Followers

I try to find something positive to say about every book you see here on Knight Reader. That’s not always an easy feat, and it’s especially difficult with my latest read, Followers by Anna Davies. I guess the best things I can say about it are that it was a quick read (and didn’t take up too much of my valuable time), and it involved social media, something that is vitally important to the book’s target audience. I also sort of liked that the book revolved around a school working on a production of Hamlet. Any excuse for a Shakespeare reference, right?

Those few positives aside, Followers didn’t really do it for me. Even the cover, in my opinion, failed to capture the book. I was expecting a much scarier story based on the cover…maybe one with evil little girls with yellow eyes. That was not the case. The girls on the cover are very misleading. They appear to be younger than any of the characters in the book, and they fail to tell readers anything about the book.  Even the tagline at the top has nothing to do with the actual story. Cover=fail.

This book, as I said, centers around a school’s production of Hamlet. Our protagonist, Briana, or @alleyesonbree as she’s known in the Twitterverse, is desperate to play Ophelia. She knows she’s good, but she still worries that she’s not good enough. She’s also anxious about her place at MacHale, the private school where her mother was an acting star. Bree is just now starting to become part of things at MacHale, and she’s hoping that nabbing the role of Ophelia will make her feel as if she truly belongs. Alas, it is not meant to be…

Bree doesn’t get the coveted role, but the director, an altogether strange man who takes over when the previous director dies, wants Bree to be the play’s social media director. He’s seen her Twitter feed, and he thinks she can make Hamlet an interactive experience. Bree reluctantly agrees, but it seems there’s someone else on Twitter, @hamletsghost, who knows more about this production than anyone. This person even knows when “accidents,” incidents that are taking lives, are about to occur.

Bree is getting really freaked out, but the drama is just beginning. Soon, everyone thinks that Bree is behind the deaths. After all, the killer is using Twitter to brag about what’s happening, Bree is the school’s Twitter queen, and she’s the only person who’s really gained anything from this chaos. But how can Bree prove that she’s not behind these murders? Can she prove her innocence and reveal the true identity of @hamletsghost before she or someone else is the next victim?

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I feel like Followers could have been a really good book, but, truthfully, it just didn’t have enough meat. There was too much build-up, but the climax was kind of a let-down. It happened too suddenly, and I think the entire book could have been scarier. I expect something marketed as horror to keep me up at night. This book didn’t. I’m a wuss from way back, and this book didn’t give me the first nightmare. I can’t even call it horror, to be honest. Suspense? Maybe, but I thought it was pretty obvious what was going on. A few red herrings would have been nice.

I did like the Twitter angle in the book, but I thought even that could have been fleshed out more. It seemed to be an afterthought at times. I would have liked to see more Twitter conversations between @alleyesonbree and @hamletsghost, as well as the other characters in the book. With a title like Followers, one kind of expects entire chapters to be written in tweets, but there were only a few in each chapter. The concept of a killer using Twitter to draw attention to his/her exploits is a clever one. It just needed a little more oomph in this book.

Followers won’t officially be released until June 24th, and I really hope that the final version is a bit better than the NetGalley proof I read. If it is, I think the book will be a good addition to middle and high school libraries, particularly those that serve schools with strong drama programs. If not…well, this may not be a necessary purchase.

Published in: on June 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Yesterday, in the span of about an hour, I read a book of poetry that really spoke to me. (People who know me realize just how unusual this is. I don’t read a ton of poetry.) October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman takes a look at a senseless tragedy in a very unique way. I think many readers will be both horrified and captivated by the story presented, and my hope is that they will use this book as a starting point in learning more about Matthew Shepard’s too-short life and what they can do to put an end to homophobia.

October Mourning shows readers just what happened to Matthew Shepard on October 6th, 1998. Readers learn how two homophobic Neanderthals lured a gay 21-year-old out of a club and into their truck. They see that Matthew was beaten to within an inch of his life, tied to a fence, and left for dead.

While some of what readers see is presented from Matthew’s perspective, they also see this event through some unique points of view. The fence to which Matthew was tied, the doe that kept him company during the long, cold night, the stars that watched over him, the biker who found Matthew, the doctor who cared for him, the protesters at his funeral, and even the perpetrators themselves.

Each of the poems in this book paint a picture of what happened to Matthew Shepard and the events that occurred after his death. No, the book is not a narrative, but I think the poems used in this book often make things clearer than they might be otherwise. They cut through a lot of stuff and get to the very heart of Matthew’s story.

While the poems in October Mourning were created from the author’s imagination, they are based on real events, and there are footnotes at the end of the book detailing much of the content in the poems as well as explanations of the various poetic forms used.

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I picked up this book because it was nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, but I honestly think I would have read October Mourning anyway. You see, I can remember when this tragedy occurred. I was a sophomore at Winthrop University, and I recall being absolutely horrified by what happened in Laramie, Wyoming. I remember realizing that this could happen in South Carolina. Several of my friends were openly gay, so I worried that some dumb redneck might get the idea to do something similar. (Even today, that worry hasn’t entirely gone away.)

I know a lot has changed in the nearly sixteen years since Matthew Shepard’s death, but there is still so much work to do. Look around. Homophobia still runs rampant, and political talking heads and uber-conservative blowhards continue to prey on irrational fears to prevent true equality from becoming a reality. Many churches–institutions that are supposed to be all about God’s love–preach messages of hate. Books depicting gay characters are pulled from library shelves. People’s lives are still threatened just because of who they love. Will we ever see an end to this madness? I truly hope so.

If anything positive can come of a tragedy like this, I hope that young people will read October Mourning, learn a bit more about Matthew Shepard, examine their own attitudes, and do something–no matter how seemingly small–to eradicate homophobia. I believe it can be done.

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For more information on October Mourning and what inspired author Lesléa Newman to write it, check out this Huffington Post article. There’s a video there as well, but I’ve also put it here. It tells you about this book more succinctly than I ever could.

*By the way, I applaud the SCYABA committee for choosing this book as one of next year’s nominees. It goes to show that, even in a state as conservative as ours, attitudes are changing, and South Carolinians can be champions for gay rights. Thank you!*

Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game

Spoiler warning! If you haven’t read Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers yet, you simply must before reading the sequel, Game. (My fellow South Carolinians need to read I Hunt Killers anyway. It’s nominated for the 14-15 SC Young Adult Book Award.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Game, the second book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series. In this series, we get to know Jasper, known to his friends as Jazz, the son of the world’s most prolific serial killer. In I Hunt Killers, Jazz helps the authorities find the Impressionist, a killer copying the work of Jazz’s father. At the end of that book, though, readers got the kind of cliffhanger that makes us weep or scream in frustration. Somehow, Jazz’s father escapes from prison, and he’s on the hunt again. That’s where Game picks up.

Jazz knows his dad is on the loose, and it’s just a matter of time before their paths cross. In the meantime, there’s yet another serial killer prowling in New York City, and Jazz’s help is once again enlisted to determine just how this maniac thinks. And if anyone knows how a killer thinks, it’s the son of Billy Dent.

Jazz and his girlfriend Connie head to NYC in the hopes that they will be able to find some clues that lead to the capture of the Hat-Dog Killer. The police and FBI seem to have no leads, and Jazz is able to provide a bit of insight into the mind of this psychopath. It’s not always a comfortable process for Jazz (or the reader). In trying to figure out what the killer thinks, Jazz is forced to come face-to-face with his own damaged psyche.

Can Jazz really handle the pressure of thinking like a killer once again? Is he losing himself to the teachings of his father? How can Jazz possibly spend most of his time profiling serial killers without succumbing to the voice of Billy Dent in his head?

As Jazz comes closer to the truth about the Hat-Dog Killer and his dad’s possible involvement in this disturbing game of murder, Connie and Jazz’s best friend Howie are entangled in their own mystery. Someone is sending Connie messages leading her to some disturbing information about Jazz and his past. Who is sending these messages? And why send them to Connie and not Jazz? Connie enlists Howie’s help in her search for the truth, but neither of them will be prepared for what awaits them…

Once again, the hunt for a killer is on. Jazz and company will have to rely on their wits, tenacity, and good old-fashioned luck to figure out what’s going on…but it may not be enough. Even when questions are answered, dozens more pop up in their place, and the hunt for the truth may lead Jazz, Connie, and even Howie into further danger.

