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Books in Brief: Noggin, Blood Always Tells, American Saint

young adult

Noggin by John Corey Whaley; Atheneum, 340 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.


Sixteen-year-old Travis Coates is dying of leukemia when a cryogenics lab suggests he might want to have his head frozen so it can be reattached to a donor body when advances in medical technology make that possible at some future time. Five years later, Travis reawakens with his head attached to a new body, to find the world has changed, his parents have thrown all his stuff away, and his girlfriend is in college and engaged to marry someone else. John Corey Whaley, winner of the Michael Printz award for “Where Things Come Back,” hits all the right notes in this funny, sad, pitch-perfect tale, set in Kansas City, Mo., of love, loss, growing up and discovering what’s really important about life. It’s a truly original way to examine adolescent feelings of disconnection and the experience of feeling left behind as everyone else moves on. The lively narrative voice hooks the reader from the opening paragraph: “Listen – I was alive once and then I wasn’t. Simple as that. Now I’m alive again. The in-between part is still a little fuzzy, but I can tell you that, at some point or another, my head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado.”

– Jean Westmoore


Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson; Forge, 320 pages ($25.99)


Hilary Davidson puts aside her award-winning series about travel writer Lily Moore for an engrossing standalone thriller that revels in strong characters and exciting surprises.

“Blood Always Tells” works well as a heartfelt, energetic story about greed, entitlement and the unbreakable bonds between siblings who never stop believing in each other. Davidson also works in a subtle but effective subtext about racial politics that gives “Blood Always Tells” an extra boost.

Former model Dominique Monaghan has a plan to get back at her married boyfriend, Gary Cowan, for cheating on her with another woman. She plans to blackmail him in a way that may finally end what he has always called his “sham of a marriage” to uber-wealthy Trin Lytton-Jones. But Dominique’s plan goes horribly wrong when she and Gary are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned house in rural Pennsylvania.

From there, “Blood Always Tells’ is a twisty route of double crosses and plot twists in which greed controls many of the characters’ souls.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel


American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seton by Joan Barthel; Thomas Dunne, 304 pages ($26.99)


Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was an American original. Born into New York’s upper crust in 1774, she was the daughter of a prominent doctor, raised a devout Episcopalian, married a well-to-do businessman, William Seton, had five children and worked with others from her parish, Trinity Church, to assist needy widows and children.

When Seton’s tuberculosis worsened, they went to Italy, where he died; when introduced to Roman Catholicism, Elizabeth was instantly attracted. She converted formally in 1805; she was persuaded to start a religious school in Maryland, took vows and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first American order of nuns, as its mother superior. She died in 1821, at the 46, 1963 and was canonized in 1975.

“American Saint” is drawn primarily from Seton’s writings. Although this is, strictly speaking, a hagiography – the biography of a saint – it focuses on the woman, her faults as well as strengths. Despite her piety, Elizabeth Seton was never a plaster saint: she could be volatile, she contemplated suicide, she was attractive and attracted to men, she was generally strict, she could be cold and unsympathetic. She was at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of two of her children when she took them with her to the wilderness convent.

Seton was also responsible for the long tradition of nuns serving as housekeepers to priests; she more often stood up to the male clerics who had authority over the sisters when they overstepped what she regarded as appropriate. That horrified some foreign-born clerics who were unaccustomed to women religious who spoke their own minds. Barthel gives short shrift to the Anglicanism that nurtured Seton’s religious faith. Seton would have been unlikely to move so easily to the Roman Catholic Church without her solid Episcopalian background.

Still, Barthel has created an intriguing portrait of a strong woman with a strong faith who made a lasting difference for good.– Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch