We all wear masks…

Title: The Iron TrialIronTrial

Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Publisher & Release Date: Scholastic Press, September 9

The Hook:  Holly Black doing another middle grade series. ‘Nuff said. (No disrespect to Clare, but I would have read this regardless of the co-author.)

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.
So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.
Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come…”

Overall Impressions: So right from the prologue, his murdered mother’s cryptic message to “KILL THE CHILD” doesn’t bode well for infant Callum Hunt. At twelve years old, father Alastair’s ambivalence toward his child – protectiveness mingled with fear – come out in erratic ways through his attempts to prevent Call’s inclusion into the Magesterium, the magical ruling faction that is waging battle against the Chaos-obsessed Constantine and his minions. Unfortunately for Alastair, Call’s magic is strong enough that his attempts to conceal it backfire spectacularly.

Training at the mountainous Magesterium focuses on controlling and using elemental forces, including deadly elemental spirits.  Of the Mages of the Magesterium, we get the clearest sense of Rufus, Call’s master; the other masters are minimally involved in this first story. The students are drawn in broad strokes – the Friendly Classmate, the Surly Competition, the Bullied One – except for the two fellow students under Rufus, Aaron and Tamara. Their interactions with Callum and each other with the best detail in the book – the three of them navigate rocky personal issues and misunderstandings, as well as dealing with the frustrating and sometimes scary training, with cautious hope in their growing friendship. That more than anything is what I am interested in watching in the rest of the series.

Mind you, the Chaos-Ridden, with the very really possibility of them blending in like  normal, make for an excellent Big Bad; the twist at the end isn’t quite what you think it will be, I will tell you (without further spoilers).

The Highs: A new world of magic to explore, with dangerous elemental spirits! A exploration of destiny, inborn “goodness”, and the circumstances of birth! Secrets and friendship! I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series goes; Black and Clare clearly have a thoughtful trajectory for their trio of student wizards.

Buzzkills:  Sneaking a wolf pup outside several times a day for walkies without being caught was, in a weird way, the most unbelievable part of the book. Dogs are loud and noticeable, and every other time they walked around it seemed like the halls are full of people.

Since any story written with the “boy wizard joins secret magic school” is going to beg comparison to Harry Potter, I was mentally comparing plot and character development the whole time I was reading. Rowling’s superb skill in characterization casts a long shadow, though the Iron Trial does do well in pulling you along quickly and building a unique mythology. I’d like to see more of the backstory of Tamara and Aaron – clearly, they have a great deal of their own baggage to deal with. Tamara’s family angst and her parents’ politics, and Aaron’s lack-of-family angst, speak to deeper issues than the characters can deal with in a single book.

The Source: Galleys from my fellow librarians.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a wolf pup was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Ultimate Filler

Title:  Hungryhungry

Author: H. A. Swain

Publisher & Release Date: Feiwel & Friends, June 3

The Hook: Another dystopian tale with romance; this one pretty convincing in how the circumstances came about – a corporation manipulating the government to agree to its demands in ‘feeding’ the population as climate change destroys great swathes of the ecosystem.

The Lowdown (from jacket): In Thalia’s world, there is no more food and no need for food, as everyone takes medication to ward off hunger. Her parents both work for the company that developed the drugs society consumes to quell any food cravings, and they live a life of privilege as a result. When Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that there is an entire world outside her own.

Overall Impressions: Thalia and her family live inside a bubble of privilege,  one so well-constructed that Thalia and her friends have no inkling of the second-class that are starving beyond the walls of the city. Thalia rebels in small ways, but it’s only when her hunger pangs, ineffectively suppressed by her formulated Synthamil, drive her away from her “our medicine will cure anything” parents that she really cracks the carefully constructed facade of corporation-created perfection.

