The Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson

In this modern world, some people die and some Depart.

Sixteen year-old Gabriela Rivera gets a Departure Letter, which means she has seven days to wrap things up in her life before she is to leave with Her Death, an eight foot tall, silvery colored, gilled creature that only she can see named Hercule. First, she must write out her list of wishes – things to accomplish before her departure: a first kiss from a particular boy, first kisses for her three best friends, and most importantly a Pardon from her Departure, not something Hercule will give willingly.

Hercule will help her with those wishes but it’s up to her to take advantage of the opportunities he provides. And while she’s working on her Wrap-up List and spending time with her friends, she needs to spend time with her family. She learns to be a better friend, discovers her friends’ and her family’s secrets, and goes to extreme lengths to get her Pardon. Unfortunately, it seems that while her friends are getting their wishes, she won’t be getting hers.

I loved the unusualness of this story – Gabriela’s growth, the quirky, well drawn characters, and the complete unpredictability of the story twists that caught even this jaded reader by surprise!

 

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The Sweetest Dark (The Sweetest Dark #1) by Shana Abe

The Sweetest Dark #1, by Shana Abe

Just so you know, magical beings live hidden among us.

At approximately age 10 Lora – Elenora Jones is found wandering the streets of London, temporarily mute, well educated but with no memory of her family. She spends her next years between an unforgiving orphanage and a mental institution.

When World War I begins, Lora becomes one of the children sent from the city to the safety of the country. She becomes a scholarship student at Iverson School for Girls, a private school on the southern coast of England, where she learns that she is a magical being and despite the odds against her fitting in, she makes friends, and finds love and family she craves, but not the normalcy she craves.

This book is a work of art. No words are wasted, each chosen like a jewel in an exotic masterpiece. The romance, despite being a love triangle, is thrilling and not at all formulaic or predictable. It’s a story meant for rereading.

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The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer

Sixteen-year-old, first generation, Italian-American teenager Mia complains that she isn’t pretty or good at anything. Then she hears a voice that says “You will be after this,” and she is possessed by a demon.

When she awakes without the demon, she meets estranged relatives and learns the family business is exorcism. For her safety, it is decided she must live with the exorcists in Milan.

Kat Beyer has created a Milan I’d love to visit despite the hazard of a rogue demon. I’m left with an impression of airy rooms with high ceilings and tall windows, cobblestone streets, warm people, and candle light. I loved the freshness of this premise and that Mia, although interested in boys doesn’t immediately fall into a romantic relationship.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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The Madness Underneath – Book Two of the Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

Aurora (Rory), an American in London, survived a slash wound by Jack Ripper’s ghost. Now she’s at home under her parent’s close eye, dodging her therapist’s questions because she can’t tell anyone what really happened, even if they’d believe her, though now her therapist is onto her avoidance techniques.

Abruptly, the therapist encourages her to go back to boarding school and Rory jumps at the chance to return to her friends both at school and on the city’s ghost fighting police, even if she’s not enthusiastic about catching up on her neglected homework and preparing for finals, and she’s uncertain about using her newest ghost fighting talent.

Rory has done a thorough job of self-sabotage and then the worst happens, and happens again. I can’t begin to guess how Rory is going to get herself out of these problems in Book Three. Maureen Johnson has a real skill in getting us to turn the page.

The Madness Underneath is a light quick read with a gruesome touch and while I have not yet read the first book in the series, The Name of the Star, I enjoyed The Madness Underneath and have totally been snared by the cliff-hanger ending.

 

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Origin, by Jessica Khoury

Everyone except one uncle calls Pia perfect, although, in her mother’s voice, perfect doesn’t seem like a good thing. Pia has grown up in Cam, a fenced in “village” of scientists in the middle of a jungle, cosseted in a world of adults and tested in the world of science and math. It is common knowledge that she’s immortal, the only one like her in the world, and that everyone she knows depends on her for their jobs. Pia longs for the day when she’s a scientist and can make a mate like herself for herself.

For all her scientific knowledge, she’s never seen a map of the world and she’s only been in the jungle the one time she ran away when she was a kid. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Pia is bursting to know more about what lies outside Cam and so when she discovers a hole in the fence, she goes exploring and meets Eio, a blue-eyed boy from the neighboring native village.

As she falls in love, she has a mystery to solve. Which scientist is Eio’s father? He couldn’t be her brother, could he?

Origin is an intense story full mystery, love, and murder, and it’s wonderfully thought provoking. By the end of the book, there aren’t many people who haven’t betrayed Pia or many of her beliefs that remain intact. In addition, Pia must decide what, if anything is valuable enough to sacrifice doing the right thing to have it.

