Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Maybe… is hilarious

Maybe… by Chris Haughton, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536220247

Ages 3-7

A mother monkey warns her three little ones against going to the mango tree. There are tigers lurking! As soon as Mom leaves, you know what happens. The three rationalize, rationalize, rationalize: “Hmm… maybe… maybe we could just look at the mangoes. That’d be OK. Right?” Naturally, looking at the mangoes leads to getting closer… closer… This hilarious story about pushing boundaries will make kids and grownups alike laugh out loud in recognition. The suspense keeps readers turning the pages and makes for a fantastically dramatic readaloud that will make your listeners gasp if you play it along with Haughton’s expert pacing and theatrical pauses. Chris Haughton’s digital artwork is bold and dramatic, with expressive monkeys whose blue and green coloring stand out against the brightly colored backgrounds. Sharp-eyed readers will see the murky outlines of the tigers lurking in the background, just like Mom said. Every single Chris Haughton book is a storytime hit for me; this joins the ranks.

Maybe… has a starred review from The Horn Book. Download a free activity kit at publisher Candlewick’s website.

Posted in Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Excellent Adult-YA Crossover Horror: Reprieve by James Han Mattsson

Reprieve : A Novel, by James Han Mattson, (Oct. 2021, William Morrow), $27.99, ISBN: 9780063079915

Ages 16+

Set in 1997 in Nebraska and taking place largely in a full-contact escape room, Reprieve is a horror/thriller that you want to devour – and yet, you don’t, because there’s so much to think over as you read. Kendra is a teenager uprooted after her father is killed in a car accident; moving to Nebraska with her mother and living with her aunt, Rae, and her cousin, Bryan, Kendra finds a job at a local escape room called Quigley House, a full-contact escape room promising terror – and cash – to those who complete it. John Forrester, the owner of the house, is a little bit on the creepy side, and is absolutely a manipulative, casual racist and not-so-casual sexist, but could he be responsible for murder? That’s the question at the heart of Reprieve, a story told in court documents and alternating points of view from the rest of the characters in the room that fateful night: Kendra, a Black teenager; Leonard, a white male hotel manager with a history of obsessive behavior who stands accused of murder; Jaidee, a gay Thai college student in love with a former English teacher – and the deceased’s college roommate; Victor, the English teacher, and his fiancee, Jane, who wanted desperately to win this game and collect the prize money. As the story unfolds, we’re confronted with casual, everyday racism and stereotyping that culminates in a horrifying crime. Social criticism, horror, well-developed characters and a consuming narrative with taut pacing, this is a book to give teens as well as your thriller/horror/suspense readers. Imagine what Jordan Peele could do with this book.

Reprieve has a starred review from Booklist.

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

New NatGeo Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather

Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather, by Trudi Treueit/Illustrated by Scott Plumbe (interior) and Antonio Javier Caparo (cover), (March 2019, National Geographic), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426333040

Ages 9-13

The second Explorer Academy adventure picks up shortly after the first adventure, The Nebula Secret, concludes, and the action kicks in pretty quickly. Cruz Coronado is back, and he’s on a mission to get the remaining ciphers that his mother hid around the world before her untimely death. His best friends, Emmett and Sailor, are right in the thick of it with him, and his Aunt Marisol is, too. The evil Nebula group is still trying to get Cruz out of the way, and now, there’s something new afoot; something only hinted at: they want Cruz done away with before his 13th birthday. Could it be something to do with that unusual DNA-shaped birthmark on his arm? We’ll have to keep reading to find out, because that’s all you’re going to get here.

In addition to the globe-hopping mystery, The Falcon’s Feather also talks conservation and preservation; this time, Cruz and his friends save a pod of whales entangled in nets, and, while visiting the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, have a discussion about biodiversity. NatGeo is committed to educating readers about world issues, and this is a great way to do it: put kids in the middle of an adventure and let them experience it! There are all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos in this volume, and Mell, our favorite robot bee, is back. One scientist creates a communication device that allows Cruz to communicate with the endangered whales, and it’s an outstanding moment in the book; Cruz’s world opens up when he not only hears the whales’ songs, but connects them to human understanding. This installment ends on a tense note, assuring that readers (like me!) will be waiting for the next book. The Truth Behind the Fiction section introduces us to the real-life scientists who inspire some of the book’s characters, including a deep-sea submersible pilot, an explorer studying ecosystems and biodiversity, and a geoscientist researching climate change. Color illustrations throughout the book are just gorgeous and will keep readers turning pages. Maps at the beginning of some chapters help place readers when the characters find themselves in a new location.

