Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Amazing Middle Grade!

In the interest of holiday season posting: need gifts for the kid who has every video game, or a bookworm who has read everything, and needs something new? Allow me to be your guide through a few fantastic middle grade reads I’ve just finished.

Malcolm and Me, by Robin Farmer, (Nov. 2020, SparkPress), $16.95, ISBN: 9781684630837

Ages 10-14

Where do I even start with Malcolm and Me? This book blew my mind in the best way possible. It’s 1973, and 13-year-old Roberta has a lot of feelings. She’s reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and discussing Black history and Black Power with her father at home, and clashing with a racist nun at her Philadelphia Catholic school. When she’s sent home after a blowup with Sister Elizabeth, she deep dives into the Autobiography, examining her own feelings and frustrations through Malcolm X’s lenses. Already a writer, she begins journaling her verse and diary entries, guided by Malcolm, and it gives her the strength she needs as her home life and school life begin unraveling.

There is such power in this book and in the characters. Roberta emerges as an incredible heroine; a self-aware 13-year-old coming of age in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, during Watergate, she questions her own faith in God and in organized religion, in family, and in color. Inspired by an event in the author’s life, Malcolm and Me is essential reading that hits that often hard-to-reach middle school/high school age group. Please put this on school (and adult) reading lists, and talk about this book with your tweens and your teens. Talk this up to your Angie Thomas fans, Nic Stone fans, and – naturally! – Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter. Author Robin Farmer’s author website has more information on the author’s articles, her books, and a link to her blog.

 

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, (Sept. 2020, Walker Books US), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214918

Ages 9-13

Orphan Seren Rhys thinks she’s being rescued from the orphanage when her mysterious godfather, Captain Jones, sends for her. His country mansion, Plas-y Fran, is just going to be wonderful, Seren knows it! She’ll be the apple of Captain Jones and his wife, Lady Mair’s eyes, have wonderful parties, and play with the couple’s young son, Tomos. She realizes things are very different when she’s picked up at the train station and arrives, late at night, at Plas-y Fran, which looks rundown and all but abandoned; Mrs. Villiers, the cold housekeeper, tells her that the family is in London for the foreseeable future. Seren turns to the mysterious package entrusted to her at the train station and discovers a mechanical crow. Upon assembly, the crow can talk, fly, and complain. A lot. But when Seren learns that Tomos has been taken by fairies, she decides to rescue him and restore life to Plas-y Fran: and the crow will help her do it.

A fun fantasy with a bit of steampunk, which I always enjoy, this is a quick read with adventure and a warm family story at its heart. Seren is the hopeful orphan, and the cantankerous Crow is a great foil, making this a fine buddy comedy. Fairie lore amps up the action and the tension, and adds some dark fantasy and magic to the plot. A good choice for readers who loved the Nevermoor/Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend.

 

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212273

Ages 10-14

Hayley Chewins is back! Her 2018 novel, The Turnaway Girls, was one of the best books I’d read that year, so I was excited to read her newest, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. The Ballastian Sisters – Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine – have lived in the house by themselves after their parents left seven years before, only a note telling them to “sleep darkly” left behind. The house takes care of their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter – but they cannot leave the house, lest the tall silver grass take them. Winnow grows tired of waiting and ventures outside, leaving 12-year-old Mayhap to take care of their youngest sister, Pavonine, and figure out how to heal 14-year-old Winnow. As Mayhap discovers more about the house and the history of the magic within it, the mystery deepens. Readers will love this gorgeous, dark fantasy written with prose that’s almost lyrical, magical. Hayley Chewins writes like Neil Gaiman, where the words just caress you, wrap themselves around you, and when you’re fully under their spell, tell you stories that will leave you wondering. In a world where dogs crawl into your mind to help you sleep and the grass tempts you to come outside so it can take you away, The Sisters of Straygarden Place is truly magical reading.

The Sisters of Straygarden Place is is one of Kirkus’s Best MG Fantasy & SF Books of 2020.

 

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA/Adult Crossover: RING SHOUT is a must-read!

