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book review

With Malice

By Eileen Cook

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pages, $25.99

Murder and amnesia – was there ever a more a dependable criminal pair? In Vancouver author Eileen Cook's latest, Jill and Simone are best friends fresh off of high school graduation on a trip to Italy. When a car accident leaves Simone dead and Jill seriously injured, things turn suspicious. Jill was driving, but she can't remember the accident or anything six weeks beforehand. And now she's accused of murder. The set-up begs for a big surprising reveal but the hints leading up to the climax will be too conspicuous for most. However, Cook injects a nice helping of crazy into an ending that throws some shade on the seemingly squeaky clean protagonist. A good pick for readers with more sensitive stomachs who like a true-crime feel without the true-crime gore.

Julia Vanishes

By Catherine Egan

Doubleday Canada, 384 pages, $21.99

Julia lives in a world of witches, werewolves and magical powers. She has the ability to disappear in plain sight and uses her invisibility to make a decent living as a high-end thief. Her new nefarious gig, posing as a housemaid, pulls her into something big, black and infinitely more magical than stolen jewels. This is part fantasy, part thriller, and it is a bang-up combo. Set in a timeless, vaguely European world, Egan weaves all the background straight into the plot so readers are saved the long tangents often needed to set the stage in rich fantasies. There are brutal fight scenes, plot surprises and big stakes – all with bold, unapologetic female heroes and villains at the helm. The first in a planned trilogy, this is some seriously fierce fantasy.

Every Exquisite Thing

By Matthew Quick

Little, Brown, 272 pages, $21.49

Sometimes YA books consider the impact of YA books. John Green, Rainbow Rowell and now Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick have all gone meta to great success. Quick's latest is about a high school senior named Nanette, who is obsessed with the (entirely fictional) out-of-print book The Bubblegum Reaper. She meets a fellow fan, Alex, and it seems that Quick's plot will go in the quirky-teen-couple direction. But things unravel in a way that puts Nanette front and centre. She has all the makings of a good outsider with her dark humour and constant questioning of the status quo, though her challenges aren't just limited to the real world; she also has to come to terms with the mysteries of The Bubblegum Reaper. Is this YA navel-gazing? A little bit. Is it moving and will it resonate? Definitely.

Before We Go Extinct

By Karen Rivers

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $24.99

Grief is one of those things that is easy to feel and tough to explain. Karen Rivers relies on metaphor to tell the story of how JC (nicknamed Sharky for his shark obsession) goes on after watching his friend fall, either accidentally or intentionally, from a 42nd-floor window. When Sharky's mom gets called to work abroad, he is forced to spend the summer with his father on a sparsely populated island in British Columbia. This may seem like a pat set-up for some superficial summertime maturation, but Rivers's treatment of Sharky's time in nature is deeply affecting and genuinely healing. Sharky is unabashedly sensitive and emotional and this paves the way for real connection between reader and protagonist. This is the YA fictional counterpart to C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed with shark metaphors subbing in for theodicy.

Beware That Girl

By Teresa Toten

Doubleday Canada 339 pages, $21.99

Teresa Toten won a Governor-General's Award for her realistic look at teens with mental illness in The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B. Her new book is completely opposite of that book. Completely. Opposite. Kate is a scholarship private-school student who attempts to improve her lot in life by befriending a troubled, uber-rich girl named Olivia. They drink a lot of wine. They dry-swallow a lot of Ativan. They even uncover the presence of a Christian Grey-esque predator in their school administration. The plot grows so absurd that, by the end, it's about as serious as an apple martini. But it is as entertaining as it is ludicrous and the best beach reads require a low emotional investment for a high level of amusement. This one fits the bill perfectly.

American Girls

By Alison Umminger

Flatiron Books, 304 pages, $24.99

There are books we read as teenagers that we know we will scar us irreparably and emotionally – books we're just too curious to resist. Helter Skelter is a prime example, and 15-year-old Anna reads it during a summer she spends with her older actress sister in Los Angeles. As Anna hangs out on film sets and delves deeper into the biographies of the Manson girls, she starts to ponder the creepy, dissatisfied emptiness that is rampant in L.A. while also grappling with her independence – something she simultaneously yearns for and fears. Umminger doesn't tiptoe around the grisliness of the Manson murders, though she uses them purposefully as a springboard into Anna's self-examination in a place where everyone "has just a touch of violence in their hearts." A masterful, unique and truly contemporary look at a girl mourning girlhood.