She does have emotional support in the form of her more traditional (pre-Synthamil) grandparents and a friend, who’s also a little deeper than she appears. After discovering the attractive Basil with (essentially) a magic box of delicious smells, Thalia and Basil venture outside the walls and quickly careen from anarchist protests groups to angry riots to opportunistic scavenger – and finally a commune that is far less idyllic than it first appears.

The Highs: I most enjoyed the world-building in creating a dystopia that had a very clear cause and cascading effects; many that I’ve read leave it to a sort of “ultimate war” or simply “previous events” that aren’t terrifically clear. The mega-corporation One World is an effectively intimidating Big Bad, one with Big Brother-esque control over most of the inner city and tendrils of power that catch our heroes by surprise.

The social construction is also food for thought (ahem) for teens thinking about current society – the more stark separation of inner and outer city residents was very plausible, when you look at how parts of American society are today, and how it could get much worse in times of crisis. (I would love to see this talked about in a book club, actually.)

Buzzkills:  “Privy” is short for privilege in this context – but is also an antique word for toilet, which is hard to ignore.

The ending doesn’t leave the reader with a great deal of solutions – clearly there’s a future trajectory (to be explored in later books?), but for now the heroes are very much still on their journey.

The Source: NetGalley

Many apologies for the late post!

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor Synthamil was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Country brother, city brother

Title: Steering Toward Normalsteering

Author: Rebecca Petruck

Publisher & Release Date: Amulet Books, May 13

The Hook: Honestly, the cover sucked me in right from the start – and it actually gives a great snapshot of the family tensions inside: two half-brothers who aren’t necessarily loving the new situation, but still with a little cheeky humor.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop. What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.”

Overall Impressions: The boys have parallel abandonment issues: Diggy’s mother left him as an infant on Pop’s doorstep and then left town on a tractor, the ignominious mode of travel just salting the wound; and Wayne has lost both his mother and then very shortly after the man that he thought was his father, who in an alcoholic rage also dropped Wayne on Pop’s doorstep. Wayne’s obsession with Diggy’s mom, who’s never returned or contact her son, is a constant sore spot between the two of them – neither boy truly understanding why the other feels like they do. There’s a blowup at the end that makes things clearer, but Petruck does a great job of showing how time and perseverance is the biggest factor in healing tempers and family problems. Nearly a year passes as the boys and their respective families fight, find common ground, and deal with life as it comes.

The Highs: Petruck does an excellent job of creating a believable set of characters with very human problems and setbacks. The inclusion of the steer raising details and even rocket-building were interesting without being an info dump; it tied everything together really well in building the relationship – and tension – between Diggy and Wayne. Diggy gets to be the knowledgeable one in teaching the less farm-savvy Wayne, but when Wayne starts to succeed on his own (and attract July’s attention) Diggy starts having second thoughts. Their final competition, and Diggy’s crush on July, were resolved in a way that made total sense – not quite a happy ending, but one that will leave readers happy and rooting for them in the future. 

Buzzkills: By the end, I still was concerned about the level of rage that Mr. Graf exhibited even when he was sober. He finished on better terms with Wayne and his in-laws, but I kept thinking that Pop should be making regular visits to the Graf house to make sure that his son is safe. There was a lot of story on the parents’ side that we didn’t see much of, though, so maybe it’s implied that he went to some sort of counseling.

The Source: Galley from publisher.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor hay was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

All’s unfair in love and war

Title: The Ring and The CrownCover

Author: Melissa de la Cruz

Publisher & Release Date: Hyperion, April 1

The Hook: Four girl lives’ collide in a lavish and magical London Season, with hearts and entire kingdoms in peril.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a formidable castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures.

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world’s only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire.

As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d’Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth.

But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family’s position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires.

Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn’t even want Leopold-she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry.

When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy.”

