Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen

Sarah Cross’ Tear You Apart returns to Beau Rivage

tear you apartTear You Apart, by Sarah Cross (Jan 2015, EgmontUSA) $17.99, ISBN: 9781606845912

Recommended for ages 14+

Fairy tale fans who loved Sarah Cross’ Kill Me Softly, get to go back to Beau Rivage and hang out with the Cursed in the next installment of Cross’ series, Tear You Apart.

This time, we get more of a focus on Viv, who’s got the Snow White curse. Her stepmother is determined to kill her, and she’s going to try and convince Henley, Viv’s on-again, off-again Huntsman boyfriend, to do it. When Viv hides out in the Underworld, she meets her prince – but is he really her key to Happy Ever After?

I have to say, for all the little issues I had with Kill Me Softly, it was a fun read with a great premise; Tear You Apart is an even better story that I really enjoyed. We’ve got more fairy tales, including the Twelve Dancing Princesses! The amount of research Ms. Cross puts into her fairy tales is amazing, but it’s her modern-day interpretations of the curses that really blows me away. I love her world-building.

While Viv is still not the greatest heroine, she’s a stronger female character than Kill Me Softly’s Mira. Henley has resolved more of his anger issues by now, which is a huge relief. The Big Bad in this book is truly a repugnant son of a gun, and he’s so gleefully awful that I found myself digging in at all hours of the night, waiting to see what he could do next.

Tear You Apart comes out in January, and it’s worth the wait. In the meantime, queue up some episodes of Grimm and Once Upon a Time, and get ready.

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

Tabula Rasa – can you ever truly wipe the slate?

tabula rasaTabula Rasa, by Kristen Lippert-Martin (Sept. 2014, Egmont USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781606845189

Recommended for ages 14+

A teenage girl undergoes a procedure in a hospital. She doesn’t know who she is, has no memories, doesn’t even know what she looks like, but she’s pretty sure the soldiers who just attacked the hospital are after her. Someone has slipped her three pills and instructions, and she’s pretty sure she’s recovering her memories – is she a murderer? A vigilante?

Sarah – she knows that’s her name – was part of a Tabula Rasa (Latin for “blank slate”) program that medically and surgically wiped the memories from teenage delinquents considered beyond help, but as Sarah’s memories return, the story goes far deeper than that. There’s someone in the hospital who knows Sarah’s real story, and wants her dead. With the help of a computer hacker and a group of soldiers – themselves, a botched test group – she may be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle before her time runs out.

Tabula Rasa is a tense, fast-paced story that teens will like. There’s a touch of Bourne Identity here, and a mystery buried under layers of narrative, slowly peeled away until the truth is revealed. While the “big bad” in this is a bit of an over-the-top villain, it was a book that kept me committed. The idea of a society rehabbing anyone, let alone teens, by wiping them clean, is downright horrifying and can be fodder for a great book group talk. Dystopian fans, espionage/thriller readers, and Divergent fans will enjoy this one.

Kristen Lippert-Martin’s author page links to her social media, and blog, provides information about Tabula Rasa, and promises some extras in the near future.


Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode keeps the pressure on!

contaminated2Contaminated 2: Mercy Mode, by Em Garner (Egmont, Sept. 2014), $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843567

Recommended for ages 14+

Contaminated 2 picks up right where Contaminated left off – the government is closing in on all the Connies, taking them – and sometimes, their families – away to testing facilities. Horror stories abound. Soldiers routinely test citizens for any sign of contamination, whisking them away if even the propensity for contamination shows up.

Velvet, her sister Opal, her boyfriend, Dillon, her mom, and an elderly neighbor are living in Velvet and Opal’s home, scavenging supplies from nearby homes and trying to live on the quiet and stay off the government’s radar. Her mother is showing huge improvements, including conversation, cleaning, even cooking and knitting. Life is still hard, but Velvet knows they have more than so many.

It can’t last, though – soldiers come and burn down the house to smoke Velvet and her family out. She finds herself a test subject in one of the labs she’s heard horror stories about, where a doctor puts her through test after test. As Velvet – and readers – figure things out, the book becomes all-consuming. Will Velvet escape? What secret are the doctors hiding? Will anything ever be the same again?

