Saturday, April 14, 2012

Croak, by Gina Damico (fiction) - M for Uncle Mort, the Grim Reaper

Every family has a relative that's sort of distant,
never shows up for family reunions...
Bet yours isn't a Grim Reaper, though!

Spider-silk soul vessels, death-sensing jellyfish, John Wilkes Booth arm-wrestling Elvis Presley in the atrium of the Afterlife - Lex has lots to get used to as she learns how to travel through the Ether and release souls from the bodies of the just-dead.

And then, against the Terms of Execution which allow Gamma Removal and Immigration Managers to swiftly transport souls to the Afterlife, a rogue Grim begins actually causing deaths.

Contrary to popular belief, Grims aren't immortal, so the good folks of Croak begin rightly to fear for their lives. The "Welcome to Croak" sign's population number clicks up and down as residents enter and leave the town. Will it keep clicking down and down?

Pick up this funny and serious book in paperback now at your local library or independent bookstore. And be sure to see the Croak Skull Illusion Scarf that the author designed (free knitting pattern)!

So, are you comforted or creeped out by the idea of a Grim Reaper as a high school kid with a sympathetic heart and a yen for junk food?

Book info: Croak / Gina Damico. Graphia HMH, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Sent to Uncle Mort’s remote farm to work off her wild violence, Lex learns that it’s part of her lineage – as a Grim Reaper. Now she's learning the family business of helping souls to their afterlife – some high school summer job!

First time ever away from her twin sister, first time this far out into the countryside, first time ever to breach the space-time continuum of the Ether. The whole town of Croak exists to assist souls out of this earthly plane as they die, released from their dead bodies by a Killer, then escorted to the Afterlife by a Culler.

Mort’s technical know-how has enabled Grim teams to stay in touch with Croak’s death-detection apparatus as they zoom through the Ether releasing souls. Jellyfish arrays that sense deaths in yoctoseconds of time, deadly spiders spinning vessels to transport souls, the dead presidents and poets who welcome the confused newly-dead souls to the Afterlife and beyond…Lex’s head is spinning during her first week in Croak!

Several other Juniors are training this summer, including Driggs who lives down the hall at Uncle Mort’s. But none of them experience the excruciating pain that jolts Lex every time she Kills to release a soul. Lex and Driggs encounter many different causes of death as they work their regular shifts, but one has them baffled – a man who died of no cause at all, whose eyes turned totally white, a mystery for Mort and crew to puzzle over.

When the no-cause deaths increase, the Juniors murmur of a long-ago Grim who found a loophole in the Terms of Execution that bind their powers, one who decided to cause deaths instead of just releasing souls, a Grim who killed Grims.

Is there another Grotton loose in the world? Why can’t Croak’s computers determine the cause of death for those white-eyed corpses? Why is Lex the only Junior with two parents, with any parents? How long can she keep the secrets of Croak from her twin sister back home?

This Grim Reaper wears a black hoodie and carries an obsidian-bladed scythe – travel through the Ether with Lex as she tries to solve the mystery and stop the killer who’s targeting the Grims of Croak. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L for lamb to the slaughter? - Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers (fiction)

Handmaiden to death.
Fair assassin.
Death's own true daughter.

At the convent of St. Mortain in old Brittany, Ismae finds her calling, her gift. She can see the Dark Lord's mark plainly on those guilty ones she's assigned to kill...and she can communicate with souls after death.

Her training at the convent has molded her into a subtle instrument of Death's justice, yet she is unprepared for the intrigues of Anne's court. Will her skills be enough to protect the young duchess from traitors?

I studied in Brittany years ago, land of ancient standing stones and long-held traditions, living down the block from Nantes' massive cathedral where Anne must be crowned to keep Brittany independent (and just found my apartment balcony on Google Earth - wow). Folks in the countryside still identify themselves at Bretons before they say they're French...

First in His Fair Handmaiden series, you can find this exciting tale at your local library or independent bookstore now.

Do you believe that relationships can persist despite mere distance...or death?

Book info: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, book 1) / Robin LaFevers. Houghton Mifflin, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Smuggled in boats and hidden in wagons, Ismae escapes a forced marriage to arrive at a remote convent. Here, the sisters of St. Mortain are dedicated to the Lord Death, a cadre of assassin nuns trying to keep Brittany and the old gods from being swallowed by France and its intolerant Catholic priests.

