Category Archives: mysterious_books

The Secret of Grim Hill by Linda DeMeulemeester

Time for something on the spooky side of things…

Cat Peters hates her new school. She’s in trouble from the first day at Darkmount High, for everything from not knowing the dress code and wearing the wrong sort of jeans to the total lack of any sports teams for her to join. She desperately wants to go to the private girls’ academy on Grim Hill, Grimoire School where her mom is working as the school secretary, but there’s no way her recently-divorced mom can afford the tuition. So when she hears that the prize for the winning team at the Halloween soccer tournament is a full scholarship, she jumps at the chance. And when she makes the team, she becomes a local celebrity.

However, her next door neighbour Jasper and her little sister Sookie are sure there’s something strange going on at Grimoire, but Cat doesn’t want to listen—not even when bad things start happening to anything that would stop the soccer team from practicing. Her teammate Amarjeet has Punjabi school Saturday mornings… until the school burns down. Mia needs to attend rehearsals for her sister’s wedding, until the engagement is called off. Emily spends the weekends with her dad, until he gets transferred out of town. But the only thing that would keep Cat from practice is babysitting Sookie… Cat needs to figure out what forces are at work behind the mysterious school and how it all ties into a diary from seventy years ago, before she loses everything.

This is a great mid to upper elementary series for budding fans of mysterious-type fantasy stories. The build-up is nicely ominous and creepy, and I am such a sucker for folklore elements!

You can read the first chapter on the publisher’s website, and check out the whole series. Other reviews in various places: Wands and Worlds, a blog for fantasy and science fiction for children and teens, the Montreal Review of Books

It’s also been a nominee for various reader’s choice book awards like Red Cedar, Diamond Willow, Hackmatack, and was the winner of the 2008 Silver Birch.

The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpurgo

Book four of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. (I am currently up to seven books, but I need to let it sit in my brain fora  few hours before I can blog it.) Once I get this stack blogged, I think I need a break to eat. Or, find quick, easy food I can eat while reading.

warofjenkinsearid1mS0 Toby Jenkins starts every term counting down the days until he can leave again. He’s not Toby at school, he’s Jinks.And he always cries on the train. But this term, things are going to be different. First, there’s Wanda, the cook’s green-eyed daughter, who’s helping out her mother for the term. Even though he’s a toff and she’s an oik, he finds that just the thought of her makes school more bearable. And then there’s the new boy, Christopher. He’s not like anyone else at the school–he’s self-assured, a pacifist, and he questions things. Christopher always wants to know why. But what’s more than that, Christopher claims to have miraculous powers. His powers, and Jinks’ faith in him, are put to the test when Jinks inadvertently crosses over onto the territory of the oiks, the town boys, and starts a schoolboy war.

This is a totally unsentimental look at boarding school. (After hearing Michael Morpurgo speak at Kaleidescope last fall, it doesn’t surprise me.) This isn’t a jolly hockeysticks Enid Blyton story, but it’s not Lemony Snickett and the Austere Academy or Joan Aiken, either. The school itself reads like a pretty realistic depiction of shool life in the UK in the 50’s. Nobody’s starved, the schoolmasters aren’t deliberately cruel, but it’s a pretty harsh environment. (I think Jinks is about twelve or thirteen, and Swann, the youngest boy at the school, is only seven.)

It’s also a story about faith and belief. Chrisopher has visions, and is convinced that God speaks to him, and that he’s the next incarnation of Christ. He recruits Jinks and several other boys as his disciples, and proceeds to quietly try to do good. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. It’s not a preachy story, or intent on disbunking anything. I’m sure it will offend some people, but if you’re comfortable with a different sort of story about religion, Michael Morpurgo is a hugely talented storyteller and this book’s no exception.

I’d planned on briefer blogging than I’ve been doing this weekend, but I seem to be reading books that I have things to say about. I’m not doing any editing though–so I hope I’m making sense!

(And at some point, I need to read The Butterfly Lion, which is based on the time the author ran away from boarding school–at least the beginning, anyhow.)

Death in the Air by Shane Peacock

Book three of the 48-hour Book Challenge binge. You will notice a distinct lack of proof-reading in my blogging today… I am not forgoing sleep or food.But can I just say? Love is when your spouse says, while making a necessary trip to pick up coffee and other essentials, “I’ll drive so you can read.”

death in the air When we left the young Sherlock Holmes at the end of the first book in this series, he had solved the Whitechapel murders (though Inspector LeStrange had claimed all the credit) at a devastating personal cost. The son of a Jewish merchant and an upper class woman cast out by her family, he’s inherited a keen intelligence and love of leaning from both his parents, and as the reader knows, is destined for greatness. At the age of thirteen, he’s not there yet, and is desperately craving acknowledgement and adoration.