The fantastic character development we got in Contamination continues here in Mercy Mode. Velvet grows as a character, but we start getting more information about her parents, which really fills in some gaps. I would like to have learned a little more about what caused her mom’s improvement, which tends to be explained away as “remarkable”, but that’s not an issue that will affect your enjoyment of the book; rather, it’s fodder for book discussions that SHOULD take place after reading this series.

Is there going to be a third in this series? The way the second book leaves off, it could go either way. But man, do I have a wish list of things that I want to see if there is.

Em Garner’s author page has links to social media and information about her books and appearances.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Uncategorized

Contaminated: A YA tale of horror and infection

contaminatedContaminated, by Em Garner (Egmont USA, 2013). $9.99, ISBN: 9781606843543

Recommended for ages 14+

If losing weight was easy, everyone would be thin – or so the saying goes. But when the diet drink ThinPro hits the market, no one can argue with the results – it tastes pretty good, too, so people are drinking the stuff like it’s Gatorade. One huge problem, though – to keep up with demand, the manufacturers start messing around with the formula, and it becomes tainted with something like Mad Cow Disease. And that something makes holes in people’s brains, contaminating them and turning them into rage-fueled maniacs.

Contaminated begins in the aftermath of this outbreak that left most of the US decimated. The Contaminated – called “Connies” – have largely been put under control by the government; first, through forced lobotomies, now, through the use of collars controlled by electrodes put into captured Connie’s brains. Velvet, a 17 year-old who lost her father and mother to the Contamination, has been struggling to take care of herself and her 10 year-old sister ever since the outbreak. She constantly checks the neighborhood kennel, where Connies have been released to be claimed by family members, for her mom. One day, she finds her and brings her home.

The thing is, the government is keeping a lot of secrets now, and there are whispers that the Contamination isn’t under control. Connies are being taken into custody again, whether or not they’ve been claimed by family, whether or not they’re contained by their collars. Velvet struggles to keep her family together and her mother hidden, especially when Velvet realizes that her mother is improving. As her Pennsylvania neighborhood becomes more and more of a police state, how will she keep her family safe?

This isn’t a zombie tale, the walkers aren’t back from the dead. It’s an infection tale, rooted in a concern over what we’re putting in our bodies and what this stuff really does to us. The infected are rage-zombies, if anything; they lose the ability to connect with society and just want to inflict violence. We get the story through Velvet’s eyes as she lives through the fallout of the infection. She’s a teenager forced into adulthood too fast, with a 10 year-old sister who frustrates the hell out of her, but whom she loves and clings to for a sense of normalcy in the middle of insanity. She fights to keep her sister in school, even though she questions what the heck school is going to do for anyone now, in this new era humanity is in. She works awful jobs to keep her family afloat. She has the added burden of caring for her mother, a shell of a woman retrieved, like a stray animal, from a shelter. It’s a tense story, it’s a story of survival, and finally, it’s a story about family.

Short story: I LOVED this book. While Velvet is the only character that is really developed, she’s all we really need, because it’s HER story. The situation? Frighteningly plausible and will make you look at that weight-loss drink a lot more differently. If you’re into post-apocalypse stuff, grab this book, but don’t expect Walking Dead scenarios with walkers taking bites out of people in the streets. Like the best zombie stories, this is a story about how humans cope with the end of their world.

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

Oblivion – a mystery about identity and secrets

oblivionOblivion, by Sasha Dawn, Egmont USA (2014). $19.99, ISBN: 9781606844762

Recommended for ages 16+

Calliope Knowles is a 16 year-old graphomaniac. For her, writing isn’t just a hobby – it’s something she’s compelled to do. When the mania hits, she needs her notebook and a red felt-tipped pen; she writes, in a trance, and the words, while almost poetic in structure, are unsettling. Possibly because they may be subconscious clues – Callie’s father is missing, along with a 12 year-old girl named Hannah. Callie was found in an abandoned apartment writing, “I KILLED HIM” all over the walls. Her mother is in a mental institution, after stabbing her abusive father only weeks before the disappearance.

