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Books in Brief: The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, Dinosaur Empire! by Abby Howard


The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 385 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.

Debut author Emily Bain Murphy weaves a shimmering magic into this hauntingly lovely mystery, of family secrets, of old hurts and deadly grudges, of cherished things seemingly lost forever. With their mother, Juliet, dead and their father shipped off to World War II, Aila Quinn and troublesome eight-year-old Miles are sent to their mother's childhood home of Sterling to stay with family friends, The Clifftons. The Sterling townsfolk and their schoolmates treat Aila and Miles with suspicion, and it becomes quickly clear that Sterling is different from other places. Every seven years, something lovely disappears: the scent of flowers, reflections in the mirror, the ability to dream. Aila and Miles happen to arrive on the seventh year, with the townspeople living in dread of what they will lose next.  Among her mother's possessions, Aila discovers a well-worn book of Shakespeare, full of her mother's scribbled notes, with her mother's ring and a note addressed to "Stefen" stitched into the cover. Aila knows her mother had secrets; many of the townspeople believe Juliet was a witch who cursed the town. Could they be right? And can Aila discover in her mother's scribbled clues a way to undo the curse? The author writes with pure poetry and has skillfully crafted her novel, alternating the narrative between events in Sterling and the desperate race to research and understand and possibly end the disappearances - and mysterious and increasingly disturbing journal entries by someone whose role in the events eventually becomes clear. The hunt for clues in Shakespeare's work and life is cleverly done. The sale, for a price, of  "Variants" - materials which can temporarily allow someone to see a reflection, smell a cinnamon bun, dream - is genius.


 Dinosaur Empire! (Earth Before Us No. 1) by Abby Howard; Amulet Books, $15.99.

Author Abby Howard, who created the comic website Junior Scientist Power Hour, offers an amusing and fact-filled graphic novel, framed as a dialogue between clueless fifth grader Ronnie and her eccentric neighbor, a former paleontologist who takes her on a time-traveling adventure to the Mesozoic era. As they come face to face with such creatures as the Shonisaurus, Tupandactylus and Mononykus, Ronnie is treated to both specific information and the larger picture, of how scientists have learned more about the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, of similarities and differences among species, genetic mutations and evolution. The amusing drawings, touches of humor and colorful dinosaur factoids make it easier to digest this more complex information. This is the first of a three-book series, "Earth Before Us," and "Rise of the Vertebrates!" is next.

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