Someone is playing a murderous game with people’s lives, and Jazz and his friends may just become unwitting game pieces themselves. Can they make it out of the game alive? Only time will tell…

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I freely admit that the above recap doesn’t come remotely close to capturing everything that happened in Game. I didn’t even touch on the glimpses we got into the minds of Hat-Dog, Jazz, Connie, Howie, and Billy. Each perspective brought us new insights into these characters and how they view the world around them.

I briefly mentioned Jazz’s struggles with his own mind, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jazz is all kinds of messed up, and that definitely comes through for the reader. I even had to put the book down a couple of times and just catch my breath. Jazz’s head is not a happy place to be. What do you expect when a kid is basically raised to be a murderer, right? Sometimes it’s not clear if we’re actually reading Jazz’s thoughts or those of his lunatic father. I guess that’s the dilemma for Jazz as well.

Without giving too much away, I must say that the “game” aspect of Game freaked me the crap out. I may never look at board games the same again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. When I closed Game last night, I just sat there for a minute and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Has Barry Lyga been taking lessons from Steven Moffat (of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame) on torturing fans with mind-boggling endings? Do we seriously have to wait until September to find out how things are resolved (or if they are resolved) for Jazz and friends? I guess we do, but we don’t have to be happy about it!

The third book in this series, Blood of My Blood, should be released on September 9th. (Loving the title, by the way. Can’t wait to see what it might mean for Jazz!) Judging be the synopsis on Goodreads, we’re in for a lot more danger and intrigue. I look forward to diving into what I’m sure will be another fantastic read.

If you can’t wait for more of Jasper Dent and company, though, you can check out a couple of companion novellas. Lucky Day tells of how Billy was first captured, Career Day is a day in the life of sixteen-year-old Jasper, and Neutral Mask provides a look into the beginnings of the relationship between Jazz and Connie. Just click on the titles of each novella in the previous sentence, and you’ll be taken to the Goodreads page on each ebook.

For more information on I Hunt Killers, Game, or other books by Barry Lyga, check out his website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’ve got a minute or two to spare, you may also want to take a look at the Game book trailer below. It covers things I didn’t here, and, in my opinion, it definitely captures the mood of this intense read!

 

Buzz Kill

I first became a fan of Beth Fantaskey’s work a few years ago when I read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Since then, I’ve read a few other works by Fantaskey: Jessica Rules the Dark Side, Jekel Loves Hyde, and The Wedding of Antanasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu (a short story published on the author’s website). So, when Goodreads gave me the chance to read an ARC of this author’s latest novel, Buzz Kill, I was pretty stoked. I’m happy to say that the book lived up to my expectations.

Unlike Fantaskey’s other stories, this newest read has no supernatural elements, but it does introduce us to a strong, relatable, female protagonist. In Buzz Kill, readers meet Millie Ostermeyer, a seventeen-year-old who eats like a trucker, is the only member of her school’s Philosophy Club, wears ironic t-shirts that nobody gets, and has a somewhat loose relationship with rules and authority. She’s also an award-winning reporter for her school newspaper, and, while on what should be a routine assignment covering the new football stadium, Millie becomes embroiled in a story that will rock her entire world…

Nobody really liked the Stingers’ head football coach, Hollerin’ Hank Killdare, but who could have wanted him dead? That’s a question Millie wants answered after she discovers his body under the football stadium…especially when it’s made clear that her dad, the town’s mayor and the assistant football coach, tops the list of suspects.

Millie is sure that her dad didn’t do this (even if he has been acting kind of strange lately), so she goes on a quest to find the identity of the real killer. Plenty of people had reason to kill the coach, but who really did it? Was it Millie’s arch-nemesis, Vivienne Fitch, the cheerleader who was embarrased on YouTube, thanks largely to Coach Killdare? Was it Mike, Viv’s lackey, who lost his position as quarterback with the coach brought in a ringer? Could it even be the new quarterback himself, Chase Albright, a boy with a murky past who tends to keep to himself? Who could have committed this heinous crime, and can Millie figure things out before the murderer strikes again?