This series is a no-brainer. Get it on your shelves for your burgeoning explorers/conservationists/secret agents, or just readers who love a good, tight suspense read.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

Reign of the Dead – YA fantasy with an LGBT twist

Reign of the Fallen, by Sarah Glenn Marsh, (Feb. 2018, Penguin), $17.99, ISBN: 9780448494395

Recommended for readers 13+

In the land of Karthia, death isn’t always final. Necromancers cater to the Dead, bringing their souls back from the Deadlands and allowing them to move among society, even rule their lands. They must, however, remain shrouded; if their shrouds should fall off, they will become Shades – essentially, ravening zombies – and have to be put down before they can cause harm. Odessa is a master necromancer, as is her lover, Evander; they work together to discover the death of their mentor at the hands of a Shade until another Shade attacks leaves Evander dead and Odessa grieving. In the midst of her grief, Odessa and one of Evander’s sisters stumble onto a plot to overthrow the kingdom of the Dead; it’s a conspiracy that will leave her home in chaos. As Odessa works with Evander’s sister to untangle the mystery, she finds herself drawn to this young woman – as she was to Evander.

There’s a lot going on in Reign of the Fallen, and Sarah Glenn Marsh puts some nice worldbuilding into her story. She’s created a society where the dead can still be as productive as they were in life, but this causes strife among those who feel that it’s time for the dead to step aside and let the living rule. She’s created a world where sexuality and gender are fluid; it’s a part of the fabric of their society. To refer to this an LGBT novel is, however, a bit premature, at least to me; the main character spends a good part of the storyline in love with or mourning her lost, cis-male, love, and only just starts to notice and act on her attraction for another female fairly late in the book. Other same-sex relationships are referred to, but this is a society where love is love, and neither gender nor sexuality changes the rules. There are sex-positive LGBT themes; I’m just not sure that having a bisexual character who only seems to discover her bisexuality 2/3 through the novel qualifies it as an LGBT book, rather than a well-written, immersive fantasy.

Overall, Reign of the Fallen is a nice add to fantasy collections and will satisfy fantasy readers that enjoy intrigue and worldbuilding. The book has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

Sideshow Stalkers and Secrets: Freeks

freeksFreeks, by Amanda Hocking, (Jan. 2017, St. Martin’s/Griffin), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250084774

Recommended for ages 14+

Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow isn’t your run of the mill carny act: the performers are all special. They have necromancers, firedancers who make their own fire, levitating trapeze artists, and supernaturally strong men. Nineteen year-old Mara travels with the sideshow, where her necromancer mother reads tarot cards, but she’s torn between the familiarity of the sideshow and the family atmosphere around her, and the desire to live in a real home. She worries for her mother, who’s showing fatigue from years of communicating with the dead. And when the sideshow pulls into Caudry, Louisiana, she meets Gabe, a townie who has secrets of his own, but embraces her despite knowing almost nothing about her. And then, the attacks start.

It starts when Blossom, a runaway who travels with the sideshow, disappears. Next, their strong man is mauled by a beast that no one seems to see. Is the town – not terribly friendly toward the “freeks” – up to no good, or is there something hunting the supernatural performers? Desperate to save her sideshow family and herself, Mara starts her own investigation and opens herself to the power that her mother has tried to keep at bay for most of her life.

Freeks is a slow build, with Hocking giving us little shakes and scares to start, but when things take off, hang onto something. There’s solid worldbuilding and great character development. The YA romance aspect of it takes over every now and then, but it’s a YA romance set in a carny/suspense universe. Paranormal romance fans will love this one for sure. Pair with Kate Ormand’s The Wanderers for more paranormal carnival storytelling (and its sequel, The Pack, to be published this year!).

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

YA Suspense: Black Flowers, White Lies

black-flowersBlack Flowers, White Lies, by Yvonne Ventresca, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510709881

Recommended for ages 13+

Sixteen year-old Ella’s dad died before she was born, but she’s always felt a connection to him. Now, her mom’s about to marry Stanley, a nice enough guy, in the process of reconnecting with his estranged son. Just after Blake – Ella’s soon to-be-stepbrother – shows up on the scene, things start getting weird for Ella. After her mom and Stanley marry, leaving Blake and Ella alone in the house together, things go really crazy. She wakes up to find bloody handprints on her wall; mossy handprints on her mirror – just like the one she left on her father’s grave. She and her best friend have a falling out, and Blake seems to be the only one who understands her… right? As Ella discovers little lies that her mother has told her over the years, she fears that she may have inherited her father’s mental illness. Is she having a breakdown, or is there something more going on here?

Black Flowers, White Lies is a good suspense novel that stumbles a bit with its characters, who are largely one-dimensional and hard to get on board with. Our heroine is s almost too neurotic to be sympathetic, and the  antagonist’s transparency comes through shortly after being introduced. Ella’s best friend is more of a classic frenemy, and her mother is seemingly too detached and self-absorbed through most of the book to notice what’s happening to her daughter. That said, the novel keeps you reading, wanting confirmation of everything you know is happening – and Ventresca ups the action in ways you may not see coming. I like the way the author paces her novels; I couldn’t put Pandemic down, and Black Flowers, White Lies keeps a similar pace, constantly building to its conclusion. books I liked the book and would booktalk this to mystery and suspense fans. A list of resources at the end guides interested readers to more information about topics touched on.

