Review of The Girl in Question, by Tess Sharpe

The Girl in Question

by Tess Sharpe
read by the Author

Little, Brown and Company, 2024. 408 pages.
Review written June 10, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

The Girl in Question is a sequel to the amazing thriller The Girls I’ve Been, and yes, it’s a worthy successor. If you like thrillers even a little bit, pick these two up.

I won’t say too much about the plot, because I don’t want to give away the twists from the first book. Let’s just say that some very, very bad people are after Nora and her friends. Some of the same bad people they thought they’d dealt with in the first book. Which is terrifying right there.

Nora has plans in place to disappear. After all, that’s how she grew up — doing the con, then stepping into a new life. But now, Nora likes her life. She’s very much in love with Iris. And Wes is like a brother to her. Wes has a girlfriend now, but they’re even going to let her come along on their backpacking trip through the mountains.

But out in the wilderness isn’t a great place to have angry thugs after you.

There’s danger and violence and manipulation — and lots of reversals and surprises — along with lots and lots of tension.

At the end of the day, let’s just say that bad guys shouldn’t mess with Nora and her friends.

There’s a whole lot more I could say, but I don’t want to give anything away. Please believe me that these books are amazing!

Okay, I will let you know how the book starts, with the chapter heading “Day Seven: The Cabin”:

I’m tied to the chair. It is not an ideal defensive position. My fingers keep going numb. That won’t do. I shift, trying to get the blood flowing.

The “Day Seven” heading does foreshadow that there will be flashbacks to how we got there — and there’s going to be more after Day Seven.

Bottom line, besides being kickass, these characters are fiercely loyal and have taken their lives back after trauma, and I love that despite apparent odds completely against them, the bad guys are in for a surprise.

tess-sharpe.com

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Review of Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

Huda F Are You?

by Huda Fahmy

Dial Books (Penguin Random House), 2021. 188 pages.
Review written December 30, 2021, from a library book

This is a graphic novel loosely based on the author’s high school years. She started high school in a new city (Dearborn, Michigan) and a new school, where she was no longer the only one wearing a hijab.

So if she no longer stood out as the one hijabi at the school, who was she? Where did she fit in?

The highly relatable search for identity in high school makes a fun graphic novel. Of course there are missteps making friends and plenty of awkward attempts at fitting in. Teens will relate, whether they are Muslim or not, and those who are not will gain some insight and empathy along with the laughter.

PenguinTeen.com

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of Unseelie, by Ivelisse Housman

Unseelie

by Ivelisse Housman

Inkyard Press, 2023. 423 pages.
Review written March 4, 2023, from a book sent to me by the publisher.

This is a debut novel I read in consideration for the 2024 Morris Award, with a review written before any discussion with the committee.

This book begins with this inscription before the story:

Stories tell of children stolen away by faeries, replaced by inhuman look-alikes.

These look-alikes, they say, could be identified by their strange speech or silence. They cried without reason or never showed any emotion at all, and struggled to relate to a world that seemed foreign to them. Folklorists theorize that these stories were early descriptions of autistic children – proof that autistic people have always been here.

But once, they called us changelings.

Unseelie is a story told by a changeling. But she lives with the twin sister the faeries tried to steal – because their mother went to the Seelie Court, and when offered a choice, refused to give up the baby she already had and brought up both girls as her own.

But now at seventeen the girls are on their own, living by their wits, with twin Isolde having developed into a clever thief and pickpocket. On the night of Revelnox, she has a plan to break into the local manor and steal the treasure hidden behind locked doors.

When they go after it – this particular lock needs two people to pick it – it turns out they’re not the only ones who had that idea. The treasure turns out to be a compass. For Isolde and for the other two would-be thieves, the compass only brings a vision of a faerie guardian. But when Seelie touches it, it magically goes into her skin and now shows on her palm. What nobody else realizes is that the faerie guardian also gets inside her head.

The book is about their quest to follow the compass to an unknown treasure. It’s not long before they’re forced to join forces with the others who tried to steal it, who have a personal history with the lady of the manor. But they’re also being chased by the manor’s security forces.

Seelie has trouble with crowds. And textures. And other things. She’s used to Isolde looking out for her. But now her magic has been stirred up, and when she gets angry, it flares out in dangerous ways. Can she learn to control her magic? And what about the faerie guardian of the compass?

They travel in an enchanted coach with a cat that’s really a brownie. (I loved that part.) Their journey seems a little random, but after all, they’re following an enchanted compass while trying to avoid pursuit.

