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

Guest Post: Sadie, Courtney Summers

Today, I’ve got a guest post from my colleague, Amber; she’s the teen librarian at my library, and we share a love of Marvel Comics and movies and good YA fiction. She recently read Sadie, by Courtney Summers, and was dying to talk about it. Take it away, Amber!

 

Sadie, by Courtney Summers, (Sept. 2018, Wednesday Books),
$17.99, ISBN: 978-1250105714
Ages 14+

Sadie Hunter, a 19-year-old girl, disappears after her 13-year-old sister is murdered. The girls’ surrogate grandmother contacts West McCray, an NPR-like radio host, to find her. Sadie, by Courtney Summers, flips between the script of McCray’s resulting podcast series and the POV of Sadie herself as she follows clues to track down the person she believes killed Mattie.
This is a dark story with few slivers of light to break the tension. You experience Sadie’s hungry, desperate, furious mindset firsthand. West McCray doesn’t want to get involved. “Girls go missing all the time.” But his producer pushes him, and soon he’s too involved to turn back. Sadie went through heavy things as a little girl. Be prepared for strong mentions of substance abuse (by mom) and parental abandonment. Child molestation is a heavy theme throughout. (Sadie is a survivor, and much of her actions are driven by her anger.)  Sadie intends to murder Mattie’s killer when she finds him. Along the way, her singular focus puts her into dangerous situations, made worse by her constant starving state and lack of sleep that affects her judgment and reactions. A scene when she goes “undercover” as a new teen in a town where she has a lead offers a view of the kind of popular teen she might have been if everything and everyone in her life wasn’t so messed up. In that short moment, she makes friends, but hours later destiny throws her another horrifying curveball.
There are many heartbreaking aspects of this story, but the idea that the sisters could have been saved if only someone had listened to Sadie when she was a young girl and taken her seriously is one that will keep readers up at night.
Sadie is a powerful book that teens who enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why could get into easily. It doesn’t have a pat ending, and discerning readers may notice that some of the conclusions McCray reaches don’t line up with Sadie’s, which leaves the armchair detectives among us to draw their own answers. These moments help alleviate the few times it feels that McCray’s sections are repeating Sadie’s, especially as he gets closer to tracking her down.

Sadie has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. There’s also a chapter excerpt available on Bust Magazine’s website.

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

An unexpected mystery and a group of Ghastlies: Death and Douglas

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, (Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-2457-0

Good for readers 8-12

Twelve year-old Douglas Mortimer gets Death. His family runs the local funeral home in a small New England town named Cowlmouth; he learned how to tie a tie by putting them on the corpses before viewing. There’s a morgue downstairs in his home. Dressed in his suits and impeccable ties, he’s ready to take over the family business one day. For Douglas, death is just part of life: he’s more comfortable with it than most adults are, let alone kids. Until the murders begin. Someone is killing people in Douglas’s sleepy little town, and carving letters into the victims’ faces. Douglas understands death, but murder is just unnatural. It’s wrong. And it scares him. He and his best friend, Lowell – the police chief’s son – and his new friend, Amber – an ambulance driver’s daughter, decide they need to get to the bottom of this mystery. Calling themselves the Ghastlies, they start their own investigation, which could put them right in the killer’s sights.

Death and Douglas is fascinating – not many middle grade novels are going to be this frank about death and its place in the natural order of things. It’s a relief; it addresses the routines and rituals involved in passing, as part of Douglas’s parents’ work, with no overwrought emotion. In fact, when a group of  self-nominated “guardian angels” try to suggest that Douglas’s upbringing is unwholesome, his father fires back, stating that his understanding allows him the strength to help others who have lost loved ones. His family may shelter him from some of the grimmer parts of the business – he is only 12 – but Douglas’s parents are very forward about death as a part of life. The characters are well-crafted; believable, and equal parts hilarious and conflicted – kind of like real kids. I’d love to see what the Ghastlies have in store for the future. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for foisting this book on the kids in my library. Give this one to your mystery fans for sure.

Author JW Ocker’s site, Odd Things I’ve Seen, is truly worth a look.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Bad Girl Gone: Revenge beyond the grave?