Overall Impressions: The combination of what was essentially a Regency romance (minus the Regent) with dark fantasy and political intrigue was a pull for me – I love both of those genres, and was eager to see where de la Cruz would take it. From the jacket flap and the snippet on the back of the book, I was expecting a serious narrative with magic, mystery and romance. Apart from a few snippets about Avalon and Merlin, there wasn’t much magic to be seen, though. About halfway through, the romantic pairings were pretty obvious and I was ready to enjoy a fluffy romance set in magical world instead. Then with about 30 pages left to go, the narrative took a huge turn into unexpected deaths and plots.

The Highs: De la Cruz spent most of her time on the characters, their lives and romances, so characterization was very well done and believable. The strength of their personalities and individual dreams carried the story beautifully… until about 30 pages from the end.

Buzzkills:

This felt like a mishmash. The major dynamic should have been between princess Marie and her mage friend Aelwyn; there was plenty to explore there, from their childhood together, to Marie’s curious health problems, to Merlin’s reasons for calling Aelwyn home and her own goals as a magician, not to mention the apparently minor issues of hostile rebel forces, systemic poverty across most of England, and the competing forces of magic and industrialization. However, much of the narrative veered away into the life and trials of Ronan (and to a lesser extent, Isabelle), which while an interesting read were not, in fact, that important to the eventual plot.

This had potential as a great magical world – the conflict between the wild magic of Avalon and the strictly controlled British mages, the lockdown on magic outside the official magicians, Aelwyn’s ability to take souls and transform people, the secret of Pandora’s box – there was some great foundation laid. And then buried under first a fluffy romance setup and then a  furious whirlwind of political plotting that was hastily resolved and ruined everyone’s lives. I’m not a believer that every book should have a happy ending, but wow.

All of the evil in this book came from men. Liars, cheats, sorcerers and molesters, most of them. Even the most annoying of the women were merely victims of circumstance. As a feminist, this bothers me.

Now that I’ve finished, the title made some sense; but it really wasn’t what this book was about at all, barring the last chapter.

The Source: Galley from a PLA conference

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor moonstones were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Lions and Tigers and Blue Gingham, oh my!

Title: Dorothy Must Die Dorothy Must Die

Author: Danielle Page

Publisher & Release Date: HarperCollins, April 1

The Hook: Page twists an old story on its head: Dorothy is draining Oz of its magic, monkeys are cutting their wings off in desperation, and the remaining Witches are fighting to overthrow her despotic rule.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas.
I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.
I’ve been trained to fight.
And I have a mission:
Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart.
Steal the Scarecrow’s brain.
Take the Lion’s courage.
Then and only then—Dorothy must die!

Overall Impressions:   Amy is “trailer poor”, with an addict mother who barely seems to realize she’s there and an arch-nemesis in pink and sequins at school. So when she’s swept up into a tornado and plonked down in Oz, you’d think she’d be better off. Unfortunately, this Oz is far grimmer than the one from the storybooks. Seriously dark, in fact – one of the first people you meet is literally melted out of her skin by Dorothy’s goons. I kept getting surprised at how gruesome some of the fates were that befell various characters.

Amy’s inclusion in the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is heavily coerced, defined as “good” only when compared to the total, capital-E Evil of Dorothy. The reader is kept guessing throughout the entire training and even later what the  Witches are really up to – and how much of the truth they’re actually sharing with Amy. It adds an extra layer of uncertainty with the obligatory love interest, Nox, as well, because Amy repeatedly discovers their interactions are deliberately designed to force her to tap her inner magic.

You quickly find out why their methods are dirty, though: as soon as Amy sneaks into the Emerald City, everything else was unicorns and fuzzy bunnies in comparison.

The Highs: I love the new spin on the mythology of Oz – Page clearly did her research, tying in elements that will please both fans of the original L Frank Baum series as well as the silver screen adaptation. I was completely absorbed by the characters and the world-building right from the start – there’s solid story-telling peppered with surprises around every bend. I enjoyed the threads of unknowns that pulls the reader through the story – who’s Pete? How was Amy “bound”? Why are the shoes so captivating?