 

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Etiquette Espionage – Finishing School – Book the First, by Gail Carriger

Resourceful fourteen year-old Sophronia has a number of distinctly “unfeminine” traits, at least by Society’s standards. She likes to climb, has a curiosity about how things work, and prefers to hang out with stable boys instead of her sisters. Out of patience with Sophronia, her mother sends her off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

As they travel toward the school, Sophronia learns that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is a finishing school for assassins and spies, not at all what her mother thinks it is, and the “headmistress” is a fake who looks strangely young for someone of such advanced years. Held up by skywaymen who seem to think they are carrying something valuable in their carriage, Sophronia, never the lady, uses her unladylike skills to rescue them. That’s just the beginning.

 

Etiquette Espionage is a mystery that takes place in the same world as the adult series Parasol Protectorate. Like the Parasol Protectorate, it pairs the playful ridiculousness of a world that includes vampires and werewolves, a floating Academy, skywaymen and the accoutrements of steampunk, with the challenges of women and other minorities in a Victorian society and other timeless obstacle courses we humans must maneuver – friendships, integrity, and daily courage.

 

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Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King

Until she started hating her best friend Charlie Kahn, Vera was secretly in love with him, even though both she and her parents agreed that with parents like his, she and Charlie should never date.

Now he’s dead, accused of a terrible crime and she doesn’t care because she hates him. Unfortunately Charlie’s ghost isn’t going to leave her alone until she clears his name.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a great mystery, but I love it for the way Vera sorts through her emotions about Charlie and wrestles with big issues like, Are we doomed to be like our parents? And, if we are, should we just give up now or keep trying to be our best selves?

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Shelter, by Harlan Coben

Mickey Bolitar may the new kid in school, but this is a good thing. He finally has a place to call home, a place to play basketball, and a team to belong to after a lifetime of travelling around the world with his parents.

But his dad dies in a car accident, his mom enters rehab, and he’s forced to move in with his uncle whom he doesn’t trust. The best thing in his life is his new girlfriend even though it’s no great love affair. Then she disappears.

Mickey takes it upon himself to find her with the help of some new friends, a sarcastic Goth girl, Ema, and an innocent nerd nicknamed Spoon. The popular girlfriend of the basketball team’s captain insists on helping too, even though her involvement may jeopardize his chances with the basketball team.

Meanwhile, the eccentric old woman next door to his new home, “Bat Lady”, tells Mickey that his father is alive. There is no way she could know that but never-the-less Mickey starts to question the circumstances of his father’s death. There is also something strange happening at Bat Lady’s house that seems to tie into his girlfriend’s disappearance.

I love a mystery story told as a series. The first book must inspire questions, some to be answered quickly but others intense enough to be left dangling like a carrot in front of a donkey, just out of reach in front of the readers eyes, until the end of the third book. Shelter does and the second in the series Seconds Away, have left me drooling for the carrot, the answer in the third book.

I have not yet read any of Harlan Coben’s adult books but after tasting his writing style in this Young Adult series, his Adult novels are now on my list of books to read.

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Slayer Chronicles – First Kill by Heather Brewer

When Joss is ten years old he witnesses the vicious murder of his little sister by a vampire. At her funeral his great-uncle, who seems to dislike him, reveals to Joss that he is next in a long line of vampire slayers, although he’ll have to wait to begin training.

Three years later, during the summer before 9th grade, his training begins. Joss is glad for some time away from his parents who still mourn for his sister and seem to have forgotten their living son. Uncle Abraham is brutally tough on Joss and expects things of him that would be nearly impossible for an adult, and much more so for a thirteen year old, but Joss is determined to avenge his sister and he meets every challenge with the help of the friendly camp cook and his beautiful daughter.

There were a number of unexpected twists in this story, and while I would like to chat with the writer over one of them, when I put down First Kill, I immediately reserved the next book in the series and read the entire companion series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod.

Heather is a master of suspense and I recommend her books to you.

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The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

One evening, three beautiful, smart and talented young women in turn-of-the-century steampunk London, each an assistant to a powerful man meet at a ball and on their way home discover a murdered man. They decide to identify his murderer. This must be done in secret since their jobs, reputations, and their way of life, would be lost if they are discovered. These young women, Cora – lab assistant, Michiko – fight assistant, and Nellie – magician’s assistant, are as the author says “Charlie’s Angels without the Charlie”.

In the end, these three vividly drawn, beautiful and talented teens decide to offer their city their unique talents. A story of superwomen underestimated by many because they are female is an intriguing fantasy that talented girls of today will enjoy.

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