Oh, death has long whispered around her, born with long red scars claimed by the herbwitch as the mark that Ismae was fathered by the dark Lord himself. She trains with other novices in deadly arts both subtle and sudden, preparing for her first test as an assassin who can see Mortain’s dark sign on her target, a sure signal that the person’s guilt has brought Death’s final justice.

As the French regent pressures Brittany’s young ruler to marry him, Ismae is brought into Anne’s castle to carefully remove disloyal nobles who would betray the twelve-year-old duchess before her coronation. Her protector amid the royal protocols and complex alliances is Duval, Anne’s older half-brother, born to a woman not their father’s wife. Information travels back and forth to the convent by raven, but can hardly convey the wisps of rumors sliding along the castle corridors.

When the Reverend Mother orders Ismae to kill Duval, she searches for Lord Death’s mark to show her the method of assassination, but finds none. How can this be? Every other victim has displayed a clear mark. Is someone intercepting the secret messages? Is there a traitor at the convent? Are her growing feelings for Duval clouding her most important gifts? Could Duval truly wish harm to the royal sister whom he’s sworn to protect?

This first book in His Fair Assassin series takes readers into the complex world of duchies and alliances, to the days when Brittany’s old gods still wandered its woodlands and rocky coasts. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K for Kidnapping the wrong person - The Night She Disappeared, by April Henry (fiction)

Kayla made the pizza delivery run.
Kayla never came back.
Not the one he asked for,
what to do with her now?

Gabie has to keep working to keep from worrying, has to keep up appearances at home so her overprotective parents don't find out that she was the kidnapper's target, has to keep trying to understand Drew's life on the fringes of society when he wants to stay silent about it.

How Kayla endures being a captive, how her family and friends cope with not knowing whether she's alive or dead, how Gabie and Drew watch every shadow for a clue about the kidnapper... the story is told through conversations, found pieces of paper, 9-1-1 call transcripts, lab reports, and newspaper clippings.

Taut suspense and realistic characters from Oregon author April Henry - grab a copy of The Night She Disappeared, just published this week.

Book info: The Night She Disappeared / April Henry. Henry Holt Books, 2012 [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Kayla didn’t return from her pizza delivery and everyone’s worried. Gabie learns that the caller requested her and she’s terrified. What will the kidnapper do with the wrong victim?

Working at Pete’s Pizza after school isn’t a bad job at all – pretty Kayla likes meeting customers, Gabie likes being out of her too-quiet house while both her surgeon parents work late, and Drew needs the money to support his addicted mom. They all go to the same Portland high school, but skateboard slacker Drew doesn’t exactly fit into the girls’ social circles.

When Kayla’s truck is found abandoned by the rushing Columbia River with her purse and the pizzas still inside, police comb the area for clues. Her GPS took her close to the phony address given by the customer, but not much other information is available – until Drew mentions to Gabie that the guy on the phone asked if “the girl who drives the Mini” was doing deliveries that night.

Had he targeted Gabie and gotten Kayla instead? Detectives say that lead won’t help them solve the case and continue questioning everyone at Pete’s and all Kayla’s friends at school. Gabie and Drew decide to track down every possibility themselves, careful not to let her parents know that she was the intended target. Kayla’s parents even bring in a psychic who specializes in missing persons.

As days turn into weeks, hopes for recovering Kayla at all become faint. But Gabie can sense that she’s still alive, trapped in a small space. Can Gabie and Drew find her before it’s too late? Can they keep the kidnapper from snatching Gabie, too? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J for Julia and journeys - A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, by Emily Horner (fiction)

Cass is waiting to hear about Julia's secret project,
Funny, smart, drama chick Julia,
Best friend ever.
Dead in a car crash - bam. Just like that.

Now Cass won't see how Julia would have finished her amazing play and will never know if there could be more than just friendship between them. But she and Julia had long planned that they would bike all the way to the Pacific Ocean after graduation - no reason to wait a whole year, so Cass preps for a solo bike trek in the summer before her senior year, taking along Julia's ashes from Chicago to the sea.

Let the drama kids take Julia's work-in-progress and turn it into a play over the summer - Cass is taking action. She doesn't sit around moping and mourning - she pedals and aches and discovers things about herself and about friendship that she never imagined. That's probably the most 'ninja' way to live of all - Julia would have cheered for that.

