Archive for December, 2011


I had the pleasure of finding a first edition, signed, copy of this at my local bookstore.  I debated about getting it so close to Christmas, but it was the last one in stock.  (My boyfriend can attest, I danced around with it in the aisle before buying it.)  So, thanks to this little splurge, I actually read this in a somewhat timely manner and you get a review in the month the book came out.

Statistics
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Late elementary/middle school boys and girls alike should be able to pick up this thriller
Source: Personally purchased from Snowbound Books

Synopsis: In Los Angeles, two lives collide after a heinous crime.  Day is at 15 years old the Republic’s most wanted criminal, and has been accused of murder.  June is the Republic’s groomed prodigy who must track down Day, who allegedly killed her brother.  This is the story of a game of cat and mouse, told from the perspective of both.  And after a shocking turn of events, it is the story of uncovering the truth of what really happened, and what is really going on in the city.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This has a great cover that has appealed to me since I first saw it on other bloggers’ reviews.  It’s shiny!  It’s also very gender-neutral, which is perfect for a book told from the perspectives of a young man and a young woman.  Anyone can pick it up and not be ashamed to be seen with it.

Day and June were destined for their lives by standardized testing, we learn early in the story.  While each has family history that plays into their status in life, the main determinant is the Trial that all children must take on their tenth birthdays.  Day flunked his, and escaped with his life to become a criminal.  June scored a perfect 1500 and is the darling of the Republic, head of her classes in university and destined for greatness.  But Day is certainly smarter and more physically fit than his Trial score indicated.  There’s perhaps a bit of social commentary here.

The narrative style is excellent.  Day and June alternate chapters, each with a different font style and color in the physical copy of the book.  It’s very easy to always know who you’re reading!  I love how the two stories came together.  The scene where they met was great – as was the scene where she finally figures out who, in fact, she’s been hanging out with on the streets.  As the story progresses past a certain turning point, the action really heats up, and you get so much more with both narratives than you would from a single point-of-view.

I felt that the first half was paced well, but things got so intense halfway through the book that I could hardly put it down after that.  The first half of the novel sets the characters, setting, and mood, and gives us an interesting game of cat and mouse.  But the second half!  That really is a suspenseful thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

This is pretty lightly dystopian, very slightly science fiction.  It’s set in the future, but feels like it isn’t that far off.  The technology is somewhat advanced but very recognizable.  LA has a lake and a lot of flooding issues, and a lot more slums.  There’s also not much in the way of gory violence or adult themes.  If you’re not terribly into dystopias, this can still appeal to you.

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Five Best Blogging Experiences of 2011

  1. Finding this blog’s niche in life.  I’d originally started this blog to document putting together a library from scratch, but got so busy with actually doing that, that the writing never happened.  Then last summer, I started writing reviews of what my students enjoyed reading.  This endeavor blossomed from there.
  2. Finding a use for Twitter.  This amuses me.  I’ve actually been on Twitter for several years, but completely forgot about it, including the fact that it was connected to my Goodreads account.  Then my email notified me that I had a new follower.  Confused, since I hadn’t posted to Twitter in ages, I logged in … and found that Goodreads updates my Twitter feed when I note what page I’m on, or rate a book.  The proverbial light bulb when on above my head, and I realized that Twitter is an awesome way to do social media advertising for this blog.  It also leads to …
  3. Connecting with authors.  This is pure awesome-sauce.  Authors are the biggest celebrities to librarians, and that some have sought me out through Twitter is simply amazing.  With some, it’s as simple as hoping that I like their book that I’ve marked “to-read” on Goodreads, or re-tweeting my links to reviews of their books.  Others follow my blog.  And some offer my really cool things, like free Skype visits to my school library (I should think about scheduling that – my sixth graders suddenly took an interest in the books by the author that offered this), to links to free prequel/sequel scenes, to free review copies of books.
  4. Getting free review copies of books.  This is pretty epic.  I was already able to get free uncorrected proofs from Snowbound Books when I’d stop by.  And as a librarian with a meager book budget, I could get some new books for free from the Superiorland Preview Center, many of which have been reviewed here.  But lately authors have begun to contact me.  I was offered a PDF copy of Ugly to Start With in exchange for a review, which was posted last week Monday.  Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of The Jinson Twins, Science Detectives, and the Mystery of Echo Lake from the author, who had contacted me through Goodreads due to an overbooked giveaway he was hosting.  (Here’s a link to the Goodreads description, until I review the book.)  In 2012, I’m hoping to start contacting publishing companies for advanced reading copies; that will probably be in this item’s place this time next year.
  5. Connecting with other bloggers.  No man (or woman) is an island when it comes to blogging, especially when writing book reviews.  A librarian also relies on book reviews to know what to select for the library collection; we cannot read every book under the sun (nor do we want to, believe it or not).  There’s no reason to stick to the “expert” opinions of the New York Times Book Reviews, or Publishers Weekly, or the School Library Journal.  Book bloggers could well be our patrons.  Often, they are other librarians.  Beyond the practicality, though, there’s quite the community out there.  I haven’t featured any memes on my blog (yet), but there’s a ton available to help bloggers to connect with each other.
    Besides, I wouldn’t have started blogging book reviews if not for my friend Michelle over at Never Gonna Grow Up!  Happy birthday, by the way.  😉