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark, (Oct. 2020, Tor Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250767028

Ages 16+

Nebula Award Winner P. Djèlí Clark (The Black God’s Drums) creates an incredible alternate America, where the Ku Klux Klan are actual monsters, in his latest book, Ring Shout. It’s 1922, DW Griffith is a sorcerer whipping legions of demons into a frenzy with his film The Birth of a Nation, and a trio of young Black women are all that stands in their way. Maryse Boudreaux is a woman with a gift for seeing the real faces of the Ku Kluxes – the demons who feed on the Klans, who are the racist humans whose black hate leaves them open to possession. Teaming up with a gloriously profane sharpshooter named Sadie and a WWI vet, Cordelia, who goes by the nickname Chef, the three have a gift for taking down the Kluxes, until Butcher Clyde, a Klan leader, makes it personal with Maryse. The Ku Kluxes have plans for Maryse, but so do the mysterious Aunties that appear to her. Ring Shout is incredible dark fantasy, loaded with Gullah tradition and African-American folklore and main characters that readers will immediately take to. The storytelling is rich and haunting, filled with humor, action, and body horror. The characters are so vivid, so strong, they could be sitting next to you, whispering their tale. If you loved Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and The Deathless Divide, make sure to get Ring Shout on your reading list, STAT.

Want more Black Girl Magic suggestions? Epic Reads has a good list; consider navigating over to Black Girls With Magic & Books Club.

Ring Shout has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Be careful what you wish for… All Sales Final

All Sales Final, by Sarah S. Reida, (Apr. 2020, Warrior Press), $10.99, ISBN: 978-1-7348170-1-0

Ages 9-13

It’s 1956 in Longford, Illinois, and 11-year-old Anna is tired of being ordinary. Her brother is good at sports and her sister is good at school, but Anna doesn’t think she’s got anything that makes her stand out. That changes when she discovers a strange little shop in town one day. Simply called “Shop”, she wanders in and meets owners Ruth and Vernon, an older couple who call themselves “keepers” and always seem to have whatever a customer most needs at the moment. Anna glimpses a mirror in the shop that seems to reflect what each customer truly wants, and Ruth is delighted that Anna seems to share their gift for “reading”. Ruth offers Anna a job as a shopgirl, and takes the girl under her wing, and Anna finally feels special. But she becomes quickly obsessed with the store, affecting her friendship with her best friend, Carrie; she also notices some changes affecting the town: a beloved teacher turns her back on her students; a store burns down; Anna notices her own sister’s schoolwork suffering. As Ruth pushes Anna to make a difficult life decision, Anna realizes that Ruth isn’t the kindly old storekeeper and mentor she thought she was, and she needs to find a magical solution to save her town and herself.

I loved All Sales Final. Think of it as a Needful Things for middle grade, and you have a good idea of what you’re about to read. Ruth is a warm, cuddly character with a touch of the sinister; Anna is relatable as an ordinary kid who longs to be more: it’s a powerful combination when the two elements come together. Secondary characters are all well-written, having their own backstories and minor subplots, giving nice depth to the story. The “be careful what you wish for” message is strong and speaks to readers on a level they’ll appreciate, and delivering it in a fantastic context makes it a page-turning read. The post-World War II setting strips a lot of technology away, making characters work for a solution and making readers think about how they would cope in a fantasy world that is grounded in the reality of the day: you have magic mirrors, but no ability to text or Google. You have to work for solutions!

Love the character development, love the backstory, love the book. It’s a must for fantasy readers, especially dark fantasy fans who loved books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or Holly Black’s Doll Bones. If you haven’t read Sarah Reida’s 2016 book, Monsterville, add that to your pile, too. It’s sorely underrated, and has more great interplay between characters set in a spooky setting.

All Sales Final has a starred review from Kirkus, and is available from libraries and on Kindle for only $2.99!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Quick Takes: The White Tower and Lions and Liars

Two more from the great TBR read-down! I’ve got some realistic fiction and some dark(ish) fantasy for you, right here!

