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Belzhar

Belzhar

posted by:
November 20, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover of Belzhar by Meg MolitzerMeg Wolitzer received the attention of most of the top ten books lists of 2013 with her stand-out novel, The Interestings, which tells the story of a group of adults who befriended each other at an arts camp decades before. Now she is getting into the Young Adult literature game with her new novel Belzhar.

 

Jam Gallahue thought her life was perfect: She was very much in love with her handsome British exchange student, Reeve Maxfield. When Reeve dies suddenly, Jam is thrown into an emotional tailspin and is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, yet highly intelligent teens.” At The Wooden Barn, Jam is surprised to be enrolled into a class called Special Topics in English. She’s even more surprised when there are only five students in the class.

 

The teacher, Mrs. Quennell, has hand-selected each of these five students to participate in the class because they’ve experienced a deep trauma: There’s Casey, bound to a wheelchair; Griffin, who is carrying a horrible secret; Mark, suffering from his parents’ divorce; Sierra, whose brother has gone missing; and, of course, Jam. The class is to study the work of Sylvia Plath for the entire semester. She gives each student a red leather journal and requires them to write in it twice a week. Jam is especially hesitant to write her feelings, but when she does, strange things start happening. Reeve appears and things are better than ever between them, but Jam knows their time is limited. Is she really able to connect with him again on the other side?

 

As each of the characters in Special Topics reclaim the part of the lives they are missing through the mysterious red journals, they meet in secret to try to get answers about traveling to the place they call Belzhar: What happens when the journal runs out of pages, and what happens if they never want to leave?

 

The obvious choice to pair with this novel is Silvia Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. The influence of Plath’s work is on every page, even beyond the group discussions of her work in the Special Topics class. Fans of Plath will be excited that a new generation of readers, through this novel, can discover her genius for the first time. Perfect for teens experiencing a tough break up or adults who remember those adolescent pangs, Belzhar speaks to the part of our hearts that have trouble letting go.

Jessica

 
 

Three Powerful Sisters

Three Powerful Sisters

posted by:
October 31, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover of Sisters' Fate by Jessica SpotswoodThe third book in Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate, wraps up the Cahill sisters’ story. Cate, Maura and Tess are three very powerful witches living in an alternate America in which anyone suspected of being a witch is locked away in an asylum, or worse, sentenced to death. The Brotherhood who control the country has continued life in the Puritan tradition, oppressing women and blaming witches for the country’s problems.

 

In Born Wicked and Star Cursed, Cate tried to protect her sisters from the Brotherhood and other witches who are jealous of their powers, but now because of the betrayal of one sister and the burgeoning power of another, Cate is conflicted about how to proceed. Cate eventually begins to work with a group of people resisting the Brotherhood, attending secret meetings and planning ways to change life in the country. When a fever begins to ravage New London and the witches are blamed, change becomes essential to preventing the deaths of witches and humans alike, bringing Cate and the other witches to make extreme choices.

 

At turns a nail-biting, action-packed story and family story about sisters who just happen to be witches, Sisters’ Fate is a satisfying conclusion to Spotswood’s series. Spotswood does a wonderful job creating flawed, interesting characters who fight for what they know is right until the very end.

Laura

 
 

Ignite an Adventure

Ignite an Adventure

posted by:
October 30, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover of Firebug by Lish McBrideLish McBride, author of the teen series Necromancer, has come out with a new young adult novel titled Firebug. This preternatural pleasure is equal parts Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and Firestarter by Stephen King. Start with a young girl who has the ability to create fire with her mind, and mix in a love triangle and a sinister paranormal mob. The result is a fast-paced romp that’s hard to put down.

 

After Ava’s mother is killed by the Coterie, an organization that governs paranormal citizens, Ava is forcibly enlisted as a hitwoman by the same organization. Her talents and affiliations have limited her circle of friends to her guardian, Cade, and her two partners, Ezra and Lock. When the leader of the Coterie, a vampire named Venus, threatens her last remaining family, Ava balks and starts a fight that just may be too big to win.

 

Morris Award-nominated McBride created a page-turner in this first installment of her new series. The combination of action, drama and witty banter is sure to leave you wanting more.

Randalee

 
 

Fiendishly Good Tales

Fiendishly Good Tales

posted by:
October 24, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover art for Monstrous AffectionsWould you know a monster if you saw one? Are you sure? Sometimes these creatures are easy to recognize, such as a vampire, a harpy or even a kraken. Other times, they may look like high school students who play in a garage band that just so happen to also be demonic. Don’t forget the ones who appear to be ordinary people. To be on the safe side, you should read Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.
 