Happy New Year!  I should have at least one more review up before the end of 2011.

Life’s too short to read bad books.  They’re sometimes unavoidable; we’ve all had to read a book for a class at some point that we absolutely couldn’t stand.  But once you get past the requirements, there’s no reason to waste your time on books that aren’t worth reading.

Here are the books I simply could not finish in 2011.

It’s Elementary: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This book won the Newbery Medal in 2010.  Normally, that’s a sure sign of quality.  You can typically rely on books that win the medal, or honor (runners-up), to be excellent.  When You Reach Me just bored me, though.  I put it down at about page 39.

No-Nonsense Nonfiction: In the Company of Cheetahs by S. K. Niel

Oh, I wanted to like this book!  I love cheetahs, and practically did a happy dance in the public library when I found this on the shelves.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get even ten pages into this book.  I really wanted to read about the Cheetah Conservation Fund and its work.  This is badly in need of proofreading!  I could not get past the horrible writing or the overuse/misuse of italics.

Guilty Pleasures: Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton

(Sorry, this one gets a little long and rant-y.)

I put up with the Anita Blake series as long as I could.  (Granted, I started reading the series only a couple years ago, but I read 19 and a half books.)  The first several books, written before 2000, were really good.  Anita was an interesting character – a strong heroine that could really kick butt, and had high morals.  Back then, she was a good necromancer who had a lot of plots surrounding her job for a company that helps settles wills and the like by raising zombies to answer questions and such.  She was a love interest to a powerful vampire in her hometown of St. Louis, Jean-Claude, who she inadvertently helped into power in the excellent first book, Guilty Pleasures.  A few books in, a hot new guy by the name of Richard Zeeman entered the picture.  He was not only hot, but also a closeted werewolf who was powerful enough that Anita didn’t realize for most of the book that he was a werewolf.  A love triangle emerges, then a power triangle, bonding the necromancer, werewolf, and vampire together.

Then around 2000, Laurell K. Hamilton went nuts.  There’s an interesting obsession with rape that crops up in both this series (despite the author’s insistence to the contrary, we fans know that when Micah didn’t take “no” for an answer in Narcissus in Chains, it was rape) and in the first book of the Meredith Gentry series.  The series took a turn from good plots and enjoyable writing to erotica with a dash of plot.  One or two books after this were okay to good, such as Skin Trade.

I kept holding out hope for the series because I liked Anita Blake so much as a character, despite how much I hated what the author was doing to her.  After the nineteenth book (Bullet), I was fed up with the lack of plot – or in that book, the recycling of old plot – and the lack of proofreading/fact-checking against previous novels.  But then I read good reviews of this year’s release, Hit List.  It features Edward, the all-human, mostly-psychopath, bounty hunter that trained Anita and would love nothing more than to have a fight to the death with her someday.  I gave it a shot.

Really, I got two-thirds of the way through this before I gave up.  I was probably being far too generous with my time on this one.  But then the book introduces a character for a second time, and when a mixed-color weretiger up and loses one of his established colors, 100 pages after he’s been established, I just can’t take anymore.  Plus, Edward’s been pretty much neutered.  But hey, that’s what this series has gone and done with every flipping male in the series.


Don’t worry.  Laurell K. Hamilton hates her fans as much as we hate her.  I’m glad I never bought one of her books.  She has nothing but contempt for her readers, and there’s proof on her web site.

