by Stafford Betty
Sometimes a book starts a little awkwardly, like the author was trying too hard to make a start and to get too many things in too soon or to make a special effort to mention some ‘agenda’. I had to make a few allowances for this one because the story I was expecting to read, about a protagonist who sees ghosts, was worked into that crucial first chapter smoothly enough to hope for some good flow to the rest of the story.
It did flow well after, though I felt the narrative was ‘young’ for my taste, but it’s targeted at YA and middle grade and I would say appropriate for the middle grade age group, apart from the diversions into conversations about ‘God’ that don’t quite fit in and come across as if the author is laying ground to push young readers towards religious beliefs.
Ben Conover is a boy from a religious family, but he sees ghosts, especially a girl ghost who he calls Abby. His parents don’t believe what he sees is real of course and try to get him to stop making comments about it. The story covers interactions with other kids, both friends and foes, as well as family members. There are a few lessons about following the lead of older kids, especially relatives, who do things you know aren’t smart and about dealing with life in general from a 12-13 year old’s perspective.
Overall I did enjoy the story, but it didn’t really progress in a central theme and I thought the ending left some inconclusive loose ends. I liked Ben as a character, but I did think some of the situations could have been better developed or followed up.
by C.M. Gray
This is a YA story and reads like one, yet it has a dark and magical plotline that intrigued me and kept me interested. A young thief makes a special haul on a dare that includes a magical knife. The previous owner of the knife seems to be unaware of its significance or the connection to a small grey cat that has been living with him for several weeks.
The thief and his friends live on a boat, but don’t want to sail away too suddenly as the city watch would notice and they would come under suspicion for the significant burglary. In the course of deciding how to stash some of the loot and minimize evidence, they discover some of the unusual properties of the knife.
Their adventures soon begin to look like a gaming campaign or the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series, but a lot of imagination goes into the plot and there are some original ideas I found interesting. It’s the typical Order vs Chaos scenario with heroes and demons and would be gold for a middle grade reader.
A few too convenient solutions and the innocent nobility of the warrior among the heroes being reluctant to kill an unarmed enemy makes it most appropriate for young readers, but still it had some wonderfully fantastical ideas and the writing itself was flawless.
by Maggie Stiefvater
This is a YA story but very well written so I didn’t feel like I was reading children’s literature, as is often my problem with YA.
Grace has a fascination with the wolves around her rural home, but when she is dragged off her swing and attacked by the pack, she makes a connection with one of them that saves her life. From then on, her wolf comes to visit her every winter, though he also watches her in summer, but in human form.
This was a sweet romance story with a paranormal twist. It is written in alternating points of view so we see both Grace and Sam’s thoughts about the developing bond between them and the effects when a local boy is bitten and becomes one of the shapeshifter pack.
Despite the high school age concerns which is something I don’t usually care to read about, I enjoyed this one al the way through, though I thought the ending was a little too abrupt and left the last events unexplained. Some loose ends are expected though as it’s a series.
YA Romance readers who like a little paranormal should enjoy this one.
by Mark W. McGinnis
This is a book of retold Chinese fables, based on the writings of the ancient philosopher Chang Tzu but written in modern language that any child could follow.
The tales are very short and each has a morale at the end to teach the reader something about the foibles of human nature.
The pictures are beautifully done and in full color in what looks like an oriental style. Overall the book is beautifully presented and would make a nice gift to a child, though adults would enjoy it too!
by A.M. Hudson
This is a YA teenage witch story. The premise sounds really corny, but somehow it seems to work. Willa the teenage witch befriends her neighbour who everyone thinks is a dork. His recent suicide attempt makes them a little careful and mostly they whisper behind his back.
Little do they know, Henry Charming is not of their world. Through the minefield of high school dances and crushes, Henry has a bigger issue to deal with and Willa is the only person he trusts to tell his secret. Meanwhile, Willa’s crush on a popular guy brings its own teenage angst.
There’s a strong fairytale thread in this story and it isn’t the sort of thing I would want to read a lot of, but it was done pretty well so as YA stuff goes, I can’t complain too much. I did find myself wanting to know what would happen in the end. There’s even one scary bit.
by Amma Lee
This is advertised as a YA book but it reads more like a children’s story. If it weren’t for an occasional wrong form of word, I’d recommend it to budding Mystery readers.
It’s a cute story. Wendy and her black cat, imaginatively named Black, set out to solve mysteries. It’s part of a series of course. Wendy has the ability to hear cats talk so Black is able to help her with her cases.
I’ve scored it low because, quite honestly, not enough happens. There is no tension or feeling of danger at any point and the case isn’t all that hard to solve.
In its favor I didn’t see any typos and any story about a talking cat can’t be all bad, but I won’t be reading any more of the series as it’s just too young for me.
by Robin Jarvis
This is a whimsical children’s story but it’s not just a cutsie mouse story, there are elements of Horror for children. The rats peel mice, as in skinning, so probably for slightly older children with the disposition to enjoy things like Goosebumps.
It is mostly about a mouse family who travel, one by one, through a grate that they know takes them into the territory of the rats. First the father goes on a whim, then his daughter goes to look for him and soon several mice are where they shouldn’t be in a dangerous place.
I don’t often read stories directed at very young readers, but I liked the tone and the writing in this one. Adventurous mouse stories formed an essential part of my own childhood reading and I think this one could easily sit on a shelf next to The Secret of Nimh.
It’s a surprisingly multi-layered story with a spiritual element, but mostly adventures of the child mice. Imagine Nancy Drew stories or the Hardy boys in mouse form. The quality of the writing holds up all through and this is a story I would happily buy for my nieces and nephews who are appropriate age for stories that don’t write down to a child’s level, but concern young characters with whom they could identify. One of the better contributions to children’s literature that I’ve seen for a while.