Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Pulp fiction goes graphic with Head Games

Head Games, by Craig McDonald/Illustrated by Kevin Singles, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596434141

Recommended for readers 18+

This graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel gives us a little Hollywood and a whole lot of pulp fiction. Hector Lassiter is a hard-drinking, hard living novelist in 1957; he thought he was done adventuring, but an offer he can’t refuse drops into his lap: the chance to recover the lost skull of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Villa’s people want the skull, and so does the infamous Yale secret society, Skull & Bones; and they’re all willing to do anything to get it. Lassiter, poet Bud Fiske, and aspiring actress Alicia Vicente take a road trip across the American Southwest as they search for the highest bidder and dodge bullets.

I’ve never read Craig McDonald’s Lassiter books, so this was new to me. If you like pulp, or noir fiction, you’ll dig right into this book. It borders on satire at times; it seems like a send up of the Hollywood studio system, the Feds, and pulp noir. Lassiter is a larger-than-life figure that appears to be popped straight from Hemingway’s mold – and then you discover that Lassiter and Hemingway were contemporaries in this story. Marlena Dietrich is here, and Bud Fiske is so thoroughly written into the story’s mythology that I had to Google him to see if he was a real-life figure (go find out for yourself, I’ll never tell). Two-color yellow and black artwork give this an old-school, faded feel; you know this is a story that’s seen things. Head Games is crazy, over-the-top, and compulsively readable. There’s violence, alcohol abuse, and sex aplenty, so it’s not a graphic novel for the children’s room.

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Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Secret Societies, Angels, and Demons: Toward a Secret Sky

Toward a Secret Sky, by Heather Maclean, (Apr. 2017, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-75474-9

Recommended for readers 12+

Seventeen year-old Maren Hamilton is an orphan; her father dead for years, her mother, the recent victim of a freak accident. Sent to Scotland to live with grandparents she’s never met, she discovers much more about her parents than she could ever have realized. They weren’t systems analysts, as she’d always thought; they were members of a secret organization that fought demons. Real demons. Now that she’s discovered her mother’s secret journal, she’s a target for the demons – and so is everyone around her. Luckily, she’s got Gavin, her literal guardian angel, to help her, but against all the rules, she finds herself falling in love with him and is pretty sure the feeling is mutual. When Maren’s friends and grandparents find their lives in danger, it’s up to Maren and Gavin to save them all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Toward a Secret Sky. There’s some DaVinci Code-level action, with secret societies, code-breaking, and angels fighting demons over the United Kingdom skies. It’s also got a solid set of characters and good world-building, and an ending that left me excited for another installment. YA romance fans will love the burgeoning forbidden love between Maren and her angel, the gorgeous, Scottish, Gavin (and I don’t even have to feel like a cougar because he’s over 200 years old). The book teases us, giving little hints about not only The Abbey; the secret organization Maren’s connected to, but about Maren’s own heightened abilities. It’s the perfect amount of information to keep us guessing and reading. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride that YA fans will love, and it’s a solid book to put in your more conservative readers’ hands, too.

Definitely add this to your Summer Reading TBR, and match it with proper romances like Duels & Deception and Jacob Gowans’ A Tale of Light and Shadow duology. There’s also a good 2016 article from Bustle with YA DaVinci Code readalikes¬†that fit nicely with this one.

 

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour Stop: The Blood Guard concludes at The Blazing Bridge

blazing-bridgeThe Blazing Bridge (The Blood Guard, Book 3), by Carter Roy, (Feb. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781477827178

Recommended for ages 9-13

In the third book in Carter Roy’s Blood Guard series, Ronan Truelove is doing his best to protect his best friend, Greta, from his evil father and the awful Bend Sinister thugs. Greta is a Pure – one of 36 pure souls on the planet – and the Bend Sinister have their own horrible plans in store for her, and for the rest of the Pure, if they get their hands on her. With the unkillable Blood Guard agent Jack Dawkins, their hacker friend, Sammy, and a taxi driver named Diz, the group races around New York to foil the Bend Sinister and keep the world safe, but Ronan’s father is closing in.

