Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull: This debut middle-grade novel is a dark and twisted modern fairy tale. Summer and Bird are sisters who wake up one terrible morning to find that their mother, father, and the family cat have disappeared. A pictogram left by their mother leads them deep into the woods, into Down–the realm of the birds, which has been taken over by the evil Puppeteer (who eats birds alive to steal their hearts). The quest to find their family leads the girls deeper into this “ruined” world, and deeper into their own hearts. It’s an excellent choice for Narnia fans who prefer their endings to be less happy.
The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith by Joanna Brooks: I discovered this memoir when the author was on The Daily Show, and I’m always open for an insider’s-account-of-stuff-I’ve-never-experienced-type-book. Brooks details her experience growing up in an orthodox, conservative Mormon family during the Cold War paranoia of the 1980s. She then leaves for college and develops feminist, liberal politics, just as her church declares feminists and intellectuals to be enemies of the faith. The book follows her as she learns to reconcile her faith with her politics. There are some gaps in the narrative–Brooks never really goes into detail about what experiences in college led to her transformation, or about her personal, direct confrontation with church officials. The questions you’re left with are frustrating, but the book is interesting enough to make up for it.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente: This is the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and it is just as magical and charming and fable-ish as the first book. September is older and wiser in this one, and the book is a bit darker. She returns to Fairyland to find that her shadow has named herself Halloween, the Hallow Queen of Fairyland Below (the underworld) and is stealing shadows from Fairyland proper to populate her kingdom. This has far-reaching and serious consequences, and September girds herself up for battle against herself. Fans of the first book won’t be disappointed.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Rowling’s new book has been oft-reviewed, but the focus seems to be more on the fact that this book isn’t Harry Potter (I’ve already written a few random thoughts about that). Her new work is a magnifying glass on small-town life, complete with all its warts and small-mindedness and priggishness. Rowling is using all her far-reaching powers of excellent character development here, but the pace matches that of small-town life (slow) and the whole thing is rather grim. It’s fantastically written, but with the $35 price tag and the darkness that some people won’t like, you’re probably safer getting this from the library first.