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Review: Suspicion

Suspicion
Alexandra Monir
Delacorte Press
ISBN: 978-0-385-74389-1
$17.99


Suspicion starts out the way I always think a story I’m writing ought to start: jarring, with the reader coming in mid-plot, being fed some snippets of heavy information, and then being thrown into a flashback, destined to accompany the protagonist on a journey of self-discovery fated to end where the Prologue began. But I never finish those stories I write which start like that because it’s unnecessarily complicated. Flash forward, flash back, and then a long road to where we came in. By the time you get to the connecting point, you’ve forgotten where you started. It’s a cheap way to seem daring, and I’ve seen it too many times.

After the Prologue we go back to 2007 when our main character, Imogen, is 10, which is already painful since whenever I think about being 10 I go back to 1992. We learn about her familial relationships, her summers at Rockford Estate with her cousin, Lucia, her interest in “the boy next door,” and get a glimpse at what makes her “different.” I’ll save you the spoiler, but it seems connected to the grounds of Rockford, the ancestral home of Imogen’s predecessors. Like so many YA heroes and Disney princesses, her parents and her aunt and uncle are killed in a devastating fire, leaving her and Lucia orphans.

We jump seven years ahead, and find Imogen fairly well adjusted back in New York where she originally lived with her parents. She’s now in high school and under the guardianship of her parents’ best friends. Although graduation and NYU loom ahead, any plans for the future she’s been dithering over are derailed when the manager of her family’s estate appears with surprising (to her) news. Following the untimely death of Lucia, and the subsequent passing of her grandfather, Imogen is now a Duchess and the heir to Rockford.

The next 60% of the story is spent in what might be considered a charmingly awkward, and perhaps exciting-to-a-teenaged-girl series of events where Imogen leaves New York for England, and learns how to be a Duchess. This is arguably the better part of the story because at least it elicits a few laughs and employs some fun imagery. We’re eventually reunited with “present day” Imogen who we follow until we land back at where the Prologue left us, which is a good 80% into the book.

Alexandra Monir - photo by: Neal Preston
Alexandra Monir – photo by: Neal Preston

I really didn’t care for Suspicion overall. It follows the trend of YA fiction, especially those with teenage females at the lead, where the main character is surprised to find that he or she holds some kind of powerful ability unbeknownst to him or her. Don’t get me wrong; one of my favorite lines in YA literature is “You’re a wizard, Harry!” And I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that trope when it’s put to inventive and creative good use. Unfortunately, Suspicion falls bit short of being really unique, or even kind of unique.

It’s not a bad story, but it is lacking. While I liked Imogen well enough, I can’t say I connected to her. And though I’m usually a sucker for British peerage and castles and etiquette and all that that conjures, I don’t think I learned anything new or interesting. All in all, Suspicion is predictable, and yet somehow erratic. So often I knew what was going to happen next, what kind of dialogue was to follow. And then at the same time I would get blindsided with a decision or an observation or a revelation that came out of nowhere. I don’t think that this is an issue of Monir being inconsistent as an author, but rather providing what she feels is the standard reasoning of a seventeen year old girl and her translation of what the mysterious twisted deeds of those who wish to manipulate her must look like.

I did enjoy the history that Monir created for Rockford Estate and Lady Beatrice, the enigmatic ancestor who provides a clue as to who and what Imogen really is. Although that was vastly overshadowed by unintentional bathos of the totally unlikely and utterly complicated resolution of the mystery shrouding her parents’ and aunt and uncle’s deaths.

Suspicion is not a waste of time, nor is it by any means terrible. But it does lack the believability that a solid supernatural-themed novel is capable of. In fact, the supernatural aspect of this story is quite understated, and perhaps more believable than some of the plots, deceptions, and choices that most of the characters engage in.

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Review: The Shadow Cabinet

I am pleased to find myself reviewing a book by one of my favorite, if not much-read authors, Maureen Johnson. I read her Suite Scarlett when it first came out and found myself picking it up even when I only had a few moments to spare to read a quarter of a page; it was really that good. And The Shadow Cabinet, book three of The Shades of London series, follows in the same wonderful way.

The Shadow Cabinet opens with a scene that sets the tone for rest of the story. Everything that our heroes have faced thus far has been daunting, but now it’s gotten serious — so serious that even one of our main villains is having a few second thoughts. By mid-book I found myself reading double-quick trying to scoop in and process all the information that pours forth onto our characters. By the end I was audibly groaning quietly with the stain of claustrophobia and foreboding that final battles often bring.

One thing that roped me into The Shadow Cabinet was Johnson’s gorgeous attention to detail, the ability to make interesting the mundane. Hair dye never seemed so harrowing, yogurt never seemed so frantic. If you’ve ever been in shock after a life-altering event you might remember how lights are more glaring and everything is poignant yet distant. Johnson magically captures these sublime emotions and draws you into the room where the strain is absolutely palpable.

The_Shadow_Cabinet_Cover

What I think I like best about Rory, Johnson’s lead heroine and newly-made terminus, is that her life is just one damned thing after another with some occult thrown in to make it extra spicy. Yes, in a book called The Shadow Cabinet, the occult is a major theme. But Johnson doesn’t forget that her main character is a young woman who is experiencing love, loss, and adventure. And for all the excitement magic can bring, the stress of just getting through a day in the life of a teenager can be challenging enough! Rory is very real to me, with all her awkwardness and worries, as she musters strength from the dregs of her reserves.

In the end I just want to sit down with Rory and give her a cup of tea and a biscuit and put the poor kid to bed. I think that’s one of the issues I have with YA fiction: everyone is living a life that is improbably too interesting for their age group. But then again, that’s the fun of it, to imagine ruby chalices and silver knives, to drive off in speeding cars to avoid the villain, and to face down evil and survive.

The Shadow Cabinet is good adventure, laced with ghosts and magic, and trimmed with cloaks and daggers. Although the series is rated for ages 12 and over, the “and over” crowd will definitely find it a fun read as well.

The Shadow Cabinet
by Maureen Johnson
Penguin Young Readers
Hardcover: $17.99

Available at Amazon.

MJB_01-about-photoMaureen Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of more than ten young-adult novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Last Little Blue Envelope, Devilish, The Bermudez Triangle, Let It Snow, and Suite Scarlett. Her work is published in twenty-one languages. Maureen spends a great deal of time online, earning her some dubious and some not-as-dubious commendations, such as being named one of Time Magazine’s top 140 people to follow on Twitter. Outside of YA, she worked with Electronic Arts as the screenwriter for the handheld versions of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince video game. She holds an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and divides her time between her home in New York City and a mysterious dwelling outside of London. You can find her online at www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com or on Twitter as @maureenjohnson.

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