The White Tower, by Cathryn Constable, (Sept. 2017, Chicken House/Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-15746-8

Ages 8-12

Livy is a 12-year-old English girl who is still reeling from the recent death of her best friend is uprooted when her father accepts a prestigious job as the librarian at Temple College: a position that comes with a spot in the school for Livy and a new home for the family. Livy discovers the stone Sentinels – angels – on the roof of the school are tied into the school’s history, and that the school’s founder and her possible ancestor, Peter Burgess, was consumed with studies on gravity and flight. As Livy tries to fit in at school, she also finds herself drawn to the Sentinels and their secrets; a mystery between the school’s previous librarian, the current headmistress, and Peter Burgess moves the story forward.

Character development takes a back seat to the many subplots, leading to an at-times confusing story that has strong fantastic elements that I would have liked to explore more. Livy is a developing character who would have benefitted more from a stronger subplot on grief and loss, and the main plot – the Burgess mystery – being more defined, less stretched out between characters. If you have strong fantasy readers who liked Constable’s previous book, The Wolf Princess, this may work for them.

 

Lions & Liars, by Kate Beasley/Illustrated by Dan Santat, (June 2018, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30263-4

Ages 8-12

This case of mistaken identity at a summer camp for unruly kids is at times, hilarious; at times, touching. Fifth grader Frederick Frederickson is not the big kid on campus. He’s not even really the small kid on campus. According to his friend Raj’s “food-chain theory about life”, there are lions, like Devin; the big kid on campus. There are gazelles, the kids who are bullied by the lions. There are meerkats, who watch the world go by, and then, there are fleas, who live on the butts of the meerkats. According to Raj, Frederick is a flea. This doesn’t sit well with Frederick; things only get worse when his long-awaited family vacation is canceled because of a Category 5 hurricane threat. After his friends pull a mean prank on Frederick at a birthday party, he’s had enough, and pushes back. The only problem is, pushing back ends up with him stuck on a boat that leaves him on the shores of Camp Omagoshee, a summer camp for troubled kids. It gets worse when he’s mistaken for camper Dashiell Blackwood, whose name tag is the only one left. Assuming Dash’s identity, he finds himself in the big leagues for a change: Dash is legendary for being bad, but Frederick? He tries to convince his cabin mates, Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and Ant Bite, that he is every bit as tough as they come, but even Frederick isn’t sure if he’s going to be able to back up Dash’s fame. When the camp is cleared out when the hurricane starts heading in their direction, Frederick and his new group learn that they have to work together to stay safe, and maybe they’ll even become friends.

At its heart, Lions & Liars is about cliques and labels. The mistaken identity plot makes for some laugh-out loud moments, especially as Frederick tries to live up to Dashiell Blackwood’s infamous camp legend, but there’s also the stress of living a lie and the risk of being discovered. What happens when real friendships are made on the foundation of lies? The characters are nicely developed, and go beyond their “bad kid” label to show readers what constitutes a “troublesome child” in others’ eyes. Dan Santat’s black and white illustrations will keep readers turning pages. Kate Beasley has a great post about the labels kids get stuck with on the book on Nerdy Book Club.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Fairy Tale creepiness: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert, (Jan. 2018, Flatiron Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147905

Recommended for readers 13+

In this wonderfully dark fantasy, 17-year-old Alice and her mother have lived on the run from the bad luck that always seems to follow them. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, author of Tales from the Hinterland, a book of dark fairy tales that achieved cult status, has passed away, allowing Alice’s mother, Ella, to believe they’re finally free. Not likely. Ella is kidnapped and Alice turns to her friend, Finch, a Proserpine fan, to help her find her way into the very real Hinterland, to save her. But the Hinterland has plans for Alice, too; she’s yearned to know her grandmother for her whole life, but what she may find out will change her life and the lives of everyone around her forever.