As Millie unleashes her inner Nancy Drew, she’ll find an unlikely ally in Chase. He’s still a total mystery, but it seems he knew Coach Killdare better than most, and he can give Millie access to the coach’s house, the school locker room, and other areas that would otherwise be off-limits (not that anything would have stopped Millie with or without Chase’s help). Chase may be the key in proving that her dad is not the killer everyone thinks he is.

But why does Chase want to help Millie? Why was the coach so important to him? Chase is most certainly hiding something, and, along with her quest to solve a murder mystery, Millie is determined to solve the mystery that is Chase Albright. She may not, however, be prepared for what she finds.

Millie and Chase are growing closer and closer to uncovering the truth…and they’re also growing closer to each other. Can either of them handle a relationship when everything around them is going crazy? Especially when things are about to get even more insane? There’s a killer on the loose, and, as Millie starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together, she may be this maniac’s next target. What would Nancy Drew do? Millie will have to answer this question and many more if she hopes to get out of this mess alive…

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I found Buzz Kill to be a thoroughly entertaining read. In addition to the murder mystery that kept me guessing for quite a while, I was also enthralled by the character of Millie. I think many readers will be able to see themselves in this character. She speaks before thinking sometimes, she dresses in what’s comfortable, she’s awkward around guys she likes, and she’s tortured by a mean girl. (Actually, “mean” doesn’t quite fit the evil Vivienne. The words I’d use to describe her would make a sailor blush. She’s vile, and a host of curse words went through my mind every time she made an appearance.) Millie questions rules that don’t make sense to her, she doesn’t understand why she should learn French, and she has a complicated relationship with her dad. Who can’t relate to at least some of that?

I also found Chase’s character to be intriguing. (See, I’m relating to Millie right now!) He was mysterious from the instant we saw him, and he remained something of an enigma for most of the book. Even when his secrets were revealed, there was still an aura of mystery about him. I think that’s part of what made him so attractive to Millie. Of course, his good looks and impressive vocabulary didn’t hurt either.

There were so many dynamic, well-developed characters in this book. I wanted to punch many of them in the face (even Millie on occasion). So many characters were butt-heads, in fact, that I didn’t know which one I wanted to be the killer. Like Millie, I waffled on who could have committed the crime, and, also like Millie, I didn’t figure things out until the very end. I’d say both of us were surprised by the way things turned out, and I think that’s the mark of a good mystery novel.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a liberal dose of humor, wit, and a touch of romance, I strongly urge you to give Buzz Kill a try.  It’s due to hit stores on May 6th, and I think it will be a big hit with middle grade, teen, and adult readers.

For more information on Buzz Kill and author Beth Fantaskey, visit the author’s website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Twitter feed.

The Body in the Woods

I love a good crime drama. It’s not uncommon for me to spend hours watching Criminal Minds, Law & Order (any of them), or my personal favorite, Sherlock. The same can be said for reading crime dramas, particularly those involving teenagers. Crime dramas–whether in print or visual media–have a way of sucking me in and not letting go until the mystery is solved.

When I got the opportunity to read a galley (courtesy of NetGalley) of the first book in a new YA crime drama series, I jumped at the chance…especially when I realized it was written by April Henry. (I’ve previously read and reviewed a couple of her books: Torched and The Night She Disappeared.)

The Body in the Woods, book one in Henry’s Point Last Seen series, will be released to the masses on June 17th, and readers who enjoy a good mystery will eat this book up.

Told from three different perspectives, The Body in the Woods begins with a Search and Rescue mission in a Portland park. Alexis, Ruby, and Nick are SAR volunteers, and they’re in the woods looking for a missing autistic man. They end up finding so much more. Not long into their search, they stumble upon something their training didn’t really prepare them for…a dead body. It’s not the body of the man they were looking for. No, this is the body of a teen girl, and, based on Ruby’s cursory examination of the scene, this girl was strangled.

The police have a lot of questions for Alexis, Nick, and Ruby, and the authorities urge the trio to leave the murder investigation to the professionals, but that’s not something these kids can really do. For different reasons, each of them is determined to discover who killed this girl.

