‘Truly Devious’ by Maureen Johnson Is a Thrilling Mystery

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“Truly Devious” by much-loved young adult author Maureen Johnson is a fabulous novel. It begins as a mystery about a murder that took place over 80 years ago at an elite private school in Vermont.

The novel is really two stories combined into one mystery. There is the decades-old mystery of Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter, who disappeared while on a car ride. The wife’s body was found, but there has been no trace of the three-year-old daughter, and what happened to her remains a mystery. The kidnappers did contact Ellingham, demanded a huge sum of money, and escaped with the money.

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‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’ by Jessica Townsend Is a Fantasy Trip Through a Magical Country

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“Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow” by Jessica Townsend is a middle grade fantasy about Morrigan Crow who, at the start of the novel, is fated to die before her eleventh birthday. She is a “cursed” child, whose very presence brings bad luck to those around her.

Her mother is dead, and she lives with her extremely horrible father, her emotionally distant stepmother, and her grandmother. Only her grandmother even marginally appears to feel affection for Morrigan. In one terribly sad scene, Morrigan hears her father talking about how it would make more sense to educate his hunting dogs because Morrigan will not live much longer.

But Morrigan’s life changes when she is allowed to attend a kind of graduation ceremony at which children are given bids by different entities to enable them to continue their education. To everyone’s surprise, include Morrigan’s most of all, she gets four bids. She ends up with Jupiter North, and they make a daring escape from the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, who are set to kill Morrigan, and go to Nevermoor.

The story is filled with lovely fantastic ideas. Morrigan lives in Jupiter North’s hotel, the Deucalion, which contains myriad mystical rooms. One room is the Smoking Parlor. Townsend describes it:

“The Smoking Parlor wasn’t a room where guests were allowed to smoke pipes and cigars, to Morrigan’s relief, but in fact a room that emitted great rolling clouds of colored, scented smoke that seems to pour from the walls themselves. This afternoon it was a murky green sage smoke (‘to promote the art of philosophization,’ Jupiter told her), but a schedule on the door informed her that later that evening the smoke would change to honeysuckle (‘for romance’) and, late at night, to lavender (‘to aid the sleepless’).”

There is the brolly line, where it’s necessary to have an umbrella to ride. There is the secret room that Morrigan is able to unlock with her special umbrella, gifted to her by Jupiter North. There is Jupiter himself, a sweet and kind man who is half father-figure and half friend and mentor, but also extremely mysterious. He disappears for long stretches of time on various missions and appears, often at the last minute, when necessary.

Other characters include a human-sized cat, Fenestra, who is the main housekeeper at the hotel and Frank, the vampire dwarf. Her best friend is Hawthorne, and he is competing in the trials as well.

Morrigan must vie for entrance to the Wundrous Society, an elite society where once accepted, one’s life of comfort is assured. Everyone who is trying to be accepted in the society has a knack, or skill, that they will use during the trials. Of the many hundreds vying for entrance, only nine will be accepted.

Morrigan is also worried about failing the trials because Jupiter brought her to Nevermoor illegally, and if she fails, she will be deported and then found and killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow. Other residents of Nevermoor make much of the fact that Morrigan is an illegal, an unpleasant reminder of current political times in real life.

The trials are all different, and Morrigan seems to win at least one of them purely by chance. But the twist at the end explains several of the mysterious things that have happened to Morrigan throughout the almost 500-page novel.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Little, Brown and Company, for review purposes.

6 Fabulous Children’s Picture Books for Gift-Giving

There are many, many wonderful picture books that would make fabulous gifts for children in the holiday season or anytime. To pick just six of the books that children will enjoy at any time of year was difficult, but each book will perfectly fit a need for young children in a range of ages and interests.

“ABC Dream” is an incredibly beautiful alphabet picture book by Kim Krans. Each page of illustrations is a work of art, and children will love finding and naming all the things in each letter’s page. Each page is thoughtful and lovely. Read the full review here. (Random House)

“Nanette’s Baguette” is by ever-popular, ever-clever author and illustrator Mo Willems. In this story, Nanette is finally allowed to go to the bakery and get the baguette. Willems is careful to describe baguettes (warm and wonderful-smelling). And the book is filled, completely filled, with rhymes for baguette and Nanette. For example, “Look! There’s Mr. Barnett with his pet, Antoinette! Nanette pets Antoinette. Did Nanette forget the baguette?” The story is sweet and appropriately predictable, and kids will want to hear it over and over again. (Hyperion Books for Children)

iwantmyhat“I Want My Hat Back” by Jon Klassen is a picture book that belongs in the library of every toddler or young child. Children from three and through third grade will enjoy this clever story on several levels. The youngest readers will simply enjoy the story of a bear who wants his hat back. Those who are ready to make inferences will greatly enjoy realizing that through the language in the dialogue, Klassen reveals what has really happened. There are two stories going on; one is the literal story and the other is what must be inferred. Read the full review here. (Candlewick Press)

A picture book about a floating cat named Papillon will enchant children. In “Papillon Goes to the Vet,” A. N. Kang persuades children that going to the vet (or doctor) is not a terrible experience. When Papillon swallows a toy, he feels sick and is unable to float. But an overnight at the vet’s cures Papillon and he’s good as new the next day. (Disney -Hyperion)

Children love rhyming books, and Corey Rosen Schwartz is an expert at creating fractured fairy tales with great rhythm. “Twinderella: A Fractioned Fairy Tale” is a book that she labored over for years. It’s about Cinderella and her twin sister, Twinderella. This imaginative fairy tale take-off is filled with fractions and math and twins galore. Unlike many fairy tales, in this one the main character loves to do math! Read the full review here. (Putnam Books)