I enjoyed the book and especially the portrayal of an “autistic” (without using that word) heroine, who’s different, and discriminated against for being a changeling. I did think how the magic in that world works was pretty murky – though, to be fair, Seelie is just figuring it out. I absolutely hated their reasons for living on their own in the first place, and didn’t completely understand the coincidence of four people going after the “treasure” at the same time, nor any of their motivations to try so hard to get it. I also didn’t appreciate that, although there was a map at the front, I had no idea where they were on the map except at the very beginning. (Was I just not reading carefully enough?)

Those are all nitpicky things. I was reading in a nitpicky way because I was reading for the Morris Award. As a first novel, this was delightful and the author shows lots of promise. (And needing to understand the magic and the location is an affliction that not all fantasy readers have anyway.) I enjoyed my time spent with Seelie and Isolde.

The most frustrating part, though, is that the story is not finished yet. This is the first book in a duology, and I will be watching for the concluding volume. (Looks like it’s scheduled for September 2025 – a long wait.)

IvelisseHousman.com
InkyardPress.com

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Review of A Complicated Love Story Set in Space, by Shaun David Hutchinson

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space

by Shaun David Hutchinson
narrated by Kevin R. Free with Gibson Frazier and Candace Thaxton

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2021. 11 hours, 2 minutes.
Review written December 24, 2021, from a library eaudio

Well, the title of this book tells the truth. This is a very complicated love story, and it’s set in space.

In fact, the book begins when 16-year-old Noa North wakes up in a spacesuit outside a ship. He remembers going to sleep in his own bed and has no idea how he got in space. He’s not feeling good about it. And when he gets to the airlock ready to go into the safety of the ship, a voice tells him that the ship is about to explode and he needs to patch a hole on the outside of the ship. Which is not an easy thing to do.

And that’s just the beginning of their adventures in space. There are only two other people on the ship – DJ, the owner of the voice that helped him fix the ship, and Jenny, whom they later find locked in a restroom. They are all sixteen years old. But are they the only people on board?

The things that happen to them after that, ranging from finding another person on the ship, fighting an alien monster, and getting stuck in a time loop, all seem oddly episodic. On top of that, their efforts to get back to earth are consistently thwarted. But things really get interesting as they begin to discover why they’re on the ship in the first place and who put them there.

But meanwhile, Noa’s wrestling with a bad experience in his past that makes him afraid to give in to his feelings for DJ. Can they find love in such a complicated setting?

The story, once we know what happened, all seems wild and farfetched, but let’s be honest, it’s still a whole lot of fun. Noa is endearing, and you’ve got to feel for a guy who wakes up in outer space. Don’t read this one for believability, but do read it for a fun romance between two guys caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of Kill Her Twice, by Stacey Lee

Kill Her Twice

by Stacey Lee

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2024. 393 pages.
Review written May 29, 2024, from a library book.

Kill Her Twice is a murder mystery set in 1932 Los Angeles Chinatown as the powers that be are contemplating knocking down all the homes and businesses in Chinatown to make room for a Union station.

The perspective alternates between two main characters, sisters Gemma and May, who are keeping their family’s florist business open while their father is in an asylum being treated for tuberculosis. One morning Gemma and May find the body of May’s friend Lily Wong in a lot where they stopped to prepare their flowers for the market. Lily had been the first Chinese American movie star, and all of Chinatown was proud of her. In the past, she’d always been cast as the villain, but was now working on a film where she was the romantic star.

When the police arrest a kind but eccentric old man for the murder, the girls are sure they are just trying to pin it on someone Chinese to get the murder “solved” – and give one more excuse to level Chinatown. So the sisters take on the job of trying to solve the murder themselves.

Now, I thought the mystery unfolded rather slowly, and I was skeptical of some of the ideas Gemma had for unearthing clues, but I did enjoy the time with these young ladies. Their personalities are distinctly different, but both are likable, and reading even a slow-moving book was fun once I started enjoying their company.

I also enjoyed the look at 1930s Los Angeles. I spent a few years living in downtown Los Angeles in the 1980s, and didn’t recognize much. In fact, I thought I might have caught the author in a couple of errors, but looked them up and it turns out at that time, LA may have been exactly as she described it.

I also enjoyed how she pointed out that public perception of Chinese Americans could be translated into policy which would then affect thousands of lives. “Kill her twice” refers to Lily Wong’s first death followed by her reputation being destroyed in the press so that officials could justify tearing down Chinatown to make room for the railroads.

If you’re in the mood for a leisurely and atmospheric historical mystery, this book will fill the bill.

StaceyHLee.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Review of Between Perfect and Real, by Ray Stoeve

Between Perfect and Real

by Ray Stoeve
read by MW Cartozian Wilson

Recorded Books, 2021. 7 hours, 24 minutes.
Review written from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Between Perfect and Real gives us the coming-out journey of Dean Foster, who has recently figured out he’s a transgender guy, but doesn’t quite know how to tell people. His classmates and even his girlfriend think he’s a lesbian, and coming out as a lesbian to his mother was hard enough.

