“The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill” by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill gives a well-thought-out slice of the Cold War in America in the 1950s. It takes place in 1953 in a small Vermont town. Hazel Kaplansky, the protagonist, is described by some as “relentless” and “a little spitfire,” but she’s lonely. An outcast at her school because her parents run the local cemetery and she plays there most afternoons, she’s also a bit of an outcast at home because her parents don’t seem to pay much attention to her. Oh, she’s also the smartest girl in her class and loves the library, which just adds to heSpyCatchersr differentness. When Randall Butler moves to town and outdoes her in class she fears the one thing that kept her happy in school – being brighter than everyone else – will disappear. Instead, though, she and Randall become best friends. Randall is lonely too. Over the course of the novel we find out why (no spoilers!). For most of the novel, Hazel is sure she has stumbled upon a communist spy ring. When McCarthyism rears its ugly head in the town, Hazel is doubly certain she is right. I like the way Blakemore has packed so much into this story: lonely children, mean girls, friendship, the way lies and rumors can hurt people, the Cold War, and even the changing roles of women (Hazel’s mom was going to go to graduate school, but she couldn’t have a career and a child and chose to be a mom). And none of it seems forced. I think it’s because Hazel is likeable and often funny. There’s no didacticism and that is always a plus. (For kids in 4th-6th grades.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“The Night Gardener” by Jonathan Auxier

NightGardenerA spooky house, two orphans, and a family slowly losing their lives. Are the house and its inhabitants cursed? And why is there a tree growing right into the house? It’s up to Molly and Kip, newly arrived from Ireland and working as servants for the strange Windsor family, to find out what’s going on and to help rescue everyone from the mysterious and malevolent Night Gardener. This book is filled with adventure and secrets. And shows us why stories can help our lives, but lies do nothing but destroy people. It’s an engaging tale that will keep you interested throughout. (Grades 4-6.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“Stubby the War Dog,” by Ann Bausum

StubbyRead about World War I from a different perspective: That of a dog who fought right alongside American soldiers. Stubby the War Dog by Ann Bausum takes readers on a unique journey. Stubby was a homeless terrier who befriended and adopted (as well as became adopted by) Bob Conroy. When Conroy became a member of the infantry and traveled to France to fight in the Great War, Stubby went right along with him. Some members of the unit considered Stubby a good-luck charm, others were just warmed by his presence. The devoted dog learned to salute, could warn his fellow soldiers of incoming artillery fire, and even captured an enemy with a strategic bite. After the war, Stubby became a popular symbol of bravery. Bausum’s book lets you experience the story of World War I from an unlikely source. (Non-fiction, for kids 10 years old and up.)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

June 2014 Staff Adult Fiction Pick

 The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry  by Gabrielle Zevin

     ‘No man is an island,’ “Every book is a world” is the sign over the tiny bookshop, “Island Books” in a Massachusetts island beach town and that about sums up this delightful read.  You will find it filled with references to favorite “stories,” a philosophy for thriving in a treacherous world, and the awareness that a story will be different each time it is read.  Each chapter begins with an insight into a short story, which  perhaps is a bit of a gimmick, but we eagerly take advantage of the opportunity to glean some understanding of who the proprietor, A.J. is as a man.

     All lovers of books and the “story” will be smitten with this lovely, quiet but memorable tale that is bound to resonate on many levels.

 

 

“What We Found in the Sofa and (How It Saved the World)” by Henry Clark

WhatWeFoundIt’s not every day you find a sofa that that moves through time and space and helps three kids save the world from a tyrant bent on making all the citizens of Earth his subjects. But the sofa in Henry Clark’s new book does that and more. River (our narrator), Fiona, and Freak (he dislikes his real name) are lured not only by the sofa but the extremely rare and valuable crayon they find amid its cushions. The discovery brings them to the attention of Alf, who is actually a denizen of another world and striving to save our world from an evil dictator. It’s fun to read a science fiction novel that takes place in our time and world, especially one that makes so much fun of our reliance on cell phones. River, Fiona, and Freak are bright and likable and, I hope, coming back for more adventures. (Science fiction, grades 5-7)

