Book review: One Half from the East, by Nadia Hashimi

Hashimi, Nadia. One Half from the East. Harper, 2016. 256 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-242190-6. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

The day that Obayda’s policeman father loses his leg in a Kabul car bombing is the day her life changes forever. With no money coming in, ten-year-old Obayda and her family must move to a remote village to be near her father’s family. Her father’s demeanor has changed, he never leaves his bed and he has nothing to do with his family any more. Her aunt thinks that if there were a boy in the family things would be different. Obayda is chosen to be a bacha posh, a girl who dresses as a boy, to bring honor back to her family. What a revelation this is for a Obayda, who can now do boy things! She soon overcomes any awkwardness and enjoys her new status. But, bacha posh are only free until puberty. Is there a way for Obayda–now Obayd–to remain free?  This story allows us a glimmer of what life is like for girls in a traditional Muslim home in Afghanistan.

Verdict: For those who love to read books about other cultures this is the book to read.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Hideout, by Watt Key

Key, Watt. Hideout. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9780374304829. 311 pages. Grades 5-9. P7 Q7

Hideout is a buddy adventure set in the mysterious swampy areas of the Gulf Coast. Sam’s new fishing boat has broadened his small world to include the very wild bayou that stretches for miles around his house. While exploring, Sam discovers a dilapidated hunting camp and, to his surprise, a very hungry boy named Davey attempting to inhabit one of the crumbling cabins. In his effort to help his new friend, while keeping it a secret from his family, Sam quickly realizes that Davey could be in serious trouble. Hideout is very much in line with Watt Key’s previous young adult novels. It features a male lead, takes place along the Gulf Shore, and discusses the complexities of family relationships. Young readers will enjoy the adventure and danger of Hideout. Male readers will relate to Sam and Davey’s sense of adventure and their views of what it means to be a brother.

Verdict: Hideout is a suspenseful story that will keep young readers interested. It would be a popular edition to a school library. The target audience is young boys. There is mention of smoking and drug use and a description of a dead body.

June 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo, Leigh. Wonder Woman: Warbringer. (DC Icons series) “Advance Reader’s Copy.” Random House, release date August 29, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780399549731. [384 pages.] Ages 14+. P8Q7

Veteran YA fantasy author Leigh Bardugo takes on the Wonder Woman saga from the point of view of an 18-year-old, bullied Amazon princess curious about the world outside her secluded and protected island home.  When Princess Diana ducks out of an important race to rescue shipwrecked Alia Keralis, she breaches the island’s protections and faces exile, taking on the quest to avert the doom carried by the Warbringer—Alia, a descendent of Helen of Troy.  Combining Greek mythology with modern technology and teen snarkiness, Bardugo succeeds in making Wonder Woman a believable teenager.

Verdict:  Recommended for young adult collections in high school and public libraries.

May 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Duskfall, by Christopher Husberg

Husberg, Christopher.  Duskfall.  (Chaos Queen Quintet, book 1.)  Titan Books,  2016.  $14.95.   ISBN 978-1-783-299-157.  560 pages.  Ages.  Q8P8

I was hooked with “Book One of the Chaos Queen Quintet” on the cover.  I love fantasy and apparently Queens creating chaos.  The main storyline is of the heroine, Winter, and her newly discovered ability to move objects with her mind and the people who are after her because of this ability.  Or, is it the story of Knot, the man who has become her husband, but remembers nothing of his life before he was rescued by her people and has the skills of ten different people with no knowledge of learning them.  Add to their storylines two sisters, one of whom is a priestess and the other the leader of a heretical rebellion of the same religion, who are driven to translate a long lost scripture, which may prove the heretic is correct and a child vampire drawn to helping Knot without knowing why; and you have a trio of paths drawn together.  The author is able to separate and conjoin all three paths simultaneously while making each one individual and highly complex (Winter is a Tiellan and her people are severely oppressed by humans) in addition to creating a believable world with its own prejudices and governmental instability.  Not to mention we are 560 pages in and the Chaos Queen has only been vaguely alluded to!  Last, but not least, the characters aren’t generic hero/heroine, but all have their own character flaws which make them so much more realistic.  For example, Winter has a substance abuse problem the author is able to describe that makes me feel as though he’s had an addiction. I’m still hooked and can’t wait for the next book. Review from Advance Reader’s Copy.

