THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette

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Marty’s father is sick. The kind of sick with surprise hospital stays, weeks in bed, and not much talk of the future. When he first found out about the cancer, Marty’s dad got him a present: a jean jacket so that the two of them could collect buttons and pins to represent different memories during the time they had left together. It is Marty’s most prized possession. So when the jean jacket goes missing during one of Dad’s hospital stays, Marty is frantic. It can’t possibly be gone! That conviction that the jacket must be out there waiting for him somewhere reminds Marty of an old story his father used to tell him about the Train of Lost Things, a train that flies around the world at night collecting the lost precious possessions of children and holding onto them until they can find be returned to their owners. Desperate for his jacket, Marty sneaks out one night in search of the train and stumbles into an adventure beyond his wildest dreams.

In this touching coming of age story, a dose of fantasy helps Marty and the reader process the grief and loss of a loved one. About half of the book reads like realistic fiction, so this book will be most appealing to readers who enjoy both realistic fiction and fantasy, or fantasies that are heavily rooted in the real world, such as Savvy by Ingrid Law.

MARIAM SHARMA HITS THE ROAD by Sheba Karim

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As soon as Mariam sees the billboard in Times Square, she knows that Ghazala is in big trouble. It’s not surprising that Ghaz signed up for the modeling gig, but did she know that those images would be appearing in public where someone was bound to see? It’s not long before word gets around the Pakistani community, and Ghaz is labeled a “slut,” and locked in her room by her parents who are threatening to send her to Pakistan to find a husband. So Mariam and Umar do the only thing good friends can do. They help Ghaz sneak out in the middle of the night and take off on an epic summer road trip from New Jersey to New Orleans. But the trip turns out to be more than just a rescue mission for Ghaz or a wild way to spend a college summer vacation. Mariam learns new things about her father and must come to terms with her family’s past. Umar wrestles with how his homosexuality fits in with his devout Muslim faith. The fallout from Ghaz’s billboard and her family’s reactions continue to follow her. And all three of them are have their own assumptions challenged as they face various levels of racism throughout their journey into the Deep South.

This coming-of-age story features strong and engaging characters grappling with serious issues against the fun backdrop of a road trip plot. This novel will certainly appeal to older teen readers of realistic fiction.

THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT by Leslye Walton

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Nor just wants to live a normal life. Or at least as normal of a life as you can have when you’re the youngest in a long line of cursed witches on quirky, touristy island. The Blackburn women have managed to live fairly quietly for the past several generations, their witchcraft mostly explained away as just another local oddity–unusual talents of the islanders. But when Nor’s estranged mother begins selling witchcraft on the mass market, the quiet equilibrium of the island is immediately threatened. Not only will the Blackburn secret be exposed, but dark magic comes at a bloody price. To save her world and the friends and neighbors she loves, Nor will have to face her mother and embrace the power inside herself that she has always tried to hide.

An engaging new fantasy novel focused on a teenage girl’s complicated relationship with an abusive mother. The ending is left open for a sequel. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy dark, character-driven fantasy.

HOW WE LEARNED TO LIE by Meredith Miller

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Joan has known Daisy’s brother was getting involved in something dark ever since the moment he came home covered in someone else’s blood. But when she tries to talk to Daisy about it, he brushes her off. Daisy knows his brother is somehow involved in the angel dust that has been making its way around the school, but how can he talk to Joan about it? She seems to have her own secrets these days, too. The biology teacher, for example. Secrets and lies push the friends further and further apart as violence and tragedy become familiar in their town.

A thread of mystery and suspense runs through this novel which is otherwise a character study and profile of a struggling community. The author paints a violent and corrupt world in the most beautiful poetic language (occasionally at the expense of clarity). I would recommend this novel to fans of literary historical or realistic fiction.

SHE LOVES YOU (YEAH, YEAH, YEAH) by Ann Hood

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Ever since the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, Trudy’s life has had a clear sense of direction. She and her father have had a way to connect, despite his busy work life, and she has been the president of the most popular club at school–Rhode Island’s first Beatle’s fan club chapter. But in sixth grade, things start to change. Other kids begin to leave the Beatles fan club, including Trudy’s best friend, Michelle, who never seems to have time to spend with Trudy anymore. Trudy’s dad is so caught up with work that he barely speaks to her. And her teachers are suddenly calling her “Gertrude.” Now the president of the least popular club in school, Trudy isn’t sure how to get her life on track. Until she finds out the the Beatles will be coming to Boston for a concert, that is. Trudy is certain that if she could just meet Paul McCartney, everything in her life would fall back into place. And even the most insurmountable obstacles won’t be enough to stop her from making it to that concert.

This coming-of-age story gives middle grade readers a glimpse of middle school life in the tumultuous sixties, while keeping the focus on the universal tensions of friendships and family life. I expect that it will appeal as much to realistic fiction readers as to historical fiction readers. An enjoyable, light read.

MONSTROUS BEAUTY by Elizabeth Fama

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Hester has resigned herself to a life without love. Her mother died days after giving birth to Hester, as her grandmother died days after giving birth to her mother, and her great-grandmother. . . . All Hester knows is that for the women in her family, love kills. But when Hester meets a mysterious young man at the beach, she begins to uncover a dark tale from the past–a story of love and loss, of humans and sea-folk, the living and the lingering dead. And something in this past may have an important connection to Hester’s future. In her desperation to learn more about the past and free herself from her curse, Hester overlooks the very real danger lurking in the present.

Based on the jacket summary, I had expected this novel to be a paranormal romance. It is definitely not! Although there are some romantic moments in the book, the focus of the novel is on the journey of a young woman to uncover her ancestral past, break a curse, and find the strength to free herself from the weight of past tragedies and forge her own destiny. It is suspenseful and powerfully written with a rich, history-inspired fantasy woven into a quaint, contemporary, small town. Fama’s extensive research shows in the realism of her past and present settings and the authenticity of her characters without ever leading to copious explication. I highly recommend this novel to historical fiction readers and fantasy readers who enjoy gripping, character-driven stories. I had trouble putting it down!

The audiobook is phenomenal. I highly recommend it.

I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara

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In the years leading up to her death, true crime writer Michelle McNamara diligently researched the serial killer and rapist that she labeled “The Golden State Killer.” Only two months after the posthumous publication of this book, a suspect was finally identified and arrested in connection with the decades-old crimes. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark reads partly as a police procedural mystery, with focus on the investigators, the collection of evidence, the piecing together of threads over the years, and the different theories swirling around the unsolved (at the time) case. It also reads as a bit of an autobiography of McNamara, with both the stories of her own life and her emotional connections to cold cases that she intended to share and the annotations about her writing process added by those close to her after her death. The interwoven plot lines of the investigators and writer in their relentless pursuit of justice made the book a gripping and powerful read at the time of its publication.

The arrest of Joseph DeAngelo only heightens the book’s appeal. Readers who may have been astounded that a cold case could be broken after so many years can see the inner workings of the investigation–the sometimes wild leads investigators followed relentlessly, some dead ends, but others astoundingly prescient given the investigation’s conclusion. The knowledge that the killer was finally caught also adds some catharsis to an otherwise unsettling ending where the killer remained free and the writer did not live to pursue her investigation further.

True crime is a tricky genre, especially for relatively recent crimes where in-depth studies may seem voyeuristic or insensitive to those loved ones still grieving. Through her focus on the investigation, McNamara gives a clear sense of purpose to every detail that she includes. The more graphic and salacious information is not provided to shock readers or to dramatize a family’s tragedy, but rather to build a wall of evidence with which to ultimately bring the killer to justice. If you are interested in this case or in true crime, I would highly recommend this book.