[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances.

Although The Disappearances is a historical novel, World War II is mentioned only sporadically. It reminds me a lot of how parents in England sent their children to the country in order to protect them, the way that the Pevensie children are in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The only problem I had was that Aila and the rest of Sterling are kind of in a bubble. I wish that the world had been cemented a bit more in that time by having members of the community affected more by the war. Most of the story is focused on the Disappearances, but I would have liked to see more about the war. They didn’t seem to want for much, which was a little strange to me considering that there was rationing during the war. What I did appreciate, however, was that Murphy had her characters acting the way they should for the time. There weren’t any odd, modern phrases that didn’t fit. There were a variety of the “high school characters” included, but there were still lines that were not crossed in order to make it more accessible to modern readers. I liked that it remained quaint in a good way.

‘But really, aren’t there bits of magic everywhere we look? We’ve just stopped seeing it that way.’*

The characters were wonderful. Aila is our protagonist, but there’s also Will, the boy next door (although they’re sharing the same house); Eliza, the town darling; Beas, the talented musician; George, the budding scientist; and, of course, the rest of the Clifftons and townsfolk that round out Sterling. I found Aila to be inquisitive and an interesting character to follow around. I loved that she was spunky–she juggled a new town, school, and loyalties all while trying to solve the mystery of the Disappearances. Her friendship with Will, Beas, George–and even Eliza–was so well done. I really enjoyed reading about how she became stronger friends with them as they were following the clues about the Disappearances.

One of the things they worry about losing is the taste of food. With the next Disappearance coming up, people get a little tense as they wonder what they’ll lose this year.

The romance in The Disappearances was another subtle way that Murphy illustrated both characters and setting. I absolutely adored how the friendships and relationships grew in small ways throughout the novel. It never became the focus of the novel, nor did it overtake the plot. The romance was a lovely way to have one more thing in the novel that kept you reading in order to discover how things would turn out for the characters. I thought it was extremely well done.

The Disappearances also had a lovely little connection to Shakespeare. I loved the occasional quote thrown in when they were trying to figure out if the Disappearances had a literary connection. Shakespeare wasn’t the only author or poet mentioned–there was some Browning and Keats as well. I always love when books reference other authors and their work. It makes it more interesting for me as a reader. When Aila goes through the Cliffton’s library with her friends to try to discover clues that may be hidden there, it slowly unravels the mystery and reveals connections that initially seemed unconnected. The way that things are revealed allows the story and the characters to grow and learn. I loved it.

‘We’ll never be able to set it right unless we know which Catalyst was the true one.’*

The Disappearances was an incredibly enjoyable novel. I loved the references to Shakespeare, the magical-realism, and ultimately the way that the story was put together. Although it had a slow start, I was disappointed when it ended. Highly recommend this for readers who like the magical-realism genre, or even if you don’t!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of The Disappearances from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

*Quotes are taken from an advance reading copy and may have had changes before publication.

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[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

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Upcoming summer releases that I want to read, and you should too! Part two

I’m back with more summer reads! Part one can be found here. There’s so many books that I want to read this summer that I may go broke. Or at least run out my amazon gift card.

The hottest month. Good for reading indoors. Or in the pool.

SHIMMER AND BURN: August 8th Magic smuggling. Need I say more?

THE HEARTS WE SOLD: August 8th A deal with a devil?? Come to me, book!

THIS IS NOT THE END: August 8th If you can resurrect one person in your life by your eighteenth birthday, who would you choose? It’s an impossible choice, but should it be a choice at all?

THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO: August 8th Chinese mythology, a heroine with powers, and demons that are suddenly plaguing her little town. I’ll be reviewing this one soon!

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Upcoming summer releases that I want to read, and you should too! Part one

Summer is the time for reading: iced tea, cold sandwiches, the warmth of the sun on my back…and a book in my hand. There’s so many books coming out in the summer that I thought I’d narrow it down* by sharing some of my most anticipated releases.

A note: some of the books mentioned here are ones that I’ve reviewed but sometimes my anticipation was greater than my enjoyment.

It’s the first week of June, which means that these could soon be in your (my) hands! Excitement!

ROAR: June 6th  I was lusting after an ARC of this one so bad, but I never was approved. *insert sad emoji here* So basically, the rulers of the land have the ability to harness storms. They reach into it and steal its essence in the form of a stone. BUT the protagonist doesn’t have this power, despite being from one of the ruling families. But she may be able to figure out a way to steal storm power. It sounds so dangerous, and so exciting! And the cover is beautiful.

TASH HEARTS TOLSTOY: June 6th Tash loves Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. She loves it so much that she created a (suddenly famous) web series that’s a modern day retelling. It sounds really cute and it’s right up my alley with the whole loving a book / books so much that you do something creative with said book. ALSO, she’s an asexual character which I hope is done really well because it’s the first I’ve seen in YA.

HERE LIES DANIEL TATE: June 6th This one sounds SO GOOD. When a boy who went missing six years ago suddenly reappears with no memories of that time, his overjoyed family reassure him that the memories will come back. Only one problem: HE ISN’T DANIEL TATE. He’s a CON ARTIST. DUNDUNDUUUUN. But seriously, this one sounds like a mystery and thriller all rolled up in one which I love reading.

THE SUFFERING TREE: June 13th  A mysterious inheritance, a town that doesn’t like outsiders, and a family with secrets–and a curse–they would do anything to keep hidden. I requested an ARC because I thought it sounded interesting, but it was a case of the summary saying one thing but the book being more about another. I’m including it because you can find my review here and decide for yourself. Some readers may enjoy it.

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[Aftercare Instructions] Bonnie Pipkin

Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.

The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*

What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.

While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.

I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.

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[My Lady Jane] Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a retelling of England’s Nine-Day Queen. This novel is what happens when something historical is retold in a contemporary style while still remaining fairly true to history. It is a longer read that delves into the points of view of three characters based on Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI, and Guildford (stylized as Gifford) Dudley, giving the characters a happier ending than their reality. The three authors weave together humor, romance, and a bit of real history–along with a lot of changed history.

I usually love retellings, especially when there’s history involved that I’ve studied and enjoyed.  And if I look at it purely from a standpoint where I only address it as a historical retelling, My Lady Jane was successful one. I really enjoyed that the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants was twisted into a conflict between the E∂ians (people who have the ability to shape shift into an animal, often at moments of high emotion or stress) and the Verities (people who do not have that power and often view it as a perversion of nature.) Changing history to the point of smudging or completely changing the outcome–which is basically the point of alternative history–didn’t bother me, because I liked how the authors took real events and added a bit of fantasy to make it fit their new narrative.

The alternative history, the E∂ians…that is why I read and enjoyed My Lady Jane, even to the point where I was able to mostly overlook the things that I didn’t particularly like. Ultimately, while I did enjoy reading the book, I also feel like it doesn’t have memorability for me. I won’t really be thinking about it now that I’ve finished it. It didn’t blow my mind, though I understand why it’s popular. It’s a catchy, quick read with entertaining moments. The characters are likable and it’s easy to cheer them on. But I found that even though this was a fun read, there were things that I didn’t work for me and distracted from the fantasy setting.

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