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All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

©2017

311 pages/hardcover

All the Crooked SaintsWhat I love about magic realism is how the realistic aspect of the story pulls you in and allows the arising magical qualities to become so much more believable. All the Crooked Saints takes place in 1962 in southeastern Colorado in the fictional town of Bicho Raro. Here the Soria family has the ability to perform miracles.

But there are phases of the miracle, and the first miracle is not the end of the journey. The person often gets stuck midway, (like we do in life). In limbo, the person retains strange characteristics, like the giant man who towers over buildings and a girl whose tears continually rain over her. The Soria saints are forbidden to help the “pilgrims” who must work through the rest of their miracles.

One of the best parts of the story: I love how the three Soria cousins, Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin, create a renegade radio station in the middle of the high desert, broadcasting their illegal signal in the dark of night. At first, the radio station serves Joaquin’s creative desire to be a DJ known as Diablo Diablo. But as time passes, the trio uses the radio to work their own miracles for the pilgrims living at Bicho Raro.

But it’s not only the pilgrims who confront darkness in their lives. Even the Sorias are faced with confronting their own darkness. This is a unique, magical story of three young people who break the taboo of helping others. In doing so, they experience the miracle of discovering themselves and where they fit in among the saints and pilgrims of Bicho Raro.

The author describes southeastern Colorado to the point the reader can feel the arid heat on his arms amid the floating scent of tangy sagebrush. Even more important—-in the skilled hands of Maggie Stiefvater, the characters spring to life, like flowers blooming in the high desert!

Highly recommend

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Bone Gap Revisited

Have you ever read a book and knew you wanted to read it again? Bone Gap by Laura Ruby was one of my favorite reads in 2017. The story introduced me to the genre, magic realism, and I was hooked. I had checked the book out from the library and knew I liked the story enough to buy a hardcover copy! The book arrived with a Printz gold medal and a National Book Award finalist seal. Perhaps I read the book too quickly the first time, maybe the story is so unique, but as I read it a second time, I appreciated the book even more. You’ll find Ruby’s writing as surprising, rich, and fascinating as her plot.

People call Finn: Spaceman, Sidetrack, Moonface, Loner. Everyone in Bone Gap knows Finn is odd. He’s different. Finn and his older brother, Sean, live alone after their mother left them to marry a man out of state. But when a stranger arrives in their barn one night, their lives change. Beautiful Roza doesn’t tell them why she’s on the run or who hurt her. They take her into their home, and their loneliness fades as Roza becomes part of their life. Sean falls in love with her.

But when a strange man kidnaps Roza at a county fair, Finn blames himself. He was the one who saw the stranger, but at the time, he thought Roza wanted to leave them, just like their mother did. Only when Roza looked back from the SUV, did Finn realize something was terribly wrong. Sean and Finn report her disappearance to the local law enforcement. But when Finn is unable to give physical details of the abductor, the townspeople wonder if Roza was truly kidnapped. Or worse, did Finn have something to do with her disappearance.

Finn not only lost Roza that day, he lost his brother. Heartbroken, Sean withdraws into his work and ignores his younger brother. Finn’s guilt and loneliness makes him miserable until he starts spending time with Petey, a girl most people in town consider homely.

That’s a brief summary of the story, but it’s the theme that makes this a great book. The theme is about people being “seen,” really seen for who they are inside.

Rosa has drawn attention from men her entire life. But they only see her outward beauty and want her for their own selfish desires. Her Polish grandmother told her, “There will be boys who tell you you’re beautiful, but only a few will see you.”

Petey knows how the people of Bone Gap talk about her. How can she be so homely when her mother is pretty? Only Finn really “sees” her.

Finn falls in love with Petey because she sees him for who he is, not the odd boy everyone else knows.

Sean falls in love with Roza but not just for her beauty. When he looks into her eyes, his gaze demands nothing, unlike the other men she’s known. It’s what’s inside her that draws him to her.

Hints of magic scatter through the beginning of the story. It emerges further as Roza describes her captivity. The reader soon learns this is no ordinary man who has kidnapped her. The stranger is otherworldly. Magic also surfaces when a black horse appears in Finn’s barn. He takes Petey for rides late at night, and they travel through forests that don’t exist in Bone Gap and fly over cliffs that are not part of the natural terrain.

You might wonder how the title of the book, Bone Gap, fits into the story. Hint:  gaps in the world, places to lose yourself, slip into, retreat to. I won’t give any spoilers, but know that the ending blossoms into a powerful culmination of the theme. Ruby proves to be a fantastic writer and storyteller! A must read for young adults and adults.

School Library Journal: Grades 10 and up

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The Language of Thorns

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

This book cover is one of the top ten eye-catching covers from 2017.  From Leigh Bardugo, author of The Six of Crows, comes an illustrated book of fairy/folk tales. These types of stories require illustrations, don’t they? At least, from childhood we’ve come to expect that. Don’t misunderstand me, these are definitely stories for young adults to adults.  The beautiful illustrations will appeal to readers of graphic novels.

At first, the reader will think she is reading an ordinary fairy tale, those old stories told to children for decades. But the endings will leave you both surprised and charmed!

Sara Kipin’s vivid illustrations enliven this book. There’s not much more I can say about this title. The Language of Thorns demands to be read and seen!

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Words in Deep Blue

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Product DetailsThe setting of this story is a bookworm’s dream. Henry’s family has run a second-hand bookstore, the Howling Books, for over twenty years. Eighteen years old, he loves everything about the store. Besides the book-loving regulars and the monthly book clubs, the best part of the store is the Letter Library, a room where patrons can write notes in their favorite books. Sometimes even letters are left between pages.

Rachel and Henry were best friends for years. The day before she moved away, Rachel tucked a love letter in Henry’s favorite book in the Letter Library. But Henry never discovered the letter, and Rachel resigned herself to the fact that Henry was in love with Amy.

Years later, Rachel returns and works in the bookstore. Everyone sees a difference in Rachel. What they don’t know is that her younger brother, Cal, drowned in the ocean. She keeps the tragedy a secret as she renews her friendship with Henry.

Henry has been in love with Amy for years. She breaks up with him only to return when her latest relationship doesn’t work out. Henry finds his life falling apart. Once again, Amy dumps him, and his divorced parents are talking about selling the Howling Books.

As Henry and Rachel work together in the bookstore, Henry remembers what he liked about his best friend, Rachel, even as she continues to deal inwardly with the loss of her brother.

The Letter Library slowly reveals its secrets of love and loss. If you love books, bookstores, and relationships, you’ll like this story.

I love the setting—who wouldn’t like living above and working in a bookstore? The depiction of Henry’s obsession with a girl who uses him like a revolving door is believable, and the author sensitively portrays Rachel’s grief. I found the repetitive use of the F word distracting from an otherwise strong storyBe sure to see my bookstagram picture for Words In Deep Blue on Instagram: @lucindastein

Publishers Weekly guideline: Ages 14-up