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If at First You Don’t Succeed, Die, Die Again

A Midsummer Night's ScreamLove triangles, a cursed movie set, magic potions, gruesome murders; R.L. Stine’s newest teen fiction A Midsummer Night’s Scream has it all. Claire Woodward is a 16-year-old girl living a life of privilege in Hollywood. Her parents own a film studio and have finally given consent for her to act in one of their movies, the remake of Mayhem Manor. The excitement of being cast in a movie with her best friend as well as some notable actors is tempered when talk turns to how the movie set is cursed. The original Mayhem Manor was a horror film about six teens who get trapped in a spooky old house and one by one, die a terrible death. Shooting stopped after not one, but three of the actors died during the filming. Sixty years later the producers elect to reshoot the movie at the same location. Author R.L. Stine has proven to be a master of macabre with the success of his Goosebumps and Fear Street series, so readers will not be surprised when his newest novel takes a decidedly dark turn.

 

This story is part teenage romance, part horror story. There is a mystical element in the character of Benny Puckerman, who peddles magic potions, can only be seen by Claire and has his own agenda regarding the movie remake. Claire narrates the story in a casual conversational tone, at times directing comments to the reading audience. Those discerning readers looking for a sophisticated Shakespearean work should keep on looking, but if you are interested in a quick-moving, fantastical tale with a nice touch of suspense, A Midsummer Night’s Scream will really get your heart pumping.

Jeanne

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The Sticky Business

The Sticky Business

posted by:
September 30, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for The Good Lord BirdJohn Brown: abolitionist, Harper’s Ferry raider, failure. Dry high school American history text material, forgotten right after the test…or not, especially if presented by author James McBride in his bawdy and raucous new novel, The Good Lord Bird.

 

Henry is 10 years old. He helps out in the rural Kansas barbershop in which his father works. Both Henry and his father are slaves, owned by Dutch. Henry’s father is barbering the scripture-quoting Old Man when Dutch walks in; an exchange with the Old Man gets heated and after  guns blaze, Dutch is wounded, Henry’s father is dead and the Old Man is unmasked as the despised John Brown. Brown rescues Henry, though he mistakes him for a girl and calls him “Henrietta.” “She” is incorporated into his motley band of family and stragglers embarked on a mission to free the slaves.

 

McBride presents this story as 103-year-old Henry’s recollections, recorded by a fellow church member. Written in the coarse lexicon of the times, the rich and illustrative language can result in a comedy of errors. Henry is biracial and becomes adept as passing for a girl, and sometimes as white, to ensure his safety. As he travels through the states, alone or with Brown, he offers an out-of-the-mouth-of-babes razor-edged skewering of blacks and whites, slaves and owners, and country and city folk. The Good Lord Bird is historical fiction and McBride freely molds icons like Frederick Douglas and Brown into his own flawed characters. This book is not a choice for the easily offended.

 

Only in the hands of a talented writer like McBride could subjects like slavery and emancipation manage to entertain and amuse while also inform and illuminate. Despite the irreverent approach, ultimately the reader is left with Henry’s observation on slavery and its poisonous legacy when he says “the web of slavery is a sticky business. And at the end of the day, ain’t nobody clear of it.”
 

Lori

 
 

Thrilling Men

Thrilling Men

posted by:
September 30, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for The Final CutCover art for SoloCover art for Deadly HeatThrills abound in three new titles featuring strong men solving crimes, catching bad guys and even saving the world. Catherine Coulter, best-selling author of the FBI Thriller series, teams up with crime writer J.T. Ellison for a new series featuring Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond of Scotland Yard. Readers meet the dark and dangerous Drummond in the first entry, The Final Cut. American-born, but raised in the UK, he is called to New York to investigate the murder of a colleague and the theft of an exhibit of Crown Jewels. Drummond partners with FBI Agent Michaela “Mike” Caine and the two travel the globe in search of answers. This page turner has plenty of action and a hint of romance down the road.

