The Leaf Reader: A Review

“I did feel like I was pretending, at least at the start. I admit that. But whenever you start on something, it always feels a little like pretending, right? If you let that stop you, you might never try anything new.”

cover art for The Leaf Reader by Emily ArsenaultMarnie is halfway through high school and she’s accepted that she’ll never be popular. And if that’s true, better to give the people what they want and be really eccentric, right?

In the past year Marnie has gotten a reputation for reading tea leaves to tell the fortunes of classmates. Marnie knows it’s just for fun. She assumes her classmates do too.

But then Matt Cottrell comes to Marnie for a reading that seems to reveal more about the disappearance of Matt’s best friend Andrea last year. Marnie has never thought she could really read the future in tea leaves. But as she and Matt start looking into Andrea’s disappearance together, Marnie starts to wonder if she was wrong. It seems like the tea leaves are trying to tell her the Matt is dangerous. And if that’s true, Marnie’s growing attraction could be deadly in The Leaf Reader (2017) by Emily Arsenault.

The Leaf Reader is Arsenault’s first novel written for a young adult audience.

I went into this one with almost no expectations after receiving it very randomly from a neighbor. Marnie’s introspective narration and her fascination with reader tea leaves immediately drew me in. The story includes some basic information on interpreting leaves and their symbols which adds a fun dimension to the story.

Arsenault’s plotting and story are executed well and come to life with vivid descriptions of Marnie’s surroundings. The descriptions of characters are sometimes less vibrant and less charitable in a way that seems to suggest Marnie, or perhaps the author herself, held little fondness for some of the characters.

Marnie is a frank narrator who is immediately honest about her own status as an outsider in her small town. She is less willing to accept that she might not be the only one with secrets–something that becomes increasingly obvious to readers as the tense plot finally reaches a breaking point in the final act.

The Leaf Reader is a unique spin on some familiar mystery tropes. A great choice for fans of suspense.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

It Wasn’t Always Like This: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It Wasn't Always Like This by Joy PrebleThanks to a mysterious tea, Emma O’Neill and her family stopped aging. Charlie Ryan and his parents suffered the same fate. By 1916, Emma has been seventeen for two whole years.

When an organization called the Church of Light notices, both families are targeted. Emma and Charlie survive the massacre but they aren’t sure they can ever really be safe. Separated during their escape, they are still bound together by their love for each other even as circumstances conspire to keep them from finding each other.

Over the last hundred years Emma’s gotten good at hiding and at noticing patterns. It takes someone with her uniquely long perspective to realize a decades long series of murders have something in common: every victim bears a striking resemblance to Emma.

The murders are coming closer together now–closer than they have in a very long time. Which can only mean Emma’s enemies are getting closer too. As Emma hunts the murderer she begins to hope, for the first time in a long while, that solving this case might also help her find Charlie again in It Wasn’t Always Like This (2016) by Joy Preble.

It Wasn’t Always Like This has been likened to Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars. It turns out that this comparison is wonderfully accurate.

Preble uses sparse prose for Emma’s no-nonsense narration. Third person narratives from other characters are interspersed throughout for necessary exposition.

It Wasn’t Always Like This offers a fascinating perspective with its immortal teenager heroine. Emma is as jaded as the best hard-boiled detectives and possibly even more world-weary. But she is also still seventeen. She is still rash and impetuous. Sometimes she’s still dangerously optimistic in spite of everything she has seen. Throughout the novel Emma keeps wondering if she can ever really learn from her mistakes and grow when it is physically impossible for her to grow up or mature.

A high stakes mystery and lots of action make this a page-turner even while the characters hearken to a more thoughtful tome. It Wasn’t Always Like This is a refreshingly original mystery with a little something for everyone. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Mars (TV show)

The Devil and Winnie Flynn: A Review

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David OstowSeventeen-year-old Winnie Flynn doesn’t know why her mother killed herself. All she knows is that her dad said yes when Winnie’s estranged aunt Maggie proposed that Winnie spend the summer with her. Now Winnie is working as a production assistant on Fantastic Fearsome, the reality TV show Maggie produces and hosts.

This season the show has fresh, young talent (including one Devil Hunter named Seth who is as earnest as he is cute) and big plans to track down the famous Jersey Devil.

As much as she loves horror movies, Winnie doesn’t believe in ghosts–or the Devil. But as she gets to know the Hunters and learns more about the Devil’s strange history, Winnie begins to wonder if there might be some fact to the fantastic here.

Soon, Winnie realizes her family may have a stronger connection to the Devil than she could have imagined. But even Winnie’s firm skepticism and calm might not be enough to keep her safe in The Devil and Winnie Flynn (2015) by Micol Ostow with illustration by David Ostow.

The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the second collaboration from the Ostow siblings.

Written as a scrapbook-style letter for Winnie’s friend Lucia, The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a mixed media adventure filled with illustrations, shooting scripts, and other ephemera beyond the traditional narrative including appropriately eerie depictions of choice Jersey locations.

Winnie’s dry humor and skepticism throughout the narrative keeps this novel firmly grounded even as the story moves into decidedly “fantastic” territory complete with magical powers, mysterious guardians and other psychic phenomena.

A quick finish and unanswered questions about Winnie’s mother will leave readers hoping that The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the start to a series. The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a fun and campy horror novel filled with real details about the Devil and evocative New Jersey locations sure to have high appeal for horror fans.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Veronica Mars

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Who Done It?: A Review

Who Done It?What happens when the meanest, nastiest, smelliest editor invites all of his authors to a party at The Old Abandoned Pickle Factory? What happens when he threaten to reveal every one of their deepest, darkest secrets?

Well, the editor turns up dead is what happens.

And every author and illustrator is a suspect in his murder.

Jon Scieszka conducts the investigation as each author provides a brief alibi for the time of Herman Q. Mildew’s death in Who Done It? (2013).

In addition to being a very entertaining premise, Who Done It? benefits a great cause. This “serial act of criminal literature” benefits 826nyc–a non-profit organization that supports kids’ and teens’ creative and expository writing.

With over 80 contributors suspects, there are a whole lot of alibis to sift through here. I don’t recommend reading them all at once as they do tend to blend together. (Though averaging two pages each one is a short read.) The level of continuity between entries is also impressive as authors carry details throughout the collection.

There is a lot of fun to be had with this book whether you read it all at once or just peruse it for new and familiar authors.

My favorite entry is Patrick Carman’s, bar none. But with a variety of formats (David Levithan’s is a poem. Sarah Mlynowski and Courtney Sheinmel wrote a screenplay. And Lev Grossman’s is a riff on fantasy conventions) and a few choice illustrations, Who Done It? is guaranteed to have something for everyone.