Bad Girl Gone, by Temple Mathews (Sept. 2017, Thomas Dunne for St. Martin’s Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250058812

Recommended for readers 13+

Echo is a 16 year-old girl who wakes up in a dark room; no idea where she is, no idea how she got there. She soon discovers that she’s in a place called Middle House; think of it as Limbo for teens who met brutal and unfair ends. Each of the teens has a special gift to help them bring their killers to justice; only then can they head toward the light. After Echo finally accepts that she is dead, and that she was murdered, she sets out to find out who killed her and why, while also helping her boyfriend, Andy, move on with his life.

This is an absolute teen revenge fantasy. Echo discovers that she wasn’t the nice girl she thought she was in life, and her boyfriend is so devastated after her loss that he contemplates suicide to be with her, and she gets to have a cute fellow ghost boy fall for her, too. All the teen residents of Middle House have paranormal gifts to help them get back at their murderers so they can move on to the afterlife, righting the ultimate wrong – but Echo gets a different choice. I didn’t love Echo or any of the characters in Bad Girl Gone, but it works for a light paranormal fiction reader. Bad Girl Gone is a quick read with an interesting plot twist, good for an additional purchase where you need more fiction.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Secrets revealed, but whodunit? The Cabin, by Natasha Preston

cabinThe Cabin, by Natasha Preston, (Sept. 2016, Sourcebooks Fire), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492618553

Recommended for ages 14+

A group of friends heads up to a cabin for a weekend of drinking and bonding, a last hurrah before they head to university, and their separate ways. Mackenzie grudgingly goes at her best friend, Courtney’s, behest; it’s the first time they’ve all gotten together since two of their group died in a car accident months ago. The night starts off innocently enough, but when Mackenzie wakes up the next morning, Courtney and her boyfriend, Josh, have been brutally murdered. There’s a killer among them, and Mackenzie and Josh’s brother, Blake, find themselves drawn to one another as they try to figure out who could have done this.

The Cabin is a YA whodunit. Mackenzie is desperate to find out which of her friends could have done this, partially because she wants so badly to believe that an outside force did this; that none of her friends could have the ability to betray and do something so horrific, let alone to friends in their social circle. Blake, Josh’s estranged brother, is closed off, arrogant, and trusts no one except Mackenzie. As the two dig deeper into Mackenzie’s friends’ backgrounds, they start discovering that everyone has secrets, but what would drive someone to kill? The police, especially investigator Wright, are a bit hapless – Wright is borderline obsessed with making either Blake or Mackenzie confess their guilt, and comes off more as a mustache-twirling villain than someone who’s actually helpful. Mackenzie’s parents are a bit oblivious, despite their obvious concern for their daughter. The pace is a bit slower than most whodunits, and the biggest problem here for me was that I didn’t really like any of the characters, including our heroine. The final couple of chapters kept me on edge, though, and the ending was nicely executed.

Add to your YA mystery shelf if you have a strong readership and if you have fans of the slow burn.

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

Look Past: A Teen Hunts a Killer

lookpastLook Past, by Eric Devine, (Oct. 2016, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-7624-5921-6

Recommended for ages 15+

A teenage girl is brutally murdered and left to be found. Mary was the daughter of a prominent pastor and was in love with Avery, a transgender teen. Shattered by Mary’s death, Avery is hell-bent on finding her killer, but it turns out that Mary’s murder was a message to Avery: repent, or you’re next. As the messages become more repulsive and the killer begins contacting Avery, letting him know that his every move is being watched, Avery has big decisions to make. Does he betray himself by doing what the killer wants? And will that really keep him safe?

Look Past is an intense, brutal book. Mary’s murder is the catalyst, setting everything in motion, and is relived throughout the book. Religious fundamentalism and the violence hate can breed play a big part in Look Past, as does identity and the importance of being true to yourself. There are points in this book where it’s almost too much to take. Avery is a character I wanted to scream at and root for; at the same time, the intensity of Devine’s writing made me want to put the book down and take a break to just breathe – and I couldn’t I finished this book in two sittings, broken up only by the need to go to sleep so I could get to work the next day.

Look Past is a gritty novel about murder in which the main character is transgender. That’s TREMENDOUS. Avery’s a strong, queer character with a supportive family that’s not without their struggles, but ultimately loves their son and supports him. Avery’s best friend and girlfriend stand with him, even when it’s a hard choice; even when it could mean their lives on the line. It’s an unputdownable novel that thriller readers will love and LGBTQ readers will embrace.