 

Is there a more debonair spy than Bond, James Bond? Fans will be thrilled at his return in William Boyd’s Solo. Boyd is the third author commissioned by the estate of Ian Fleming to write an official Bond novel, and he returns Bond to the 1960s where 007’s assignment takes him to an African country ravaged by civil war. As Bond attempts to determine the forces fueling this brutal campaign, he uncovers a conspiracy which takes him from Africa to London to Washington. This gripping thriller captures the essence of Bond and is complete with all the cool gadgets, liaisons with beautiful women and narrow escapes expected of the super-spy.

 

NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat and journalist Jameson Rook partner in the fifth entry in the bestselling series written by Richard Castle, hero of the popular ABC show Castle. In Deadly Heat, Castle’s creations continue their quest to locate the former CIA agent who ordered the execution of Heat’s mother. As they dig deeper, they unearth the motive behind that murder and uncover an alarming and active terror plot. Further complicating their search for justice and attempt to stop the terrorists is a serial killer who is threatening to make Heat his next victim. The action, romantic tension and dynamic characters are guaranteed to keep readers riveted.

Maureen

 
 

A Degree in Fandom

A Degree in Fandom

posted by:
September 27, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for FangirlIn Rainbow Rowell’s latest young adult novel, Fangirl, Cather is a huge fan of Simon Snow, a fictional Harry Potter-like book and movie series. Cath isn’t a casual fan, she’s the definition of a fangirl — she doesn’t just read the books and watch the movies, she goes to midnight release parties, writes well-known fanfiction and interacts with other Simon Snow fans online. The Simon Snow fandom has been Cath’s escape from the problems in her life for years. As Fangirl begins and Cath heads off to her first year of college at the University of Nebraska, she falls further into fandom.

 

Cath expected to room with her twin sister Wren, as they have all their lives, until Wren tells Cath that she doesn’t want to be roommates anymore. Cath is surprised and understandably upset. When Wren begins partying heavily at school, Cath becomes increasingly worried and feels isolated. Meanwhile, Cath has to deal with her standoffish roommate Reagan and Reagan’s potential boyfriend, Levi, who is in their room constantly and has definitely captured Cath’s attention. Cath also has to deal with the typical college adjustments — the dining hall, classes, meeting new people and romance, all the while maintaining her fangirl status.

 

Fangirl is a coming-of-age story about a girl enraptured in fandom who has to figure out how to deal with her changing life and how her life as a fangirl fits into it. The novel has excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction, which is an added bonus for anyone who has ever been a super fan. Others will be able to identify with Cath’s adjustment to campus life and her attempts to find her place in the world. Fans of Rowell’s earlier young adult novel Eleanor & Park will find Fangirl lives up to their expectations.
 

Laura

 
 

The Sweet Smell of Victory

Cover art for Danny's DoodlesDanny Cohen is in the fourth grade, follows the rules and enjoys playing baseball. Calvin Waffle is the new kid in class, having recently moved with his mother into a house on Danny’s block. Calvin likes science experiments and seeing how far he can bend the rules without getting caught. It’s one of Calvin’s experiments that starts an unlikely friendship in Danny’s Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David A. Adler.

 

For a whole week, Calvin follows Danny everywhere, constantly writing his observations in a notebook. On the second week, Calvin asks Danny to hold jelly beans in his pocket. It seems like a strange request, but Danny agrees and the Jelly Bean Experiment is underway.  What will Calvin learn from his experiment and how will Calvin’s powers of observation help Danny’s team win the upcoming baseball game?

   

This is a first in a new series by Adler, the author of the much loved Cam Jansen series. Child-like doodles are found throughout the book as if drawn by Danny. A funny story about friendship and acceptance, Danny’s Doodles is perfect for readers transitioning into chapter books.

Christina

 
 

Faking It

Faking It

posted by:
September 26, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Always On My MindCover art for The Perfect MatchJill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins are two of today’s most popular contemporary romance authors. Their new novels feature pretend romances that ultimately become the real thing. Always on My Mind by Shalvis begins with a little white lie. Leah Sullivan is talking to Dee Harper, the mother of her childhood friend. Dee thinks she is dying, and is scared that she has made her son Jack afraid of relationships. Leah panics and says that she and Jack are together to give Dee peace of mind. Dee is elated, and soon the whole town has heard about the fake relationship. Leah and Jack both quickly realize that this relationship might not actually be phony, but Leah has a history of running when things get too hard for her to handle. Can Jack persuade her to stick around this time and make their relationship permanent? Always on My Mind is another great entry in Shalvis’s popular Lucky Harbor series.

 

The Perfect Match is the second novel in Higgins’s Blue Heron series. After her doctor reminds her that her biological clock is ticking, Honor Holland proposes to her friend and long-time crush Brogan. The night is an embarrassing disaster. To add insult to injury, Brogan announces a few weeks later that he is marrying Honor’s best friend after a whirlwind courtship. Humiliated, Honor begins searching for a man to settle down with. Tom Barlow needs to get his Green Card so that he can stay in the U.S. to be in his teenage stepson Charlie’s life. Honor agrees to a marriage of convenience to help Tom, who sees no other alternative. They move in together, and things get even more complicated. Add a strange federal agent, a feisty little dog named Spike and Honor’s crazy family, and you have a charming story told as only Higgins can.

 

In addition to being fan-favorite authors, Shalvis and Higgins are also good friends. Their social media banter entertains their readers and makes fans feel like these authors are their friends too. They frequently appear together on USA Today’s Happy Ever After romance blog. For a taste of their Lucy-and-Ethel-style antics, check out this recent post.

Beth

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Amusing Murder Mystery

Amusing Murder Mystery

posted by:
September 26, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Cloche and DaggerJenn McKinlay has come out with a new series, Hat Shop Mystery. The first installment of this series is Cloche and Dagger. The novel follows Scarlett Parker as she uproots her life and travels to the U.K. to help her cousin Vivian run the hat shop that they inherited from their grandmother.

 

Scarlett’s move isn’t so much voluntary as necessary, since her boyfriend turned out to be a married man. Scarlett discovered this when she stumbled upon him throwing an anniversary party for his “beloved” wife. Though she prides herself on being a people person who can handle any sticky situation, she lost it and began hurling anniversary cake at her boyfriend. The whole act is caught on camera and posted online where it goes viral. Everyone pesters Scarlett for the inside scoop on the cake throwing debacle, from the average Joe on the street to members of the media.  

 

To avoid the fallout, Scarlett escapes to London. When she arrives in London she discovers that her cousin has neglected to pick her up, and the mystery begins. Where is Viv? Why is a person associated with the hat shop dead?  Scarlett finds herself the subject of the investigation and must discover who the real culprit is in order to clear her name.

 

This quick and quirky read is like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series with a little less grit. Cloche and Dagger has an endearing amateur detective trying to get by, and a dash of love and intrigue to keep the reader engrossed.

Randalee

 
 

The Recovered Alcoholic Abroad, or in Search of Robert Lewis Stevenson

Cover art for Headhunters on my DoorstepJ. Maarten Troost’s newest work of travel journalism, Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost, tackles foreign shores, classic literary giants and a newfound sobriety with the same sharp wit we’ve come to expect from the author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages and Lost on Planet China.

 

Again, Troost invites us along on his voyage to the South Pacific, but this trip promises to be immensely different. For one, his sole inspiration for this particular expedition is to follow Robert Lewis Stevenson’s own eccentric island-hopping excursions. On Hiva-Oa we stand over the stacked rocks of Paul Gauguin’s supposed grave, where Troost ruminates on the conflicting lives of the Post-Impressionist artist, both at once the freedom-loving painter and the syphilitic sexual tourist.  On Nuka Hiva we discover the hidden dangers of the land that include falling coconuts, tiger sharks and deceptive fellow rovers.