His next big case lands at his feet, quite literally. When a trapeze artist plummets to his death at Sherlock’s feet and gasps out “Silence… me…” Sherlock immediately suspects foul play. He’s also in a perfect position, attending the death-defying performance at the Crystal Gardens, to observe the suspiscious marks on the ill-fated trapeze before the evidence is trampled by the circus-going crowds. But the police are ill-inclined to listen to him, and he’s proudly determined to catch the killer and demand a reward. Since the tragic events of the first book, he’s taken on a job and lodgings with an eccentric apothecary, and set his sights on the lofty goal of college.

The trapeze artist survived the fall and is lingering unconscious on the brink of death. His young apprentice seems remarkably unaffected by his master’s accident. There’s a lover’s triangle at work inside the circus, and everyone involved seems to have a mysterious past. Meanwhile, a series of robberies are sweeping London, a large sum of money has vanished from the safe at the Crystal Palace, and the apothecary is on the verge of being evicted.

Now the reward money is crucial. It’s going to take all of Sherlock’s wits and wiles, some skill at interrogation and deception, and information grudgingly extracted from Malefactor, the young gang leader of the Trafalager Street Irregulars, to put together the pieces.

Peacock’s got a lofty style that suits young Sherlock perfectly, and there’s a wealth of tangible detail here about the underbelly of Victorian London, from show business to deadly back alleys and warehouses. The plot’s suitably convoluted, darkly twisted, and full of betrayal. You can already see the pieces fitting together that will make him into the adult Sherlock Holmes we all know. If anything, this one’s even better than the first book. I, for one, am looking forward to book three.

Going Places by Fran Hurcomb

Going PlacesThough the title is vague, the cover immediately lets you know what this book is all about–girls’ hockey! Refreshingly, it’s set in the Northwest Territories, and isn’t about the Inuit way of life, though some of the kids are of First Nations or, like Jess, Metis decent.

Jess and her friends have been on the boys’ hockey team for years. With only two hundred kids in the K-12 school in the Northwest Territories town of Fort Desperation, there have never been enough players for the girls to have their own team. But the new RCMP officer’s three daughers played in an all-girl league in Newfoundland, so Jess and her friends decide that they should see if anyone else is interested. It’s not just because they’re tired of the body-checking, taking turns changing in the bathroom, or the action movies and farting contest during road trips to tournaments. Okay… maybe it is about the tournaments. While the initial draw of having their own league is the prospect of a girls-only road trip, these girls are definitely serious about their hockey. With the addition of a couple of figure skaters and a star soccer goalie, they manage to get enough players to start practice, and rise to all the challenges that present themselves, from finding a coach and equipment to the challenges of an outdoor rink when the zamboni breaks down. But then, deliberate acts of vandalism, targetted specifically to keep the girls’ team from playing.

Refreshingly, this doesn’t turn into battle of the sexes, or the story of underdog team triumphing over impossible odds. The book actually ends as the girls are on the bus on their way to their first tournament game in Grande Prairie, although we do get to see them play at least one game, against the boys’ team. (For another twist on the small-town sports team facing impossible odds, try Ken Robert’s Thumb on a Diamond.) There’s a strong sense of community, and of place. (You know it’s truly a Canadian novel if the landscape develops into a character in its own right!) There’s not a whole lot of deep and complex characterization, and everyone turns out to be genuinely good person. Even the notorious Hockey Vandal comes around in the end. The whole mystery feels a little bit like an afterthought, but the characters are engaging, and I’m always on the lookout for decent hockey books for the library. (Which are harder to find than you’d think, given that the American publishing industry is far more interested in football, basketball and baseball. Not surprisingly, most of the good stuff is Canadian, and you can never have too many–just like dinosaur books!)

For older middle school readers, I’d suggest Power Plays by Maureen Ulrich, which has a lot to appeal to your die-hard girl hockey players. Going Places is not as hard-core, which understandable given the younger target audience. Accessible, and a good balance of sports and mystery.

Some Books About Wolves

Hello world, it’s been a while! Life in library-land has been hectic lately, and I’ve been reading like crazy for the Rocky Mountain Book Award Committee. (Coming very soon… possibly even after the meeting tomorrow… the 2009 shortlist! Also coming soon, some of my favourites from all our potential nominees.) But in the meantime, I’ve read a couple really cool books lately about wolves which has lead to this totally arbitrary collection of books.

Wolves by Emily Gravett is about a rabbit reading a book. But wait! This is no fluffy bunny bedtime story! You can see from the library card tucked into one of the pages that he’s signed out Wolves (by Emily Grrrabbit from the West Bucks Public Burrowing Library.) As Rabbit reads, he get smaller on each successive page, and his surroundings get substantially more… wolf-y. There’s some clever intertexuality going on here, and an alternate ending thoughtfully provided for more sensitive readers–though the observant will notice the overdue notice at the end of the book, hmm… The story’s relatively simple, but the sly humour makes this picture book a good read for older elementary school kids. Give this one to your favourite grade three kid who still loves picture books.

