Books Read in 2018: Four Star Children, Young Adult and Mystery

Regarding Nicole's comment - I had a weird experience reading Half-Blood Blues too! I read a bit of it and was loving it, finding it beautiful and musical and entrancing. Then for some reason I couldn't pick it up again for a few days and when I kept reading it I felt like somehow all the lustre had gone. I bought Washington Black for my mom for Christmas and will probably borrow it when she's done. I had a similar experience with Vincent Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous cures, but then really loved his next book. *shrug*

Happily, it looks like I read at least as many four-and-five star books as three-and-two star books this year. Oh, also, I looked at page totals in my Goodreads stats thinking "hey, maybe I read fewer books but more pages this year over last year!" I, um, did not.

Four-Star Children and Young Adult

The Headless Cupid (Stanley Family #1) by Zilpha Keatley Snyder - When the four Stanley children meet Amanda, their new stepsister, they're amazed to learn she studies witchcraft. When she shares her secrets, strange things start happening in their old house. They suspect Amanda until they learn the house was long ago haunted by a ghost that cut off the head of a wooden cupid on the stairway. A Newbery Honor Book.

I think I always meant to read Zilpha Keatley Snyder  - I mean, come on, 'Zilpha' is a cool name - when I was younger and never got around to it. I picked up a couple of books second-hand a few years ago. She has quite a remarkable ability to write about troubled children acting a bit like dicks, but in a way that is kind and sympathetic as well as gently humorous. This was a really lovely story. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech - "How about a story? Spin us a yarn."
Instantly, Phoebe Winterbottom came to mind. "I could tell you an extensively strange story," I warned.
"Oh, good!" Gram said. "Delicious!"
And that is how I happened to tell them about Phoebe, her disappearing mother, and the lunatic.
As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe's outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold — the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.
In her own award-winning style, Sharon Creech intricately weaves together two tales, one funny, one bittersweet, to create a heartwarming, compelling, and utterly moving story of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotion.

Okay, I read this for the Newbery blog post series and really liked it, pretty much from the beginning. It's not perfect - the Native American/Indian thing has aged rather badly, the teacher who is supposed to be a pivotal figure comes across as kind of a dick for reading embarrassing journal material out loud, and the old blind woman making up her own words is kind of hokey - but Sal's voice is strong and affecting, and the dynamic between the grandparents is really lovely. There is unsugar-coated loss, and the healing power of story, and a surprisingly open treatment of oe very grown-up circumstance. It's just a really great story. I cried at the end. It was very different from what I was expecting.

Firegirl by Tony Abbott - A middle school boy's life is changed when Jessica, a girl disfigured by burns, starts attending his Catholic school while receiving treatment at a local hospital.

This could have easily been a real hash, but it takes an everyboy character, throws in a couple of elements to complicate his coming-of-age, and does a really great job of seeing it through. Simple but profound. 

The House With a Clock In its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1) by John Bellairs - Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt comes to live with his Uncle Jonathan and quickly learns that both his uncle and his next-door neighbor are witches on a quest to discover the terrifying clock ticking within the walls of Jonathan's house. Can the three of them save the world from certain destruction?'

I heard the movie was coming out and realized that this was a book I had always assumed I had read and... hadn't. In the first place, I was worried that Uncle Jonathan would be mean, but he's not, so that was good. Then - big old mysterious house. Also good. Then Lewis's friend who is kind of a dick. Not so good, but kind of interesting, and doesn't follow the formula of the ne'er do well with a heart of gold, so kind of refreshing. Then the gnarly scary mystery really kicks in - splendid. 

Sounder by William H. Armstrong - Set in the Deep South, this Newbery Medal-winning novel tells the story of the great coon dog, Sounder, and the poor sharecroppers who own him.
During the difficult years of the nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy's father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day.
When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.
This classic novel shows the courage, love, and faith that bind an African-American family together despite the racism and inhumanity they face. Readers who enjoy timeless dog stories such as Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows will find much to love in Sounder.