I’m writing this with a fever and chills, so I may need to revisit this and revise it when I’m feeling better.  Anyway, here’s my review of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.

Statistics
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Middle school to teen girls who like paranormal fantasy/romance
Source: personally purchased at the Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Evie can see things no one else can – she sees beneath the glamour of all sorts of paranormals.  She works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, bagging and tagging paranormals around the globe.  Life is good with the IPCA; her best friend is a mermaid, she has a pretty pink taser, and she often makes it home in time to watch her favorite teen soap.  But then two things happen to shake up her life: paranormals are mysteriously dying, and a weird shapeshifter breaks into the IPCA.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I do have to grumble a little bit over what probably won’t be a concern for the average reader of this book: the binding.  This book is 335 pages in the paperback format, and squished into a width less than two centimeters (at least in the Scholastic edition).  Gah.  Heaven help the librarian that has to rebind this, if it ever has pages come loose.  Also, even if you’re as careful with books as I am, you’ll probably end up creasing the spine somewhat.

But you’re not here to read about the worries of how a book is made, are you?  You’re here to learn about what’s inside, what the author has to offer with her writing.  Overall, what’s available is pretty dang good.

Paranormalcy comes across fluffy on the surface, but really has a lot of depth.  Evie is both a lighthearted girlie-girl who loves pink, fashion, and teen soap operas, and a teen searching for herself without knowing the extent of her powers or what she really is.  She also yearns for a normal life with a locker.  The sum of all parts of Evie is a strong, complex heroine that is both delightful and someone readers can relate to.

My favorite character was Alisha, the mermaid.  (Lish the fish?  Really?)  She lives in a tank in the IPCA, in the central processing room, loving her job and being Evie’s best friend.  Since she’s in a tank full of water, she talks through a computer, giving her a mechanical voice that will not translate when she swears.  Her reassuring Evie about how her faerie ex-boyfriend is no good in a series of “bleeping” is funny and endearing.  Indeed, the lack of actual swearing and lack of other “adult themes” make this a YA novel that I could comfortably hand to an older elementary student.

There is romance in this novel.  Just because there’s an ex-boyfriend in the picture as well as a new hottie attracting Evie’s attention doesn’t make for a love triangle, though, thank goodness (there’s something overdone in YA romance these days).  Reth, the faerie ex, was dumped by Evie after a show of scary violence.  And she still wants nothing to do with him, despite his advances and attempts at following whatever his strange agenda is regarding her.  Smart girl!  No, the romance is between Evie and the weird shapeshifter that breaks into the IPCA, whose name is Lend and comes across as a pretty nice guy.  After all heck breaks loose there, the plot focuses on Evie and Lend in a completely different environment.  It starts to reach the point of “blah” but soon gets back into plot and action.

I had a little problem with the writing/plot.  Multiple times, I guessed what was going to happen, and was proven right.  It was a little too predictable for my tastes.  This is a fun novel, but predictable.  The predictability does not hinder the experience enough to lower my rating, or to keep me from wanting to read the next in the series.

It’s time to start winding down the reviews for 2011.  I’ll get at least one, hopefully two, more fresh reviews up before the ball drops on Times Square, but I’m also going to share highlights from the year.

First up, my most ambivalent read of 2011: Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Statistics
Checkouts: Not owned
Typical reader: Fans of dystopian fiction
Source: Checked out from local public library

Synopsis (from Goodreads): The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

My Goodreads rating: Unrated, because I have no idea what to give it.


In the future, the Second Civil War is fought between pro-life and pro-choice. The result is a compromise: The Bill of Life, which protects life from conception to age 13, and from age 18 on. Between 13 and adulthood, parents and guardians can choose to retroactively “abort” or “unwind” their child – but the teen stays alive through a sophisticated form of organ donation. Unwound teens live on in recipients’ bodies.

Oh, and if a mother can’t wait that long, she can “stork” the child on someone’s doorstep. If she’s caught in the act, she has to keep it; if the homeowners find the baby, they have to keep it.

The plot focuses on two Unwinds, Connor and Risa, and their unwilling Tithe (parents decided for religious reasons at birth to unwind their child for the greater good) companion, Lev, as they struggle to stay alive in a society that wants 99.44% of their bodies. It’s a good plot, with excellent pacing and some outstanding twists. I honestly did not expect the ending.