And a picture book that will be appreciated by older picture book lovers is “7 Ate 9: The 7ate9Untold Story” by Tara Lazar and very cleverly illustrated by Ross MacDonald. The story is filled with double-entendres, homophones, and idioms. 7 is the “prime” suspect when 9 goes missing. During the course of the story, they visit the “pi” shop where the waitress, B, has the scoop. Finally, to the delight of readers, Private I puts two and two together to solve the mathematical mystery. It’s a story that can be read over and over to squeeze out every bit of cleverness. Read the full review here. (Disney-Hyperion)

Please note: This review was based on the final, hardcover picture books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

 

 

‘The Trust’ by Ronald H. Balson Is a Thrilling, Action-Filled Suspense Novel

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In “The Trust,” Ronald H. Balson, takes his readers to Northern Ireland on a whirlwind tour of Ireland and its troubles — both current and past. Liam Taggert, the Chicago detective who, with his lawyer wife Catherine, are the main characters in all Balson’s books, must deal with the past when it comes back to haunt him in this touching, thoughtfully-written story.

When Liam’s uncle Fergus dies, he leaves his property in a secret trust with Liam as the trustee. Liam is reluctant to return to Northern Ireland for the funeral, but Catherine urges Liam to go and reconcile with the family he hasn’t seen in years. Liam, who has been estranged from his Irish relatives for almost two decades, is thrust into the middle of a maelstrom. After Fergus is murdered, other Taggerts are targeted and some are killed. Liam must use his detective skills to try to find the murderer before everyone in the family is killed.

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‘The Great Shelby Holmes Meets her Match’ by Elizabeth Eulberg Is the Second in the Clever Middle Grade Series

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Shelby Holmes was introduced to readers in “The Great Shelby Holmes,” the first book in the series by Elizabeth Eulberg. In the second book, “The Great Shelby Holmes Meets her Match,” narrator John Watson brings to life another mystery that he and Shelby solve, and in the process gives the reader another view at the complicated genius of Shelby Holmes.

She’s a pint-sized fourth grader who has skipped two grades. Watson is a newcomer to New York City, and in the first book, Shelby shows him around the neighborhood. In this book, Holmes and Watson start school.

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‘Even if It Kills Her’ by Kate White Is Part of the ‘Bailey Weggins’ Mystery Series

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Bailey Weggins, the main character in “Even If It Kills Her” by Kate White, is a likable character. She’s trying to make a go of a career as a writer, and in the process ends up investigating murders and putting herself in danger, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend.

Although this is the seventh book in the series about Bailey Weggins, that fact doesn’t make the book difficult to read as a stand-alone or make the reader feel like there is a huge backstory  missing. There are a few references to past crimes solved and past dangerous situations, but that doesn’t take away from the mystery or the enjoyment of this story.

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‘Bow Wow: A Bowser and Birdie Novel’ by Spencer Quinn is the 3rd in this Dog-Narrated Series for Children

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Young readers love books about dogs and Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and Birdie is no exception. “Bow Wow” is the third book in the series that began with “Woof” and continued with “Arf.” Adults might be familiar with Quinn’s series about Chet and Bernie, which features the fabulous detective dog Chet, whose narrative sounds suspiciously like that of Bowser.

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‘The Last Mrs. Parrish’ Should Be the Very Next Book You Read

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The raves are in for “The Last Mrs. Parrish” by Liv Constantine, and it’s no wonder. If anything, the glowing blurbs from such literary luminaries as Jane Green, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, and Jenny Milchman don’t go far enough. The story is gripping from the start, yet when the twist occurs, the reader will feel compelled to go back to the beginning to see what was missed.

The story is of a rich and powerful man and the two women in his life. First, the reader meets Jackson Parrish, a paragon of perfection — handsome, athletic, charming, wealthy — through the eyes of Amber Patterson. Amber, the reader quickly finds out, is a schemer whose goal is befriending Jackson Parrish’s wife so that she can ruin their marriage and take her place at his side.

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‘Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race’ by Chris Grabenstein Is a Worthy Third Book in the Series

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Can author Chris Grabenstein keep on writing “Mr. Lemoncello” books that will have new plots and  new twists and will keep kids (and adults) entertained? From the looks of “Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race,” it appears to be a certainty.

In this third book in the series, Kyle Keeley is once again determined to win a game sponsored by Mr. Luigi Lemoncello, his idol, the famous game maker and inventor extraordinaire. Lemoncello is to libraries what Willy Wonka was to candy in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

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‘The Wolf Keepers’ by Elise Broach Is a Middle Grade Novel Full of History, Diversity, and Animals

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With “The Wolf Keepers,” author Elise Broach seems to have included all the go-to themes that teachers and librarians love to see in a middle grade book. One of the main characters is biracial and temporarily homeless. The setting is a fictional zoo in Northern California near Muir Woods; the book is filled with information about the naturalist John Muir. And the story includes a group of wolves, one of whom makes a strong connection to one of the main characters in a manner that does not seem at all contrived.

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‘The Good Daughter’ by Karin Slaughter Is a Stay-Up-All-Night Read

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Reading “The Good Daughter” by Karin Slaughter is like finding a nugget of gold after slogging through acres of mud. It’s that good.

Slaughter’s narrative grabs the reader from the first few pages. The story revolves around two sisters, Charlotte and Samantha (Charlie and Sam). Almost immediately, the reader learns about the horrible tragedy that tears apart their family, resulting in the death of their mother. Their family will never again be the same, and neither will Sam and Charlie’s relationship.

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