Nick wants to be a hero. His dad was killed in action in Iraq, and Nick wants to live up to the heroic example set by his father. He imagines himself saving the day and being revered by those around him. Reality, though, doesn’t quite match up with Nick’s imagination. Tracking down a killer forces Nick deal with fear, bone-deep fear that makes him wonder if he’s really hero material.

Alexis needs to escape her life at home. Joining the SAR team seems to be a way to do that, get a good mark on her college applications, and help people at the same time. Even when Alexis is forced to deal with her mentally ill mother, she continues her work with SAR, hoping that she can help to solve this mystery which is growing closer and closer to her own life.

Ruby is a crime buff with no friends, and when she latches onto something, she can’t let it go. She knows she can figure out who committed this crime…and possibly others in the area. When Ruby discovers that another girl was murdered in a nearby park, she takes her suspicions to the police, but they brush her off. Alexis and Nick, however, listen to her and agree to keep digging.

Even when the three are warned off this case–and Ruby’s parents force her to abandon her work with the SAR team–they keep trying to figure out who could be killing homeless girls in Portland. But what will happen when the killer targets one of them? Are three teenagers any match for a sociopath with a taste for murder? Can they stop a killer before one of them becomes yet another body in the woods? Time will tell…

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As with most galleys, there were a couple of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that jumped off the page, but I’m sure those will be corrected in editing.  Those few errors aside, this was a riveting book. While I did enjoy reading each of the teens’ perspectives, I was even more intrigued when given a glimpse into the mind of the killer. (Not sure what that says about me.) Even with those glimpses, though, I didn’t figure out who the killer was until fairly late in the book, and that definitely served to keep the suspense going.

My favorite character in The Body in the Woods would have to be Ruby. When I was reading her point of view, it was all too easy to imagine her as a young, female version of Sherlock Holmes. She just didn’t think the way those around her did. (I swear, if she had told the others to shut up because she needed to go to her Mind Palace, I wouldn’t have been surprised.) Some may argue that Ruby, like Sherlock Holmes, is a high-functioning sociopath, and I think that is true to a certain degree. Like Sherlock, though, Ruby wants to be close to people. She’s just not always sure how to make that happen.

The Body in the Woods, in my opinion, is a great read for anyone (middle grades and up) who likes a good mystery. It is a quick, captivating read, and anyone interested in crime scenes and forensics will be taken in by this story. Definitely give this book to fans of Alane Ferguson’s forensic mysteries (The Christopher Killer, The Angel of Death, The Circle of Blood, and The Dying Breath).

As mentioned previously, this book will be available on June 17th. No word yet on when we can expect the other books in this exciting new series.

 

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Three Times Lucky

This morning, I finished yet another of this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. That book was Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Almost from the first page, I was enthralled. Why, you may ask? Simply because of the main character’s voice and the descriptive language used in this story. It’s been a while since I read any book–whether for children, teens, or adults–that was such a wonderful example of developing a character’s voice and employing figurative language. I found myself laughing frequently at how things were described in this book, and I also think readers and writers could learn a lot from Three Times Lucky about how to creatively express themselves using something as simple–and complicated–as words.

Eleven years ago, Moses “Mo” LoBeau washed ashore in Tupelo’s Landing, North Carolina. This child, who was washed away from her Upstream Mother in a hurricane, was rescued by the memory-impaired, cantankerous Colonel and Miss Lana, and the three of them made a life for themselves in this small coastal town.

Now, eleven years later, Mo is a rising sixth grader who works part-time in the restaurant run by the Colonel and Miss Lana. (Her specialty seems to be peanut butter on Wonder Bread.) She spends most of her spare time researching who and where her Upstream Mother might be, and she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. (The “III” is for the iconic #3 car of his namesake.)

This summer, however, things are being stirred up in Tupelo’s Landing, and Mo takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. One of the restaurant’s customers has been killed, a cop is asking questions about Mo’s beloved Colonel, and strange things are afoot in the town Mo calls home. What else is a precocious girl to do? Mo and Dale open up their own detective agency–Desperado Detectives–and begin investigating the crime.