Look for this debut novel at your local library or independent bookstore and journey along with Cass and Julia, maybe finding a little more love along the way.

Book info: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend / Emily Horner. Dial Books, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: After Julia’s death in a car crash, Cass can’t stay in town as the Drama Kids get ready to perform Julia’s “top secret” play as a tribute to begin their senior year of high school. Cass decides to bicycle from Ohio to California, just as she and Julia had planned. But instead of Julia as her traveling buddy, she’ll have her best friend’s ashes along for the ride to the Pacific Ocean, Julia’s dream destination.

Why would she want to spend all summer painting sets for Julia’s incredible “Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad” musical, especially when Heather (who loudly questioned Cass’s sexual orientation throughout junior high) gets the lead and Julia’s boyfriend keeps changing the staging? Why?

So, armed with cellphone, maps, spare bike parts, her parents’ blessings, and Julia’s ashes, Cass heads off across the country. She meets good people, not-so-good people, her first love, and herself along the way.

Can Cass make it all the way to California on her bike? Will the Drama Kids be able to put on Julia’s musical with no adult interference? Did Cass love Julia or was she in love with Julia or does it even matter since Julia is dead?

Alternating chapters of Then (the summer trip) and Now (last-minute preparations for the musical) reveal Cass’s worries and wonderment about life, love, and dividing by zero (“so ninja!” according to Julia). (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I for I'll Be There, by Holly Goldberg Sloan (fiction) - connected by a song

In a song, music can speak louder than mere words,
In a friendship, hope can be renewed,
In a heartbeat, everything can be stolen from you.

When being unremarkable is ingrained and staying anonymous has been beaten into you, getting noticed is dangerous, worrying, possibly life-saving.

Sam loved reading books in his second-grade class, the last time the teen was in school. His little brother Riddle has never been to school, never seen a doctor for his wheezing breath and watering eyes. Their father hears voices, distrusts everything and everyone - even the sons he stole from their mother.

Since music is vital to this book, the author has put together a playlist for each major character (including the Bells' dog Felix) on her website, where you can also read chapter one of I'll Be There for free, and read the lyrics to the song that brings Sam and Emily together,of course.

Check out Sloan's debut novel at your local library or independent bookstore and enjoy its quiet interludes of friendships begun and rushing torrents of danger, with the unpredictable behavior of Sam and Riddle's dad as wild card.

Book info: I'll Be There / Holly Goldberg Sloan. Little Brown Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [video book recap]

My Recommendation: Her song was aimed straight for that guy in the back, the only person who didn’t know how badly Emily sang solos – and nothing would ever be the same for the two teens again.

For Emily, it was the last time that she’d let her music professor dad force her to do a solo. He just has to accept the fact that neither she nor little brother Jared had a musical bone in their bodies.

For Sam, it was just another church in just another town where his petty thief father Clarence had dragged him and his so-silent little brother Riddle over all these years. But music was the only beautiful thing in his life, and Sunday morning churches were a good place to find it.

Somehow, Emily and Sam find one another, find snippets of time to be together without alerting Sam’s unstable father. Riddle needs Sam to help him navigate the world, an unschooled child who speaks little and doodles constantly, filling phone book pages with detailed mechanical drawings. So eventually both boys meet Emily’s family – her dad amazed at Sam’s guitar talents, Riddle mesmerized by her mother and food that doesn’t come from fast food dumpsters.

Of course, the Bells have no idea that the boys’ dad is just staying in town until his small crimes attract police attention. Then, without warning, Clarence will listen to the voices in his head, bundle what he can into the old truck, grab the boys, and go somewhere, anywhere.

Emily’s classmate Bobby knows that she’s hiding something – must be, if she’s turning down dates with him – and uses private investigating skills learned from his mom to find out where Sam lives, the abandoned house they’re squatting in, the fake license plates on the truck. When Bobby snaps a cellphone photo of Sam’s dad, Clarence decides it’s time to skip town.

And the boys are gone from the Bells’ lives, just like that.

Emily falls into depression, Bobby pretends to help search for Sam to stay close to her, and the old truck rattles off further and further into the wilderness, driven by a crazy man who might finally decide that his sons are too much burden to keep carrying.