This is an unputdownable book from the get-go. Alice lives in the shadow of her mythic grandmother, who she’s never had a relationship with; her mother, Ella, is her only attachment in life, as they run from the misfortune that dogs them. Ella will never talk about her mother, and information about Althea is scarce; her book is even more difficult to track down. Alice is a conflicted protagonist, with anger issues and a general disdain for the wealthy, vapid people around her at war with the desire for a stable family life and a relationship with her famous grandmother. As Alice starts unraveling secrets kept by her mother, shadowy figures start making their way into her world: our world. Melissa Albert brings two worlds together and has readers keeping a white-knuckled grip on her book as we try to hold them apart. Rich with world building and main character development, The Hazel Wood left me thoroughly unsettled and wishing that we’d get some more Stories wandering out of the Hinterland. Fantastic for anyone bulking up their summer reading collections, and perfect for anyone looking for a good, creeptastic read.

The Hazel Wood has SEVEN starred reviews: Kirkus; School Library Journal; Shelf Awareness; Publisher’s Weekly; Booklist; VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Roundup: Bears, Babies, Bats, and more!

In my continuing struggle to get on top of my review list, I present another roundup; this time, with picture books!

Priscilla Pack Rat: Making Room for Friendship, by Claudine Crangle,
(March 2017, Magination Press), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1433823350
Recommended for readers 4-8

Priscilla is a very sweet rat who loves to collect things, but when she’s invited to friends’ birthday parties, she finds that she has a hard time even parting with the gifts she chooses for her friends! When Priscilla’s house finally crashes around her, she realizes that her friends are worth much more than being surrounded by stuff. Magination Press is an imprint of the American Psychological Association; this is a book designed to discuss clutter and hoarding tendencies in kids, and it does so in a mild, easy manner. This can easily be a kids’ story on sharing and giving, no red flags necessary. Adorable felted characters and found objects create a visually interesting story that you can also turn into a little game of I Spy with little ones: there are plenty of things to find! A note to parents and caregivers advises parents on what to do if children have trouble parting with possessions, the differences between hoarding and collecting, and ways to help kids organize their belongings. A nice add to developing empathy collections and for caregivers and educators who need books to address behaviors.

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
(Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517
Recommended for readers 4+

Letters to a Prisoner is getting rave reviews, with good reason. The wordless picture book, inspired by the letter-writing campaigns of human rights organization Amnesty International, is so impactful, so relevant, and so necessary. A man is arrested during a peaceful protest, injured by a soldier who also pops the man’s daughter’s balloon. The man is thrown in a solitary jail cell, where he befriends a mouse and a bird. When letters arrive, the guard takes joy in burning them in front of the man, but the joke’s on the guard: the smoke from the burning letters serves as a worldwide beacon. Groups of people all over send the man letters; they arrive, en masse, and turn into wings with which the prisoner soars above the helpless, infuriated guard. The watercolor over black ink sketches adds an ethereal feel to this beautiful story of hope and social justice. The book’s wordlessness allows for every reader to come together, transcending language, to take part in this inspirational story. An author’s note tells readers about Amnesty International’s inspiration. Display and booktalk with Luis Amavisca’s No Water, No Bread, and talk with little ones and their parents as you display the book during social justice and empathy themed storytimes. Letters to a Prisoner has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Quill and Quire.

 

I Am Bat, by Morag Hood,
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492660323
Recommended for readers 3-7

One of my favorite picture books this year. Bat is adorable. And he loves cherries. DO NOT TAKE HIS CHERRIES. He is quite serious about this, so you can imagine his distress when his cherries start disappearing! The reader’s clued in, naturally – we see paws and ants sneaking cherries out of the book’s margins while Bat stares at us, demanding to know what’s going on. The animals leave him a pear, which Bat embraces – and the story is ready to begin again. There’s bold, black fonts to make for expressive storytime reading, and Bat and Friends are just too much fun to read and play along with. Absolutely delightful storytime reading; just make sure you read this one before you get it in front of your group: you will squeal with glee the first couple of times you read it. Print out bat masks for the kids to color in as part of your storytime craft.