This is the first Blood Guard book I’ve read, and I’ll be picking up the first two books – The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet – to catch up on this series. Told as a first person narrative, Ronan is a likable kid who’s trying to reconcile the fact that his father is an evil creep who tried to kill him and his mother by burning the family house down, comprehend the fact that his mom (and, because of circumstances, he) is Blood Guard, and his best friend is one of a handful of Pure souls in the world. He’s funny and wry, determined, and brave. Jack Dawkins is James Bond meets Captain Jack Harkness (where are my Doctor Who and Torchwood bretheren?); a secret agent that can fight with any weapon and who can’t die. The story is fast-paced and action packed, with a fight on the New York City subway system that readers will love.

While you don’t need to have read the first two Blood Guard books to enjoy The Blazing Bridge, readers will really get the full background and enjoy the series more if they do. Booktalk and display this series with other adventure novels, including the Nick and Tesla series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith, The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, and Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

carter-roy-photo-bw_credit-jdz-photographyCarter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at www.carterroybooks.com or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

 

 

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Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

There’s a Section 13 loose in the Lost Property Office!

lost-propertyThe Lost Property Office, by James R. Hannibal, (Nov. 2016, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481467094

Recommended for ages 10-14

Thirteen year-old Jack Buckles is usually pretty great at finding things, but that doesn’t extend to his father, who’s disappeared in London. His mother goes out to search for him, leaving Jack in charge of his younger sister, Sadie. All they need to do is stay in the hotel room until their mom gets back, but Sadie manages to nudge Jack into going for breakfast – and then she swears she sees their dad, and takes off. Before Jack knows what’s going on, he’s learned that his father was a member of a secret society of detectives, and Jack is next in line for membership – maybe. He also learns that a villain calling himself the Clockmaker is holding his dad hostage in exchange for the Ember, an artifact linked to the Great Fire of London. Jack and Gwen, a young clerk at the Lost Property Office, dive into adventure that takes them through the history of London in order to save Jack’s father and her uncle, who worked with Jack’s dad.

The Lost Property Office stumbled a bit for me because I had trouble unraveling exactly what the Lost Property Office was. Was it the secret headquarters of the secret society? Was it a more amorphous concept that I wasn’t getting? The action kicks in quickly and the pace doesn’t let up, but a bit more exposition would have given me a more helpful grasp on the story; I found myself getting lost trying to relate all the subplots and elements. I wasn’t a big fan of Gwen, who I found more obnoxious than a foil/humorous frenemy.

This one’s an additional purchase for your puzzle and mystery/espionage fans. Pair this with Gitty Daneshvari’s League of Unexceptional Children, and James Ponti’s Florian Bates series. The Alex Rider series is always a good pick for adventure fans, too.

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

Skin crawling YA horror: The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics

women-in-the-wallsThe Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics (Sept. 2016, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373211944

Recommended for ages 13+

Lucy Acosta lives with her cousin, Margaret, her aunt, Penelope, and her father, Felix, in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods. Her mother died when she was three, leaving her to be raised by her loving aunt and distant father. When Lucy is 17, Penelope takes a walk into the woods and disappears, throwing the household into chaos. Margaret, Penelope’s daughter, is becoming unhinged, telling Lucy that she hears her dead mother talking to her through the walls, telling her to join her. Her father, obsessed with throwing dinner parties for the exclusive club he belongs to, ignores Lucy’s pleas for help; he won’t accept any sign of weakness. As Lucy tries to get to the bottom of the voices in the walls, she starts hearing them too; and when she begins digging into her family’s legacy, the things she find may doom her.

This was a gloriously creepy novel with just enough gore to move it from haunted house novel to horror. Think Wicker Man meets The Legacy (wow, did I just date myself with that reference), with wonderful madness tossed in, to make things interesting. Be warned, delicate sensibilities and stomachs may find some of the language and violence too much. This is not a book for your conservative readers.

Lucy and Margaret are fairy skin-deep characters with the potential for deeper storytelling, but it’s not really their story, as you’ll discover. The real development is going on around them. Think of Lucy as the narrator – which she is – and the host of the story. She’s the central character, but she’s in the dark almost as much as we readers are. The supporting characters are where the story lies, and when the elements all come together, this is a page-turning read. Horror and suspense fans will enjoy this one.