Wolf by Gillian Cross is an older UK import, set in Ireland. Cassy’s used to well-ordered life with her no-nonsense grandmother, when suddenly, her Gran packs her off to stay with her mother, Goldy. Goldy’s always been a drifter, and Cassy is appalled to realize that they’ll be squatting in an abandoned house with her mom’s boyfriend Lyall and his prickly teenage son. Goldy and Lyall are developing a performance art piece for schools about wolves, and Cassy is roped in to helping. But she’s also been dreaming about wolves–about her absent father, and Little Red Riding Hood. Why did her Gran send her away, and where is her absent father? Family tension with a touch of psychological thriller, the complex characters and skillful layers of meaning make this a good pick for thoughtful middle school readers.

Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Jinx, illustrated by Anne Soudvilas is one of those rare picture books that’s truly meant for older readers–and I mean teenage and up, not grades two and three. In a ruined city, Ben records his fear of the wolves (woolvs) and his dreams for a long-ago blue sky. The phonetic spelling, reading as if it were carefully sounded out by someone unused to writing, and the ominous charcoal illustrations work together to create a bleak, post-apocalyptical future with an ambiguous ending. Because of the story that’s being told, and the amount of reading between the lines, I’m sneaking this one in with the graphic novels for teens and adults (and putting it on my list of YA books about the end of the world), and hoping it finds its audience there. Try this for something successfully innovative and different.

My last two wolf books are off my ever-growing to-read pile and are both adult fantasy. St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a short story collection by Karen Russel, and A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, are both fantasy, and “grown-up” books. But in the meantime, let’s see if I can make it through four more potential award shortlist books before tomorrow night at 7:15 pm…

My Week in Books

I’m approaching something resembling regular updates again. Let’s see how long this lasts… I’ve read some really good fantasy in the past few weeks, a couple of interlibrary loans related to gay teens and YA lit, and the ususal miscellany of other stuff.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Adult fantasy. In a city that bears some resemblance to Renaissance Europe, an orphaned street thief is sold off to a blind priest, and trained up to become one of the priest’s Gentleman Bastards. And Locke, our street thief, is VERY good at what he does. I loved this one. Book two comes out this summer!

The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner YA fantasy. I seriosuly do not want to describe either of these, for fear that it will spoil the end of the first book, The Thief. In The Queen of Attolia, a thief’s punishment starts a war. And in The King of Attolia, the people of Attolia have a hard time accepting a king who is like no monarch they’ve ever known.

The Woman in the Wall by Patrice Kindl YA/Kids fantasy..ish. (You try to pick a genre for this one… magic realism is as close as it gets, I suspect.)

Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley Kids fantasy. The first book of the Sisters Grimm series.  Sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have abandoned by their parents and are suddenly taken in by a grandmother they thought was long-dead. Turns out that fairy tales are real, and they have a family legacy to live up to, protecting the fiary tale creatures from our world and vice versa. A cute little series with fractured fairy tale and mystery elements.

The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 by Michael Cart and Christine A. Jenkins  Professional library lit. An annotated bibliography of GLBT YA books, and a rather extensive history of the development of the field. The only down side is that there’s been such a boom in YA lit in general, including GLBT books, that I’m sure there have been as many books come out since 2004 than in the first thirty years combined.

Dead Boys Can’t Dance: Sexual Orientation, Masculinity, and Suicide
by Michel Dorais
A study out of Montreal, published in 2004. The suicide rate for gay teenagers in Canada is six to sixteen times higher than their heterosexual counterparts–and not just gay teens, but also kids who are stigmatized as being gay, regardless of their actual sexual orientation.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

The latest in a growing number of Victorian historical teen books. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Not a chance.

The protagonist is a petty thief. Upon pursuit by the police, he crashed through a skylight, and was patched back together by a physician with something to prove. He’s been the showpiece in a never-ending whirl of academic lectures for the past few years, and his jail time is nearly up. One lecture in particular caught his interest– the one on London’s brand-new sewer system. He’s nothing if not ambitious–this is going to be his ticket to a career as a master thief. And while he’s at it, he sets out to forge himself a new identity as the gentleman Montmorency.

It’s hard not to be admire the ingenuity of a story that revolves around the sewer system as a plot device. And even though Montmorency is undeniably and unapologetically a criminal, you’ll find yourself hoping he gets away with it all. This is definitely more of a plot-driven book than a character-driven one, but it’s a fast-paced and fun read, with an unpredictable yet satisfying conclusion. One of these days, I’ll have to pick up the sequels, Montmorency on the Rocks and Montmorency and the Assassins.