But then the drama teacher casts Dean as Romeo in their school production of Romeo and Juliet, thinking to play it as a lesbian romance. But Dean quickly discovers he wants to play Romeo as a guy — which means coming out.

The journey isn’t easy. Some people are supportive, some are hostile, and some are “trying.” This audiobook takes us with Dean on that journey, with all the ups and downs.

I had recently read another young adult book where a senior in high school had their heart set on getting into Tish, the drama program at NYU, so that sounded almost too familiar. However, once the book got going, it was a very different story, and a story I wanted to hear, a story told with compassion, helping the listener understand a little better how it feels to be transgender.

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of The Hedgewitch of Foxhall, by Anna Bright

The Hedgewitch of Foxhall

by Anna Bright
read by Fiona Hardingham, Alister Austin, and James Meunier

HarperTeen, 2024. 12 hours.
Review written May 29, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

This is another eaudiobook I chose because it is wildly popular with our library customers. And this time, I struck pure gold! I loved this book with all my heart.

Now, as any time where the narrators have gorgeous British accents, listening to these readers made me love it all the more. But the tale itself has everything I love in a fantasy novel — characters who defy expectations and live by their own rules, magic that is easy to understand and makes sense, a plot that gets you wondering how they’ll make it through but ties up brilliantly, and of course some romance. [In this case, plenty of romance but no sex between the characters. Nowadays, I like to let people know.]

This book is set in medieval Wales, and the Author’s note reveals that she took pains to be true to what we know of that history. Our title character is Ffion. She’s a hedgewitch, not affiliated with the giant coven in Foxhall her mother and sisters are part of — a coven that charges for people even to wait in line to request help. Ffion does small magic for people who can’t afford their prices. But much worse is that the coven doesn’t care what price they take from the land to work their magic — and Ffion’s fox familiar is caught up and killed in a fire of their making. Ffion is determined to do a summoning spell to bring him back — but she will have to do it before the new moon, when his spirit will depart for good.

There are two more viewpoint characters in this book. They are the princes Dafydd and Taliesin. They are being set against each other by their father the king. The court magician — before losing his magic altogether — prophesied the death of the king at the New Moon. Everyone’s sure it has to do with fighting the encroaching Mercians and their king, King Offa. So the king sets the princes on a task of destroying the dyke King Offa has built at the border of Wales. They believe this dyke is what has leached the magic from Wales and caused sightings of magical creatures to stop.

Taliesin goes to the coven at Foxhall to get help to destroy the dyke with magic, and gets no help from them — but does recruit Ffion to his cause. Instead of using the land to give her power, Ffion gains power from her work, and she plans to walk the entire length of the dyke to gain the power to bring it down — and gain the power to summon her fox while she is doing that. But also in their travels, they realize they will need to gain the use of three magical objects important to Wales — but it will take some work to convince the current possessors of those objects to relinquish them.

Tal’s competition is his older brother Dafydd, who has long said he doesn’t want to be king. Instead of spending time in court, he works as a blacksmith, where he feels he can do unambiguous good. But their father wants Dafydd to follow after him, and as it happens, he’s been having visions of Ffion for years – to be his court magician when he is king.

Something I love about this book is that I loved all the characters and honestly wasn’t sure who I wanted to win the kingdom or who I wanted to end up with Ffion. Both princes have their own strengths and weaknesses, and since both were viewpoint characters, they each had my sympathy as the reader.

And so most of the book is traveling through Wales, ultimately trying to bring back Welsh magic. With plenty of obstacles and interactions, adding up to a marvelous tale.

And I’m super excited to find another stellar author! I found another of her books already available as an eaudiobook, so expect to hear more.

annabrightbooks.com

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Review of The Assassin’s Blade, by Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin’s Blade

by Sarah J. Maas
read by Elizabeth Evans

Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 12 hours, 52 minutes.
Review written April 25, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.

I select youth and children’s materials for a large public library system, and by far the most popular author of all the books I purchase is Sarah J. Maas. All of her books consistently have long waiting lists. Since I love fantasy novels, I decided to see what the fuss was about. Now, it’s not clear that I picked the correct order. It turns out that this book I picked up was written as a prequel – so the events happen before the first book written. Anyway, Overdrive had it listed as number one in the series, so this is the one I’ve started with.

It turns out that The Assassin’s Blade is a collection of five novellas, all of them about Celaena Sardothien, at sixteen years old her kingdom’s most notorious assassin. I enjoyed the fact that each part was a contained story. Each novella had a sort of heist scene. Each novella has a complete storyline and a satisfying resolution (or, well, at least a resolution). Each novella happened directly after the one before, but I liked the way the action moved into each story as its own entity.

