Yansky, Brian. Utopia, Iowa
February 10th 2015 by Candlewick Press
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.
Jack Bell wants to write screen plays for movies, but he doesn't necessarily want to leave his small hometown. Home to a college of magic, and filled with people with a variety of magical talents, Utopia is the place where Jack feels most comfortable. When a college girl is killed and appears to Jack (since he can see ghosts), he gets drawn into the investigation. Detective Bloodsmith is a big suspicious of Jack, especially after a girl from his school is also killed, and Jack was the last person she called. Jack keeps having weird dreams, and his grandmother, who is a which, tries to help him out until she has a stroke. Or is it a stroke? An age old, evil goddess seems to be on the loose, and the girls may have been targeted. Mix in drama with Brian's friend, Ash, in whom he is slightly romantically interested, drama with Jack's parents, who love each other but fight over money, and unknown evil that may strike again, and Brian has a lot to keep him busy!
Strengths: The small town setting on this is quite fun, and the side story with Brian's father running the unsuccessful bar, Field of Dreams, was interesting. Most books set in small towns concentrate on people wanting to leave, so it was refreshing that Jack wanted to stay. His relationship with Ash seemed realistic, and I appreciated how the police did suspect him when he kept turning up at the sites of murders. In most books, the detectives are rather ignored, which seems unlikely. In the end, there are some twists about the murders, both with real characters and the paranormal ones.
Weaknesses: I could not buy into Jack's desire to write screen plays. The only hints we have that he is interested in movies are his brief descriptions of movies and screen play ideas throughout the book as they relate to situations, which get a bit annoying. There is one f-bomb, in a screenplay description.
What I really think: This is more of a young adult book, and it moved a bit slowly. I never really connected with the main character, who seemed very static to me. I think my 8th grade boys will like this, and it's a good paranormal mystery with a boy on the cover, and there aren't too many of those.
Johnson, Maureen. The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3)
February 10th 2015 by Putnam Juvenile
Rory is devastated by Stephen's death, but still believes that he is going to come back-- she just needs to find him. For now, though, Charlotte's disappearance at the hands of Jane Quaint takes precedence. With the assistance of Thorpe, Jerome, and some new comers (that she has to decide whether or not to trust), Rory finds out information about Jane's extremely warped cult. Back in the 1970s, twins Sid and Sadie became interested in trying to escape death, and got involved in very gruesome death mysteries, and Jane is still hiding their secrets. Some of these secrets may be useful to Rory in trying to bring Stephen back, however, so she gets entangled with the group. The part of the stone that got blasted into Rory and made her a terminus is crucial to these mysteries, as is a stone called the Oswulf stone. If Jane can find it, things might go poorly. Can Rory and her group defeat Jane and hers, and what about the group that Rory realizes Stephen is part of? Can they be trusted? Plenty of room for a fourth book.
Strengths: Rory is an engaging character, and her reaction to Stephen's death is quite understandable. She is grieving, but also feels that she can actually bring him back. I really liked the information about Sid and Sadie, and their group in the 1970s. London was such a vibrant and edgy place at the time, that it's nice to see that brought into fiction. The magical elements all work out and seem realistic. The inclusion of London landmarks tied to death and spiritualism was interesting.
Weaknesses: There are parts of this that are REALLY gruesome and a bit uncalled for, so this is not for the sensitive soul.
What I really think: This seemed uneven to me. Parts of it really interested me, and parts really dragged. I did not like how sordid parts of it became, and I'm not really interested in a fourth book, but I'll have to buy it. I hope it's the last one.