to read Everlasting Nora for the book itself and because I'm Filipino American and have lived half my life in the Philippines.  I hadn't expected to find the strength of my emotional reaction reading a middle grade novel set in Metro Manila and about the poverty and difficulty that Nora and her friends faced as they struggled to survive on so little.  
There are plenty of poor people in the developing world, quite a lot of them are children.  But to read about how they fill their days trying to pay for food and shelter, to find water and safety is quite different. Marie Miranda Cruz incorporates Filipino words and phrases in the dialogue and text of the book but it works well.  It is great to read reviews and find that people who have no experience with the Philippines are drawn to the story.  As a Filipino reader or Filipino American reader, it is particularly thrilling and heartwarming to read a story set in my hometown.

About the Author:
Writer and scientist Marie Miranda Cruz grew up in the Philippines and her work reflects her multicultural roots, both in the country of her birth and in her adopted California. Everlasting Nora is her debut novel.