The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Tana’s the type of girl that never lets fear stop her from doing what she wants – she’s the ultimate cool customer. As cool as Tana is though, it’s her compassion that gets her into trouble, sometimes big, life-shattering trouble. She wasn’t looking for trouble when she went to the house party, she was simply looking for something fun to do, something safe from the vampires that roam at night, but when Tana wakes up the morning after she knows she’s found big time trouble. Before she really figures out what’s happened, she’s facing a vampire, an infected ex-boyfriend, and the reality that they’re all heading for the nearest Coldtown, a locked city in which vampires hold sway. The trouble is, once you’re in, it’s almost impossible for a human to stay alive and even more impossible to get out.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a vampire novel. I’m not enough of a fan of the subgenre to seek them out. Given that, I have to say I loved The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Tana, and many of the other characters, are appealing. Their adolescent schemes and vulnerabilities make them interesting and sympathetic characters. Tana especially, Tana’s personal battles had my stomach in knots. I was cheering her on equally hard for her compassion and for her brazen pluck.

You’ll love this book if you love vampire stories. If you’re not a fan of vampire stories but you like well drawn characters and great world building, this may be the one vampire novel for you. I know I’m going back for more of Holly Black’s novels and I’m also going to check out the list of vampire novels she includes in the acknowledgments. Maybe I’ve been missing out all along.

The Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson

Walden Pond Press, 2013

Haley’s plans for the summer after eighth grade have turned out to be a little disappointing. She didn’t make it into the exclusive music camp she’d gone to last summer. Even worse, she didn’t win the internship with the newspaper in New York City where she was hoping to meet her journalistic hero. But she knows she didn’t put her full attention into those applications, she’d been too focused on the application for the Fellowship for Alien Detection and the mysterious missing time events happening around the country.

Now Haley and her family are off on a road trip funded by the fellowship. Maybe she’ll be able to solve the time mystery. But Haley has a sneaking suspicion that she should have told her parents, and the foundation, the real reason she is so caught up in researching the possibility of aliens on Earth. Unfortunately, it’s too late now…

Meantime, Dodger’s got some misgivings about his own summer plans. There are no real reasons for him to stay in Washington State; it doesn’t feel like home, even though he’s lived there all his life. But what will he and his dad possibly talk about when they’re on the road doing research for his Society for Alien Detection fellowship? They can’t even manage to talk at home.

A great middle grade summer tale, my 12-year-old son and I both read and loved it. Haley and Dodger have the perfect mix of family dependence, early-teen capability, and just the right amount of angst. The plot is exciting and moves right along. We were both drawn right into the story and held our breath through the climax to the end. This is a book to read in the summer, or any time you’ve got plenty of time to contemplate the important questions, like what if aliens really did come to Earth? Would we even know?

Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

Simon Pulse, 2011

Cryer’s Cross, Montana is such a small town that all four high school classes fit in a one room schoolhouse. The kids have known each other forever. Every year they struggle just to have enough soccer players to make up a team. It’s a small town and a tight-knit community, but when Tiffany Quinn disappears, it seems that sometimes big city problems come into the country.

Cryer’s Cross is a deliciously creepy story. I was so drawn into the mystery of it, I read quickly. I wanted to know what was going on. Perhaps the best thing about the story is that it’s not simply about the disappearance and the strange events that take place in Cryer’s Cross. It’s also a story about teenagers and college choices and small town life. It’s about kids who have lived in one place forever and kids who have to move to a new place at just the wrong time. It’s about friendship and romance and the troubles of living with OCD. The characters are well drawn and interesting. You’ll be rooting for them to succeed and holding your breath when they’re in danger. Cryer’s Cross is a wonderful read that you will be thinking about long after you’ve finished reading.

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell

Bloomsbury, 2010.

Genevieve was hoping to go to Club Med and soccer camp, her family’s usual summer vacation, but this year Mom has dragged the family — kicking and screaming — to 1890s family camp. Camp keeps Gen busy navigating the hard work and boredom of life on the frontier. At the same time she’s trying to figure out the cute boy there. Does he like her? Is he going out with the daughter of the owners, the one who seems to hate Gen? The only upside is that Gen can see is that she’s managed to smuggle in her cell phone, and she can use it to send texts to her friends back home. This works great until it runs out of power. As Gen searches for a solution to her power problem she learns that she’s not the only person in 1890s-land who’s got something to hide. In fact, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. When Gen’s friends set up a blog using her texts it’s only a matter of time before the modern world comes crashing into the 1890s.

Little Blog on the Prairie is an engaging look at what frontier life would be like for modern families. This middle-grade book draws heavily on the PBS series Frontier House, which the author says sparked the idea for her, but the story expands to include interesting characters, teen romance, and the twist of one family who chooses to live their whole life in 1890s style. A fun read for both the frontier freak and the frontier averse.