Shelter, by Céline Claire,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771389273
Recommended for readers 3-7

A storm’s approaching, and two strangers – brothers – arrive in the forest. They stop at several animal family homes, offering a trade for shelter; they have tea, can anyone offer them some food? A place to ride out the storm? We see each family, safe and with full larders, turn them away. A young fox feels terrible about this, and runs out to give the brothers a lamp, which they use to find shelter. But as fate would have it, the storm is even more trouble than the families expected, and soon, they’re asking the brothers for shelter: which is cheerfully given. This kind, moving story about kindness and succor is perfect for illustrating the power of empathy. Qin Leng’s watercolor and ink illustrations are soft and gentle, a perfect match for Céline Claire’s quiet narration. Shelter offers the perfect opportunity to talk about putting kind thoughts into practice; whether it’s sharing with others or offering friendship to someone who needs it.

The Little Red Wolf, by Amelie Flechais,
(Oct. 2017, Lion Forge),$19.99, ISBN: 9781941302453
Recommended for readers 6-10

A slightly macabre twist on the traditional Little Red Hiding Hood tale, The Little Red Wolf is a story about a little wolf who, on the way to visit an ailing grandma, encounters an awful human girl. The message here is consistent with the original fable: there’s a strong stranger danger warning, but also a reminder that every side has a story, every villain has an origin. The art is beautiful and dark; an additional add for collections where readers may be ready for darker fantasy.

Middle Bear, by Susanna Isern/Illustrated by Manon Gauthier,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388429
Recommended for readers 3-7

The middle child gets lots of love in this adorable picture book. Middle Bear is the second of three brothers; not small, but not big; not strong, but not weak; not a lot, not a little… “he was the middle one”. He has a hard time feeling special until the day his parents both fall ill and the three cubs have to get willow tree bark from the mountain top, to help them get well. When big brother is too big, and little brother is too little, it’s up to Middle Brother to save the day: he is, to quote that other story starring three bears, “just right”. The emphasis on bear’s “middleness” will drive home the point that he persevered and succeeded as is, through determination. Manon Gauthier cut paper collage, pencil, and mixed media illustrations add texture and a childlike sense of place in the story. There’s a good lesson about empathy to be learned here, too; the bear’s brothers and parents all support him and let him know that what he may see as being a challenge – being the middle one – is what makes him the perfect bear for the job. Perfect storytelling for middle children who may be feeling the frustration of being too big for some things, not big enough for others.

No Room for Baby!, by Émile Jadoul,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771388412
Recommended for readers 3-7

Leon’s baby brother, Marcel, has arrived! Leon’s excited, but a little concerned about where the baby’s going to go when he’s not in his crib. He certainly can’t go in Leon’s room. And there’s no room on Mama’s lap for him; there’s only room for Leon. And Daddy’s shoulders are just too high. After Leon thinks on the situation, he discovers the best possible place for his baby brother: in his arms. This is the such a sweet story about becoming an older sibling; it addresses the fears an older sibling may have when a new baby joins the family, and it allows the sibling to work through his fears and come to his own happy decision. At no point do Leon’s parents correct him or force the baby on him; they stand back and let him reason things out for himself. It’s an empowering story with a sweet sense of humor. The simple black pencil, crayon and oils illustration feels childlike and will easily appeal to readers. I’m looking forward to adding this one to my new baby bibliography.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade

Lint Boy – a graphic tale

Lint Boy, by Aileen Leitjen, (June 2017, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544528604

Recommended for readers 8-12

A little lint boy is born in the back of a dryer. Shortly after, a lint bear joins him. The two are happy, living in the warmth of the dryer, when two scary hands reach in and snatch out Lint Bear! Lint Boy goes on an adventure to save his brother, which puts him in the hands of a mean old woman, Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze; formerly a young girl named Tortura, who has tortured and ruined dolls since she was a child. Lint Boy manages to rally the other imprisoned toys and fight for their freedom.

Told with washed-out colors and nonlinear storytelling, Lint Boy is a rousing tale of friendship. Lint Boy is willing to risk venturing into a scary, unknown world – and put himself at personal risk – to save his friend, to whom he refers to as his brother, Lint Bear. There are some scary moments for younger readers, particularly when readers see the hanging cages of imprisoned toys for the first time, and when readers witness Mrs. Pinchnsqueeze cutting up Lint Boy’s hair. He refuses to give up hope or give in to despair, and inspires his fellow prisoners to revolt and overthrow their tormentor.