Dorothy’s ferociously unfair punishments and insane rules are made all the worse by the thought-policing over the servants and subjects of the lands of Oz, something that will resonate with readers as its own special kind of horror. I think other fans of dystopian fiction will appreciate this post-apocalyptic sort of Oz,  as well as fans of dark fairy tales, such as Meyer’s Cinder and Chalice by Robin McKinley.

Buzzkills: Honestly, the romance included felt a little rote. I was far more interested in following Amy’s journey to the Emerald City to kill Dorothy.  Fortunately for me, the relationship wasn’t really central to the story, although some readers might prefer more.

The Source: Galley from the publisher

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor green goo was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly…

Title:  If I Ever Get Out of HereCover photo

Author: Eric Gansworth

Publisher & Release Date: Arthur A. Levine, June 2013

The Hook: Beatles references combined with a historical story (at least to people my age and younger: the 70s!), with a teen Tuscarora Indian as the main character, which I haven’t read before. I was happy to see that it was also just named the AIYLA Honor Book.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?”

Overall Impressions:  This book has pretty broad appeal, and I would also happily push this onto fellow fans of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” though there are some significant differences. Sherman Alexie is irreverent, foul-mouthed, and hilarious, which is the essential voice in “Part-Time Indian.” Gansworth takes a more serious tone with many of the same issues – poverty, bullying, the meaning of friendship and family relationships, and navigating between the very different worlds of the reservation, high school, and military families. However, similarities included: a strong-willed and lovably awkward hero; a infuriating system that you want the hero to take down; showing the significance of little things; making me cry.

The Highs: I love it when characters connect with a friend over music, and Gansworth deftly brought in many satellite issues, like girlfriends, parents, bullies, and lies, while still holding on to that central theme. Lewis, George, their families and friends were all great characters, each with their own quirks that led to moments that rang very true.  I loved Lewis himself, his persistence and pride, even his fish-out-of-water awkwardness – I think most teens will be able to empathize with that feeling. The ending made total sense to me, even though it was bittersweet.

Buzzkills: This is more of a lack of amazingness than an actual buzzkill: I really wanted there to be a playlist of samples that I could download to my phone. A lot of the music references will probably sail over the heads of most teens, unless they have a rare penchant for classic rock, and it would be so cool to get teens get hooked on the music that Lewis fell in love with.

The Source: Netgalley.com

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or any Queen LPs were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Belief is in the Eye of the Beholder

Title: Boxers & Saintscovers

Author: Gene Luen Yang

Publisher & Release Date: First Second, September 2013

The Hook: If you haven’t heard of Yang’s American Born Chinese, welcome to the world of graphic novels! We have a lot of fun here. In November, Boxers & Saints was named a National Book Award Finalist. BoxersSignedYang is an advocate for comics in education and is just generally all kinds of awesome – check out how he signed my copy (eeee!):

The Lowdown (from jackets): “China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu – who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

“An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. She finally finds friendship – and a name, Vibiana – in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.”

Overall Impressions:   Yang has tightly wrapped myth, belief and history around a very raw humanity. Before reading this, I only had a very vague idea of what happened in the Boxer Rebellion, and it was sad and maddening to see the human faults on both sides – roving lechers and looters, the greedy, the opium addicts, and people too blinded in their own faith to recognize the value in others‘.  Family obligation, pride and mercy drive the characters, too, though, in ways that will still resonate with a modern reader. This was a hard review to write, in fact, because I want so much to convey how much I love this set.
Little Bao steps from role to role as a little brother, a son, a leader, and a warrior. He has a boyish eagerness to prove himself, to claim the blessings of the gods and see justice done, and in the beginning his journey with the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist (the eponymous ‘Boxers’) does seem to be blessed. As the fighting gets more serious, Little Bao exhibits a disturbing ruthless streak – the reader is still rooting for him, but now to find the right path to save his people without sinking into the dark vision of the brutal first Emperor.
Vibiana, as the scorned youngest daughter in a wildly biased societal system, channels her rage and frustration into her conversion to Christianity. Her initial choices are naturally childish and selfish, but she slowly finds her way after receiving visions of Joan of Arc. She never loses her prickliness and pride, but her actions during the attack of the Righteous Fist speak loudly to her growing compassion.
The collision of the two separate arcs give each other context beyond what Little Bao and Vibiana individually experience. Both struggle with their role in life, reaching for the idealistic vision presented to them initially and then left holding the often brutal consequences, where good and bad are found on both sides, sometimes even in the same person. 