A collection of 15 short stories, each author explores what it is to be monstrous. Whether it is a story about an actual supernatural entity, a human harboring an evil within or the horrors that lurk in the deep recesses of our own minds, no two stories address the aspect of being a monster in the same way. Some of the stories seem to be a retelling of a fairy tale or fable, while others are a refreshing new take on a folkloric creature. Link and Grant, known for their award-winning anthology Steampunk!, did an excellent job at bringing these various authors together and compiled their works into one cohesive book of tales that will leave the reader haunted, yet entertained. While focused on teenaged protagonists, this book is sure to appeal to adults who enjoy teen fiction or a wickedly good monster story.
 

So check under your bed, in the closet and deep within the shadows. You never know what kind of scary creatures may be lurking there. Just remember, you have been warned. Often, the monsters within are the most terrifying of all.

Christina

 
 

Go at It Laughing

Go at It Laughing

posted by:
October 23, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover art for Play Me BackwardsAdam Selzer brings life (and undeath) to the suburban Midwest with his young adult books set in Cornersville Trace, a fictitious neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa, where the fantastic is not quite impossible. Selzer’s latest novel Play Me Backwards is a story of reinvention through satanic machination, only in the Trace, Satan isn’t a horned demon; he’s a teenage burnout.
 

Before his girlfriend moved to England, Leon enjoyed his life as a quasi-intellectual, roguish guy wrapped in adolescent love. Four bleak years later, Leon is realizing he has come unraveled. His grades are so bad that he might not graduate, his girlfriend Paige is only with him because she hates being alone and his job at the Ice Cave sucks because the place is a den of teenage lechery and nobody should ever buy ice cream there. At least he gets to work with his lifelong best friend and fellow underachiever Stan, who it turns out might actually be Satan. His folks just dropped the first “A” so he could go to private school.
 

Stan gives Leon some otherworldly advice as a pick-me-up: Listen to Moby-Dick on audiobook, seek out an elusive flavor of frozen slushee called “White Grape” and do whatever else the Dark Lord may require. Leon and Paige spend their free time driving from convenience store to gas station buying frozen drinks and changing CDs, which turns out to be pretty fun. Stan’s infernal intervention gives Leon hope that he could shape up and make something of himself, but doing so means leaving the teenage debauchery, Satan-worshipping and his former self behind.

 

Shamelessly allegorical and unabashedly funny, Play Me Backwards is great for readers who enjoy young adult fiction or alternative culture. Leon also appears in Selzer’s 2007 debut novel How to Get Suspended and Influence People.

Tom

categories:

 
 

Walk Between Two Worlds

Cover art for Afterworlds"Distinctive" is the word I would use to describe Scott Westerfeld’s previous books, and his latest young adult novel Afterworlds is no different. With alternating chapters and the combination of two genres, Afterworlds is a unique work of fiction.

 

As the book opens, Darcy has graduated high school and deferred college to pursue a writing career in New York. She has sold her debut novel and signs a book deal for $300,000. As an 18-year-old girl in New York City, Darcy is exploring what it means to be an independent adult, discovering her own sexuality and learning the art of book publishing.

 

In the alternate chapters, we see how Darcy’s life affects her writing. Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, is caught in a terrorist attack. The trauma forces her into the Afterworld – the place where people go when they die. While there, she meets a captivating young man who helps her evade the terrorists and return from the Afterworld unharmed. It’s after this traumatizing event that Lizzie finds she is able to walk in two worlds and is blessed and cursed with a macabre gift that she can’t just give back.  

 

Half of this book is realistic fiction and coming of age story about an emerging writer. The other half is a paranormal romance. At times Afterworlds is similar to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; other times it can be likened to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is a peculiar combination that mixes surprisingly well.
 

Randalee

 
 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

ConversionKatherine Howe’s first teen novel Conversion follows in the footsteps of her adult novels, as it deals with the paranormal, with witches and witchcraft. Conversion switches perspectives—from modern day St. Joan’s Academy, an elite, all-girls private school, to 17th century Salem Village—as Howe tells the story of two girls, Colleen Rowley and Ann Putnam Jr.,  who are linked despite growing up centuries apart.

 

The majority of the story is Colleen’s, a high school senior whose greatest desire in life is to be class valedictorian and attend Harvard. When Colleen returns to St. Joan’s for the last semester of her senior year, things take a drastic turn, as her classmates begin falling sick. Initially, the media blames a vaccine for the odd tics that the girls develop, but as more and more St. Joan’s girls succumb to the mystery illness, Colleen and others begin to question the diagnosis. Meanwhile, Howe weaves in chapters of Ann Putnam Jr.’s confession of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, drawing parallels between the two stories.

