Hucklesby, Jill. Samphire Song.
2013, Albert Whitman and Company.
Jodie has a lot going on in her life, but being with horses makes her feel better. Her father, with whom she shared her passion for riding, was killed in the war. Her young brother, Ed, is very ill and needs a kidney transplant to survive. Her mother, a freelance writer, struggles to make ends meet, but when she gets a good job writing a regular column, she lets the children have a treat, and Jodie gets to buy a horse. She choses Samphire, a stallion who is skittish and needs training, because she feels a connection with him. She makes good progress on his training until Ed becomes even sicker and her mother loses the column. When she has to sell Samphire, she asks the girl who buys him to let her know if she ever sells him on to someone else, but the girl does not. When circumstances improve, Jodie tries to find Samphire to buy him again, but nothing in Jodie's life is easy.
Strengths: Very readable, and lots of good details about horsey things-- mucking stalls, training, riding, etc. There are always a few girls who are interested in horses, and very few new books about them. (Rorby's Outside of a Horse and the Smiley Georges and the Jewels series being notable exceptions.)
Weaknesses: Why are the new horse books so sad? And why do the girls always want the most damaged horse for sale? And why do their parents allow them to get the damaged horse? Ah, didn't make sense to me, but the girls won't care.
Loftin, Nikki. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy
1 August 2012, Razorbill
Lorelei's family life is difficult. Her mother passes away from cancer, and her new stepmother Molly just doesn't understand her. When a new charter school opens near the family's home and Lorelei's regular school burns down, the decision is made to send both Lorelei and her brother Bryan to Splendid Academy. Things are suspect there, too-- bottomless bowls of candy and tons of food are provided, but as Lorelei's new friend Andrew points out, the candy and food seem to hypnotize the children. Lessons are not really important, and the two soon find out why-- Splendid Academy is run by women with a different agenda. Only Lorelei can save the students, but only if she can come to terms with her own situation.
Strengths: I don't want to give away too much, since I didn't see the agenda coming as quickly as I should have! Pleasantly creepy, good use of evil teachers; I think I will purchase for Lemony Snicket fans. I get a bit weary of the vast number of fantasy books published; I agree with Charlotte that this was good.
Weaknesses: Not an attractive cover, and Lorelei's family situation was unpleasant and didn't resolve itself in a satisfactory way. While she comes to terms with her mother's death, I thought that the portrayal of stepmother Molly was unhelpful and unfair.