This is the second Eric Devine novel I’ve read, the first being Press Play, which looked at hazing and violence in team sports. Eric Devine attacks issues of the day with gusto and doesn’t shy away from grim details or uncomfortable situations. He writes compulsively readable novels that teens and adults alike should read – take a break from your run-of-the mill thrillers and give Look Past a shot.

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

Blog Tour: Playing for the Devil’s Fire, by Philippe Diederich

devilsfirePlaying for the Devil’s Fire, by Phillippe Diederich, (March 2016, Cinco Puntos Press), $11.95, ISBN: 978-1-941026-29-8
Recommended for ages 14+

Photojournalist Philippe Diederich wrote his debut novel as a way of communicating his sorrow and anger at the brutual narcoviolence and corruption infecting Mexico. The brutal and gripping story follows 13 year-old Libero “Boli” Flores as he sees his town, Izayoc, crippled by the town’s new inhabitants: men who wear shiny guns, expensive clothes, and drive big SUVs; men who have a lot of money to spend, and men who don’t like to be questioned or crossed. When people speak out, they show up dead.

Boli’s parents know it’s no use to go to the local police, so they head to a neighboring town to seek help, but they never arrive. Boli waits for someone to bring he and his sister, Gaby, some kind of news. Hope comes, briefly, in the form of El Chicano Estrada, a small-time luchador that Boli sees at a wrestling match. Boli, a devoted fan of lucha, particularly the legendary El Santo, begs Chicano to help him locate his parents. Chicano sees the corruption and grim reality facing Boli and the people of Izayoc; it awakens something in him, and he tries to be the hero that Boli needs. But Chicano also knows a truth that Boli hasn’t learned yet: the world is not a good place.

This is a vicious, heartbreaking story about the end of childhood. It’s a grim, powerful, and beautifully written novel, with unforgettable characters: Boli and Gaby are two siblings struggling to move on with their lives in the most horrifying circumstances; their Abuela escapes into her memories of the past to cope; Chicano is someone who just wanted to get by until he found someone that believed in him. Diederich looks at the morality, or lack of it, using Boli as the lens.

Who do you turn to in a town when everyone can either be bought or murdered? This is the question at the heart of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, and it is a very real question facing many Mexican communities. It’s an eye-opening look into a reality many young people face. Philippe Diederich puts a very human face on the cost of the neverending war on drugs.

This is not a book for middle grade or middle schoolers. There is graphic violence (the story begins with a child finding a decapitated head), language, and overall content that is disturbing and upsetting. I’d suggest this for upper high school, young adult, and adult readers, because it is a brilliantly written book that will make readers think, and hopefully, talk.

Playing for the Devil’s Fire has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Philippe Diederich grew up in Mexico City where he played marbles in the streets and became a fan of lucha libre – pastimes he revisits in Playing for the Devil’s Fire. This is his first novel for young adults, but his short stories have been published in literary journals, and his mystery, Sofrito, is a culinary mystery that travels from Havana to New York City. His author website offers a newsletter and more information.

Playing for the Devil’s Fire Blog Tour

August 31: Rich in Color review  (http://richincolor.com)

Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview (http://www.thepiratetree.com)

Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves (www.cleareyesfullshelves.com)

Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair (http://www.thebrainlair.com)

Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (http://richincolor.com)

September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (https://campbele.wordpress.com)

September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (asuen.com)

September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour  (http://readingtl.blogspot.com)

Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (http://www.thebrainlair.com)

September 12: Linda Washington (https://lmarie7b.wordpress.com/ )

September 13: Excerpt, Review, Mom Read it (https://momreadit.wordpress.com)

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Murder on The Transatlantic Express? The Transatlantic Conspiracy

transatlantic consThe Transatlantic Conspiracy, by G.D. Falksen (June 2016, Soho Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1616954178

Recommended for ages 12+

It’s 1908, and 17 year-old Rosalind Wallace, daughter of a self-made millionaire industrialist, is vacationing in England, spending time with her best friend, Cecily de Vere. Cecily’s family is high-society, old moneyed England, and treats Rosalind as more of a curiosity, even referring to her as “my peasant”. Where Cecily eschews intellectual pursuits and seeks a full dance card during party season, Rosalind is more adventurous; her father has used her to promote his inventions for years, and she’s quite brilliant. When her father calls for her to return back to the States by way of his newest venture, the Transatlantic Express – an underwater railway – Cecily and her handsome brother, Charles, offer to journey with Rosalind.

