Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Bad Girl Gone: Revenge beyond the grave?

Bad Girl Gone, by Temple Mathews (Sept. 2017, Thomas Dunne for St. Martin’s Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250058812

Recommended for readers 13+

Echo is a 16 year-old girl who wakes up in a dark room; no idea where she is, no idea how she got there. She soon discovers that she’s in a place called Middle House; think of it as Limbo for teens who met brutal and unfair ends. Each of the teens has a special gift to help them bring their killers to justice; only then can they head toward the light. After Echo finally accepts that she is dead, and that she was murdered, she sets out to find out who killed her and why, while also helping her boyfriend, Andy, move on with his life.

This is an absolute teen revenge fantasy. Echo discovers that she wasn’t the nice girl she thought she was in life, and her boyfriend is so devastated after her loss that he contemplates suicide to be with her, and she gets to have a cute fellow ghost boy fall for her, too. All the teen residents of Middle House have paranormal gifts to help them get back at their murderers so they can move on to the afterlife, righting the ultimate wrong – but Echo gets a different choice. I didn’t love Echo or any of the characters in Bad Girl Gone, but it works for a light paranormal fiction reader. Bad Girl Gone is a quick read with an interesting plot twist, good for an additional purchase where you need more fiction.

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Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Gothic YA: Madeleine Roux’s House of Furies

House of Furies, by Madeleine Roux, (May 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062498618

Recommended for readers 13+

Teenage runaway Louisa Ditton tries to avoid life on the streets in 1800s England, telling fortunes for a the cost of a meal and a night’s lodging, when she’s offered employment as a maid at Coldthistle House, a boarding house in Northern England. She gratefully accepts the offer, but very quickly realizes that Coldthistle House is a strange place; from Mr. Morningside, the owner, down to Mary, a fellow maid who reminds Louisa of someone from her past, everyone is… different. When she discovers that Coldthistle House is more than just a boarding house – it’s a house of judgement, where the staff wield their own judgement on their guests, Louisa decides she needs to act: she’s convinced that Lee, a lodger traveling with his uncle, is an innocent. Is Lee as genuine and blameless as Louisa thinks he is? Can Louisa trust anyone at Coldthistle House? And who are the mysterious Residents?

I gobbled up Madeleine Roux’s Asylum books and was excited to see a new book from her. House of Furies doesn’t disappoint. Louisa is a conflicted Gothic heroine, stuck in a situation she’s terrified of but committed to the friends she’s made there and keeping her potential love interest, Lee, safe from harm. The cast of characters is rich, from the handsome, mysterious Mr. Morningside, to Gram, the crone-turned-head of Coldthistle who rescues Louisa and brings her to the boarding house. Similar to her Asylum series, the author includes photos and excerpts from a supernatural text that figures heavily into the plot. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, and while I was left satisfied – not a lot of loose ends dangling – I wanted to find out more about everyone at Coldthistle, and to see what Louisa planned on doing next.

Think Penny Dreadful for this audience: have the graphic novels out; display and booktalk with Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s series and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. There are an incredible number of resources on Pinterest that will help you create gothic displays and give a nice, creepy feel for any events or booktalks you plan for this one. Could be a great summer reading program!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Monstertown gets Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!

9781484713242Monstertown Mysteries (#2): Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies!, by Bruce Hale, (Mar. 2017, Disney/Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4847-1324-2

Recommended for readers 8-12

When we last saw Carlos and his friend Benny, they’d just saved their social studies teacher from a miserable life as a were-hyena. Just when they think it’s safe to relax, they’re… bored. Seriously, where do you go from were-animals, right? They shouldn’t have worried – the lunch ladies are acting weird. I mean, weird. They start feeding the boys junk food, and the girls… well, the boys catch a glimpse of what the girls are eating, and it looks like “greenish glop, scrambled eggs, fish sticks, and a sloppy joe thing with maybe-grasshoppers inside it”. Over the next few days, kids start disappearing – all boys – and the girls start getting very aggressive. They’re talking back, bullying kids, acting kind of like the boys do! They sneer at their male classmates and threaten to bite off their heads and suck out their insides! Carlos and Benny start investigating, and they’re pretty sure that the lunch ladies are giant preying mantises that have plans for both the girls and boys in their neighborhood, but who’s going to believe them?

The second Monstertown Mystery is just as much fun as the first one, with more laughs and a lot more gross humor. (Seriously, put down that snack or that sandwich while you read this. You’re welcome.) There’s some nice social commentary about sexism, even if it comes with the whole female-biting-a-male’s-head-off sort of thing; a particularly strong statement by Carlos’ friend Tina toward the book’s conclusion. Put this out with your Goosebumps books, your Lovecraft Middle School books, and your Haunted Mansion novel (when are we getting another volume of that?) and watch the kids swarm. Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! comes with a lenticular cover, just like The Curse of the Were-Hyena did, for transformation fun.