Her father, a reverend at the Church of Holy Promise, was popular with his congregation, but was not a good man. Now, Callie, living with a foster family, is haunted by faulty memories that her subconscious is fighting to access. At the same time, she has a foster sister that she adores, but finds herself attracted to the same guy as she; she has a team of police and a therapist working with her to unravel the threads of her memory, and her mother seems to have a lot of secrets.

I thought this was a great book. I love a good mystery and I like an unreliable narrator/main character, because it keeps me guessing. Sasha Dawn has created an amazing series of layers for this story, with a main plot and several subplots running throughout, and always manages to keep all the balls in play. When revelations hit, time and time again, I was bowled over. This is a great summer read for teens who appreciate a good mystery and a story about identity. There are references to abuse, sex, and drug use, so I’m going to recommend an age of 16 for this one. If parents feel their child is mature enough to handle this subject matter at an earlier age, I’ll suggest age 14, but I really wouldn’t go younger. The book hits shelves on May 27, so put this one on your summer reading list.

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Quarantine 3: The Burnouts brings the post-apocalyptic trilogy to a tense end

quarantineQuarantine 3: The Burnouts, by Lex Thomas, Egmont USA (2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843383

Recommended for ages 14+

The third book in Lex Thomas’ post-apocalyptic series continues the story of Will and David, the brothers from McKinley High, where the kids are quarantined in the wake of a disastrous infection. Lucy, the last of the group from the previous book, is still inside – for now – trying to survive, and Hilary, who’s finally, completely, snapped, brings a reign of terror with her as she takes control of the school and all the gangs within it.

The publisher has called this series “Lord of the Flies in a 21st century high school setting”, which is spot-on. The kids inside the school have split into factions that fight to survive life inside the school. It’s a no-man’s land where children will do whatever they are forced to in order to make it to “graduation” – when the disease breaks and they can leave the building, assimilating into life on the outside.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s got action, fantastic pacing, strong characters, and pulls no punches in its storytelling. There are references to sex, pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence throughout the book, so if any of these are issues for readers, this isn’t your book. It’s a powerful, gut-wrenching book that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read.

The world in Quarantine isn’t safe inside or outside the McKinley walls – on the outside, there are those who want to destroy what the citizens have put together. They want to destroy the school and destroy the disease that rages on within its walls. The citizens on the outside – the families of the children inside – have to fight to stay alive and keep their kids alive.

The book hits shelves on August 22nd. In the meantime, check out the first two books: Quarantine: The Saints and Quarantine: The Loners and get ready.

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

Of Monsters and Madness – Alternate Historical Fiction, starring Edgar Allan Poe

monsters and madnessOf Monsters and Madness, by Jessica Verday, (Egmont USA) 2014. $17.99, ISBN: 9781606844632

Recommended for ages 14+

Horror and gothic fans will love this book! Annabel Lee – yes, for all intents and purposes of this book, this character is THE Annabel Lee of Edgar Allan Poe fame is a teenage girl, who finds herself moving from Siam to Philadelphia when her mother dies, and she must live with the father she’s never known. Unfamiliar with life and customs in the 1820s United States and confronted with a cold father who keeps her at a distance, Annabel feels left out and pines for her mother and her life in Siam. Her father, once a brilliant surgeon and scientist, now spends most of his time in his laboratory, assisted by Edgar, who unnerves Annabel – yet bears an uncanny resemblance to his cousin, Allan, who Annabel finds herself falling for. Annabel is living in a house full of secrets; when a rash of murders breaks out in Philadelphia, and her father’s strange behavior becomes more erratic, Annabel is determined to unravel the mysteries that consume her life. But finding out answers could put her life in danger.