The problems begin almost immediately, when Charles goes missing while boarding the train; things take a turn for the worst when Cecily and her maid are discovered murdered in their room. Rosalind tries to deal with her grief while proving her innocence and conducting her own investigation into her friend’s murder.

There is so much rich material to draw on in The Transatlantic Conspiracy, but it never fully realized its potential. It’s promoted as a YA novel, but reads more like a middle grade book; the black and white illustrations throughout the book add to this overall look and feel. The characters are stiff, with little development; there are some interesting concepts glanced over, but we don’t get much in the way of development. The detective on the train is one-dimensional but borders on being so much more. Cecily is victimized by her lack of development; all we get is a vapid party girl who, it turns out, is more than she seems, but gets killed off so early on, that I guess we’ll eventually find out about her, posthumously, in subsequent adventures.

I was hoping for more from The Transatlantic Conspiracy. It may be a good introduction to readers who aren’t typical steampunk readers, but fans of the genre may be let down. I’m going to test this one out with the kids in my library and see how it goes; I’ll report back.

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

Whodunit? Secrets, Lies, and Scandals

secrets liesSecrets, Lies, and Scandals, by Amanda K. Morgan, (July 2016, Simon Pulse), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481449540

Recommended for ages 14+

A much-loathed teacher dies. Five students are in the room. What happened? Who’s responsible? Most importantly, can they all keep it a secret, or will one of them break? Secrets, Lies, and Scandals tells the stories of five teens – all of whom have their own private crosses to bear – who have to come together to keep the circumstances under which their teacher died secret.

We’ve got Ivy, the mean girl who finds herself on the outs after a relationship gone bad; Tyler, the bad boy whose exhausting his last chance; Kinley, the perfect student with her own secrets; Mattie, who’s only in town for the summer, and really didn’t expect to find himself in a situation like this, and Cade, a repressed rage case who’s always looking for someone else to take the blame. He’s the master manipulator, and all he needs is an opening.

This is one of those novels that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. None of these characters are really likable, but that adds to the story, rather than distances the reader. What do you do when there’s not one decent character in the book? You dig in for a salacious read. It’s schadenfraude at its finest – I couldn’t wait to see what these characters were going to do next. It’s a well-constructed, fast-moving read that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the last page, when you’re likely to yell, just like I did.

I’m going to put this one in my YA collection and booktalk the daylights out of it. Sell it like it’s How to Get Away With Murder set in high school, or an updated version of I Know What You Did Last Summer. (Then explain I Know What You Did Last Summer, because you know you’re going to get blank stares.)

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

Beyond the Red: Intergalactic politics and species war with a dash of romance

beyond the redBeyond the Red, by Ava Jae (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506441

Recommended for ages 16+

Kora is a reigning queen of an alien race that’s seen its share of violence: her parents were killed during a terrorist attack during her birthday; her people are locked in a race war with human settlers, known as red-bloods, that exist on her planet, and she’s been the target of assassination attempts. Her twin brother, Dima, holds a grudge against her – he and their deceased father felt Dima should have ascended the throne – not a woman – but birth order is destiny.

Eros is a half-blood soldier, raised by humans and yet, held at arm’s length because of his half-alien blood. His adopted parents and brother are killed during one of Kora’s army raids, and he’s taken prisoner, where Kora decides to make him her personal guard. She has some questions about his true identity, and decides he’d be a valuable asset to keep close to her.

Despite being wildly attracted to one another, they play it safe, knowing that Eros’ half-blood status could get him killed at any time, and would certainly be a death sentence for any children they’d have if they married. Kora accepts the proposal of a high-ranking diplomat, but an assassination attempt leaves her and Eros running for their lives. Now, they have to work together to save the human rebels and keep Eros’ secret on a much larger scale.

There’s a lot of storytelling and world-building in this debut from Ava Jae. The entire story provides the groundwork for a series, and the ending leaves no question about a sequel being in the picture. It just wasn’t my book, alas: it never hooked me. The story seemed to focus on a few points that were emphasized again and again: Eros’ physical attraction to Kora; Dima’s simmering rage toward Eros, his jealousy toward Kora; Kora’s vacillating on her attraction to Eros. We don’t know anything about the human encampment on this world, only that they seem to have been left there generations ago. I’m hoping more about the schism between the two races will emerge in future books, because that has potential for a huge story.

The novel is more young adult than teen for sensual content, violence, and mild language. Space opera fans and fantasy fans should give this one a look.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.