This book does get recognition for being one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read. You do get to find out what happens when an Unwind occurs – though it’s all the more powerful because of what’s left to your imagination. I was nauseous afterward and had to put the book down for a while.

On a meta-reading level, this is one that will make you THINK. Is it pro-life or pro-choice? Is it in favor of organ donations or against? What choices would you make in this society – and would you rather die or be unwound?

That said, I did not like several aspects of the book. The present-tense writing style grated on me. I found the main characters to be somewhat flat and couldn’t relate to them; you get more of a feel for the Admiral’s personality, background, what makes him tick than you do for the other characters. Connor and Risa are too intent on survival and immediate problems to introduce themselves to the reader very much. The third-person limited narration may be at fault there, and that sort of point-of-view may really irk some, especially since it changes focus with every chapter.

Five stars for being thought-provoking with some incredible twists. Two stars at most for style, characters, and the plot holes regarding the Bill of Life.  This is what makes it my Most Ambivalent Read of 2011.  I’m not going to pick up the next two books in the trilogy when they come out.  This was good for the shock value; what’s left for the sequels?

Yay for YA: Five Flavors of Dumb

I read this novel, Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, back in March, before I’d decided to start reviewing books here.  In an effort to keep posting every weekday in these last two weeks of the year, and in order to share a good book with you, I present to you a review.

Statistics
Checkouts: I probably should donate it to the library.
Typical reader: Teens with interest in music or disabilities
Source: Personally purchased from Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Piper is witness to a hot new band’s impromptu performance on her high school’s front steps, and later has the guts to tell them they’re crap. The three-person band decides to challenge her in return – become their manager and get them a paying gig within a month. She accepts this potentially impossible task. It’s not just hard because they’re a new band that needs improvement – it’s hard because Piper is deaf.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I couldn’t be in the same room as the book if I wanted to do something besides pick it up and continue reading.  This book is an intriguing compilation of hard rock history, the story of a band, teen romance and friendships in many forms, family dynamics, and a tale of coping with what many would consider a disability. Piper is an excellent, strong protagonist who brings together an eclectic band of five very different flavors of people (hence the title) while dealing with a family that doesn’t always support her – her parents dip into her college savings, earmarked for a university for the hearing impaired, to buy her deaf little sister a cochlear implant.

The characters are excellent, for the most part.  Piper and her brother Finn have an interesting, complex relationship of sibling love, rivalry, and dependance – while Piper can read lips and speak, it’s much easier to communicate with sign language while he serves as an interpreter.  The one character that I felt was a bit flat was the father.  While he does become more supportive as the story progresses, he comes across mostly as obtuse.

I picked up this entertaining book from a sea of teen fiction that was mostly either paranormal/paranormal romance or catty clique novels. It stood out as different, and it was.  If you’re looking for an antidote for the common teen novel, this is it.

OMG, it’s a post on a Wednesday!  Today was the last day of school before winter vacation, and I survived not only the library times with wired students and a few class parties, but also got done checking in and cataloging books in a timely enough manner to read a book, get home, and write this review before 9 p.m.  Be amazed.

My elementary students adore the Magic Tree House series.  It’s written for about a second grade reading level, but the Kindergarten teacher introduced her class to them and her students just love to check these books out and bring them home to read with a parent.  Bless her heart, she got a bunch of the series from Scholastic, let the students choose one book for Christmas, and gave me the rest for the library!  What an awesome present.

With all that in mind, I decided to take ten minutes and read the first in the series.  Here’s my review before I end up typing more words than are in the book!

Statistics
Checkouts, Dinosaurs Before Dark: 7
Series checkouts: 49 (over ten books, before the new additions)
Typical reader: Any elementary student, especially K-3
Sources: Various

Synopsis: Jack and his little sister Annie discover a tree house full of books.  When they point to a picture in a book, they find themselves in a new place!  Good thing there’s a book with a picture of their hometown, so they can return.  In the first adventure, they go back to the Cretaceous Era.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This series really is cute, and appropriate for all elementary students!  Jack and Annie are curious adventurers, with distinct personalities that I could get a feel for in just the first book.  The use of a brother and sister helps to appeal to both boys and girls, which is great.