Come on, this is a no-brainer add to collections.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Paranormals address conservation in Earning My Spots

earning-spotsEarning My Spots, by Mark Eastburn, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707788

Recommended for ages 10+

Sam isn’t having the easiest time in his rural Vermont school. He’s bullied, he’s not terribly popular, and he’s tired of eating roadkill for dinner. Before you call the authorities: he’s also a were-hyena. Looked upon as the scavengers of the animal world (that Lion King movie did his kind no favors, either), the werewolves at school are jerks that constantly gang up on him. The day a new kid, Manny, shows up and sets off Sam’s “shape-shifter sense”, he defends Manny from the wolves and discovers that Manny and his  mom are were-jaguars, and that she’s brought them to Vermont in search of a great hunter. That night, Sam’s family is attacked by were-harpies who take his family, sending Sam and Manny on a quest that will take them to Louisiana and South America, where Sam will meet more hyenas and learn about his true heritage, and discover a plot to overthrow the no-tails – that’s you and me, folks – that are destroying their planet and encroaching on their lands.

Earning My Spots is an interesting and unexpected take on human impact on wildlife and the environment. It’s a paranormal middle grade story that carries a deeper message; using shifter were-animals, we get the a side of the story we don’t usually hear, because shifters can speak for animals and humans alike.

There were ups and downs for me while reading this one. I really liked learning about the hyena heritage – the whole time spent in Louisiana was the highlight of the story for me. Other facets of the narrative, like Sam’s seeming obsession with his and other animals’ bite force (pressure behind their bite) and detailed descriptions of marking his territory, dragged down the flow of the story for me.

If you’ve got paranormal fiction readers, this may draw them in and give them an awareness of environmental conservation. For me, it’s an additional purchase for when my current paranormal collection needs refreshing.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Non-Gifted in a Class War: Gilded Cage

gilded-cageGilded Cage (Dark Gifts, Book One), by Vic James, (Feb. 2017, Random House/Del Rey), $26, ISBN: 9780425284155

Recommended for ages 13+

In an alternate United Kingdom, aristocrats are born with special magical gifts… powers that give them control over the “commoners”, who must serve them as slaves for 10 years. The commoners are free to decide when they will serve, but they will serve. The running comment is, “serve young and never get over it, serve older and never survive it”. Abi, an 18 year-old with a promising future as a doctor, decides to take her family’s future into her hands and procures a deal that will allow them all to serve at Kyneston Estate, home of one of the most powerful families, the Jardines. But on the day they are picked up for transport, her younger brother, Luke, is sent to a Millmoor, horrible slavetown to labor under inhumane conditions. While Abi learns that the Jardines have some pretty big secrets of their own, Luke finds strength in numbers and bands with a group in the slavetown to resist. With an abolition referendum on the line, things are tense in the government and at the camp, and one of the Jardine heirs is keeping his loyalties close to the vest.

Gilded Cage is the first in the Dark Gifts series, and has some promising intrigue and world-building. The story is told in character POV chapters – about six or seven – and spends a great deal of time on laying out what I hope are future plot details. The Jardine family are fascinating – we get a nice background on this leading family, including some internal conflict and outside rivalries. Silyen Jardine is easily the most interesting character, playing his own game, but doesn’t get enough print time – yet. I hope to spend more time with him in future books. Abi’s younger brother, Luke, takes much of the center stage in this first book; he is on a hero’s journey that teaches him about himself and the world around him.

I had a few problems with the book, most notably, the very slow build-up. Being able to choose your 10 years of slavery being another – what’s to stop you from just not serving? Why serve when you’re young? Why not live a full life and go in when you’re on your deathbed? The women in the novel seem to be either hand-wringing damsels in distress or cruel harpies (with one or two exceptions), and the men are calling many of the shots here. Still, I’m interested to find out what Vic James has in store for us in her next installment.

Gilded Cage received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was designated Debut of the Month by Library Journal.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sideshow Stalkers and Secrets: Freeks

freeksFreeks, by Amanda Hocking, (Jan. 2017, St. Martin’s/Griffin), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250084774

Recommended for ages 14+

Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow isn’t your run of the mill carny act: the performers are all special. They have necromancers, firedancers who make their own fire, levitating trapeze artists, and supernaturally strong men. Nineteen year-old Mara travels with the sideshow, where her necromancer mother reads tarot cards, but she’s torn between the familiarity of the sideshow and the family atmosphere around her, and the desire to live in a real home. She worries for her mother, who’s showing fatigue from years of communicating with the dead. And when the sideshow pulls into Caudry, Louisiana, she meets Gabe, a townie who has secrets of his own, but embraces her despite knowing almost nothing about her. And then, the attacks start.

It starts when Blossom, a runaway who travels with the sideshow, disappears. Next, their strong man is mauled by a beast that no one seems to see. Is the town – not terribly friendly toward the “freeks” – up to no good, or is there something hunting the supernatural performers? Desperate to save her sideshow family and herself, Mara starts her own investigation and opens herself to the power that her mother has tried to keep at bay for most of her life.

Freeks is a slow build, with Hocking giving us little shakes and scares to start, but when things take off, hang onto something. There’s solid worldbuilding and great character development. The YA romance aspect of it takes over every now and then, but it’s a YA romance set in a carny/suspense universe. Paranormal romance fans will love this one for sure. Pair with Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers for more paranormal carnival storytelling (and its sequel, The Pack, to be published this year!).