It’s Thursday, which means I have a half day and time to catch up on book reviews.  I’m thinking quick and snappy today, so I can actually get some more reading done, and maybe some baking if I feel really crazy.  And maybe a walk in the gorgeous fall weather.

First up is Shelf Discovery, which I was excited to read – and found hard to put down – since I always enjoy popping over and reading Skurnick’s Fine Lines column.  Books about books – it’s where it’s at.

Shelf Discovery Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you’re one of those people who likes to go back and reread childhood favorites, who likes to marvel and what you remember so vividly and what you completely forgot, who loves to make snarky comments about books that you really adore – then you should take a look at this. Skurnick’s style is hilarious, making me want to go out and reread my own favorites plus take a look at the things I missed. Watch out – your reading list might become a lot longer.

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Next, a story that looked spooky, but annoyingly turned out to be the first in a trilogy.  Sigh.

Prophecy of the Sisters Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
With a slightly gothic feel, a late 19th century setting, mysterious deaths, crippled brothers, possibly-evil sisters, new friends who can communicate with the spirit world, and an ancient prophecy that gives our heroine a role she’d rather not have, this story should appeal to readers who like a little bit of the supernatural without too much of the scary. The combination of fantasy and historical elements reminded me of Libba Bray‘s Gemma Doyle books, although the mood and style are distinct. Lia’s world is lighter on the historical details, but the fantastical elements feel better integrated into the mythology of the story. And while much of the focus in the Gemma Doyle books is on the friendships between the girls, Lia’s friendships are less fraught and her friends share more of the weight of the prophecy.

Particularly interesting is Lia’s relationship with her twin sister, which is often cold and hostile, yet the sister manages to come across as occasionally sympathetic all the same. If this dichotomy continues to develop, she could be a fascinating character, but if she becomes two-dimensional, a lot of the zip would go out of the story. Which brings me to my main issue with the book – no one told me it was the beginning of a series! It’s not terribly long, and in the last third or so of the book I started to wonder how on earth Zink was going to tie things up so quickly. Not only are we left hanging on the overarching story of the prophecy, but smaller questions are also left unresolved as the story closes. Personally, I don’t know if I would bother to keep reading, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind to recommend to fans of the gothic and supernatural. It’s got a YA feel to it, but I would recommend it to middle schoolers, too.

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And finally, just what I wanted: a tidy, stand-alone, funny time-travel story.

Voices after Midnight Voices after Midnight by Richard Peck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s a pity I didn’t discover Richard Peck as a kid, because this would have been right up my alley. Old house? Check. Time travel to 1880s? Check. Funny? Check. A historical mystery? Check. And it’s all packed in a nice slim volume – if only someone would reissue it with a better cover! I thought my library hardcover was bad – Chad and Luke peering around a doorway, having just traveled back in time and looking very 1989 – but at least it doesn’t give away part of the mystery or employ an unrelated beam of light/flying, like the paperback.

What’s great about the story is that Chad and Luke are just able to move through time – there’s no elaborate explanation, no machine, nothing – which makes you, as the reader, feel like the same thing might happen to you! Your family might be staying in an old house near Central Park and one morning you wake up to find yourself in the 1930s. Or the 1880s. Or you might be walking through the park and see Revolutionary War era soldiers trudging along. And it’s not just a place like New York, either – the same thing happens to the boys back home in suburban California.

Peck also does a great job of making you believe the characters are a family – the annoying older sister, the precocious younger brother, the narrator who’s just turning into a teenager, the parents who are loving but occasionally clueless. The settings are nicely described, and you really feel the contrast between the newness of the California neighborhood and the city setting. Now I just to get kids to ignore the cover and check it out.

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