There are two awesome things about these books.  First, they’re educational.  Jack and Annie learn about what they encounter, with both their experiences and the books from the tree house.  Second, the books don’t pander like some at this reading level do.  You’re not going to have an explanation in every story about how Jack and Annie found the tree house, and what it does, blah blah blah.  There’s a simple page or so in every subsequent volume with a quick explanation about what happens in this series.  The Magic Tree House series lacks the boring repetition I’ve found in series like Junie B. Jones or the Baby-Sitters Club: Little Sister.  You’re not wasting any of the story itself on a recap of “last week’s episode,” or whatever.

There are even Magic Tree House Research Guide volumes that complement many of the chapter books, full of facts about the topics mentioned in the matching novel.  Fabulous.

Yay for YA: Cleopatra’s Moon review

I’d originally started reading this book, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, back in September.  Then my own Queen Cleo got really sick and died, and I had to put it down.  Last week, I finally picked it back up.  Here’s my review.

Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library
Typical reader: Students forced to do book reports on historical fiction.  And hopefully girls who like history and strong female figures.
Source: Superiorland Preview Center

Synopsis: Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the last queen of Egypt and the Roman Marcus Antonius, tells of her life from her idyllic days as a child, through her captivity in Rome in the household of her conqueror, to arriving in Mauritania to marry the client-king of that country.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

What’s the nice thing about reviewing a book about a historical figure’s life?  No spoilers!  Unless you’re picking up this book or reading my review of it with no prior knowledge of the life of Cleopatra Selene, you probably know the basic facts.

  • Cleopatra Selene was the only daughter of Queen Cleopatra VII, the last monarch of Egypt
  • Her father was Marcus Antonius, otherwise known as Mark Antony (the Roman triumvir who features in two of Shakespeare’s works, not the Latin pop singer)
  • She had a twin brother, Alexandros Helios, and a younger brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus
  • They had an older half-brother, Caesarion, whose father was Julius Caesar
  • She, Alexandros, and Ptolemy were taken after their parents’ defeat and deaths to Rome and marched in Octavian’s Triumph
  • Little or nothing is written about her brothers after that
  • She married Juba, the king of Mauritania, who was also raised in Rome by his people’s conquerors

This book fills in the gaps, from Cleopatra Selene’s point-of-view.  It is a richly-woven tale of a princess who started life happily and then had her world come crashing done around her.  Much of this blurs the line between historical and speculative fiction, but Ms. Shecter spins a pretty good yarn.  There’s intrigue, a dash of romance, Egyptian mythology, and one very smart heroine who manages to survive everything life throws at her.

One thing I particularly liked about the novel was how Rome was portrayed.  Roman history was most often written by the Romans, since they were the victors.  As this is from Selene’s perspective, we get a view of Rome that was probably just as accurate as the grand records of the likes of Plutarch and Seneca.  To Selene, Rome is filthy, abhorrent, and barbaric in comparison to her fair Alexandria, with its Library and Great Lighthouse.  We’re also treated to a view of the most famous and infamous queen of the ancient world from her daughter’s adoring perspective.  Today we know that Queen Cleopatra VII was extremely intelligent, and had written many treatises on a variety of matters; she was not just the cunning seductress both Rome and Hollywood made her out to be.  Cleopatra Selene’s account offers a view of just how awesome the queen likely was, but with a touch of motherly love.

I will say that the beginning of the book was slow.  Some of the Egyptian mythology that she learned is interesting, but for the most part, Celopatra Selene’s placid life was … dull.  The pace really does not pick up until Marcus Antonius kills himself.  But the novel after that is quite worth a read.

Oh, and the cats included in the novel are awesome.  As well they should be.


My cat had been named Cleocatra, after Cleopatra Selene’s mother.  My dog is named Jubatus, as in the genus name for a cheetah; he looked a bit like a baby cheetah when we adopted him, and I’m a nerd like that.  We call him Juba for short.

A couple years after getting Juba, I read a biography on Cleopatra … and learned that Cleopatra Selene married a King Juba.  This is really a great joke in the household.  King Juba of Mauritania was a scholar king.  Juba the dog is not particularly bright.

Also,

unlike in the novel and likely in real history, my Cleo and Juba were better off ignoring each other.

Last week I got a comment requesting that I review a book, complete with an offer to send me a PDF file of the book so that I could do so.  From an author.  After flailing around excitedly, I accepted my very first book review request.

So here is my review of Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings.  I’d prefer to be nicer, but honesty is the best policy; it’s not a five-star book.

