A coming-of-age story that thoughtfully blends mysticism and adventure.



In this dystopian YA novel set in an alternate, steampunk-y version of California, a teenage girl gets mystical visions of tasks that she must perform to save her people.

In 1894, the village of Promise in North California has long helped passengers from a nearby train line that carries the unwanted—lepers, refugees, the elderly, abandoned children—to a workhouse/asylum in British South California. Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro was rescued from the train and brought to Promise as a baby; now 15, she’s become a “mystic traveler” for her tribe. From the Shadow World, she gets a mission to sabotage the workhouse train because a new superintendent plans to cut expenses by killing the asylum’s “expendables.” Juanita has spirit guides to help, such as her ancestor Billy, a locomotive engineer who addresses her as “Little Engine Woman.” After the sabotage, her plan is to escape southward to Mexico, which brings its own dangers—especially from the cruel and powerful Mendoza family. But the planned explosion goes wrong, killing some Promise folk—likely including Juanita’s beloved, Galen—and leaving herself injured. Pilgrims rescue her and take her to their village; feeling betrayed by the Shadow World and heartbroken over Galen, Juanita bides her time. Two years later, Billy again insists on a perilous sabotage mission, this time involving the unscrupulous Antonio Mendoza. Billy believes that the Mendozas can be outsmarted and perhaps even motivated to shut down or clean up the asylum. Juanita’s new quest is to steal a train, blast the tunnels, look for Galen, and recover Carla, an asylum-bound baby. During her mission, she’ll learn startling truths about her family history and discover new strengths. Many sci-fi and fantasy novels are organized around a quest. Although Juanita does indeed solve problems and cover some ground, these are secondary to her maturing understanding of herself, history, the Shadow World, and relationships in both the spirit and human realms. Like Ursula K. Le Guin, Hill (Heroes Arise, 2008) pays attention to the anthropology of her invented culture in ways that enrich the story greatly, often in details that subtly underscore how the society both resembles and differs from our own. For example, Juanita worries about being too plump, but she also likes the soft black hair on her legs because she sees it as feminine. The steampunk influence is also subtle; some characters wear top hats with goggles, and there’s a clockwork man and a mystical tin airship. Steam trains are also important, of course, and Hill has researched their operations well. But this is a book about people, not inventions, and its emphasis is on its characters’ choices and their consequences, as when Juanita wonders, “Who would I be by the time I stopped the asylum train, found Galen and rescued Carla?” However, philosophical musings don’t take the book over, either. Tough, painful, and real things happen to Juanita, making her determination to carry through her mission all the more heroic.

A coming-of-age story that thoughtfully blends mysticism and adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937818-80-7

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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