‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Unforgettable Logan Foster’ by Shawn Peters is a middle grade superhero fantasy kids will love

The Unforgettable Logan Foster
by Shawn Peters

“The Unforgettable Logan Foster” by Shawn Peters is a middle grade story that lives up to its title — it’s charming and filled with so much adventure and so many incredible characters that the book will be just that — unforgettable. It’s both rare and wonderful to find a middle grade fantasy which features a main character who is a very different kind of kid. The protagonist, Logan Foster, tells us his story as if he’s talking to us. In fact, he lets us know from the start that he is sharing this story for his younger brother—whoever and wherever he may be. Logan was found in an airport on the jetway of a flight that had just left for Boston. He was wearing a shirt that read “World’s Best Big Brother,” and on the tag of the tee shirt was written “L. Foster.” So Logan is sure that somewhere, he has a little brother, and he spends a lot of time online searching to try to find his sibling. Logan has an eidetic memory, and we realize that he’s very definitely neurodiverse. That makes his first person narrative interesting and humorous, as he will share his feelings and then repeat the dialogue that is practically identical to the thoughts that he shared. He admits, however, that he’s not adept at reading other people’s emotions.

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‘Wayward Creatures’ by Dayna Lorentz is an important story about a boy and how difficult it is to deal with emotions when feeling isolated

Wayward Creatures by Dayna Lorentz

I was captivated by the title and the cover of “Wayward Creatures” by Dayna Lorentz. In all honesty, the cover is a bit misleading — the boy does not interact much with the injured coyote, and, very appropriately, they do not become friends. Nor should they. The story of these two wayward creatures, both juveniles of their species, is told in alternating first person narratives. Gabe and Rill are both suffering, each in their own way.

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‘Find Me’ by Alafair Burke is a mystery filled with red herrings and possibilities

FInd Me by Alafair Burke

In Alafair Burke’s gripping new release, “Find Me,” what appears to be the biggest mystery from the start ends up not being as important as the many other questions and problems that arise over the course of this well-written, engaging novel. We meet Hope Miller, someone who lost her memory after a horrific car accident fifteen years previously. She still has not regained her memory, but thanks to her close friendship with Lindsay Kelly, who is now a defense lawyer, she has had a safe place to live and work in the town of Hopewell, New Jersey, where Lindsay’s father was the chief of police.

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‘Boy Underground’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a coming of age story of a gay teen in the 1940s

Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Boy Underground” is the title of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest novel, and the title has a double meaning. On one hand, the title refers to Nick, who is main character Steven Katz’ best friend, and who is also Steven’s romantic crush. Because of an unbelievable betrayal by Nick’s father, he must hide and ends up living underground in a root cellar on Steven’s family’s huge farm. On the other hand, the title could also refer to Steven, and the fact he is gay; something he is hiding from his family and pretty much everyone else. During this time homosexuality was considered a perversion and a crime. Steven’s feelings, his identity, his persona—all are hidden “underground.”

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‘Just Like the Other Girls’ by Claire Douglas a suspense-filled mystery

Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas

Sometimes, we read a murder mystery, and almost from the start, we feel as if we know who did it. Don’t worry. “Just Like the Other Girls” by Claire Douglas is not like that. Douglas does present us with several red herrings, and a few seem as though they just must be the real killer. But then she reveals more and more about the characters’ backgrounds and motivations, and boom—what we thought we knew is wrong.

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‘The Last Rose of Shanghai’ by Weina Dai Randel is a gripping novel about turbulent life in wartime China

The Last Rose of Shanghai
by Weina Dai Randel

“The Last Rose of Shanghai” by Weina Dai Randel paints a vivid portrait of life in Shanghai during WWII, during the Japanese occupation both before and after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s an in-depth study of not only the Jewish refugee situation, but also how wealthy Chinese families lived and the rules that they lived by. The story is told from the viewpoints of Aiyi Shao, the youngest daughter of a wealthy Shanghai family; Ernest Reismann, a German refugee who arrived in Shanghai with nothing but a camera and his younger sister; and also from Aiyi Shao’s point of view in 1980 as she is trying to convince a documentarian to research and film a documentary about Ernest’s life during the war.

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‘Lucky’ by Marissa Stapley is a story about love, deception, and family

Lucky by Marissa Stapley

The best books are often the ones that grab you by the collar and hook you so thoroughly that you can’t stop reading, no matter the time of day, no matter other pressing responsibilities. Sometimes, we need books that don’t present complex philosophical insights or force us to consider world problems, but rather books with a wonderful story that is engaging and fun to read. “Lucky,” by Marissa Stapley is a perfect example of a novel in which the main character, Lucky, is a sympathetic and likable person. We like her immediately and want to keep reading to see where her madcap life will take her next. We learn about her at three stages of her life: as an infant abandoned in front of a church; as a child growing up with her charming grifter father; and in her current situation as it grows more and more dire.

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‘No Beauties or Monsters’ by Tara Goedjen is filled with surprise and mystery until the lovely ending

No Beauties or Monsters

“No Beauties or Monsters” by Tara Goedjen is the ultimate mystery novel. For most of the story, we have little idea what is happening. Why does main character Rylie lose track of time—for hours—and have no recollection of what happened? What is going on in Twentynine Palms and the nearby military base to which her mother was just transferred and where they visited her grandfather when Rylie was a child? And, in fact, what happened when Rylie was a child to estrange them from her grandfather?

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‘Everything We Didn’t Say’ by Nicole Baart is about passion and betrayal in small town Iowa

Everything We Didn’t Say by Nicole Baart

Open up this mystery, “Everything We Didn’t Say” by Nicole Baart, take a trip to small-town America, and visit Jericho, Iowa. This is as small town as America gets, a town where everyone knows each person’s business—or at least thinks they do. In reality, as we learn, there are always secrets that sometimes remain hidden for decades.

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‘The Necklace’ by Matt Witten is a fast paced thriller

The Necklace by Matt Witten

“The Necklace” is one of those books that I love reading. Books that are so engaging, you can’t put them down and so you read them in a day. Author Matt Witten does a magnificent job creating a main character, Susan, whom we don’t exactly identify with, but we can certainly empathize with. Thus we really care about her journey—both metaphorical and physical—to seek justice for the daughter who had been brutally raped and murdered twenty years earlier. And while the story seems perhaps a bit far-fetched, reading the Author’s Note at the end shines a light on how something like this could, and maybe actually has, taken place.

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‘The Winter Guest’ by Pam Jenoff is historical fiction about Poland, life in a small village during WWII, and sacrifice

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff writes historical fiction, sometimes based on real events, usually about WWII and the Holocaust. Her books provide a glimpse into how people survived in often horrific situations and reflect both the best and the worst instincts of humans. In “The Winter Guest,” Jenoff writes about Poland during the war, centering her story on a family in a small town near Kraków, eighteen-year-old twin sisters caring for their younger three siblings after the death of their father and the hospitalization of their mother for cancer. Much of the story is about their struggle to survive during this time of depredation, but Jenoff also imagines what life was like in small-town Poland.

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