 

Longtime fans of Katherine Howe will enjoy this new teen title, while those new to Howe’s books, looking for a book with a paranormal twist, will enjoy Conversion. Loosely based on a real story of teenage girls falling sick at a New York high school and Ann Putnam Jr.’s real accounts of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, Conversion is based in reality. Howe adds her signature paranormal elements that make the reader question everything.

Laura

 
 

Once Upon a Time in the Apocalypse

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini TaylorAngels, demons, forbidden love, and now, war—Laini Taylor’s captivating Daughter of Smoke and Bone series tells the story of Karou and Akiva, who fell in love despite the dangers that came along with their feelings. Dreams of Gods & Monsters, the final book in the series, picks up where Days of Blood & Starlight left off. The vivid world that Taylor has created begins to collide with our own, when angels begin to appear on earth. Panic spreads both on Earth and on Eretz where Karou, the chimaera, and the rebel angels must decide their course of action in order to save their world and our own.

 

Underlying the battle is the romantic tension between Karou and Akiva, whose forbidden love has caused them both immense physical and emotional pain. After Akiva’s betrayal of Karou in the first novel, their relationship has not been the same. Now, as they must work together to reach their shared goal, their love is put to the test once again. Karou’s human friends, Zuzana and Mik, return to Karou’s side to help her keep the chimaera army going. New characters with their own secrets pop up as well, adding to the intrigue Taylor has already created in the series.

                                                         

Longtime fans of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series will enjoy returning to the brilliant world that Laini Taylor has created for her characters. Readers looking for a new series set in a unique world filled with fantastical creatures will be sure to want to start with book one and work their way to this thrilling conclusion.

Laura

 
 

No Asylum Here

No Asylum Here

posted by:
February 19, 2014 - 7:00am

AsylumGo to a New Hampshire college for a summer prep program, only to find out your dorm was an old psychiatric hospital. Needless to say, you won’t be having a peaceful summer. In Madeleine Roux’s new book, Asylum, this is teenager Dan Crawford’s experience when he arrives for a program for gifted students. An outsider at his school, he sees this trip as a chance to be with like-minded students and finally have some friends. But his stay starts out as anything but ordinary when he finds a disturbing photograph in his dorm room upon check-in. Soon, he and two friends discover old patient records, medical instruments and more ominous photographs in the old warden’s office and in a series of hidden rooms, all of which hint at horrific treatment of patients and human experiments gone awry. To make matters worse, Dan begins having nightmares about the old place, receives strange emails and discovers some chilling connections between the history of the asylum and his and his friends’ present-day lives.

 

Staying away from anything too mind-bending or fantastical, Roux creates a good old-fashioned scarefest of a story, one where you’re holding your breath as the characters open up the next door or descend yet another flight of stairs. The suspenseful nature of the book and the well-developed characters will appeal to both readers of realistic fiction and horror/suspense. Similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Roux’s tale adds to the unsettling ambiance of the story by incorporating photographs from real asylums. Roux has left plenty of loose ends and unanswered questions for another book, which is due out later this year.

Melanie

categories:

 
 

Gothic, Punk Wonderland

Unhinged by A.G. HowardA.G. Howard creates a new twist on an old tale in her Splinte  red trilogy. Unhinged is the newly released second installment of this gothic and modern rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Howard plays on the fact that Carroll based his novel off of a girl he knew, Alice Liddell. In Howard’s debut young adult novel Splintered, the reader is introduced to Alyssa Gardner who is a descendant of Alice Liddell.

 

When Alyssa was young she began to hear insects and plants talking to her, causing her to fear that she would go crazy like her mother and the other women in her family. The only way she can break the curse and free her mother from the binds of insanity is to jump down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Alice Liddell. Her adventures in Wonderland leave a lasting impression, and Alyssa becomes forever tied to the ethereal realm.

 

Unhinged picks up one year after Alyssa’s return to the mortal world, where she is doing her best to live a normal life. Because she is so consumed with preparations for prom, graduation, college and planning her future with her boyfriend Jeb, she tries to ignore the whisperings of trouble in Wonderland. When her wonderland mentor Morpheus comes to explain the dire situation, Alyssa is forced to acknowledge that there is a problem. Despite initially feeling like it’s not her problem, she quickly changes her tune when Wonderland begins to spill over into the mortal world.

 

Howard manages to weave together a rich combination of dark and gothic with colorful and creepy to create a unique world Tim Burton fans are sure to appreciate. This trilogy is one of those series that has the ability to cross over from young adult fiction to adult, so don’t hesitate to pick it up for a paranormal adventure.

Randalee