The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann; Greenwillow Books, 432 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.
There are shades of Dickens in Stefan Bachmann’s enthralling sequel to his stunning debut fantasy novel “The Peculiar,” which he began writing in 2010 at the age of 16. Bachmann conjures up a vivid portrait of a hardscrabble, war-torn London of the 1850s, a city under siege from a faery realm ruled by the evil Sly King. His memorable heroine is Hettie, a tiny, homely changeling who is half-faery, half-human, with tree branches growing from her head. She is being held prisoner by the faeries, and as a door to the faery realm, she holds the fate of the world in her hands. (How remarkable the scene where a faery mask reveals her true self, tall, brave and beautiful.) Hettie’s brother Bartholomew Kettle forms an alliance to rescue her, with an orphaned waif named Pikey Thomas who wears a patch to hide his strange, clouded eye.
This is a beautifully written, haunting tale of courage and sibling love. Bachmann’s lyrical writing vividly evokes the terrors and beauties of this complicated universe. (Here he describes a line of faeries approaching a ball, all carrying tiny white lamps; “They made a glowing worm, uncurling out of the dark woods.”) – Jean Westmoore
The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan; Forge, 368 pages ($24.99)
Hank Phillippi Ryan navigates the sometimes perilous issues of adoption and foster care in “The Wrong Girl,” her second novel about Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland. A strong plot, realistic characters and a timely theme combine for a suspenseful story that never stoops to gratuitous violence. (Ryan’s insider’s view of the media comes from her own experience as a broadcast investigative reporter in Boston where she has earned 28 Emmys.)
Ryland is intrigued when former colleague Tucker Cameron asks her to investigate a private adoption agency. Tucker, adopted as a baby, thought that the Brannigan Family and Children Services had found her birth mother. Although she had a poignant meeting with the woman, both Tucker and her presumed birth mother are convinced that they are not related.
Ryland’s investigation follows a trail that intersects with the homicide investigation of Det. Jake Brogan. A young woman was murdered in an apartment, and an empty cradle led Jake to suspect that an infant is now missing. All roads lead back to the Brannigan agency as the two uncover a lucrative scheme that goes back decades.
– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel