All the Truth That’s in Me: A Review

allthetruthinmeFour years ago Judith disappeared from the small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago she came back with no explanation, no longer able to speak.

Shamed by her loss of speech and shunned by everyone from her former friends to her own family, Judith subsists on small glimpses of Lucas, the boy she has always loved, and the one-sided conversation she has with him in her head.

When homelanders threaten to attack Roswell Station, Judith is forced into action as she tries to save the town that has all but forsaken her. Her efforts to stop the invaders prove successful but also raise questions about Judith’s return to town and what she might have suffered during her time away.

Judith has survived these past two years well enough. In order to flourish, she will have to find her voice in All the Truth That’s in Me (2013) by Julie Berry.

All the Truth That’s in Me is Berry’s first novel written for young adults.

Written in the second person as Judith talks directly to Lucas, this novel is part mystery and part coming of age story. Sparse, short chapters and a stark narrative style make this novel ideal for fans of verse novels.

Berry situates the story in a quasi-historical, quasi-Puritanical society. While this environment works well for the plot (and indeed creates one of the only scenarios where Judith’s shunning would make sense) it is also a distraction that feels more like a shortcut in world building and research. While the society does raise questions about freedom and feminism especially, those questions become difficult to answer or even fully discuss with a lack of concrete setting.

Questions about setting aside, this novel does offer a taut and atmospheric story. Readers are thrown directly into Judith’s claustrophobic and often heartbreaking life as she struggles with cruel treatment and bitter memories.

Although this novel was a finalist for the Edgar Award, it is surprisingly thin on mystery. Answers are sought when Judith tries to unravel the secrets surrounding the disappearance of her friend (a girl who went missing near when Judith herself was taken) but the need to investigate is not especially pressing until the final act. A certain urgency is implied early in the story as the homelanders approach only to taper off in a similar fashion in the wake of the attack.

While there is mystery, All the Truth That’s in Me is really a meandering story about a girl trying to find herself (and her voice) after years of being lost–a story, it is worth mentioning, that is told quite well.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2013*

Blackfin Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t be remarkable without being remarked upon.”

blackfinskyThree months ago, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, Skylar Rousseau fell from the pier and drowned in Blackfin.

But she also didn’t.

Three months later, Sky mysteriously returns to Blackfin with no memory of having died. Someone was pulled from the water. Someone was buried. No one, least of all Sky, is sure how that someone is not her.

No one knows exactly what happened to Sky and no one except Sean, her friend and long-time crush, wants to help her find answers. When impossibly real dreams begin to draw Sky to a strange circus in the woods, Sky knows the truth must be lurking there too.

Secrets are buried and waiting to be uncovered in the strange town of Blackin including truths about Sky and her past that could change everything in Blackfin Sky (2014) by Kat Ellis.

Blackfin Sky is Ellis’ first novel.

Blackfin is a strange town where the weather vane follows people instead of the breeze and church bells chime every hour even though the town has no church. Strange things are always happening in Blackfin. But a girl has never died and returned. Even in Blackfin.

Blackfin Sky begins with this impossible premise and strings it along into a well-realized fantasy filled with marvelously quirky things and not a fair bit of wonder. Sky’s understanding of her place in Blackfin begins to expand and change after her death when she finally realizes she might be more than a fascinating outsider to Blackfin’s locals.

Ellis populates this novel with a myriad cast of well-realized characters including supportive parents for Sky and an admirable sidekick in Sean. Excellent pacing and an action-packed plot move this story from one revelation to the next as Sky begins to uncover long-hidden secrets and learn more about her mysterious death.

Blackfin Sky offers the perfect blend of mystery and the supernatural (with just a bit of humor and romance) to create a story that is as satisfying as it is entertaining. Readers can only hope that Ellis will return to Sky and Blackfin in future novels.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my interview with Kat Ellis about this book starting March 12.

The After Girls: A Review

The After Girls by Leah KonenElla, Astrid and Sydney thought they would have the perfect summer between high school and college. Until Astrid kills herself in the isolated cabin they’ve used as a hideaway for years.

In the wake of Astrid’s suicide, Ella and Sydney are left with grief, confusion and questions. How could Astrid do this to herself? How could she leave them behind? How could Ella and Sydney have missed the warning signs?

While Ella is desperate to find answers, some kind of suicide note or explanation, Sydney does everything she can to try to numb herself. Together, Ella and Sydney will follow the pieces of Astrid’s life–and even a chilling message from Astrid herself–to find out the truth about Astrid’s suicide and whether she might be trying to reach them from the afterlife in The After Girls (2013) by Leah Konen.

The After Girls is Konen’s first novel.

The After Girls is a smart, thoughtful novel with an unflinching focus on grieving. Konen’s treatment of both characters is balanced and honest as Ella and Sydney work through their grief in different ways.

With elements of mystery, suspense and even romance for Ella, The After Girls is a subtle story with evocative landscapes and compelling characters. With books like I Was Here and All the Bright Places getting so much buzz, this back list title is well worth reading

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca A. Serle

*A review copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2013*

All Fall Down: A Review

All Fall Down by Ally CarterIt has been three years since Grace has seen her ambassador grandfather or set foot in the country of Adria. Now, with nowhere else to go, Grace is once again home at the American Embassy in the city of Valancia.