 

But what’s with Troost’s sudden interest in the life of the novelist who penned Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? What was compelling enough to set Troost trekking distant lands and sailing strange waters? The search for redemption. He asks us to “step back for a moment and consider our hero, Robert Lewis Stevenson. The first thing one gleans is that he does not mess around –no hemming and hawing for him, no dithering.”  

 

Troost, nearly one year sober, is testing not only his sea legs but his teatotaling fortitude which has held him back from both wrecking his marriage and ruining his life. Troost, while traveling on a boat of booze-guzzling shipmates, is not dawdling nor dithering in his search to better understand addiction. With candid humor, Troost dissects himself while also ruminating on the relationship between some of the great artists and writers and their own proclivities for drugs and the endless bottle.

 

For fans of classic Troost, there are still plenty of escapades including a pack of vicious village dogs, an underage Marquesan tattooist and the rogue cannibal. This travel memoir just offers a bit more; both a view into a wanderlust’s struggle with dependency and a hopeful tale of where the curiosity of the human might lead.
 

Sarah Jane

 
 

Color Your World

Color Your World

posted by:
September 25, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for My Blue Is HappyCover art for Henri's ScissorsColors arouse emotions, but the feelings evoked are as unique as each person. Jessica Young tackles this concept in My Blue Is Happy. Readers follow one girl as she explores with family and friends and shares her original ideas about colors. Her best friend likes pink because it’s pretty, but our protagonist finds it annoying, like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe or a bug bite. Chocolate is ordinary says her dad, but this little girl thinks it’s special like chocolate syrup. The girl travels through her world in nine colors, concisely expressing her ideas about each. Illustrator Catia Chen’s vibrant acrylic illustrations capture all the personalities of the colors. Sure gray can be cold like a rainstorm, but if you’re cuddling with grandma on a cozy chair it’s warm and fuzzy. Young deftly explores the idea of contrasts and encourages readers to carefully consider the different feelings colors suggest.

 

In Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, color is the star, helping an aging artist reinvent his creative self. Winter covers Mattise’s early years and journey toward becoming an artist, but her focus here is on the last years of his life, following an illness that left him unable to paint. When faced without a creative outlet, Matisse was overjoyed when he picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting colored paper. He transformed his sick room into a secret fantasy garden filled with vibrant flowers and showy birds. The illustrations, acrylic and cut-paper, are simple, yet perfectly depict the joy Matisse felt while amidst some of his finest works. This is a tender homage to a man whose legacy is such everlasting beauty.
 

Maureen

 
 

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

posted by:
September 24, 2013 - 7:55am

Cover art for Always WatchingDr. Nadine Lavoie is a psychiatrist who is both driven by the desire to help people and skilled with the tools needed in mending broken lives and spirits. However, it is her own emotional state that becomes fractured when she discovers a commonality with her newest patient, a woman admitted to the psychiatric ward for an attempted suicide. During the course of her therapy, the young woman admits to having recently left a commune known as the River of Spiritual Light Center, which is under the leadership of Aaron Quinn. It only takes a quick Google search to confirm Nadine’s fear that this is the same man who ran a cult she and her family lived with as a child. Until this point in her life, she has been powerless to reclaim missing memories from her youth, and possibly the cause of her claustrophobia. Now the barrier has been breached, what she now remembers is terrible. Always Watching by Chevy Stevens is a suspenseful story involving past crimes and current consequences. In her crusade to bring Aaron Quinn’s past deeds to justice, Nadine risks her own life and the lives of her family members.

 

Fans of Chevy Stevens will recognize the protagonist in Always Watching as the psychiatrist in both of her previous novels. Dr. Lavoie is the silent doctor involved in healing the damaged women in both Never Knowing and the stunning debut Still Missing, a New York Times Best Seller. When readers wanted to know more about this character, Stevens decided to tell her story. In an interview on Global BC, a Canadian television station, the author remarked how she enjoys incorporating family dynamics and a deeper message into her stories, combining these features with a suspenseful tale. She also hinted her fourth thriller will be released next summer.

Jeanne