Noted film director (Home Alone, Harry Potter) Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini serve up an action-packed adventure in House of Secrets. The Walker children, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor, have enjoyed a privileged childhood, but following an “incident” at the hospital where their father worked, the family has fallen on challenging times. Forced to relocate to San Francisco, the family happens upon a house that seems too good to be true. A grand old Victorian once owned by a famous author, the Kristoff House is offered at a fraction of its value. Enchanted, the Walkers quickly take up residence – but not for long.
The day of the move, a mysterious neighbor visits the household. Dahlia, the daughter of author Denver Kristoff, the original owner, seems friendly and harmless enough, but her exterior conceals the truly villainous nature of the Wind Witch. Soon enough, she has separated the children from their parents and cast them into the fantastical worlds of Kristoff’s books.
Left to fend for themselves in the mysterious realms of Kristoff’s fiction, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor must band together to make sense of their banishment and find a way to defeat the Wind Witch who has trapped them within the pages of her father’s works. Along the way, the children are alternately helped, hindered and betrayed by the characters they encounter.
This is a decidedly action-driven story and the precocious Walker children seldom experience a dull moment from the first time they lay eyes on the mysterious Kristoff House. Readers will find themselves similarly swept along for the ride. Though the cultural references in the dialogue may date the story before its time, today's kids will particularly enjoy the number of mentions of current popular media and electronic devices.
Recommended for upper middle grade or young adult readers for somewhat mature content, House of Secrets will hold particular appeal for fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Sharron Kahn Luttrell’s Weekends with Daisy is a beautiful story of how Luttrell fell in love with a puppy named Daisy and the enduring impact that experience had on her life. After Luttrell’s beloved German Shepherd Tucker passed away, she had what she refers to as canine deficit disorder. She needed a dog in her life. She heard about National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) and their Prison Pup Partnership. The program needed volunteers to help socialize the puppies on the weekends during their training, and she knew this was the perfect way to get her puppy fix.
That’s how Daisy, a sweet yellow Lab puppy who was training to become a service dog, eventually became part of Luttrell’s life. During the week, Daisy was cared for and trained by her inmate handler Keith at the medium-security prison where he was serving his sentence. Each weekend, Luttrell would pick Daisy up and drive her home where the Luttrell family cared for Daisy and introduced her to the sights, sounds and smells of the outside world. Eventually, Luttrell gave in to her curiosity and learned about the violent crime that Keith committed, and she had to find a way to make peace with the fact that the man she learned about was the same man who she had come to know as Daisy’s trainer.
Weekends with Daisy is a story about an amazing dog, but it’s also a story of Luttrell’s self-discovery and acceptance. Daisy’s sweet face and loving disposition will melt any dog lover’s heart. Eventually, Daisy was matched with an autistic boy named David. She works hard each day to make his life easier. Luttrell continues to foster service dogs-in-training for NEADS. Rescue, her seventh foster dog, recently graduated from the program.
Nurse Cathy Green looked at the elderly lady lying on the asphalt floor of the hospital's parking garage. The lung cancer patient was wheezing. Her oxygen tank was near empty. The rattled nurse couldn't stand to watch this woman die just because no one came to rescue her, so she walked away. It is gut-wrenching scenes like this that stay with you in Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink's riveting, exhaustively researched account of what happened at one particular hospital following Hurricane Katrina.
For the doctors and nurses at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, the principles of the Hippocratic Oath were severely tested in the days following the storm when the floodwaters rose. Keeping the sick alive became an exercise in ping-pong triage. Patients were controversially grouped for evacuation. Rancid air and pitch-black interior rooms made conditions unbearable. Help was slow in coming. Complicating the picture was the "hospital within a hospital." LifeCare housed the most critically ill patients on Memorial's seventh floor. Who gets help first? Who is evacuated last? In Memorial's case, Fink attempts to contextualize what really happened after the hurricane and who was responsible for the 45 patients who died there under suspicious circumstances.
A medical doctor who has worked in disaster relief, Fink won the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for her 2009 article, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial.” Published in The New York Times magazine, it chronicled the mercy killings at the hospital under horrendous conditions. In her book's shifting perspectives and reconstructed narrative, she places readers where they need to be: inside the mindset of those who were there. "We went into survival mode and were just trying to keep them alive with food and water," said a staff member. Readers who like their narrative nonfiction with some kick will find this issue-oriented page-turner of ethical choices made by a beleaguered staff a difficult read to put down.
Love 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.
John 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.”
Thrills 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.
In 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.
Danny 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.
Jill 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.
Jenn 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.