Can you find someone when they’re expert at being anonymous? Can the sheer force of love keep someone alive over the miles? Can the promise of a song defeat insanity’s desperation?

This well-crafted novel is lyric in description and rich in characters that readers will long remember as they hum the classic hit song whose title it shares. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Giveaway winner for CAT GIRL'S DAY OFF (reflective)

Max and Rufus send purring thanks to all who entered the giveaway for Kimberly Pauley's new book Cat Girl's Day Off. They put all the entries into the Random Sequence Generator, which whirred and replied: --->

So comment number 8 from Jacqui is our winner! Your ARC of Cat Girl's Day Off will be sent directly from Tu Books once you reply to the email from Max and Rufus.

Everyone can read the first 3 chapters on Kimberley's website, where she also introduces the characters - who can resist a pink cat or the girl who can understand him?
And if you buy the book before the end of April 2012, then e-mail Kimberly with your info, she will send you a signed bookplate and a letter - all the way from England! Details here on her website.

Max, Rufus, and I appreciate our readers and hope that you'll visit BooksYALove often to find great YA books beyond the bestsellers - or before they become bestsellers!

Random number sequence generated at

Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Illuminate, by Aimee Agresti (fiction) - H for Haven, Hotel, and Hell?

Al Capone had his gangster headquarters at The Lexington Hotel,
President Benjamin Harrison enjoyed its luxuries as he dedicated Chicago's famous World Columbian Exposition,
and now shy Haven Terra will be part of its gala grand re-opening.

She doesn't recall applying for an internship in hotel management, but is glad for anything that will help pay for college...and she gets to live there full-time instead of enduring spring semester at her high school, too! Great!

But soon she and fellow intern Lance find flaws in The Lexington's quest for perfection - a hidden agenda that will require guests to check their souls at the door, their beautiful bosses' evil alliances, and mysterious messages telling Haven how to stop this devilish enterprise.

It's up to her to find a way to Illuminate the dark secrets of this surface-bright world and to keep her friends from being lured into its depths...forever. First book in The Gilded Wings series and Agresti's writing debut - it's a thrill ride!

(p.s. LAST DAY! Giveaway for ARC of Cat Girl's Day Off continues here closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday, April 9, 2012.)

Book info: Illuminate / Aimee Agresti. Harcourt, 2012. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Haven was surprised to be chosen to intern with the successful young owner of the swanky Lexington Hotel – and get school credit, too. The suave and glamorous trainees there seem rather soulless, though, like being a member of “The Outfit” has polished away their own personalities…

It’ll be hard to give up working at the children’s hospital and living with Joan, the nurse who found her as an abandoned five-year-old and gave her a home. Nothing ever discovered about Haven’s past, why she had those terrible scars on her back, why she had been left in the frozen mud. But it’s only for the spring semester.

Shy, smart Haven sure won’t miss feeling like an outcast at her high school, especially since her best (and only) friend Dante will be shadowing The Lexington’s amazing chef. And Lance from their school will be there, working with handsome manager Lucien. Everything will be fine, especially when owner Aurelia gives Haven a great camera and charges her with filling the lobby gallery with large-format portraits of The Outfit for The Lexington's grand opening.

Browsing the hotel library for more history about its heyday when Al Capone was a regular, an odd little book intrigues her. And later, the book starts to write messages to Haven in its back pages… messages that warn her to trust no one, to explore carefully, and to train her muscles and stamina for a future challenge.

As the hotel’s grand opening nears, The Vault basement club starts welcoming Chicago’s elite and famous to its “ring of fire” seating and exquisite cocktails. All the gorgeous young people of The Outfit spend their evenings there too, so Lucien and Aurelia ask Haven to take lots of publicity photos. Lucien particularly enjoys having Haven nearby…

When Haven sees Lucien open an iron basement door into a fiery pit, she knows that The Lexington is not just another fancy hotel. And surely it's not coincidence that her own high school has scheduled its prom there!

Why are hideous distortions appearing on every photo of The Outfit that Haven takes? Why is Dante suddenly so distant? Can Haven and Lance stay clear of the hotel's mysterious perils? Why is the book warning her to be prepared against evil? What's this about Haven keeping souls from...extinction?

Agresti's stunning debut novel is the first book in The Gilded Wings trilogy. Step into The Lexington with Haven, if you dare. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.