Statistics
Checkouts: Not owned by the library
Typical reader: High school boys
Source: Direct from the author via email (Squee!)

Synopsis: Jason Stevens is a teen growing up in historic Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, in the 1970s.  This is a collection of short, fictional stories about his less-than-ideal life.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

This book exemplifies the differences between middle-grade novels and those for young adults.  While the writing style and vocabulary are suitable for a younger audience, the subject matter certainly is not.  There are a lot of mature situations in this book, ranging from race relations to infidelity, from exploring sexuality to cruelty to animals.  This book is perfectly acceptable material for a public library, but my school library serves mostly K-8.  It doesn’t belong there.

I liked the simple, honest prose.  Jason isn’t the greatest person, particularly in the title story (I’ll get to that later), but he provides quality narration to his stories.  The short story format left me a bit wanting at times, because some vignettes ended without a sense of conclusion, but that’s a drawback to the confines of short stories.  On the other hand, the end of a short story is not the end of Jason’s overall tale.  There are pros and cons; your mileage may vary on this.

My favorite story was “The Scratchboard Project.”  In this, Jason visits a classmate’s house to sketch her for an art assignment.  It’s a story that gives a lot of depth to Jason’s dream of being an artist, as well as the world in which he lives.  The classmate he visits is a black girl in a different part of town, and both of them, as well as her family, have to deal with prejudices in the fullest sense of the word.  Jason and Shanice have to get past their presuppositions about each other as she poses for him and he sketches her, and their interactions break down the icy barriers.

My least favorite story was the title one.  A little cat comes to Jason’s house and his family takes her in, marveling at her soft, beautiful coat.  But in the summer, she gets into fights with other cats in the neighborhood and returns home with bloody sores and scratches.  The family refuses to let her in or care for her.  Jason goes so far to even shoot at her with a BB gun to chase her off.  You can imagine how well this sat with a cat-lover such as myself!  The story does well at illustrating how the family values only that which is beautiful, and has no love for what’s ugly – either “to start with” or what becomes so through circumstance.  It also shows their hypocrisy, considering how run-down their house is and how ugly within the father can be.
(To be honest, this story almost made me put the book down completely, but as Mr. Cummings’ web site mentions that he has a cat, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and continued.)

I have one thing to nitpick about this book.  In one story, Jason is looking at a board in his school with editorials pasted to it, and two phrases jumped out at me.  These were references to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “the X-Files.”  This book is set in the 1970s.  The movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out in 1981.  “The X-Files” TV show ran from 1993 to 2002.  There’s another story that mentions the basketball skills of Magic Johnson, who played for the L.A. Lakers starting in 1979.  Please, fact-check.  I don’t appreciate historical inaccuracies.

My little naming scheme for books suitable for children is quite appropriate for this review.  The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey is a mystery novel.

Statistics
Checkouts: New to the library
Typical reader: Children who enjoy the Harry Potter series, or like mysteries
Source: Superiorland Preview Center

Synopsis: Oona Crate is a Natural Magician, born with the rare gift of being able to cast magic at will, rather than having to learn to do so.  But due to some unfortunate past events surrounding her magic use, she wants to give up being her uncle’s apprentice and become a detective like her father was.  The evening she signs the paperwork to give up her apprenticeship and meets the candidates for the position, however, her uncle is stabbed by a magical dagger and disappears.  Whodunit?  Is her uncle, the Wizard of Dark Street, still alive?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I must say, I love this cover.  It actually completely fits the story!  You have Oona and her magical pet raven, Deacon, on her shoulder, in front of the Wizard’s house.  The house is pretty much just as the prose describes it, complete with all its eccentricities.

The pace of the book is a bit slow, particularly for the first third of the book, and some young readers may be put off by that.  In place of a fast-paced read is some great world-building.  I’m almost hesitant to describe it, because so much of the effort is put toward the setting that to do so seems like a bit of a spoiler.  The gist of it is that Dark Street is a magical location that for one minute every night, when the clock strikes midnight, a huge set of gates opens to connect Dark Street to the mundane world.

Once you do get into the meat of the plot, it’s a pretty good mystery.  Or rather, it’s a pretty good set of mysteries, possibly intertwined.  I’m not much of a reader of this sort of novel, but the twists and added information kept me guessing until the caper was solved.