The Highs: These are nuanced people, not cartoons (ironically) – there’s more emotional depth in seemingly simply drawings than other authors give characters with whole paragraphs of description backing them.

Learning aspects of Chinese society in snippets of conversation rather than being subjected to walls of explanatory text.

The parallels that are drawn between the journeys of Little Bao and Four-Girl/Vibiana as they struggle with society’s expectations and their own beliefs.

The art:   I’ve always liked Yang’s clean lines and expressive characters, and he achieves a wonderful balance here – the art being as much a part of the storytelling experience as the words. Colorist Lark Pien relies heavily on muted tones of brown and red for dull peasant life, with the effective use of color to highlight the supernatural visions of Little Bao and Vibiana. It’s really a pleasure just to hold.

And finally, the small piece of hope left even as everything is burning.

Buzzkills: It’s a grim time in history, and judgments aren’t clear or easy; if you want clearly defined heroes and villains, you’re not going to find them here.

The Source: Green Bean Books, Portland, during the Wordstock conference.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or visions of glory were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Out of the Woods

Title: If You Find Me If You Find me

Author:  Emily Murdoch

Publisher & Release Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2013

The Hook: This has been flying off the shelf at my library, as well as getting some buzz around the teen lit community.

The Lowdown (from Amazon): “A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency – until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.”

Overall Impressions: Fans of “Where the Stars Still Shine” by Trish Doller and “The Rules of Survival” by Nancy Werlin, not to mention “A Child Called It”, will be in love with Carey’s story. To be honest, this is not my favorite kind of story, but Murdoch did a great job of sucking the reader in and not letting go.

The Highs: Nicely paced, flipping between camper/meth!Mom flashbacks and present-day adjusting with a hint of foreshadowing to carry the story.  The focus is (rightly) on the development of Carey’s relationships with family and friends, with just a touch of romance; given the backstory, it was nice to see her take that very cautiously. The ending was a twist for a couple of reasons – I think most readers will guess the main reveal, but there was a little extra that set a new lens over the previous story.

Buzzkills:  Scenes of rape and abuse are grim, although not overly graphic. Her mother’s diagnosis seemed a little thin to me – but I’m not well-versed in mental conditions, which it’s possible the author is counting on. Carey’s education is suspiciously deep in some areas and incredibly shallow in others – she can quote Bronte and tests out as a sophomore, but doesn’t know what a locker or a cell phone is.  (I suppose it’s possible none of the books she picked up were set in present-day.) Jenessa can read, but there’s a whole host of other skills that are prerequisites for joining first grade that she would never have developed. Also, some of Carey’s reactions were out of proportion to the issue – after everything her mother did, and much of it was truly horrible, getting her birthday wrong made Casey physically ill. And finally, her step-sister called a truce because of something pretty major… and that was the end of it, no consequences. An interesting choice.

The Source: public library

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or bedazzled jeans were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

In the (Wuthering) Heights

Title: Catherine Catherine

Author: April Lindner

Publisher & Release Date: Poppy, Jan 2013

The Hook: Retellings of classics always intrigue me, and I enjoyed “Jane” which came out a few years ago.

The Lowdown: From Amazon: “…Seventeen-year-old Chelsea learns through a hidden letter that her mother did not die when she was three, but ran away to New York. Chelsea does the same to try to rediscover Catherine and see if she is still alive.”