I loved this book. The idea of making Edgar Allan Poe a character in a gothic mystery, taking place in the United States, is such a great idea – how did no one think of this sooner? We get glimpses of Poe’s writing – he tortures himself over writing The Raven, and bits of The Tell-Tale Heart make an appearance – and the toll that such dark ideas takes on the man. There are some key plot twists that will leave readers staying up all night to finish the book, and then – like me – demand a sequel. Ms. Verday is a New York Times bestselling author, and she knows how to construct a well-paced thriller with smart characters. I’m looking forward to this book hitting shelves in September, and I would recommend it for adults as well as teens.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Tween Reads

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age – a middle-grade Ice Age tale

lugLug: Dawn of the Ice Age, by David Zeltser. Egmont USA (2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781606845134

Recommended for ages 8-12

A mix of How to Train Your Dragon and Ice Age, Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age introduces readers to Lug, a young caveboy who’s the outcast of his tribe. His fellow tribe-mates are big brutes who face off against their rival tribe in a rough sport called Headstone; Lug would rather be painting in his art cave. He and his tribe-mate, Stony, are banished after they fail to secure macrauchenia mounts for Headstone, and wander the woods, eventually meeting Echo, a young cavegirl from the rival tribe with a secret – she can talk to animals and has a pet woolly mammoth, Woolly, that she needs to find a home for. Echo and her younger brother, Hamhock, join Lug and Stony on a journey that will introduce them to new animals and great changes headed their way – namely, the onset of the Ice Age.

This is a great book for middle graders. Not only is it a fun, accessible story with parallels to two books and movie series they grew up with – How to Train Your Dragon and Ice Age – they will pick up some knowledge on the way. The themes of two factions at war without really knowing one another, being the odd kid out, and bullying are all themes that will speak to readers’ day-to-day experiences, but they’ll also learn about prehistoric animals like the macrauchenia – a kind of giant llama (I looked it up!), the woolly mammoth, and the Dodo bird, all of which give readers who are willing to dig deeper the chance to pinpoint where Lug and his people are from (look it up!). There’s even a brief description on how Lug creates his cave paint. The blending of nonfiction with fiction is seamless and would enhance a class unit on prehistory. There is black and white line art throughout the book, which are, presumably, Lug’s cave drawings. These little “easter eggs” within the story add a fun new dimension to reading.

Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age isn’t due out until September 9, but it’ll be perfect timing for back-to-school reading. These little “easter eggs” within the story add a fun new dimension to reading. I’m hoping to see more of Lug’s adventures down the line.

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Teen

Amity is a chilling YA tale of haunted house horror.

amityAmity, by Micol Ostow. Egmont USA (2014), $17.99, 9781606841563

Pub Date: September 2014

Recommended for ages 14+

Told in parallel narratives, 10 years apart, Amity is a creepy, horrifying tale of a home, rotten to its core, and the effect it has on two families. We have two narrators, both in their late teens – around 17: Connor and Gwen – who provide readers with first-hand accounts of their descents into madness, and Amity’s history, which appears to lead them to it.

Connor and Gwen each have siblings they are close to, seemingly keeping them rooted in some sort of reality, at first. Connor is a sociopath with an anger management problem and far deeper, darker issues roiling under his surface. His twin sister, Jules, is the only thing in the world he has any feeling toward. He and his family arrive at Amity when his father – a shady businessman and an abusive drunk – attempts to escape yet another bad series of business deals.

Gwen’s family arrives at Amity looking for respite. Gwen has recently been hospitalized for a psychotic break, and the family just wants to start over. When Amity reveals herself to Gwen, her brother, Luke, attempts to stem the tide of what he initially believes is her breakdown, returning. Gwen’s Aunt Ro knows better, though. She may be portrayed at first as some sort of new age free spirit, we see Amity set to work on her, too.

Amity is alive, and she feeds on her occupants. She starts slowly, insidiously, but once she has her claws in you, you can’t escape.

There may be parallels drawn between Amity and the Amityville Horror – haunted house, violent history, even the eye-shaped windows of the home – but Amity stands very much on her own. Ms. Ostow builds a layered, compulsive tale – I couldn’t stop reading it – of growing horror with a shattering conclusion. Teens who grew up on the shock horror of films like Hostel and Saw need to sit down and read a good, old-fashioned, scare-the-pants-off-you haunted house story. Amity is that story.