Three years is a long time to be away, but distance has done nothing to dampen the painful memories of her mother’s death. In fact, returning to her mother’s childhood home only brings it all back in painful detail.

Returning to Valancia, Grace is more convinced than ever that her mother was murdered; even more convinced that she has to do everything she can to find the killer and make him pay.

Until then Grace has not one but two annoyingly present boys to deal with and a mess of secrets to untangle as she hunts for the truth.

Living on Embassy Row among the other international embassies is like living on a very thin ledge where one wrong move can push Grace over forever in All Fall Down (2014) by Ally Carter.

All Fall Down is the first book in Carter’s Embassy Row series.

It’s hard sometimes to reconcile immeasurably high hopes for a book with the reality of reading said book. Ally Carter has already received wide (and well-deserved) acclaim for her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels as well as legions of loyal fans.

All Fall Down marks a dramatically different direction for Carter’s writing. Grace is still a witty and sharp narrator but she is also abrasive. Grace is also rash to the point of being reckless, something that can rarely be said for Carter’s other heroines. The pain and grief of her mother’s death is fresh and palpable throughout the novel. The sense of loss and regret is often so palpable that it is hard to read through.

In many ways, All Fall Down feels like the natural progression for Carter’s writing career as she continues to push her prose and her protagonists in new directions. The writing remains excellent and evocative as Grace delves into her new surroundings as well as a not-so-new mystery.

While the plot sounds sleek and polished, All Fall Down is much grittier with as many raw edges as Grace herself. Unfortunately, this darker tone also lessens the charm and humor readers familiar with Carter’s previous YA novels might expect to find here.

Unfortunately, with such a radically new premise (not to mention a country entirely of Carter’s own invention) almost all of All Fall Down is setup. Some parts of the initial plot are resolved but many are left dangling to be pursued in later installments. Instead of a start to a new series, this book feels more like a supplementary prequel as readers are left waiting for the actual story to start.

All Fall Down does once again highlight what Carter does so very well as she moves in an entirely new direction. A promising start to a new series for fans of thrillers and twisty suspense novels.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: A Review

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIt is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.

When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.

In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.

When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.

Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.

While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.

Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Out of the Easy: A Review

“My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.”

Out of the Easy by Ruta SepetysJosie Moraine’s mother has been working as a prostitute for the past ten years, since she and Josie moved to New Orleans in 1940.

It’s 1950 now. Josie is seventeen. And she wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans once and for all. While her mother is content to tie herself to whichever man comes along, Josie works cleaning the brothel where her mother works and at a bookstore as she works to save enough money for college and her ticket out of the Big Easy.

Josie’s careful escape plan is put into jeopardy when she becomes tangled in the investigation of a mysterious death in the Quarter. Torn between her allegiance to Willie Woodley, the madame who has been more of a mother to Josie than her own, and her fierce desire to leave New Orleans behind, Josie will have to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice in her search for the truth in Out of the Easy (2013) by Ruta Sepetys.

Out of the Easy is Sepetys’ second novel and her follow-up to Between Shades of Gray.

Josie is a determined heroine but she also has a very reductive view of the world–particularly given her background. While Josie, her family, and many of her friends operate in what can only be called grey areas of the law–Josie’s views remain very black and white. She is friends with Willie and some of the girls who work at the brothel. But she also views them at a remove. As the opening of the novel (quoted above) might suggest, there is also always a slight hint of distaste.

While this story is an evocative historical novel, the lush setting often serves to emphasize a lackluster plot. A lot of things happen to Josie in the story but despite being self-sufficient in a financial sense, Josie is very short on actual agency. Throughout the novel Josie’s fate falls into the hands of others. Eventually she does break free and choose her own path, but it comes very late in the story only after her inaction has dramatic consequences. Yet everything still manages to resolve very neatly and decidedly in Josie’s favor.

Sepetys once again delivers a well-researched historical novel in Out of the Easy. This novel brings the world of 1950 New Orleans to vivid life with a setting that is as vibrant and evocative as any of the characters found within these pages. Out of the Easy is an engrossing historical novel ideal for readers who want to get lost in a book’s vividly described settings.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

17 and Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.”

17 and Gone by Nova Ren SumaWhen seventeen-year-old Lauren first sees the Missing flyer for Abigail Sinclair, she knows it was left for her. Against all odds, Lauren is certain that she was meant to find this poster, to find out Abigail’s story, maybe even to find her.

As Lauren digs into Abigail’s disappearance she finds out that the missing girl preferred to be called Abby. She hated the summer camp where she was working. And she definitely didn’t just run away.

The problem is no one else seems to care. The more Lauren investigates, the more missing girls she finds. All of them seventeen. All of them gone without a trace. Abby went missing in the summer. But it’s winter now. Any girl could be next. Maybe even Lauren herself.

While trying to find Abby, Lauren will have to face secrets from her past and confront several uncomfortable truths in 17 & Gone (2014) by Nova Ren Suma.

17 & Gone is a chilling blend of suspense and what may or may not be ghosts. As Lauren grapples with the missing girls that are haunting her she also comes to realize that her mind may not be as reliable as she thought. Suma deftly unravels the stories of the missing girls and also examines Lauren’s mental state from a variety of angles.

Eloquent prose and a gripping story come together here in a story that is as literary as it is unexpected. Recommended for readers who like their mysteries to be open-ended and their heroines to be clever and determined.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernard, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Damaged by Amy Reed, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart