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

Think you know Peter Pan? Read Lisa Maxwell’s Unhooked.

unhookedUnhooked, by Lisa Maxwell (Feb. 2016, Simon Pulse), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481432047

Recommended for ages 13+

Gwendolyn has never had a real home. Her mother has moved she and Gwen around for years, never staying too long in one place, always on the run from the monsters she swore were after them. Gwen is tired and frustrated at this latest move to a small apartment in London. Thankfully, her best friend, Olivia, is spending the summer with them.

Shortly after they arrive at the apartment, Gwen and Olivia are taken in the middle of the night by shadowy creatures. Separated from Olivia and desperate to find out what’s going on, she finds herself on a boat and demands that the Captain enlighten her. And that’s when she discovers that the monsters her mother always worried about weren’t just a figment of her imagination. Gwen is in Neverland, and Hook isn’t necessarily the one she has to watch out for. Now, she’s got to find Olivia and try to find their way home, but Pan isn’t planning on making things easy for anyone. He’s got an agenda, and the two girls have been brought to Neverland to help him accomplish it. He’s a sweet talker, especially compared to the harsh, brutal Hook, but Gwen has the feeling that Pan’s not all he seems to be…

This dark fantasy reimagining of Peter Pan will turn everything you think you know about Neverland and Peter Pan on its head. It’s a dark and brutal tale, with children dying in battle and evil faeries playing both sides. It’s fast-paced and well constructed, with smart, put-together characters and a painful World War I story gently woven into the overall narrative. You’ll try to place all the characters – I did – but just go with the narrative rather than try to fit every peg to a hole. For instance, I quickly figured that Gwen was Wendy, but where were Michael and John? There are parallels that could be drawn – no spoilers here – but in the end, Gwen is Gwendolyn, Hook is Hook, Pan is Pan, and Olivia is Olivia. These are their own characters, their own people, unique and individual in every way.

I don’t know whether this will turn into a series or a trilogy. This is a great stand-alone adventure and doesn’t need further explanation. Add to your fantasy collection; YA fairy tales are always good to have available to provide a comforting bridge to childhood with a decidedly grown-up spin to them.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Teen

On the TBR: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

The minute I saw the first paragraph in the press release that landed in my inbox, I knew this was a book I needed to own. When a book is compared to “Kids in the Hall meets John Carpenter”, you’ve got my attention. Throw in the fact that it’s a YA ebook that I can read with my middle schooler, whose book tastes are picky at best, and we have a possible hit.

Sattin, THE SILENT END cover

For now, it’s got to go on the TBR since I’ve got review commitments through the next few weeks, but I promise, PROMISE, promise to review it here. In the meantime, why not check it out for yourselves? The publisher was kind enough to provide the a look at the first chapter, completely gratis, and man, it sounds good.

From the press release: “In a small, mist-covered town in the Pacific Northwest, three teenagers find themselves pitted against an unearthly menace that dwells beneath the foundations of their high school… Samuel Sattin’s THE SILENT END is funny and poignant, a novel that contains elements of supernatural fiction, horror, young adult and literary fiction in order to create a genre-bending novel, recalling authors like Neil Gaiman, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Stephen King, and early Jonathan Lethem.


High school is a challenge for senior Nathaniel Eberstark. His mother disappeared almost a year ago after a long battle with depression. And his father? He’s begun conducting experiments in a bunker out back, furtively running around town in army fatigues, accompanied by a mysterious man in Ray Bans known as The Hat, hunting beasts no one else can see. After an explosion rocks the town on Halloween, Eberstark, along with his only friends Lexi and Gus, discover in the woods something beyond comprehension, something that Eberstark in particular doesn’t want to believe since it may mean his father isn’t as mad as he appears: a wounded monster. Afraid of making a stir in a town that spurns controversy, they make a decision to hide the creature. By doing so they are dragged into a frightening web of conspiracy, dream-logic, and death. From living trucks and mirror-dwelling psychopaths to hellish entities who lurk behind friendly faces, Eberstark, Lexi, and Gus find themselves battling to save not just themselves but the soul of their backwater town.

Inventive and engaging, Samuel Sattin’s THE SILENT END will have you rooting for these three unlikely heroes as they battle monsters, town bullies, and teachers who expect homework done on time. High school can be lonely and scary, the future uncertain. But finding just one, maybe two true friends, can make all the difference.”

Praise for THE SILENT END:

“Samuel Sattin has written a young adult novel that’s right over the plate for pop culture fans.”-BLEEDING COOL

“This is a book you and your kids can enjoy.”-KIRKUS, September Speculative Fiction Reading Pick

“Imagine if Halloween had been written by The Kids in The Hall instead of John Carpenter and you start to understand the wild, mesmerizing mash up that is The Silent End.”–Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

“Do not read this at night. Do not read this alone. But read it. Now.”-Sean Beaudoin, author of The Infects

“I dreamed I climbed into a 1950s sci-fi rocket ship with Thomas Pynchon, Charles Dickens, H.P. Lovecraft, Jonathan Lethem, Rebalais, and the crew from Monty Python. I had so much fun and terror and tragedy and delight, I was ready for the booby hatch. You can’t dream my dream, but you can get everything it gave me. All you’ve got to do is read Samuel Sattin.”-D. Foy, author of Made to Break

Samuel SattinAbout the author: Samuel Sattin is a novelist and essayist. He is the author of the new novel THE SILENT END and LEAGUE OF SOMEBODIES, which was described by Pop Matters as “One of the most important novels of 2013.” His work has appeared in the Atlantic, Salon Magazine, io9, Kotaku, Publishing Perspectives, The Weeklings, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, Litreactor, San Francisco Magazine, The Cobalt Review, Cent Magazine, and elsewhere. Also an illustrator, he holds an MFA in Comics from California College of the Arts and has a creative writing MFA from Mills College. He’s the recipient of NYS and SLS Fellowships, and is represented by Dara Hyde at Hill Nadell Literary Agency. He lives in Oakland, California.


Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Tween Reads

Cuckoo Song is engrossing dark fantasy for the middle school set

cuckoo songCuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge (Abrams, May 2015), $17.95, ISBN: 9781419714801

Recommended for ages 12+

Taking place in the post-World War I English countryside, Triss wakes up after an accident, her mother fawning over her and her father concerned about someone being responsible for it. Her younger sister, Pen, is afraid of her, shrieking that she’s “a fake”. Triss’ hunger is out of control; she can’t stop eating, and she can’t seem to be satisfied. She’s very afraid – this feels like something beyond her usual frailness and sickliness. Pen, meanwhile, is convinced that Triss is not who she claims to be – what does Pen know? The answers will lead the two sisters on a dark adventure that peels away the layers surrounding their lives, and brings unsettling answers to questions about their brother, who died in the War, and his fiancée, who can’t stay in one place, thanks to a secret of her own.

Cuckoo Song is one of those books that slowly builds – you start with a ping at the back of your neck, and gradually, your chest is tight, and the hairs on your arms are standing at full attention. There are horrible bargains struck, and the consequences will make readers wince and break their hearts. As a parent, reading this, I ached over the desperation of a parent who just wants to hear his or her child one more time. Thinking about this from a middle schooler’s point of view, this is skin-crawling: parents who don’t know how to parent, so lost in their despair over loss; not knowing who – or what – you are, and having your younger sibling keeping secrets that directly involve you; a never-ending hunger that horrifies you, once you realize what sates it. There are so many parallels to adolescence here, and that’s what will connect with readers.

Frances Hardinge writes beautiful dark fantasy. This was my first book by her, but I can see it won’t be my last. She knows how to weave a multilayered narrative that draws vivid pictures in the reader’s mind and even transcend the page – I felt cold, damp, and chilled in alternate parts of the book, and I couldn’t put it down.

Give this book to your Gaiman fans, your dark fantasy fans, and anyone who wants a good novel that will leave them unsettled for a long time after.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (illus. by Dave McKean) (HarperCollins, 2008)

Recommended for ages 12+

Created from an idea author Neil Gaiman had in 1985 that would create a “Jungle Book in a graveyard”, The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens, orphaned as a toddler and raised by the ghosts of a graveyard he wanders into after his family is murdered. His guardian, Silas, is neither dead nor alive and can navigate both worlds in order to assure Nobody’s needs are taken care of.

The problem is, Jack – the man who murdered Nobody’s family – is still at large, and he’s still looking for Bod to finish his business. He’s working for a secret society who has ordered the boy’s death, but as long as Bod stays within the confines of the graveyard, he is safe. As he gets older, though, Nobody wants to venture outside and see more of the world and have human friends.

Like Coraline and Gaiman’s other work for younger readers, The Graveyard Book is a dark fantasy, yet he manages to make the fact that a boy is raised by ghosts and the undead charming. Nobody is a sweet boy who grows up loved for and cared for by the spirits of the graveyard in which he lives, and the supernatural beings – Silas and Bod’s tutor, Miss Lupescu – who are charged with his care. Mr. Gaiman’s descriptions again let the reader’s imagination run wild, with funny and wry descriptions of everyone from the inhabitants of the graveyard to the sinister murderer, Jack Frost.

The Graveyard Book received the 2009 Newbery Medal, Hugo Award for Best Novel, and Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book; it also won the 2010 Carnegie Medal.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Book Review: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (illus. by Dave McKean) (HarperCollins, 2002)

Recommended for ages 10+

Coraline is a dark fantasy created by author Neil Gaiman. It was adapated into a graphic novel (2009) and an animated feature (2009).

Coraline is a young girl who moves into a new home with her parents and feels out of place. Her parents don’t seem to have too much time for her, so she goes exploring and meets some of her odd new neighbors and the neighborhood cat. One night, she discovers a hidden doorway that leads to a parallel world; it’s here that she meets her “Other Mother”, who seems to have all of the time in the world for Coraline and always makes delicious meals. She desperately wants Coraline to stay, but there’s something… strange… about the Other Mother. As Coraline visits more often, she discovers that the Other Mother is not at all what she seems, and she’ll need the help of the neighborhood cat – who isn’t exactly what he seems, either – to save herself and her family. 

Neil Gaiman has been writing dark fantasy since the 1989, when he revived the DC Comics title The Sandman. He brings his creepy fantasy worlds to children as easily as he does to his older audience, and often makes some of his most unsettling characters adorable. His main characters often go against the grain, and Coraline is no exception – she is an independent, stubborn, curious girl who loves a good adventure; she’s also a smart heroine who can work her way out of a tight situation.
Mr. Gaiman creates memorable images with his words – visions of The Other Mother will stick with kids and adults alike and Coraline’s odd neighbors come with their own strange charm that smoothly made the transition from print to screen. His descriptions allow the reader’s imagination to run wild without ever worrying about going over the top – because there simply is no limit.
Coraline has won numerous awards, including the 2003 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. Neil Gaiman’s Mouse Circus website – a Coraline reference – is geared toward his younger readers and offers information about the author, downloadable computer wallpaper, and video interviews and book trailers.