City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

city-of-saints-and-thieves-by-natalie-c-anderson

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (9780399547584)

Tina has returned to the place where her mother was murdered to destroy the man she knows killed her. An experienced thief, she must break into one of the most highly guarded and defended homes in Sangui City, Kenya. But things do not go as planned and Tina is discovered by the son of the family, someone she had once been close childhood friends with. The two of them begin to work together to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder, Tina to prove the father guilty and his son to prove him innocent. Their search for the truth will take them back to Congo, the place that Tina and her mother fled as refugees. Soon Tina is learning more about her mother than she ever knew, pieces to the puzzle of her life and death. Danger is ever-present in their journey and in solving this mystery even more secrets need to be defended and exposed.

From the very first page, Anderson draws readers into this African murder mystery. Filled with tension and threat, this novel also shows the life of a refugee in Africa, the beauty of small village life in the dangerous Congo, the risks of traveling into a country at war, and the wealth that can be made by spilling blood. The setting is amazing, moving from Sangui City and its urban gangs to Congo village life, each is drawn with precision and both are filled with beauty and menace.

Tina is a fully drawn character in search of the truth. She knows who killed her mother and she is driven primarily by revenge. The book’s pacing is exactly right, allowing readers to experience the various settings and Tina’s changing situations fully as each clue and piece of information is revealed leading them onward. Tina is a great mix of intelligence, cunning and force. She is a criminal with a cause, a character that is compellingly written and understandable.

A thriller of a teen novel, this book has a unique setting and one dynamic female protagonist bent on revenge. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (InfoSoup)

In the slums of Ketterdam, you do anything you can to survive. The Dregs are a gang in the area, up and coming and led by Kaz Brekker, a teen who walks with a cane that can kill and has a ferocious personality to match. When he is offered a remarkably high sum to pull off an impossible heist, he knows just the group of people who can help him do it. The group of six teens from very different backgrounds don’t exactly get along perfectly. Some of them hate one another, others are drawn to one another for romance and still others are completely indifferent to the rest. But each of them has hidden talents that this heist will demand that they use, if they are going to survive at all.

Bardugo is a master storyteller. Here she continues the story of the Grisha world with a new cast of characters. Their world is the mix of danger, thrill and torment of the slums that are also dashed with fakery and glitter. It will take those harsh survival skills for them to pull off the gambit, but it will also take them each wrestling with their past and how they got to Ketterdam in the first place. Bardugo makes sure that we know each of the six intimately, allowing us to see how poverty, war and loss can turn someone to a criminal.

Set in the same world as her previous trilogy, this new series adds even more depth and breadth to an already rich setting. Bardugo makes the world of Ketterdam almost its own character, filling it with villains, rivals and all around bad people. One can hear the cacophony of the streets, the sounds of the gambling, the calls of the vendors. One can smell the sweat, dirty bodies, and desperation. Against all of that, you have these teens who are all unique and fascinating, each driven by something personal to them alone. It’s a beautifully built book.

Rivetingly written, richly drawn and filled with fascinating characters, this book will please fans of the previous series and create new fans too. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Review: The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson

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The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The creators of The Gruffalo return for an uproarious version of a beloved poem.  Beware, for the Highway Rat is coming and he’s out to steal everyone’s snacks.  He rides along with food dropping out of his saddlebags, accosting poor travelers at sword point, demanding their goodies.  He steals clover from a rabbit who has nothing else, a leaf from some ants, even hay from his own horse.  Eventually though, the Highway Rat meets his match in a juicy-looking duck who directs him into a cave where the echo seems to promise food.  Then the Highway Rat rides no more.

I love a good riff on a traditional poem, and this one is very clever.  Those familiar with The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes will particularly enjoy the play Donaldson makes with its form.  She incorporates familiar phrasing like “And the Highway Rat went riding – riding –riding – riding along the highway.”  Somehow her other words which are quite different from the poem have a similar rhythm and evoke the poem effortlessly.

Scheffler’s illustrations have a wonderful bold quality to them.  The Highway Rat is truly a bad guy and his naughtiness is clearly shown in his actions and his aspect.  His googly-eyed horse is a pleasure, almost always making eye-contact with the reader and sharing the joke of this evil rat riding on his back.  The rich colors of the landscape add a depth to the illustrations that is very welcome.

The tale of an evil highwayman (or rat) makes for a great read.  Add in strong illustrations and the play on a well-known poem, and you have picture book magic.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.