The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

The Witch HunterLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015

Elizabeth Grey was orphaned by plague and works in the castle kitchens, but she’s no pity case. Elizabeth’s scullery maid exterior is simply a cover for her real job as one of the country’s elite force of witch hunters. Things are not easy or even right in Elizabeth’s world, soon fate turns against her and Elizabeth is forced to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about her life and her world.

Set in an alternative sixteenth-century England, The Witch Hunter explores the place of magic in the world as a teenaged witch hunter becomes entangled in a struggle for power and control. Elizabeth is an appealing main character, strong and capable and yet vulnerable in many ways. The action and high stakes keep this story moving right along. It’s a great debut and it looks the door’s open for at least one sequel to follow.

I love books about magic—especially witches—and those about English history. This alternative history did not include any real historic figures and yet the setting and world view felt deliciously familiar. I’ll be watching eagerly for the next installment.

I read this book courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley. The release date is June 2, 2015.

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Never Forgotten by Kelly Risser

Never ForgottenClean Teen Publishing, 2014

Meara’s only ever had her mom, no dad or siblings, no grandparents. Then, the summer before Meara’s senior year Mom finds out that her cancer is back and it’s everywhere. Now Meara and her Mom are leaving Wisconsin to live with Meara’s grandparents in Nova Scotia. Meara was born there, but she doesn’t remember anything about the place or the people. She hasn’t seen either since she was a baby. When Meara and Mom return, Meara learns that many of the things she believed about her family and her life were lies, and the truth about who she is–it’s mind blowing.

In Nova Scotia Meara finds the family and the home she’s never had. She finds friendship and romance. But in the end Meara will have to face the biggest decision of her life.

I enjoyed this story about good people and bad decisions. It’s easy to feel empathy for Maera who is thrust into so many new things at once and losing her only anchor. I loved the setting, too. Nova Scotia has long been on my list of places to visit. The weather and the sea and the people pervaded Never Forgotten. They made me feel as if I’d been there and that I’d like to go back again.

I read Never Forgotten as a digital ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Clean Teen Publishing.

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Scarlett UndercoverLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 19, 2015.

Scarlett’s an orphan. Her father was murdered. Her mother died of cancer. Her sister’s caught up in medical school. But don’t waste time feeling sorry for her; Scarlett’s anything but pitiable. She’s smart – graduated high school at 16. She’s enterprising – started her own detective agency. She’s tough – a wise-ass and martial artist who carries an old police baton into dangerous neighborhoods. She’s a typical teen – not sure if she wants to practice her parent’s religion, distracted by a certain boy, determined to avoid anything that will curtail her freedom.

I love a mystery, and if it comes with a smart-ass detective, even better. Scarlett really won me over, as did the nod to hard-boiled detective stories of the past. Scarlett’s character is compelling. She’s tough but she’s compassionate. She wants to save the world and kiss a boy, but most of all: she wants to solve her father’s murder.

I love that Scarlett is Muslim. She and her sister each make their own decisions about faith and traditions. Will they pray every day? Will they pray 5 times every day? Will they wear a hajib? There’s more tradition than religion here, and though it felt reasonable to me, I don’t know if it’s a realistic portrayal of Muslim life. I hope it is. It certainly felt good to read story about a Muslim teen.

Scarlett Undercover involves the murder of Scarlett’s father and the suicide of a teen, so it may not be for all readers. I expect most readers who like a good detective/adventure story will like this book. There is a culty supernatural element thrown in that may not appeal some readers. I hope there will be more Scarlett books.

I read Scarlett Undercover as an electronic ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

girl at midnightRandom House Children’s Books, 2015.

Echo is a young runaway and accomplished pickpocket who was discovered late one night deep in the public library and introduced to a world other humans know nothing about. After her discovery Echo is taken in by an Avicen leader and raised with the young Avicen in a secret society that can magically travel the world. Soon Echo is embroiled in a quest to end the war between the Avicen and their deadly rivals. Can Echo save the world for the warring races and for humanity as well? What will be the cost?

I think I picked this book by title and cover alone – both are awesome! So when I began to read I was rather dismayed that this was a book about bird-people. I like books about magic; I’m generally good with fantasy; but bird people, ugh. I guess it’s the feathers. At any rate, my dismay didn’t last long. Echo is a tough and loveable character. She’s cocky enough to love and damaged enough to provoke sympathy. I was rooting for her the whole way. (And her adopted bird-mama is pretty awesome, too). Echo’s adventures and moral dilemmas drew me in, and Grey raised enough interesting emotional questions to have hooked me for the long haul, even if some of the characters have feathers and others have scales.

This is an engrossing young adult fantasy with enough adventure and romance to keep you reading. There’s a certain darkness to the world that reminded me of Gabriel Finlay and the Raven’s Riddle, which is for middle grade readers but also from Random House. It’s got bird people, too.

I read The Girl at Midnight courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Children’s Books. It looks to be the start of a series. I’ll start looking for the next installment next spring.