Young Adult / March 8, 2018

Croak #1. Author: Gina Damico. Summary: Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business. She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice — or is it vengeance? — whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills? (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Blah. There’s an initial premise – reapers – but beyond that, almost no worldbuilding. Where are the consequences of the existence of reapers? How do they change the world? Surely the world isn’t exactly the same as ours except for the existence of hundreds of real Grim Reapers. What details we do get don’t make sense. Some reapers are born with the…

Young Adult / February 5, 2018

Skinjacker #3. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: While Mary lies in a glass coffin aboard a ghost train heading west, her minions are awaiting her re-awakening by bringing lots of new souls into Everlost to serve her. Meanwhile Jackin’ Jill has met Jix, a fur-jacker—a skin jacker who can take over the bodies of animals, most notably jaguars. Jix serves a Mayan god who collects Everlost coins, and has his own agenda. In the concluding volume of The Skinjacker Trilogy, Neal Shusterman reveals new sides of the characters of Everlost, who are pitted against each other in a battle that may destroy all life on Earth. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I’ve been thinking a good bit about this series, since finishing it. What makes it really fascinating is that Shusterman writes a morbid premise (dead children) into the whimsical world of Everlost, into an absolutely engaging story, tucks in a number of interesting reflections on death and life and the differences, and does it all without moralizing. See, the thing is, the children of Everlost consider themselves dead, but I don’t think they really are. They’re not dead, but not alive. (SPOILERS AHEAD for Everlost and Everwild) For one thing, there…

Young Adult / February 1, 2018

Skinjacker #2. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: Everlost, the limbo land of dead children, is at war. Nick the “Chocolate Ogre” wants to help the children of Everlost reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Mary Hightower, self-proclaimed queen of lost children and dangerous fanatic, is determined to keep Everlost’s children trapped within its limbo for all eternity. Traveling in the memory of the Hindenburg, Mary is spreading her propaganda and attracting Afterlights to her cause at a frightening speed. Meanwhile, Allie the Outcast travels home to seek out her parents, along with Mikey, who was once the terrifying monster the McGill. Allie is tempted by the seductive thrill of skinjacking the living, until she discovers the shocking truth about skinjackers. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: So if the first book was a lot of set up, this is the part where that pays off. One awesome bit is how Neal Shusterman embraces the fairy-tale feeling of Everlost itself. Limbo is at war, but this is so much more than a war of numbers – it is a war of propaganda. The Sky Witch versus the Chocolate Ogre. The most dangerous enemy is someone completely convinced they are in the…

Young Adult / January 28, 2018

Skinjacker #1. Author: Neal Shusterman. Summary: Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident… …but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to get either. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost children run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth. When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost kids, Nick feels like he he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Everlost is a bit like Alice in Wonderland – if Wonderland made sense, in an internal self-contained way. I mean, our characters fall down a long hole into a strange, often whimsical, new land. A land where how you remember yourself determines your appearance, where falling straight to the center of the earth…

The Dire King
Young Adult / October 27, 2017

Jackaby #4. Author: William Ritter. Summary: The fate of the world is in the hands of detective of the supernatural R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook. An evil king is turning ancient tensions into modern strife, using a blend of magic and technology to push Earth and the Otherworld into a mortal competition. Jackaby and Abigail are caught in the middle as they continue to solve the daily mysteries of New Fiddleham, New England — like who’s created the rend between the worlds, how to close it, and why zombies are appearing around. At the same time, the romance between Abigail and the shape-shifting police detective Charlie Cane deepens, and Jackaby’s resistance to his feelings for 926 Augur Lane’s ghostly lady, Jenny, begins to give way. Before the four can think about their own futures, they will have to defeat an evil that wants to destroy the future altogether. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: I think I liked Jackaby rather better when it was a paranormal detective series. That was a twist I’ve never seen before. The got-to-save-the-whole-world ending was a disappointing relapse into fantasy cliches. The characters hold true, though. Quirky, amusing, overall determined to do the…

Manners & Mutiny
Young Adult / September 6, 2017

Finishing School #4. Author: Gail Carriger. Summary: If one must flirt…flirt with danger. Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster–in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course. My Thoughts: The mysteriously shady picklemen and their (probably) nefarious plans have finally coagulated into a real, substantial threat. One that, given the goofy nature of the books, seems surprisingly real for the steampunk setting: mass control of mechanicals. Given society’s wide-spread reliance, they could create complete havoc in a matter of hours. Sophronia rises to the challenge with commendable selflessness and an A-level grasp on her intelligencer lessons, creating a satisfyingly climatic final book. So the main plot: good. The side-romance-plot: errrr…….

Waistcoats & Weaponry
Young Adult / September 4, 2017

Finishing School #3. Author: Gail Carriger. Summary: Class is back in session…. Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style–with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey hijack a suspiciously empty train to return their chum Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. But when Sophronia discovers they are being trailed by a dirigible of Picklemen and flywaymen, she unearths a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos. With her friends in mortal danger, Sophronia must sacrifice what she holds most dear–her freedom. (Published summary) My Thoughts: A slightly different setting here than the previous books – rather than lessons and plots at school, most of the book takes place over a single (stolen) train ride. With Sophronia trapped in close quarters with both Felix and Soap, she’s finally forced to confront her feelings and figure out what’s going on here. About time, too; I think she’s enjoying the attention and care offered by both boys, while avoiding any real commitment. The seduction class (…

Curtsies & Conspiracies
Young Adult / September 3, 2017

Finishing School #2. Author: Gail Carriger. Summary: Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests? Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners. Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot–and survive the London Season with a full dance card. (Published summary) My Thoughts: Whoo-boy, everything’s revving up. Rather more flirting, a good bit more paranormal involvement, new mechanical-inventions; let’s just throw in more of everything! I do think Sophronia needs…

Hex Hall
Young Adult / August 22, 2017

Hex Hall #1. Author: Rachel Hawkins. Summary: Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father—an elusive European warlock—only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. (Published summary) My Thoughts: Bland. Pretty boring. I may be spoiled by all the epic fantasy I read, but I just wasn’t drawn into the story-world; there’s no particular world-building and the characters seem petty and dull. I do think it’s all right to use a pre-existing set up, like basic werewolves and vampires, without any extra worldbuilding, so that you can jump straight into your story and focus on the action without explaining anything; or even just because you like that world. It does run more risk of being boring, though, especially when the action focuses around a strange on-off romance/attraction and a ghostly grandmother whom we all (except the main character) know is up to no good….

Etiquette & Espionage
Young Adult / August 19, 2017

Finishing School #1. Author: Gail Carriger. Summary: It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners–and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage–in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education. My Thoughts: Total fluff, but really fun. The perfect thing for some really light back-to-school reading to get back into studying mode. In this paranormal steampunk setting young Victorian ladies are going to a floating finishing school to learn proper etiquette, from…