Book review: Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli

Albertalli, Becky. Leah on the Offbeat. Balzer+Bray, 2018. 343 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9780062643803. Ages 14-18. P8Q8

Leah Burke, drummer, cynic, fat, senior, came out to her mother as bisexual, but hasn’t told anyone at school—not even her gay BFF Simon Spier.  While her friends are applying to prestigious colleges, Leah works at getting a full scholarship at nearby Georgia State.  As the daughter of a teen mother, Leah knows that her only chance at college is a scholarship.  When Leah’s friend Morgan blames her failure to get into the college of her choice on a black friend’s acceptance, Leah challenges her racist statement.  This leads to discomfort in the close-knit friendships, adding to Leah’s senior angst.  The resulting turmoil and Leah’s developing crush on a girl become the crux of the story.

Verdict: Albertalli writes beautifully. Leah and her friends are fully developed characters and the tensions of impending life changes ring true, as do the push me, pull you of first love.  However, I became impatient with the long (very long) story of Leah’s crush and found the happy ending sudden. This is a stand-alone story, but readers will have a fuller understanding of the characters and history if they read Simon versus the Homo sapiens Agenda beforehand.  Highly recommended for middle, high school, and public libraries. (Also, make sure the collection includes Simon versus the Homo sapiens Agenda, released in March 2018 as the movie, “Love, Simon”.)

June 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: The Rattled Bones, by S. M. Parker

Parker, S. M.  The Rattled Bones.  Simon Pulse, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-4804-8204-2. $17.99. 365 pages.  Ages 14-18.  P8 Q8.

A paranormal novel about the previous inhabitants of Malaga Island, Maine, whom were evicted from the island by the government purely to draw tourists to a brand new hotel they intended, but never actually built.  Seems well thought out and historically accurate.  The cover art is ok.  It led me to believe a girl had drowned in a pond.

An eighteen year old daughter of a fisherman is working through the sudden death of her father, the question of whether or not to go on to college in the fall or stay home with her grandmother and continue her father’s fishing business, and the sudden appearance of a ghost in the form of a young woman.   Her long-time boyfriend clearly wants her to stay home, and her grandmother is pushing her to go and the ghost is clearly, and sometimes painfully, trying to tell her something.

Because the novel is written for young adults, I didn’t appreciate the 18 year old boyfriend spending every night climbing up the trellis to his girlfriend’s bedroom to spend the night for the last several years.  The grandmother knows of this arrangement, but the father apparently doesn’t.  What?!  How does a parent not realize there is a man sneaking into his house every night?  There are no sexual encounters in the book, but it is very much implied that there has been and could be.

Verdict:  Really enjoyed the history and the story overall.  Disappointed in the author’s presentation of a caring father, who is actually clueless.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: Strange Fire, by Tommy Wallach

Wallach, Tommy.  Strange Fire.  Simon & Schuster, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-4814-6838-1. $17.99. 400 pages. Ages 14 to adult.  P6 Q7

A science versus religion, post-apocalyptic, American mid-west story with action and mystery.  An asteroid has hit the earth, extinguishing most of humanity, over a thousand years ago.  Within that time span the remaining peoples have created a new way of life including a new religion.  The story begins with two families, and a protector traveling to the outer reaches of the known land to bring the word of God and the Daughter to the people who have no church or minister of their own.  At their turn around point they come upon a man who appears to be dabbling in science, and everyone knows science is the root of what caused Earth’s destruction.

What I found interesting was the basis of the story from the religious perspective: Science caused the destruction of Earth and therefore any science related books or activity is considered anathema.  But it was an asteroid that destroyed Earth, not scientific knowledge or experimentation.  So, there either seems to be a message disconnect or I misinterpreted something along the way.

I liked the story and characters very much and I look forward to the sequel, but I wish there was a better explanation behind why science is anathema.  Wallach’s religion seems very Christian based, “The Father, the Daughter, and Holy Gravity” (wouldn’t having gravity part of the holy trinity imply an acceptance of the scientific aspect of the law of gravity, and isn’t gravity what caused the asteroid to hit Earth?), which isn’t a bad thing, but because there are so many similarities to Christianity, is the author implying the religion modified itself through time, or was the author just lazy?  Back to the Science thing.  God’s Blood in the novel is oil for crying out loud.  How can something so useful in a scientific sense be an integral part of their religion and not be construed as anathema?