Oof. I'm of a few different minds about this. On the one hand, it's heart-wrenchingly, horrifyingly sad for a book aimed at middle-grade readers. On the other hand, I have tried not to shield my kids from these realities. On the one hand, it could be speculated that this was selected for the Newbery medal for having a conspicuously "worthy" subject matter. On the other hand, it pulls no punches, isn't prettied up, and I thought it was done really, really well. The hardship and injustice is shown to be entirely routine for the characters. The storytelling voice is grave and quiet and effective. I feel like this one is going to stick with me for awhile.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park - Tree-ear, an orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated–until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself–even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

The plot is pretty formulaic and has the elements common to many Newbery Medal books - an orphan, a kindly adult mentor, the loving description of a craft, a journey - but, as the expression goes, there are only six basic plots, and the difference lies in what's done with them. This was beautiful. 

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman - Elizabeth has a new job at an unusual library - a lending library of objects, not books. In a secret room in the basement lies the Grimm Collection. That's where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales; seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White's stepmother's sinister mirror that talks in riddles.
When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth embarks on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before she can be accused of the crime or captured by the thief.
Polly Shulman has created a contemporary fantasy with a fascinating setting and premise, starring an ordinary girl whose after-school job is far from ordinary and leads to a world of excitement, romance and magical intrigue.

This was great fun. The characters are well-drawn, the relationship stuff is very realistic, and the Grimm elements and mystery are gripping. 

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus - The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide. 
Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High's notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn't an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he'd planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who's still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

The Breakfast Club with a criminal twist. This is one of my best friend's daughter's favourite books, and she demanded that I give it a read. It was really well done - nice character evolution, great narrative energy, good writing. A good mystery that's incidentally YA, or a good YA book that happens to have a mysterious death. 

Four-Star Mystery

 I Found You by Lisa Jewell - 'How long have you been sitting out here?'
'I got here yesterday.'
'Where did you come from?'
'I have no idea.'
East Yorkshire: Single mum Alice Lake finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him in to her home.
Surrey: Twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed.
Two women, twenty years of secrets and a man who can't remember lie at the heart of Lisa Jewell's brilliant new novel.

My review on Goodreads said "All in all, this was kind of dumb. But I really liked it anyways". This isn't quite fair, I don't think. I mean, the mystery isn't terribly mysterious, but the relationships between characters past and present held my attention on their own, and the story was good enough even without a big surprise ending. 

The Second Sister by Claire Kendal - The chilling new psychological thriller by Claire Kendal, author of the bestselling novel, THE BOOK OF YOU, which was selected for Richard and Judy in 2015. Perfect for fans of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and DISCLAIMER.
It is ten years since Ella's sister Miranda disappeared without trace, leaving her young baby behind. Chilling new evidence links Miranda to the horrifying Jason Thorne, now in prison for murdering several women. Is it possible that Miranda knew him?
At thirty, Miranda’s age when she vanished, Ella looks uncannily like the sister she idolized. What holds Ella together is her love for her sister’s child and her work as a self-defence expert helping victims.
Haunted by the possibility that Thorne took Miranda, and driven by her nephew’s longing to know about his mother, Ella will do whatever it takes to uncover the truth – no matter how dangerous.

Okay, admittedly the mystery part of this mystery probably didn't merit four stars (oh look, seems to be a theme). But as a book I liked it. The dynamics of the family and the main character's personality as someone who lost a sister so young seemed really realistic to me, and her self defense training didn't desert her at crucial moments which often seems to happen in mystery literature. I liked her interactions with her sister's voice. The love interest stuff wasn't formulaic or predictable either. Solid entry.

A Great Reckoning (Armand Gamache #12) by Louise Penny - Bestselling author Louise Penny pulls back the layers to reveal a brilliant and emotionally powerful truth in her latest spellbinding novel.
When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes. 
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must. 
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map. 
Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.
The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets. 
For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.

A welcome return to top form for Penny. All the good stuff is here and very little of the bad. The ending is particularly poignant. 


StephLove said…
I loved, loved, loved The House with a Clock in its Walls as a kid. (So much so I plagiarized it in one of my own stories, I realized as an adult looking back). Then I read it to Noah and he loved, loved, loved it. Then I read it to North and they liked it okay. When the movie came out they wanted to go and I promised to take them but then I read the reviews and I thought it would break my heart to see it, so Beth saved the day and took North instead.

One of Us is Lying really does sound like The Breakfast Club, but with murder.
I read Washington Black on the weekend, and that is all I'm going to say about that. Maybe it's ME. I don't know.

I'm going to read that murderous Breakfast Club!

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