Book review: Stone Mad: a Karen Memory Adventure, by Elizabeth Bear

Bear, Elizabeth. Stone Mad: a Karen Memory Adventure. “A Tom Dougherty Associates book.” Tor, 2018. 183 pages. $14.99. ISBN 9781250163837. Ages 14-up. P6Q7

An evening not long after the end of the first Karen Memory adventure finds Karen and Priya celebrating ownership of their own house and ranch with dinner at a fancy restaurant and a magic show.  When suspect spiritualist sisters and a tapping table interrupt their dinner—and the hotel begins to tear itself to pieces around them—Karen throws herself heedlessly into the adventure, endangering herself and her friends. As the night’s events lead not to the anticipated homecoming, but to the couple’s first major fight, Karen and Priya have to decide what they each want in life and what they each owe the other as partners and lovers.

Verdict:  For me, much of the joy of reading the first book in the Karen Memory series was carried by the steampunk tropes.  Though the novella Stone Mad still features steampunk touches such as a reappearance of the sewing machine which functions as wearable armor, the major focus of the story is on another Victorian fascination, the supernatural.  And, though interrupted by action and adventure, the crux of the story is on discussions of how two people can relate to each other honorably.  I think this would have been a stronger story as a novel; the shorter form of the novella made it difficult for the author to balance the action sequences with the philosophical bits.  Still, this second book in the Karen Memory series is well done and I recommend it for high school and public library collections.

September 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: Stolen Secrets, by L.B. Schulman

Schulman, L. B. Stolen Secrets. Boyds Mills Press, 2017. 303 pgs. $17.95. ISBN: 978-1-62979-722-9. Gr. 9. P8 Q9

Livvy and her mother are living in Vermont when they suddenly make a move to San Francisco, California. A move that is made to help to care for Livvy’s grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and harbors a very secret secret. This grandmother was unknown to Livvy till the move to San Francisco. Livvy’s mom returns to Vermont for alcohol treatment, leaving Livvy to help in the care of her grandmother. Livvy thinks that her grandmother’s secret is that she is really Anne Frank, a Jewish girl made famous through her book “Diary of Anne Frank,” who died in a concentration camp during World War II. The story becomes sinister when those who are seeking her grandmother come demanding the last pages written by Anne Frank.

Verdict: I loved the concept of this book, that Anne Frank lives. But the intrigue of the story was finding out the true identity of Livvy’s grandmother. There is romance, humor and a strong cast of characters who will appeal to readers.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: An Uninterrupted View of the Sky, by Melanie Crowder

Crowder, Melanie. An Uninterrupted View of the Sky. Philomel Books, 2017. 289 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0-399-16900-7. Gr. 9+. P8 Q8

In Bolivia, in 1999, Francisco is a young man in high school at this time. His father owns a car and runs a taxi service, his mother works and his younger sister attends elementary school. The day his father is arrested for a minor traffic violation is the day that all their lives change. Francisco’s father’s taxi is confiscated and he is thrown into prison. Days later the children wake up and their mother has abandoned them which leads to them going to the prison and living with their father. Every day they leave by the gates and go to school and at night they must return before the gates are locked. It is only at the end of the story that Francisco and his little sister are safe as they go into the mountains to live with their grandparents.

Verdict: A very realistic look into the corruption of the Bolivian government in 1999 and the impact it had on families.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Relative Strangers, by Paula Garner

Garner, Paula. Relative Strangers. Candlewick Press, 2018. 17.99. ISBN 9780763694692. 359 pages. Ages 14 – Adult. P7Q8

Searching for a baby picture for the yearbook, eighteen year old Jules uncovers the shock of her life: finding a picture that reveals that as a baby, she spent a year with a foster family. In the pictures she looks so happy and so does the family she is with. Did they love her? Do they miss her? Who are they? With the help of her two best friends, Jules sets out on a quest to find them. The journey involves confronting her single mother, an ex-addict, who has built a life around attending support meetings and art to keep from relapsing. This has left little space and time for a daughter yearning for a family life. Perhaps finding this foster family will be the answer to all Jules has wished for. Finding her foster brother takes a few simple clicks of the internet, but that is where the simplicity stops. The joyous reunion spirals into uncontrolled feelings that put Jules on an emotional roller coaster. This story explores the complicated family relationships that Jules navigates as she finds her way in the world.

VERDICT: Young adults will enjoy reading this book; it is realistic in confronting the angst of growing up in an non-traditional household.

May 2018 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak: The Graphic Novel. Illus. by Emily Carroll. FSG, 2018. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30028-9. Ages 13+ P10Q10

In the summer before her freshman year in high school, Melinda loses her voice after a senior boy rapes her at a party. She’s bullied by former friends and new classmates because she called the police to the party, and her parents punish her for her failure to succeed in school. Pencil and charcoal black, white, and gray panels depict her depression and inability to explain what has happened to her.

Verdict: As if the book lacks a voice like Melinda, the first half of the book conveys the message that something horrible had happened to Melinda but doesn’t explain exactly what. The effect is superb pacing as if a ticking bomb will soon explode, as indeed it does when Melinda’s attacker decides to repeat his behavior with her. Anderson depicts the frustration of schools that fail their students in many ways and a dysfunctional family that suffers from domestic abuse. This graphic novel, adapted from Anderson’s 20-year-old novel of the same title, allows the silence of Melinda, and the illustrations are well suited to describe the horror of the treatment she suffers. It speaks to readers in a way that words cannot. Both timely and timeless, Speak is a must read.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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.

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