Overall Impressions: Lindner sets up the classic story with a modern twist: in her search for her mother Catherine, Chelsea finds Hence (a version of Heathcliff) as the owner of her grandfather’s punk venue; her mother’s diary; and a cute musician that her father most likely won’t approve of. Between one major plot change and the layered story-telling, the story will still have some surprises for readers familiar with Wuthering Heights. (For those who haven’t read the original: it’s gloomy and tragic and probably uses the word “woe” at least twice.)

Chelsea herself is a determined sleuth, tracking down her mother’s history and friends and pestering Hence until more of the mystery is revealed. It’s like she’s unfinished, and knowing more about her mother will complete a part of her that she didn’t know was missing until she discovered the letter. Hence is grim, hard to like, and hostile toward any idea that Catherine might be alive – because her absence would mean a deeper rejection than mere death. You can see how his passion is captivating. Chelsea’s father is well-meaning in a vague and ineffectual way, concealing Catherine’s last letters to Chelsea and dropping his missing wife from their lives. Chelsea’s romantic interest, Cooper, is cute, though very secondary to Hence and Catherine’s story.

The Highs: The structure, which could have been contrived and awful and instead flowed very nicely between the past and present. The undercurrent of romance with Chelsea and Cooper; a nice touch but not a distraction from the central mystery. The believable tension between Hence, Catherine, and her brother Quentin, in a world with less class restrictions than Bronte’s time but still many sources of friction.

Buzzkills: There were a couple of scenes that dipped a toe briefly into the gothic, an obvious nod to the original – but a mismatch in tone, I thought. The story itself is rife with misunderstandings, passion, and anger, but it’s a very human (rather than supernatural) tragedy. (Disclaimer: I have never really studied Wuthering Heights, so I would be willing to be persuaded.)

This is a total side note, but the proper names between the retelling and the original gave me hives while trying to write this review – I had to work to keep Lindner/Linton/Quentin/Hareton/Hindley/Hence straight.

The Source: My public library

Disclaimer: No chocolate or punk LPs were provided by the publisher for this review.

Who’re you gonna call?

Title: The Screaming Staircase cover

Author: Jonathan Stroud

Publisher & Release Date: Random House, September 17

The Hook: I thought Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy was wicked genius (bartimaeusbooks.com will give you an idea), and in this series he’s delving into ghosts, and the young people that fight them. The trailer is quite creepy.

The Lowdown (from the author’s website): 

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood.

When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Overall Impressions:   An unexpected combination of murder mystery, ghost hunting action, and fantasy world-building kept me reading well beyond my self-imposed bedtime. The ghost hunting was believably hair-raising and the witty banter between characters was delightful.
Stroud has always impressed me with nuanced character-building, and Locke & Co. is no exception. The quirky, quasi-Sherlockian Lockwood and level-headed, determined Lucy make a balanced and amusing pair. Even George, the stodgy and slapstick sidekick, got enough narrative investment to round out his character into someone I was rooting for.
There’s considerable tension between the adults of this world and the ghost-hunting teenagers; Lucy and Lockwood’s brazen disregard for the caution and control of the adults can be both dangerous and satisfying. The rebelliousness will appeal to other teens, though this could also be recommended to the middle grades (assuming they like scary stories).

The Highs:
Lucy’s voice, and building her relationships with the enigmatic Anthony and fussy George. The wry humor throughout that Stroud is well known for. The well-plotted mystery of the dead socialite, which held some surprises until the very end. The deeply creepy feeling that permeates the entire book – these are some serious specters that will kill you in horrible ways. The little details of world building: the ghost lamps and the industries surrounding ghost hunting (like lavender fields and iron factories). The hints at future possibilities for Lockwood & Co.

Buzzkills:  None, apart from being genuinely creeped out.

The Source: NetGalley.com

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or lavender boughs were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.