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

April 2014 Staff Adult Fiction Pick

Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French

Waiting for Wednesday      As I said in review of Tuesday’s Gone, the previous installment in the Frieda Klein series, “… one of the best suspense/thriller series ever….”  In the latest, Waiting for Wednesday, poor Frieda pays dearly for the degree of psychological suspense we get to experience in this incredible new thriller.  You can’t help but feel sorry for our bruised and brooding heroine who is recovering from her previous debacle in crime-solving which very nearly got her killed.  Horrifyingly, it is Dean Reeve still at large who saved her from death, yet murdered his own twin brother in a very sinister plot (Book 1).  Unsettled as Frieda is by such recent  trauma,  her rival, Hal Bradshaw, who has been discrediting her skills as a psychotherapist with some disturbing success, has continued to make life difficult for her.  And just when things can’t get any worse, Frieda joins forces with an obsessed reporter who is on the trail of a serial murderer.  Though questioning her own motives for this involvement, she can’t seem to let it go.  Everyone is worried about her including boyfriend Sandy in New York who can never reach her, and the  usual cast of friendly characters who mean well but add to the chaos.  All this plus trying to help DCI Karlsson in his latest murder case  has brought Frieda nearly to the breaking point.

The wreckage of broken lives seems to have permeated Freida’s psyche this time  and the complexity of her character  has added to the psychological stress in this thriller.  With plot twists and fast pacing you will be riveted until the very moment Frieda can finally take a deep breath.

Tupelo Landing Books by Sheila Turnage

ThreeTimesAnother series — just two books so far — I heartily recommend Sheila Turnage’s Tupelo Landing series (grades 4-6). In Three Times Lucky, a murder comes to tiny Tupelo Landing, N.C., and prompts our protagonist Moses LoBeau (aka Mo) to set up the Desperado Detective Agency with her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. The crime hits very close to home for our young detectives, but not so close that one of the main characters is the villain.

GhostsTupeloIn The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the newest book, the murder took places years ago, so our town of quirky characters is somewhat safe, though each person is not without his or her secrets. You’ll love all of people in Tupelo Landing and the adventures Mo and Dale have in their tiny town.

–Marie Drucker, Children’s Librarian

“Jinx” and “Jinx’s Magic” by Sage Blackwood

Kids who like fantasy series will love reading these books by Sage Blackwood — and will certainly look forward to the next book in the series.jinx

In the first book, we meet Jinx — an orphan who is about to be left in the Urwald (a large primeval forest) to die but instead is rescued by the wizard Simon. He gradually becomes the Simon’s apprentice and learns that the power he draws on to work his magic is different than that Simon – and other wizards — use. In the course of the story, Jinx meets two young people (Reven, a would-be king, and Elfwyn, a would-be witch) who are making their way (separately at first) through the Urwald to rid themselves of curses. They end up at the house of an evil wizard who attempts to use them to capture Simon. Simon saves Jinx while Jinx in his way saves Simon.jinxmagic

Jinx’s Magic picks up where we left off – with the Jinx, Reven, Elfwyn, and Simon traveling again. The group separates midway and we follow Jinx on his quest to find out more about knowledge and power. Jinx is so very brave and determined. And he’s often a bit confused and overwhelmed too. I think that’s why I like him so much. By the end of Jinx’s Magic, all of the players are in place for what promises to be a climactic battle between fire and ice, life and death, in the next book.

“Fortunately, the Milk” by Neil Gaiman

TheMilkKids, be prepared. You will have to read Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk a few times — just for the sheer fun of it and to figure out all the time travel. Fortunately, the Milk tells the story of a dad who goes out for a carton of milk and returns “ages and ages” later with quite a story regarding his delay. I am now an immense fan of time-traveling stegosauri and hope to encounter one some day. Yes, the dad’s the story is ridiculous; that’s why it’s so much fun. Best yet, there are vampires, but no “handsome, misunderstood” ones. And that’s probably how it should be. (Grades 3-6 and adults who like to smile.)

“Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great,” by Bob Shea

Unicorn Poor Goat. Ever since Unicorn moved into his neighborhood, he’s been ignored. After all, Unicorn can make it rain cupcakes! But even Unicorn can’t do some things that only Goats can do (like make cheese). And the two learn that their differences make them unique and that together they make quite an amazing pair. Great picture book with a message that doesn’t preach, but instead celebrates each individual.