Perfect for every reader who loves Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and David Walliams, with its macabre-yet-adorable storytelling, Lint Boy is a good addition to graphic novel collections that enjoy a little dark fantasy. Booktalk this one with Coraline for extra fun.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

What makes a monster? Matthew J. Kirby explores in A Taste for Monsters

taste-for-monstersA Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Sept. 2016, Scholastic), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545817844

Recommended for ages 12+

Evelyn is a young woman left to fend for herself on the streets of Victorian London’s infamous East End. Orphaned and disfigured by her work in a matchstick factory, she seemingly has few prospects; she applies to London Hospital as a nurse, and is instead assigned to be the maid to the hospital’s most famous patient: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. As she attends to Merrick, she finds a gentle, beautiful soul with whom she shares a love of Jane Austen, easy conversation, and sadly, pain.

And then the ghosts come. They visit nightly, terrifying Merrick and Evelyn, who stays with him to support him through the nightly terrors. Evelyn discovers that the ghosts are the restless spirits of women murdered by Jack the Ripper, whose work makes gruesome headlines. Evelyn takes it upon herself to help these spirits find peace so that they’ll leave Joseph alone, but are they really haunting him? And is Evelyn putting herself in the Ripper’s sights by getting involved?

This is my third Kirby book, and it’s safe to say I am hooked on his writing. His historical fiction places you right in the middle of the action, and his fantastic elements are so believable – especially in an age where spiritualists ran wild – that I had no problem believing that ghosts existed and sought out the kindness of a gentle man like Joseph Merrick. The character development is brilliant and complex; the characters had a depth to them that made we want to sit with them and share tea and conversation. There’s a thread of tension running through the book that will keep readers turning pages, whether it’s the tension between Evelyn and several key supporting characters in the novel, the tension of waiting for the spirits to arrive, and the gripping conclusion. Historical fiction fans that appreciate a touch of the supernatural will love this book; readers interested in the Jack the Ripper story or the Elephant Man will love this book. Conservative readers may shy away from some of the gory descriptions of the Ripper’s victims as read from the newspapers and sideshow attractions. There’s some excellent YA Ripper-related fiction available, including Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star; the graphic novel From Hell is another great booktalking and display choice. There is a children’s picture book about The Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore that would be a good display choice. Get this book on your shelves and into hands.

Matthew J. Kirby is an Edgar Award-winning novelist.

 

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 Historical Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Divah takes New York!

divahDivah, by Susannah Appelbaum (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506748

Recommended for ages 12+

Itzy Nash is not looking forward to this summer vacation. Her dad is sending her off to her stuffy aunt, who doesn’t even like kids, while he goes off to Paris to do some research. But when Itzy arrives at New York’s elite Carlyle Hotel, she gets the strange feeling that something’s not right – for starters, Aunt Maude isn’t around, either; she’s left word that she’s hired a governess to keep an eye on Itzy. Plus, there’s a weird sound coming from one of the closets, and there are tons of flies. And that’s just the beginning.

Itzy learns that the Queen of the Damned – the Divah – is at the Carlyle, and she’s trying to open the gates of Hell itself. With the help of a fallen angel that she may or may not be able to trust, an aging star, and a host of colorful New Yorkers, Itzy also discovers that it’s up to her to save New York – and the world – from the Divah and her minions. Better hope she’s up to the task.

I loved this book. There’s a bit of historical fiction with a twist, some horror, and through it all, a fantastically witty thread of the darkest humor. It’s a sendup of high New York society and celebrity, a thrill ride in a book, with an End of Days bent. There are well-developed characters and a backstory that comes to fruition over the centuries. Ms. Appelbaum takes pop culture and weaves it into her story’s history to establish the ubiquity of demon and demon hunter culture in our world, from Evian water to Hermès scarves.

Add this to collections where YA thrillers/paranormal fiction is popular. Booktalk New York touchstones like the Carlyle Hotel in New York, particularly the Bemelmans Bar within the hotel; show art from the Madeline books to link the readers to Bemelmans’ work. For teens, booktalk Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, for similar New York-based horror.