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I was at the American Library Association conference in Orlando last weekend and had a chance to exchange a few (very few) words with some of my author and illustrator idols:

They were all charming, of course. So, now for their latest books:

I’ll tell you that I love the books by these authors (except that I haven’t yet read anything by Laura Ruby but Bone Gap is on my reading list). The Margaret A. Edwards award (contributions to young adult literature) winner Anderson writes about current issues in Impossible Knife of Memory, Wintergirls and Speak. Readers can’t put her books down. Ashes is the third book in her Seeds of America trilogy about the Revolutionary War. She is truly impassioned about her subjects.

Jerry Pinkney is a marvelous award winning illustrator who has done wondrous things with his fairy tales The Lion and the Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare and Grasshopper and the Ants. Children and adults alike will smile as they read these books. He promised to continue as there are so many more fairy tales to tell.

Jordan Sonnenblick uses humor to discuss serious topics such as strokes, old age and cancer in Falling Over Sideways, Notes from a Midnight Driver, and After Ever After. The topics he writes about are ones you don’t see in young adult literature all that often.

Morgan Matson and Emery Lord are the masters of the summer romance (watch out Sarah Dessen!). Matson’s Unexpected Everything (review to come), Since You’ve Been Gone and Second Chance Summer are the perfect beach reads. (For some reason I’ve bought Matson’s last two books at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, NY…I’m not from there! Is this a trend?) Lord’s spin on romance and characters is unique in When We Collided (Vivi is such a great character) (review to come) and Open Road Summer. So get your reading chair, beach umbrella and SPF 50 ready.

You’ll have to wait until I read Bone Gap to know what that one’s all about. But if it is a Michael Printz Award winner, it can’t be all bad.

These six authors provide any kind of reading you want (serious, humorous, romantic, illustrious, mythical) to take you through the summer, into the fall and beyond. Happy Reading!

 

Although The Warden’s Daughter is about a child growing up inside prison walls, the resemblance to Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts ends there. The latter is a humorous book, with some serious overtones while the former is a sensitive look at a girl looking for a mother, with some humor included.

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Cammie’s mother sacrificed her own life to save Cammie, when she was just an infant, from being hit by a milk truck. Her mother pushed the carriage Cammie was in across the street, while taking the full impact of the vehicle. Cammie incurred only minor bruises.

Since then she and her father have had a series of ‘trustees’, responsible convicts, tend their house, cook their meals, dust and clean. At age 12, however, Cammie decides she needs a real mother and Eloda Pupko, the current trustee, is a good choice. Yet no matter how much she cajoles, schemes, manipulates, Eloda keeps her distance, remains aloof.

The story is told by Cammie when she is in her mid-60s (although it is not always apparent). It story evokes 1959, on the cusp of Cammie’s thirteenth birthday. American Bandstand and the songs of the late 50s play a big role and will bring back memories to those adults choosing to read The Warden’s Daughter.

But Eloda and Cammie, a confused twelve year old with flowing hormones which make her irrational at times, are the main characters. Eloda is the gruff but caring housekeeper and Cammie is the unhappy almost teen who gets excited one minute about her best friend, Reggie, getting on American Bandstand and the next is kicking all of her friends out of her birthday sleepover because one of them starts crying because she forgot to bring a toothbrush and her mother won’t let her use any but her own.

Jerry Spinelli, known for Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, always comes up with a good story. The Warden’s Daughter is sensitive and fun and shows there is a good side to everyone.

 

Only Louise Penny (or Armand Gamache) could correlate the death of a Surete Academy professor in Montreal with a map drawn during the first world war that was found in the walls of Gavri and Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines. And it works, to some extent.

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While performing renovations on their bistro, Gavri and Olivier uncover, in the walls, a map of Three Pines. It’s not just any map. It’s got a snowman on it. It’s got pyramids that don’t exist. It is extremely detailed and it is determined that it is an Orienteering map, one of the first. (If you don’t what orienteering is, which I did not, read the book or look it up.)

After nearly dying while exposing vast corruption in the Surete, Chief Inspector Gamache has to decide what to do next. Recuperating in Three Pines, though an idyllic location, is not enough to keep Gamache satisfied. He has had several offers but ultimately decides to run the Surete Academy du Quebec. Cadets have been ruthlessly trained to use brawn before brain, producing an overly aggressive, less compassionate, potentially corrupt police force. His goal is to root out corruption and brutality but he surprises everyone by keeping Professor Serge Leduc, a sadistic, manipulative professor and a main cause of these brutal graduates.