And the stories were compelling. Each one had a big challenge for Celaena. I definitely did not like the way it all ended, though I’m sure if I had read the books in publication order, I would have known where Celaena would end up. She’s a character worth following – forced to train as an assassin, she became the best. But when the king of the assassins wants her to facilitate a deal with pirates to get into the slave trade, she decides to free the slaves.

I got the flavor of a brutal world, with a ruthless king who has banished magic from the kingdom, but assassins and pirates and crime lords all doing their own thing. Celaena finds love in these stories and dreams of leaving the assassin’s guild and the continent altogether. The fantasy world where she lives is dark and sinister – but I enjoyed Celaena’s character, learning to shine in a difficult world.

I wasn’t completely hooked on this world, but I was hooked enough to put the next (first?) book on hold.

sarahjmaas.com

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Review of Wide Awake, by David Levithan

Wide Awake

by David Levithan

Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 221 pages.
Review written May 9, 2024, from a library book.

Notice the copyright date on this book of 2006. I checked out this book because I got to hear an author talk by David Levithan with him talking about his new book, Wide Awake Now. He described it as an update of this one — which he’d written in 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry for a second term.

This book features Duncan, a gay high school student who’s not old enough to vote, but involved in volunteering for a presidential candidate in a near future election. As the book opens, this candidate has just been elected as the first gay Jewish president of the United States. But there’s a problem. Though he won the popular vote, he only won the electoral college vote by one state, and the governor of Kansas has announced that he’s doing a recount. As the recount happens, he’s finding reasons to throw out votes. President-Elect Stein calls on his followers to come to Kansas in protest, and this book is about that road trip. Duncan’s boyfriend is on the trip, as are other campaign volunteers they’re already friends with, and more people they meet along the way. We get lots of Stein speeches about building community and caring for others and more great things.

Something I loved about the book was that a big part of Stein’s support came from people who were part of “the Jesus Revolution” – a group all about really living Jesus’s teachings of love and caring for the poor. How I wish he’d gotten that part of the future right! The opposition party call themselves the “Decents” and are against gay marriage and saying many of the same things Christians are known for saying today (sadly), but I was pleased to see at least one large group of Christians in this imagined future were firmly about actually following Jesus’s teachings.

Some omissions were interesting. Although he said these teens had been born “decades” after 9/11, there had never been a Black president, and gay marriage was not legal. That this wasn’t even imagined happening in 2006 was interesting to me.

I was actually a little disturbed by a presidential candidate on the “good” side calling for his followers to protest about election results. To be fair, he won the popular vote and had already been declared the winner of the election. They were protesting the recount that the Kansas governor was trying to manipulate. Protesting that the results must stand. There was also no violence, and they didn’t break into any government building or threaten any government officials. So it wasn’t really obstruction of an official proceeding.

But speaking after January 6th, which forever changed my perspective, I don’t like the idea at all of determining official election results because of a protest. Because as we all know, no matter what the outcome — even losing by six states instead of one — any candidate can work their followers into a frenzy demanding that results be changed. And that’s just not how I want these things to be determined. By all means, put scrutiny on anything the governor in question may have done to change the results, but ultimately, I really do think we need to be able to trust the courts to determine legality and illegality.

All that said, it was a fascinating look at someone twenty years ago projecting what politics might be like around this time. Of course, someone like Trump wasn’t imagined at all. It’s also a good story – with interactions between Duncan and his boyfriend and parents and friends and teachers. And does paint a picture of a bright future. I’m definitely going to read the more recently written follow-up and hope the author has not gotten more cynical.

davidlevithan.com
randomhouse.com/teens

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Review of Indivisible, by Daniel Aleman

Indivisible

by Daniel Aleman
narrated by Adan Rocha

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021. 8 hours, 35 minutes.
Review written November 2, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This audiobook tells the story of Mateo Garcia, who’s a junior in high school in Brooklyn and wants to get involved in theater like his friend Adam. His parents came to America from Mexico before he was born. Then his whole life gets turned upside down when his parents get detained by ICE. Suddenly the things he used to be concerned about fade into insignificance.

Mateo doesn’t want to tell his friends at first, but big secrets like that take a toll. And meanwhile, he needs to take care of his 7-year-old sister Sophie and help at the store his parents spent years establishing. Mateo and Sophie hope against hope that things will work out, but have to figure out several new setbacks. They just want their family to be together again.

This novel has lots of heart, mixing regular high school concerns like romance and friends with fundamental concerns about housing and family.

Listening to the audiobook did pull me into this story, rooting for Mateo and his family, and frustrated about the situation so many have been thrust into, when they just want to make a home for their family.

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What did you think of this book?

*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.