“Bianca Torre Is Afraid of Everything” Review

a person's head is on the top of the cover looking towards the left. Over the back of their head are three birds in flight going in various directions. below them as the title and authors name and a skyline of a city in the background. THe cover is purple and pink in the center with black on the edges. Written by Justine Pucella Winans
Published by Clarion Books, April 2023
384 pages
Completed September 12, 2023

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Torre is an avid birder undergoing a gender identity crisis and grappling with an ever-growing list of fears. Some, like Fear #6: Initiating Conversation, keep them constrained, forcing them to watch birds from the telescope in their bedroom. And, occasionally, their neighbors. When their gaze wanders from the birds to one particular window across the street, Bianca witnesses a creepy plague-masked murderer take their neighbor’s life. Worse, the death is ruled a suicide, forcing Bianca to make a choice—succumb to their long list of fears (including #3: Murder and #55: Breaking into a Dead Guy’s Apartment) or investigate what happened.

Bianca enlists the help of their friend Anderson Coleman, but the two have more knowledge of anime than true crime. As Bianca and Anderson dig deeper into the murder with a little help from Bianca’s crush and fellow birding aficionado, Elaine Yee (#13: Beautiful People, #11: Parents Discovering They’re A Raging Lesbian), the trio uncovers a conspiracy much larger—and weirder—than imagined. But when the killer catches wind of the investigation, Bianca’s fear of public speaking doesn’t sound so bad compared to the threat of being silenced for good.

In this absurdist, bizarrely comical YA thriller that is at turns a deceptively deep exploration of anxiety and identity, perhaps the real murder investigation is the friends we make along the way.

This was a fun read. The murder mystery was interesting but the way it was handled was a bit over ridiculous. However it being ridiculous was intentional given the description. Serious things would happen with only a brief mention from the adults and then the plot moved on… so the teenagers could solve the mystery. Which was fine but I ended up enjoying reading about Bianca’s character development more as they both figured out their gender identity (realizing they are non-binary) and also dealing with all their anxieties and fears. That was the more interesting part of the book for me. The characters are all great though I wish Bianca had been able to talk to their parents more, but that was realistic. At least they have their friend’s parents to rely on for that.

“The Labyrinth’s Archivist” Review

The side of person's face takes up the top left corner of the cover across the top and down to the bottom. They are dark skinned with gold tones and various shapes and designs on their skin. Their eyes are mostly closed and the face is looking downwards. Rest of the cover is black with circle shapes visible. The title is arranged sideways on the right side of the cover and the authors name is at the bottom. Written by Day Al-Mohamed
Published by Falstaff Books, July 2019
132 pages
Completed September 10, 2023

Walking the Labyrinth and visiting hundreds of other worlds; seeing so many new and wonderful things – that is the provenance of the travelers and traders, the adventurers and heroes. Azalea has never left her home city, let alone the world. Her city, is at the nexus of many worlds with its very own “Hall of Gates” and her family are the Archivists. They are the mapmakers and the tellers of tales. They capture information on all of the byways, passages and secrets of the Labyrinth. Gifted with a perfect memory, Azalea can recall every story she ever heard from the walkers between worlds. She remembers every trick to opening stubborn gates, and the dangers and delights of hundreds of worlds. But Azalea will never be a part of her family’s legacy. She cannot make the fabled maps of the Archivists because she is blind.

The Archivist’s “Residence” is a waystation among worlds. It is safe, comfortable and with all food and amenities provided. In exchange, of course, for stories of their adventures and information about the Labyrinth, which will then be transcribed for posterity and added to the Great Archive. But now, someone has come to the Residence and is killing off Archivists using strange and unusual poisons from unique worlds whose histories are lost in the darkest, dustiest corners of the Great Archive. As Archivists die, one by one, Azalea is in a race to find out who the killer is and why they are killing the Archivists, before they decide she is too big a threat to leave alive.

I really enjoyed this story – the characters were great and I liked how the main character’s disability was used in the story – Azalea is a great character all around. The murder mystery was interesting and I enjoyed how it all played out. It may have been a bit predictable who was the actual killer but it was still fun reading it. I liked the fact that Azalea’s grandmother had the same gift if perfect memory and it wasn’t played as if it was a compensation for her being blind – it was a thing other characters may or may not have regardless of disability or not.