When Leduc is found shot to death in his academy rooms and a copy of Three Pines map is found in his night table, shadows are cast on four cadets, as well as Gamache himself. It is up to his protege, Isabelle Lacoste, and his son in law to solve the murder and exonerate his name.

As with all Louise Penny/Armand Gamache books, the remarkable cast of Ruth and her duck, Rosa, Myrna, Clara, Gavri and Olivier, and Gamache’s wife, Reine-Marie, take major roles.  It is their eccentricities that make the book. Gamache comes off as too goody-goody, too ethically superior to everyone else, almost God-like…a bit too much. But the action and the characters propel this novel forward. Also, as with all Armand Gamache books, it is a good read. It is a welcome addition to a fun series.

What happens when two people are attracted to each other, but only one knows a secret that can strain that attraction? Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake delves into this subject and comes to a realistic, not a sugary sweet, conclusion.

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Sam and Hadley come from broken homes. Each had a parent who had had an affair, the result of which dramatically altered their families and their lives. Each ultimately moved from their home town of Nashville to a suburb, Woodmont. Each blames the offending parent for ruining their lives. Hadley finds comfort in hooking up with random guys, showing no interest in developing any kind of relationship. Sam just blows up.

The two are paired for an English assignment. Hadley, having learned that a boy she hooked up with at a party had a girl friend (she does have some scruples) trusts no boys. Sam has heard a bit about Hadley’s reputation and is dubious. But there is an attraction, only Sam knows something that could doom any budding relationship.

Sam, his younger sister, Olivia, and his best friend Ajay, as well as Hadley and her best friend, Kat, make a good ensemble cast. Their reactions to the philandering adults is understandable, however, the adults’ reactions to their children is hard to understand. Everyone is emotional. Everyone is upset. But still…

I give the author credit for not necessarily taking the easy way out, but coming up with a realistic ending. My only criticism with the book: it was 50 pages too long. By the end, I was skimming.

Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi

While I know that now it is more common for adopted children know that they are adopted than it used to be (I have a cousin who didn’t know he was adopted until he enlisted in the army–this was the mid 1940s, though). I don’t know, however, what percentage of them know anything about their birth parents, including their names or where they live. This is untrue for Maude, who in fact knows her birth mother’s name (Claire Fullman) and where she lived until she died in child birth (Tallahassee). Her adoptive parents have made no secret of this. And while they have reluctantly supported Maude’s efforts over the years of finding out about Claire, these efforts have failed to provide anything concrete for Maude, who has an idealized vision of her mother (her adoptive parent is her ‘mom’) and rather, the search has caused her a lot of stress and disappointment.

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Maude’s photography teacher has assigned a term project: define your family through photos. So, visiting her best friend, Treena, at Florida State University in Tallahassee,  to both check out the school and investigate her birth mother, is a great excuse for a road trip. Armed with multiple parental warnings to stay away from college parties, drinking, and boys and with a map, plenty of water and snacks for the trip, Maude is on her way. Maybe she’ll better be able to define family after her trip, even though she knows finding any new information can be a long shot.

However, Maude is unprepared for what she does find: a friend she hardly knows any more and conflicting stories about Claire. She also finds it’s easy to forget those warnings her parents issued.

Autofocus by Lauren Gibaldi is really a two part story. The first part reveals how a high school senior, still living at home under the ‘old house rules’ can lose track of a friend who is trying to use the college experience to reinvent herself. The second is a story about finding out about your parents, both biological and adoptive, and realizing just what it takes to call someone a parent. Is it nature or is it nurture or is it a little of both that forms a person? Along the way, the idealized version of a mother that has been lodged in your brain may transform into a more realistic picture, but that’s OK.

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy Autofocus when I started reading it, but it quickly hooks you in. Anyone who is a parent understands a child’s need to ‘know who he/she is’. That process may be more complicated if a child is not genetically tied to his/her parents. All teenagers go through growing pains and Maude is no exception. Gibaldi does not sugar coat Claire or the process of finding out about her. It can be an all consuming task, fraught with frustration and disappointment. The fact that Maude has someone to go along with her, someone to share the experience with, makes it easier on her.

