Book review: Julia Vanishes, by Catherine Egan

Egan, Catherine.  Julia Vanishes. (Witch’s Child series, #1) Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-553-52484-0.  $17.99.  375 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q8P8

A new spin on witches in a 19th century setting.  These witches have to write their spells for them to work.  Needless to say, all forms of writing and tools of writing have been banned.  Can you imagine?  I cannot, but thankfully Catherine Egan did.  Julia, the main character, is the child of a witch, yet isn’t a witch.  Julia has her own special ability to move between planes of existence and this ability makes her dearly sought after by the most powerful beings of all.  Julia finds herself friends and allies with her would be victims (she’s a thief) and finds herself on a journey of self-discovery to save a little boy she betrayed.

Verdict:  A great new twist on witches and their powers!  A fast-paced, fun to read book.  I look forward to the next book!

October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

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Book review: Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller

Miller, Linsey.  Mask of Shadows. “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Sourcebooks Fire, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-4926-4749-2.  352 pages. Ages 14 and up.  Q7P8

A very fast paced medieval-ish fantasy novel with a heroine/hero!  She/he is gender fluid and while this confused me at first, the author does an excellent job at keeping the gender neutral. The nature of gender fluidity works extremely well for the part played in the novel.  Sal is a trained assassin for the queen and can assume any character needed to be successful at the job.  We experience Sal’s training and successes as an assassin.  Included is a nongraphic romance between two people who love each other not for how they look or their gender, but for who they are.

I give a quality 7 because of the slight confusion caused by the gender fluidity (I’m not sure this could have been achieved in a more understandable manner) and because I found myself flipping back in the book to confirm facts the story was based on, but not explained sufficiently for me to understand.  Love the art work on the cover!

Verdict:  An exciting fantasy novel with a non-gendered spin to stretch our minds and help us understand and accept their differences.

October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: On a LARP: a Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventure, by Stefani Deoul

Deoul, Stefani. On a LARP: a Sid Rubin Silicon Alley adventure. “Advance reader copy.”  Bywater Books, publication date April 11, 2017. $11.95. ISBN 9781612940953. [164 pages.] Ages 14+. P7Q8

As Sidonie—Sid—Rubin notes, the “the teenage brain doesn’t know, understand or care what it can’t do; and while this sounds great in theory, in practice it honestly is not always a good thing.”  A brief glance at a murder scene photo on an AP honors class outing to the local police department leads Sid Rubin and her friends into a police investigation and confrontation with a high-tech serial killer involved in steampunk live-action role playing games.  Told in first person by lesbian nerd Sid, this fast paced, frenetic mystery introduces an appealing heroine.  I hope that it will be the first of a series—I would enjoy seeing more of Sid and her friends.

Verdict: This appealing mystery has a main character who is a lesbian, but the book is not an issue novel about being a lesbian.  The mystery delves into the dark net and flows from clue to clue.  Highly recommended for high school and college popular reading collections as well as public library collections.

October 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: House of Furies, by Madeleine Roux

Roux, Madeleine. House of Furies. HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2017. ISBN 9780062498618. $17.99. 406 pages. P7 Q8

Madeleine Roux, author of the creepy Asylum series of young adult books, has written a similarly spooky novel, House of Furies. Like her Asylum series, House of Furies centers around a building and its inhabitants, though with an emphasis on mythical humanoid creatures like those found in Western European folklore—including the fae and banshee among others. The story is definitely horror themed with some more disturbing elements and characters. The House of Furies refers to a murderous boarding house run by Mr. Morningside (a play on morning star), who has an evil history all his own. One main focus of the story is the duality of human nature. None of the characters are entirely evil nor are they overwhelmingly good; however, this dichotomy is under constant scrutiny as each character makes their case to continue living. With the introduction of each new mythological creature, comes a drippy ink illustration in the style of Stephen Gammell (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). These illustrations help to create the book’s creepy atmosphere.

Verdict: Fans of the Asylum series will enjoy the tone and imagery of House of Furies. Those who do not enjoy horror should probably not read this book. Due to the popularity of this book’s themes, I expect it to be well-liked among young readers.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Merrow, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

Braxton-Smith, Ananda. Merrow. Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN 9780763679248. $16.99. 233 pages. Grades 8+. P7 Q9

Merrow isn’t really about mermaids. It’s about Kraken, web-fingered creatures with the tails of fishes, ancient children who left their marks on cave walls, small town gossip, and a world-wise twelve-year-old girl named Neen Marrey. Ananda Braxton-Smith writes with the voice and tragedy of the hardened Irish island folk of whom she writes. To those on the Island, and Need in particular, the sea is a family member. One who is often responsible for life-giving fruits and equally devastating heartbreak. Merrow is not an easy read. It is character driven and there is plenty of quirky Irish and Nordic vocabulary—which only adds to its authenticity. Readers who enjoy Irish writing and folklore with adore this story.

Verdict: This book is highly recommended. The language is often figurative, rife with imagery and cultural references. It belongs in school and public libraries.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: American Street, by Ibi Zoboi

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. Balzer and Bray, 2017. ISBN 9780062473042. $17.99. 336pp. Grades 9+. P8 Q9

Ibi Zoboi’s debut novel infuses the daily life of a teenager with the timely struggles of immigration, weather-related displacement, and drug culture. Fabiola has immigrated to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti; however, her mother was detained upon entry to the country. Now, Fabiola struggles to thrive within the Americanized culture of her Aunt’s house on American Street in Detroit. The flavorful Haitian food she grew up with is replaced with white bread and processed cheese; the landscape and houses lack the color of the island. Fabiola, a strong believer in her Haitian Vodou faith, stays true to her own story and begins to realize the magic of her belief exists in these new people and places. The topic of immigration and the associated risks are not addressed politically; rather, the fate of Fabiola’s mother is depicted as mysterious and hopeless. Zoboi writes in a sensual way, bringing the reader into the story with Fabiola as she makes her way through an unfamiliar new life.

Verdict: I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy realism with the possibility of a supernatural twist. This book discusses difficult aspects of life as a teenager including sex, drugs, loyalty, and relationships. It has a place in school and public libraries.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: The Girl I Used to Be, by April Henry

Henry, April. The Girl I Used to Be. Henry Holt and Company, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9781627793322. 229 pgs. Ages 12+. P8Q7.

Seventeen year old Ariel Benson, now known as Olivia Reinhart grew up knowing that her father stabbed her mother to death, abandoned her (Olivia/Ariel) in a Walmart in Oregon, and then disappeared. After becoming an emancipated teen, forensic evidence is discovered that means that her father was actually killed too, at the same time as her mother. Now she is secretly back in her hometown trying to find out what happened fourteen years before. Olivia experiences flashbacks as her investigation develops, and she learns uncomfortable information about her parents and their friends. I found the book to be fast paced and engaging, and felt that Olivia was an intelligent and feisty main character. The book was fairly short, which will appeal to teen readers who get bogged down in long novels, but I though the story and language could have been fleshed out a bit more- I was left wanting to know more about Olivia’s personality and character.

VERDICT: Fans of mysteries and thrillers will like this book, and those who struggle to finish books might well make it through this one.

September 2017 review by Carol Schramm.