Verdict:  A good story in and of itself, but the writing left me questioning the premise of the story.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: The Last Namsara, by Kristen Ciccarelli

Ciccarelli, Kristen.  The Last Namsara.  HarperTeen, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-06-256798-7. $17.99. 416 pages.  Ages 13 to adult.  P9 Q9

A unique and powerful story based on one girl’s ability to attract dragons by telling stories based on truth.  At one point in time Dragons and Man worked together, now the king is using his daughter, Asha, who has the gift of storytelling, to hunt Dragons and kill them, thus eliminating the only thing that is keeping him from complete dominance.  Love the cover art!

Great detail in a multi-storyline novel (the king and his daughter and the magic their lives are built on, the king’s son who is mysteriously ill and bringing an enemy envoy to the castle, the slave who loves Asha, and the story of the dragons themselves) that is believable, cohesive, and surprising.

Verdict:  A wonderful and wonderfully written story for teens and up.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: The Keeper of the Mist, by Rachel Neumeier

Neumeier, Rachel.  The Keeper of the Mist.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-553-50928-1.  391 pages.  Ages 12-17.  P8Q8

A unique rendition of the typical fantasy story of the unknown daughter becoming queen of the land.  The story is well thought out and delivered with unique characters and roles, even if the story itself isn’t unique.

Keri has recently been crowned Queen of Nimmira, a land covered in a protective mist to keep covetous eyes away.   Keri soon realizes the protective mists are failing and must work to discover why and how to repair them.

My only complaint with the novel is some of the vocabulary the author chose to use, such as “aspersion” and “insouciance”.  The terms are not mainstream and required a dictionary.  Not a bad thing in theory, but seems as though the author has too close of a relationship with her thesaurus.

Verdict:  Great story, especially for those who like to enrich their vocabulary.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

Book review: Orphan Monster Spy, by Matt Killeen

Killeen, Matt. Orphan Monster Spy. Viking, 2018. 410 pgs. $18.99. ISBN 9780451478733. Ages 12+. P7Q8.

Sarah, a teenage Jew without papers, family or friends, finds herself in serious trouble after her mother is shot at a checkpoint in Germany in 1939. In helping a man she meets, she finds herself safe for a while. The man she eventually calls The Captain is a British spy, and Sarah agrees to help him by going undercover at a Nazi boarding school to get information about the father of another student. The story is told with flashbacks of her relationship with her troubled and alcoholic actress mother, who trained Sarah in acting, languages, and deception. Sarah, now called Ursula, infiltrates the school and finds most of the other students and the staff to be cruel, vindictive, and power hungry. In order to gain the trust of the lead girls, she has to prove herself- that she is smart, tough, and devious- a perfect little Nazi. Mental “conversations” with her mother are a regular and helpful tool for Ursula- they guide her through dangerous and difficult situations. The book is filled with violence and cruelty- Ursula is beaten badly by a teacher, another student tries to kill her, she witnesses shootings, is nearly killed in an explosion, comes close to being sexually abused by an adult,…  I found her character to be a bit cold and strange (which might not be unrealistic, given the way she grew up), but on the other hand, she is tenacious, smart, and self-controlled. There is a lot of German vocabulary throughout the book. An English definition is usually positioned nearby, so understanding won’t be a problem for readers. I think modern teen readers will find this book interesting- there is a lot of information about the early part of WWII, and it was really interesting to view that time through the eyes of a teenage spiy. A lot of teens will also identify with Sarah’s difficulties with her mother- she basically acted as a caretaker for her as alcoholism took over her life.

VERDICT: Teen readers who like a fast-paced, exciting story, with a clearly defined good vs. evil theme will enjoy this book.

June 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Faithless, by Jody Houser, illustrated by Joe Eisma, Kate Niemczyk, and Marguerite Sauvage

Houser, Jody. Faith (Vol. 4). The Faithless. Illustrated by Joe Eisma, Kate Niemczyk, and Marguerite Sauvage. Valiant Entertainment, 2017. Unpaged. $14.99. ISBN 9781682152195. Ages 12+. P8Q7.

I haven’t read the first three Faith books, but I found it easy to get into the story. Zephyr is a superhero who, in her day job, is known as Faith Herbert. Her boss and a coworker know her real identity, and help her to keep that private. A group of supervillains, which includes Murder Mouse (actually a guy named Jeff) and Dark Star (who is currently in the body of a cat), are wonderfully evil in an old style comic book way. I like Faith- she’s not the stereotypical superhero- she’s generously built, and is very upbeat. The artwork is bright, humorous, and easy to follow.

VERDICT: Coming into the series part way through, I felt like the storyline was a bit thin, but I think teens will like the characters and it may be worth getting the earlier books for my YA collection.

June 2018 review by Carol Schramm.