Verdict:  Highly detailed unique fantasy novel for young adults.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: The Cruelty, by Scott Bergstrom

Bergstrom, Scott.  The Cruelty.  Feiwel and Friends,  2017.  $18.99.  ISBN 978-1-250-10818-0.  384 pages.  Ages 17 – 18 years.  Q7P7

Gwen’s father, a diplomat who mysteriously disappears and, for an unknown reason, the same government he works for does not appear enthusiastic to get him back (the reasons behind this are their own sub-plot). Because of this Gwen takes it upon herself to find him.  Thankfully, Gwen’s father has left behind some clues indicating not only that this might happen, but where to start looking.  This all sounds like it could be a pretty good story and it could be, unfortunately, it’s a little far-fetched as written.  Gwen’s father was taken by one of the most feared crime families in Prague, one dealing in arms smuggling and human trafficking.  In order to make the rescue achievable by a teenager, the author has to compromise the believability of some (most) of the scenarios Gwen finds herself in.  For instance, she is able to break into the warehouse of a crime boss in Munich by breaking the padlock.  A padlock is all that is needed to protect millions of dollars of stolen merchandise?  No security camera, guard, or even a guard dog?  This lack of believability is throughout the book.  Where the author is believable is the brutality, which makes me question if this started out as an adult novel, not young adult.

Verdict:  I like the idea of the story, and I like the characters, but it seems like this was a story designed for Liam Neeson to be the lead character, not a 17 year old girl, and the adaptation to make that happen did not go well.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: A Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby

Kirby, Matthew J. A Taste for Monsters. Scholastic Press, 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780545817844. 343 pages. Ages 12+. P7Q7

It’s 1888 in London, and Jack the Ripper is murdering women. Evelyn, whose hard life has hurt her emotionally and bodily (she is disfigured by Phossy Jaw or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, caused by the white phosphorus used in match factories), begins working at the London Hospital as a maid to the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. As Evelyn and Mr. Merrick, who is sweet and fragile, get to know each other, they are afflicted with ghostly visits from the unhappy spirits of Jack the Ripper’s victims. These visitations cause Mr. Merrick’s health to suffer, and Evelyn tries to resolve the mysteries to relieve his mind. There is a bit of romance, which turns out badly, but Evelyn is successful in resolving the situations that keep the ghosts restless, comes to terms with her own fears, and finds out who the Ripper is. All in all, it was a satisfying paranormal mystery that wasn’t too gory or explicit.

VERDICT: Young adults interested in the Victorian era and lovers of mysteries will enjoy reading this novel.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Bennet, Jenn. Alex, Approximately. Simon Pulse, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781481478779. 388 Pages. Ages 14+. P7Q6

After a traumatic home invasion, Bailey Rydell, a high school Junior, moves from her mother’s tumultuous house in DC to her dad’s on the California coast. The fictional town of Coronado Cove isn’t only a well-known surfing mecca; it also happens to be home to Bailey’s anonymous online classic film-buff crush. After her move, the story quickly dissolves into a romance novel for teenage readers. The quite involved online relationship that the two shared is revealed to be merely a MacGuffin; its existence drives her personal inspection as she half-heartedly searches for him until just about the last page despite unwittingly meeting him early on. The reader knows all along and must question the believability of the two characters not coming to the same conclusion much earlier in the story. The romantic aspect of the story is age appropriate, tasteful (if the reader can disregard the author’s unrestrained use of the word “sexy”), and subtly indicative that the sex these characters are having is most likely protected. In addition to tackling teenage affection, the novel briefly addresses some weightier topics like drug use, death, personal trauma, and climate change, of all things.

Verdict: This title isn’t strongly recommended. Perhaps the anonymity of the internet bestows a certain optional fluidity to our personalities—a useful (and increasingly necessary) bonus for today’s mercurial youth. The exhibition of this benefit makes Alex, Approximately relatable to high schoolers; although, it will be more popular among the younger grades.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.