Afterworlds.  by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse, 2014.

Where to start! This 600-page realistic-sci-fi-horror Young Adult novel isn't like anything I've read before. It's basically a two-fer: High school senior Darcy has written a YA novel during NaNoWriMo, and it's been picked up by a major publisher. The advance for the novel and its sequel is big enough that she can take a year off - against her parents' wishes - move to New York, revise her novel, and write the sequel.

Told in alternate chapters that describe Darcy's experiences in New York and the development of the characters in her novel, Westerfield informs the audience about the YA publishing process and also spins a paranormal story in which Darcy's fictional character Lizzie comes to grips with the changes she experiences as a result of surviving a terrorist attack. She is able to see ghosts and move back and forth between the real world and an afterworld populated by themes from Indian death culture.


Find Me - Book cover imageFind Me. J. S. Monroe,

Don Mills, Ontario : Mira, [2017]

I've had them, bereavement hallucinations. It's uncanny, how absolutely certain I was that the person I "saw"  was really there.

Jar's girlfriend, Rosa, apparently committed suicide by jumping off the end of a pier in England five years ago. During that time, Jar has always been certain she did not die, but cannot prove it. Now, after five years and grief counseling, he's certain he's seen Rosa in a train station, even though she doesn't look much like herself.

The chapters alternate among four narrators: Jar, Rosa (through diary entries Jar is reading,) Rosa's Aunt Amy, and Amy's husband Martin. The author expertly unspools a chilling tale of conspiracy, computer hacking, stalking, fear, hope, and despair that will keep you guessing until the end.  This would make an excellent book club choice.


Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine. New American Library, [2015]

Jess's father is a rough and ruthless London book smuggler. For centuries, the Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt, has sought to own all original books. As a result, there is a thriving - and dangerous - black market in books. So it's surprising that Jess is accepted as a postulant - or student - of the Library. His father smells an opportunity, and encourages him to accept, instructing Jess to send back insider info that will help his smuggling business.

At the Library, Jess, who has learned to trust no one, reluctantly forms close relationships with the other postulants in his group. They unite in their dislike of their mentor, Christopher Wolfe, as, one by one, their ranks are thinned from 30 to 9, when students fail tests and die. Only six will ultimately be accepted and placed into Library service as Scholars, Gardia, Alchemists, or Obscurists.

The Great Library series, which follows in the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson tradition, has a sort of "steampunk" feel. There are elements of old and new in an improbable mix - for example, the printing press has not yet been implemented, but scanned books are delivered electronically by the Library to "blanks" which are, essentially e-book readers. And although most transportation is via steam vehicles (coaches and trains,) people are also sent to distant places via transporters that resemble the "beam me up, Scotty" variety in the Star Trek TV series. Ink and Bone is the first title in what promises to be a suspenseful narrative with much to think about regarding the possession of knowledge. Fans of either series will like this new set of teen heroes.



Quiet Dell: a Novel, by Jayne Anne Phillips. Scribner, 2013

In the 1930s, the Dutch-born son of an immigrant family chose an unconventional way to raise himself out of poverty. He answered ads in "lonely hearts" columns of the newspapers in various cities, and placed his own ads, as well. He used several aliases to woo and win wealthy widows, persuaded them to empty their bank accounts, and then murdered them.

Quiet Dell is the story of one of the families he victimized, told from the viewpoint of a Chicago journalist and her photographer companion as they pieced together the story of missing widow Asta Eicher and her three children. This particular incident spawned several books and movies about Hermann Drenth, (aka Harry Powers, Cornelius O. Pierson, and A. R. Weaver,) including David Grubb's Night of the Hunter.

For those who enjoy true crime, the author deftly tells the story, revealing details one by one, until the unexpected final Reveal at the end.


Diamond Head : a novel, by Cecily Wong.  Harper, 2015.

It seems that, ever since Niffenberger's Time Traveler's Wife, authors have been using the device of alternating their points of view between two narrators and/or time points in their novels. In this novel, alternating between the early 20th century and 1964, and in chapters alternately narrated by Amy (mom) and Theresa (daughter), we learn the history of the Leong family in China and Hawaii.

Since I was living in Hawaii in 1964 and am familiar with the places, schools, and social life of that time, I was curious to see how "authentic" the author's descriptions would be. They are, in fact, quite authentic. I have been to many of the places mentioned in the book, and I felt I knew the Leong family, or at least, their friends and relatives. The place names and descriptions, and even the use of local language was spot on. Even so, the concept of the red string connecting actions of the past to events in the future was novel, and the device was effective in "tying" the family history together.

In contrast to Hotel Honolulu, where the characters were hyperbolic and stereotypical, the characters in Diamond Head could have been my real classmates, uncles, and friends. I found it difficult, at first, to keep the characters straight, particularly since one of them was known by at least two names. But once I caught on, the narrative propelled itself to the end, following each thread in the knotty family drama to its unexpected conclusion.


The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman. (Scribner, 2012)

Tom is looking for work after his stint in the army in World War I. He believes the lonely job of lighthouse keeper at Janus Rock, a tiny island off the southwestern tip of Australia, will be the perfect place for him, and allow him time and space to recover from the trauma of all the killing - three years between vacations to the mainland. He marries Isabel and takes her to Janus Rock. After several years and three miscarriages, a living baby washes up on shore in a boat with a dead man. Isabel, having lost her third child just two weeks earlier, immediately bonds with the baby and persuades her husband to omit the incident from the lighthouse log - a federal crime - setting in motion the ensuing events in the story.

I'm going to say this is a must-read. It is part romance, part travelogue, part history, part tragedy, and all love story. One of the back jacket blurbs observes, "you stop hoping the characters will make different choices and find you can only watch, transfixed, as every conceivable choice becomes an impossible one." And that about sums it up.

Steadman never puts a foot wrong in building the characters and plot, and creating climaxes at several points within her novel. I got so engrossed in the characters and their stories, I couldn't put the book down. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's detailed descriptions of the island, the light, the protocols, the thoughts and interactions of her characters. I particularly admire the way she leads readers to a conclusion, and then adds a single detail that throws into question everything you thought you knew about the moral dilemma so far. This is an admirable and memorable first novel that will make a great book-group title, because there is so much in it - both from the plot and the craft of the author's writing - to discuss.


http://find.saclibrarycatalog.org/iii/encore/record/C__Rb1638068?lang=engThe Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. Penguin, 2003.

Lily, a young, white teen runs away from her abusive father accompanied her black nanny, Rosaleen. She only knows she has to get to Tiburon, South Carolina, because one of the few remaining things she has from her mother is a picture of a black Madonna advertising honey. She believes that if she can get to where that honey was made, she would find someone who knew her mother. She winds up staying with three black sisters who are beekeepers, and who know how to keep secrets, too.

Aside from the bee-keeping lore sprinkled throughout the novel in the form of quotes beginning each chapter, we - and Lily and Rosaleen, and the three sisters, May, June, and August - learn much about history, mothering, and love.

All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill. Hyperion, 2013

In a converging story revealed alternately by "Marina" and "Em," we learn that a time machine has been invented and is being used by "The Doctor" to travel through history and wipe out all the dictators and despots in order to prevent the atrocities they were responsible for. "The Doctor" has imprisoned Em, because she is trying to use the time machine to travel far enough back to ensure it never gets invented ... but she isn't having much luck. Who is Marina? Who is Em? Who is the Doctor? Bend your mind around these ideas.