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Science Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

The Frankenstein tale gets a new jolt in Heartless

heartlessHeartless, by Leah Rhyne (May 2016, Polis Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781940610870

Recommended for ages 13+

After an argument with her boyfriend, college co-ed Jolene Hall storms out of his apartment and wakes up on a table in a creepy room, naked and covered in jagged wounds and stapled flesh. She tears herself loose and manages to get back to her dorm room, but she and her roommate, Lucy, notice pretty quickly that something is very, very wrong: Jolene is dead. Sort of. She has no heartbeat, and despite being able to walk and talk, she needs to be charged up in order to continue operating at a normal level. And she stinks. No offense. Jolene is determined to find out who did this to her, and what exactly she is now. The fact that college co-eds are disappearing right and left makes her pretty sure that what happened to her is part of a much bigger operation – but is her investigation going to put Lucy in danger?

This rejuvenated take on Frankenstein appealed to me, because I like the whole flipped fairy tale genre that’s emerged over the last few years. While Heartless certainly has its moments, overall, I wanted a little more. Jolene ends up being fairly skin deep (no pun intended) for a good portion of the book, and Eli, her boyfriend, is a complete jerk. There’s next to nothing likable about him, and Lucy is a little too happy-go-lucky, we’re-going-on-an-adventure about this whole situation. The villain(s) were a little too easy to spot, making the reveal somewhat anticlimactic. I would have loved more of Jolene’s introspective moments; those captured me and kept me moving through the story. The idea of a person embracing their fate and making his or her peace with it, while trying to save others from a similar fate, is a fascinating idea. Having to witness how other people process this fate, whether it’s a parent or a loved one, can be brutal and Ms. Rhyne captures some intense and deep feelings in those moments.

The book’s ending lets readers know there’s more of this tale to be told. I don’t do spoilers, so let’s just say that I’m interested in seeing where this goes, because I’ll be darned if I’ll let the story continue without me.

The book will work for readers who like a little drama in their horror; a little star-crossed romance in their chiller. iZombie and Warm Bodies fans will jump on this book, so make sure to booktalk it to those audiences if you’ve got them.

Leah Rhyne’s author website has more information about Heartless and her zombie series, Undead America.

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Asylum Series, Volume 3: Catacomb

catacombCatacomb, by Madeleine Roux (Sept. 2015, HarperCollins), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062364050

Recommended for ages 12+

Here we are, the third volume in Madeleine Roux’s Asylum series. For this one, we head to one of the most paranormal-friendly cities in America: New Orleans. Abby, Dan, and Jordan are taking one more road trip; this time, relocating Jordan to his Uncle Steve in Nawlins, where he’ll be living and attending Tulane University.

Everyone has their own agenda, though. Abby’s pretty sure she’s taking a year off from college to pursue her art and photography; she’s investigating a famous criminal who has a history in the South. Dan has leads on his parents – his birth parents, not Paul and Sandy, the adoptive parents who adore him. He wants to understand more about why he was abandoned to the foster care system and hopes to find answers; he’s got some clues he found in the paperwork from Sanctum.

The action starts quickly enough. While on the road, the teens discover they’re being watched, even photographed. And then, Dan starts receiving Facebook messages. From Micah. Who really isn’t anywhere near a reliable Wi-Fi reception, so this presents a huge problem. They find themselves stuck in another mystery, involving another secret society, but this time, Dan’s directly in their sights.

There’s a lot of revelation happening in this book, and the paranormal aspect is back. We’ve got a secret society that’s truly chilling, tied into voudou and grave robbing. The big bad is pretty obvious from the get-go, but he’s supposed to be; the big twist is waiting for you closer to the end. The biggest question¬†I had going in was how the heck do Dan’s parents keep letting him go away on these trips? He comes back beaten, stabbed, and traumatized each time; I’d never let my kid out of the house again.

I enjoyed Catacomb and think it brings all the storylines to a satisfying close. The Brookline connection felt a little forced, so I’m glad it was a piece that Ms. Roux touched on, and let be. The photos are mostly from Abby’s point of view this time, which adds a nice connection with the character and her point of view.

If you’re in the mood for a good, creepy trilogy, the Asylum trilogy is for you. I’m looking forward to reading more from Madeleine Roux!