 

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 Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Asylum Series, Volume 3: Catacomb

catacombCatacomb, by Madeleine Roux (Sept. 2015, HarperCollins), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062364050

Recommended for ages 12+

Here we are, the third volume in Madeleine Roux’s Asylum series. For this one, we head to one of the most paranormal-friendly cities in America: New Orleans. Abby, Dan, and Jordan are taking one more road trip; this time, relocating Jordan to his Uncle Steve in Nawlins, where he’ll be living and attending Tulane University.

Everyone has their own agenda, though. Abby’s pretty sure she’s taking a year off from college to pursue her art and photography; she’s investigating a famous criminal who has a history in the South. Dan has leads on his parents – his birth parents, not Paul and Sandy, the adoptive parents who adore him. He wants to understand more about why he was abandoned to the foster care system and hopes to find answers; he’s got some clues he found in the paperwork from Sanctum.

The action starts quickly enough. While on the road, the teens discover they’re being watched, even photographed. And then, Dan starts receiving Facebook messages. From Micah. Who really isn’t anywhere near a reliable Wi-Fi reception, so this presents a huge problem. They find themselves stuck in another mystery, involving another secret society, but this time, Dan’s directly in their sights.

There’s a lot of revelation happening in this book, and the paranormal aspect is back. We’ve got a secret society that’s truly chilling, tied into voudou and grave robbing. The big bad is pretty obvious from the get-go, but he’s supposed to be; the big twist is waiting for you closer to the end. The biggest question I had going in was how the heck do Dan’s parents keep letting him go away on these trips? He comes back beaten, stabbed, and traumatized each time; I’d never let my kid out of the house again.

I enjoyed Catacomb and think it brings all the storylines to a satisfying close. The Brookline connection felt a little forced, so I’m glad it was a piece that Ms. Roux touched on, and let be. The photos are mostly from Abby’s point of view this time, which adds a nice connection with the character and her point of view.

If you’re in the mood for a good, creepy trilogy, the Asylum trilogy is for you. I’m looking forward to reading more from Madeleine Roux!

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

The Cat’s Maw gives middle graders a good, creepy story!

catsmawThe Cat’s Maw, by Brooke Burgess (2015, CreateSpace), $10.99, ISBN: 9781500971656

Recommended for ages 10-16

Billy Brahms has luck, all right – it’s all bad. He’s an accident looking for a place to happen, and an easy target for bullies. His parents don’t know what to do with him, but they don’t seem to try too hard to connect with him, either. When he’s struck by a car and risks losing his leg, they’re all at the end of their respective ropes. One day, though, Billy wakes up to discover a cat has adopted him – he just shows up at Billy’ bedside. His mother puts up a fuss, but the neighborhood cat lady manages to talk her into letting Billy and the cat have some time together to bond, saying it will be good for poor Billy, who’s stuck in a cast all summer.

That’s when the dreams start. He’s talking to cats, he’s hearing talk of Watchers, Shadows, and the Enemy that Awakens. He’s been given a mission, a mission that will remove the curse he seems to have hanging over him – will he finally be able to be a “normal” kid? Billy knows his parents will never believe him if he tells them that he’s communicating with his cat, and they’ll never let him go anywhere by himself, especially with that cast on his leg. He’s got to figure out how to break this curse, and he turns to the local veterinarian’s daughter for help.

The Cat’s Maw is one of those books that’s better read when you can talk about it with other readers. There’s a lot going on, and you need time to sit, read, and work things out to really appreciate the book. It’s a narrative that builds, never really giving anything away – rather, it gives you little peeks here and there, little glimpses, building toa tense finale that leaves you waiting for the next book. And there will be one; this is the first in the Shadowland Saga by Burgess.

Billy is a sympathetic kid. His parents are fairly awful, even though you get the feeling that they don’t want to be. He’s a bully magnet. Even his friend, the vet’s daughter, is happiest when she’s bossing him around. You want to see things work for Billy, and if a link to a cat is the key to this, let’s go there.

The ending left me with more questions than answers, which means that I need to read it one more time, and that I need the second book in the series to come out soon.

The Cat’s Maw is available in eBook, audiobook, or paperback.  Check out the author’s website or information about his other books, and more information about The Cat’s Maw.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen

Alexandra Moni’s Suspicion – A touch of the paranormal in this mystery

suspicionSuspicion, by Alexandra Moni (Dec. 2014, Delacorte Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780385743891

Recommended for ages 13+

When Imogen Rockford was 10, she lost her parents, aunt, and uncle in a fire that raged out of control. Extended members of the British upper class, they were enjoying their annual gathering at the family estate when the fire in the garden maze consumed them. Seven years later, she’s living with her guardian in New York City when the call comes in – her grandfather has been dead for three years, and her cousin-next in line for the title of Duchess-has just died . Imogen is the new Duchess of Rockford, and is immediately swept into a new life in Britain, on the same estate where her family died. There are family secrets that haunt her, especially the secret of the infamous fifth Duchess, and what she left in the maze…

I’ve got to be honest, this book was good without the addition of the paranormal details. If anything, the paranormal plot brought down the book for me, bringing me out of the story’s flow with what felt like tacked-on additions. The paranormal could have been alluded to, or done away with entirely, and it would have strengthened the rest of the book.