The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

2 stars (It was okay)

After loving the first Penderwicks book, I was seriously let down by this one. My biggest problem was the cultural appropriation plotline: one of the sisters is a budding writer, and the other, a “tom boy,” is assigned to write a play as homework. They swap responsibilities, so the writer sister writes the play for the tom boy. The play is about a Native American young woman, except it’s a very “noble savages” take on a Native American story, and it made me very, very uncomfortable.

If it had been one little moment, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But the tom boy gets praised for writing the play, and then the school decides to put on the play with the tom boy in the lead role, and the lie gets way out of hand. The result was that a lot of pages were spent on the lines of the play and thinking about the play, and it’s just all very . . . last century. I think the 2000s can do better than this.

Plus, the silly romantic plotline with the dad didn’t work for me at all (though I did want him to end up with who he ended up with), and some of the things that I found the most charming (mainly Batty) in the first book were not there anymore. It’s still well written, and there were good, authentic character moments and funny moments, but overall I found this book a little too precious and cheesy and unbelievable to truly fall in love with.

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Scrivener’s Bones

4 stars (I really liked it).

Scrivener's Bones cover (link to Goodreads)

I am going to start with a series of confessions. I read the first Alcatraz book years ago and didn’t like it much. Sanderson’s sense of humor doesn’t really match with mine, so when he goes all zany, as he does, he loses me. I decided then not to read the rest of the series.

My 13 year old son has read the first three books and liked them, but the wait was so long before book 4 that he got too old for them and can’t remember now what happened in the first three and doesn’t care enough to reread them so he can finish the series.

A few months ago, I was able to read an advance copy of book 6 of this series. I remembered enough of book 1 to muddle through, but . . . it was a lot more interesting than I remembered. And suddenly I wanted to read the rest. So those are the confessions: I didn’t think I would like this, and I’ve read most of book 6 and you haven’t. So there.

Okay, so now on to the review. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I was never bored, and the humor worked for me. I liked the characters and the twists. It’s short and sweet, so I finished it in a day or two. I’m definitely reading the next one.

Children of Blood and Bone

4 stars (I really liked it).

Children of Blood and Bone cover (link to Goodreads)

If you haven’t heard of this book, you haven’t been paying attention to book hype the last few years. As a west-African-based fantasy about systemic oppression, it is an important book, a book that is doing what few other books are. And for the most part, it does it well. The plot clips along at a good pace, the writing is strong, the conflict is compelling. I had issues with the romance, though I might come around to it in a sequel or two . . .

For me personally, it was a bit dark and violent. But lots of people like dark, and I’m not opposed to it in small doses (like, reading one book but not diving immediately into the sequel, for example). I’d probably recommend this to older YA readers and adults for this reason.

I listened to the audiobook, and Bahni Turpin is as amazing in this as she is in The Hate U Give. Her versatility is unbelievable.

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

4 stars (I really liked it).

Two Can Keep a Secret cover (link to Goodreads)

This book has kind of mediocre reviews on Goodreads, but here’s the thing: if this had been McManus’s debut rather than following One of Us Is Lying, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it. It’s just that McManus’s first book is so brilliant and expectations were sky high that this one felt like a letdown. And yeah, it’s not as good. But it certainly isn’t *bad.* It’s even above average, in my opinion. It’s twisty and romantic and compelling.

I liked the characters. I especially liked Ellery’s relationship with her mother. So if you want a fun YA mystery, I recommend this one. Don’t expect the moon and you’ll like it just fine.

Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

2 stars (It was okay).

Chasing Vermeer cover (link to Goodreads)

Okay, I need to preface this by saying my son loved this. He read it with his class in fifth grade, and they worked out the puzzles in the illustrations together, and he ended up asking for a set of pentominoes for his birthday.

So of course, being the middle grade fan that I am, I had to read it. And . . . it wasn’t for me. Too much of the book was one character leaping to an absolutely absurd conclusion, the other character agreeing that of course that must be right, and then it turning out to *be* right. I like a mystery that’s hard but possible to figure out. This just felt like being jerked around.

That said, it’s not exactly a mystery. It’s a puzzle. The whole plot basically sets up the puzzle for the reader. As such, it’s not an especially good plot, though the two main characters are fine enough. But it can be a fun puzzle.

And my son–he of Rubik’s cubes and coding and science fairs–well, he’s a lot like Calder. I can see why he liked this book so much.