 

Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry

Brooklyn Shepard comes from a theatrical family. They are singers, directors, producers, coaches (her mother is a noted voice coach) and for the most part they love to perform. Every Monday night is Family Night when friends and family gather at the Shepard’s Manhattan apartment and perform. Brooklyn gets away with being the piano accompanist and composing parodies with her Uncle Harrison.

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This summer Brooklyn is attending the Allerhale Playhouse as an intern. Her parents, uncle and their friends were all once interns there. There she is supposed to get her first chance to really perform on stage, so she is totally upset that the only acting role she has is in an experimental piece which will be performed in an ancillary theater. She can’t bear to tell her parents since her mother has made it clear that she hates such productions, so she lies and says she is in Bye Bye Birdie.

Brooklyn’s roommate is the gorgeous, talented, Zoe, and she’s surprised when Zoe wants to be her friend. (She’s keeping her parent’s notoriety a secret because she wants to be befriended for herself, not her parents.) Her relationship with Zoe soon becomes something more than mere friendship. Brooklyn has had a boyfriend or two but never a girlfriend (although she knows her parents would be OK with that kind of relationship). This relationship brings up a lot of diverging feelings, which she deals with throughout the book.

Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry is a charming book. Brooklyn and Zoe are both great characters and you can feel the emotions they each exhibit. The remainder of the Shepard family and friends are just how you would envision a theatrical group, boisterous, emotive, and loving. I’m not sure the ending is how we would imagine it from the beginning of the book, but it is realistic and satisfying.

All in all, Look Both Ways is a rewarding read in every respect.

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Darktown by Thomas Mullen is listed as a mystery and although there is a mystery in it, the book is more about race relations in Atlanta in the 1940s. It takes place shortly after the end of WW II. As an experiment, the mayor of Atlanta has recruited eight Black cops to patrol primarily the Black neighborhoods. Although they wear uniforms and carry guns, their authority is quite limited. They can’t arrest white people. They can’t carry on an investigation. There are more ‘can’ts’ than ‘cans’.

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Enter Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, Black beat officers. One night walking their beat, they see a car driven by a white man strike a lamppost, causing it to tilt. There is a Black woman in the car as well. The driver continues on. Boggs and Smith call for white back up which arrives in the form of veteran Officer Dunlow and rookie Office Rakestraw. After a pursuing the driver and brief discussion, the driver is free to go. Boggs, Smith and Rakestraw are aghast that the driver was not given a ticket.

When his female passenger winds up dead the next day, intuition points to the driver of the car. However, no one seems inclined to pursue this line of inquiry. Boggs and Smith decide to investigate on their off hours. Rakestraw also starts a little investigation of his own.

The meat of Darktown is the hatred of the white officers of their Black coworkers, the hatred of whites against Blacks in general. The idea that the new recruits should be driven from the force, that they are not ‘real cops’ at all is evident from their separate office in the basement of the Black YMCA to their limited authority.

Darktown is some ways reminds me of Cop Town by Karin Slaughter which coincidentally enough takes place in Atlanta but in the 1970s and deals with the hiring of the first female police officers. While the hatred shown in Cop Town isn’t has bad as that shown in Darktown, the animosity was evident. I also find the similarity in titles interesting.

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So, to sum up..if you’re a mystery fan and interested in a little history on the side, both Darktown and Cop Town are worth a read.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva

I am a Bruce DeSilva/Liam Mulligan fan so it saddens me to say that The Dread Line was disappointing. Liam Mulligan, newspaper reporter turned private investigator, is working on three cases simultaneously: a jewel robbery from a local bank, a person who sets live dogs on fire (how the heck DeSilva thought of that one is beyond me, but it’s sick) and performing a thorough background check on a potential NFL draft pick. None of these individually is overly interesting so the combination of the three doesn’t make them any better.

What I also found disconcerting was the time span on the book. The three cases took roughly nine months, which would be unusual for any case, especially a background check, no matter how thorough. And talk about contrived endings–the conclusion of each case was totally out of the blue.

The Dread Line contains none of the lamentations about the demise of printed newspapers, none of the repartee between Mulligan and his former boss/nemesis “Thanks Dad” Mason and none of the action or suspense that earned DeSilva an Edgar Award for best first novel for Rogue Island. The characters are shallow. The best characters are Brady and Rondo, the two dogs Mulligan rescues from an animal shelter. And while dogs are normally cute, they shouldn’t be the ones carrying the book.

So, unfortunately DeSilva does not live up to his potential in The Dread Line. I will anxiously await his next book in the hopes that he finds his groove again.