What these junior detectives find, though, may just change everything they know about the people they’re closest to. What secrets are hiding in Tupelo’s Landing? And how can Mo and Dale discover the truth when the police can’t?

As Mo and Dale come closer and closer to solving the biggest mystery to hit Tupelo’s Landing since Mo herself washed ashore, they’ll learn just what family and friendship really mean. When waters get rough, it becomes clear who’ll be there for them, and even Mo might be surprised by who has her back. Join Mo LoBeau on her journey to the truth when you read Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award!

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The brief recap above doesn’t even come close to describing what Mo encounters in Three Times Lucky. I tried to hit the major points, but there are so many more that I could have added. Mo is a character to be remembered, and I could see so many of my students in her. She’s hilarious, strong-willed, loyal, curious, and determined…qualities that are to be admired in anyone, in my opinion. I adore this character and the way she looks at life. Despite her humble, mysterious origins, Mo doesn’t let anything stand in her way. Yes, that can sometimes get her into trouble, but she always has the best of intentions.

Another thing I enjoyed about Three Times Lucky was how many of the adults treated Mo. She wasn’t just some annoying kid to them. She was a valued part of the community…even when she didn’t always feel that way. The adults around Mo listened to her, took her seriously, and looked out for her. That’s no small thing, especially when Mo is technically an orphan with no “real” family of her own. In this book, it definitely takes a village to raise this particular child, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job!

If I had to classify this book, I would call it a humorous mystery. (If that wasn’t a category before, it is now.) Yes, Mo and Dale are trying to solve a murder, but they’re also living the lives 11-year-old kids with problems. Those problems are serious in their own right, but both Mo and Dale deal with those issues with humor and a particularly refreshing outlook.

All in all, I would say that Three Times Lucky is an excellent read for those in upper elementary grades and up. It’s highly entertaining from start to finish. I hope my students feel the same way.

The author of Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage, currently lives in eastern North Carolina, so I can only hope that she’ll journey across the border soon to visit with students and librarians in South Carolina. In the meantime, check out her webpage at http://www.sheilaturnage.com/SheilaTurnage/Desktop.html for more information on Three Times Lucky and future books!

Published in: on August 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Slide

It’s been a while, dear readers. I freely admit that I’ve neglected this blog for the past couple of weeks, and my only excuse is that I needed a break. Whenever Knight Reader feels more like an obligation than a fun hobby, I like to take a step back and spend some time focusing on other things. Yes, I still read during my brief hiatus, but I didn’t feel the need to blog about those books (mostly picture books and mindless romances). Also, I’m gearing up for a new school year, and I needed to just do nothing before I dive back into the school library grind. (My fellow school librarians can no doubt relate to how hectic the beginning of a new school year is.) Now, feeling a bit refreshed, I’m ready to get back to sharing books with people. Thanks for bearing with me.

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I never know what I’m going to get when I download free ebooks. Sometimes, these free books are less than stellar. Other times, though, I’m pleasantly surprised. The latter scenario was true of my latest read, Slide by Jill Hathaway. It was a free Kindle download last month, it seemed interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was a pretty good read, and it definitely kept me guessing. Readers who like a fast-paced mystery with supernatural undertones will likely agree.

Sylvia “Vee” Bell is not what one would call a normal teenager. Sure, she has many of the typical problems–parents, popularity (or lack thereof), siblings, boys–but she has to deal with something that most people don’t. The “experts” call her condition narcolepsy, but they really don’t know the whole story. They don’t know that when Vee falls asleep/passes out, she doesn’t just lose consciousness. She “slides” into the minds of others. She sees what people don’t want seen. She learns things she doesn’t necessarily want to know.

When Vee slides into one mind, however, she sees something that turns her blood cold. She sees her sister’s best friend, Sophie, dead. Her wrists are slit, her bed is covered in blood, and someone–the eyes through which Vee is viewing this scene–is writing a suicide note. Vee, of course, is the only person who knows that Sophie was murdered, but how can she prove to everyone that this is not the obvious suicide that they seem to think it is…especially when she doesn’t know whose mind she slid into.

As Vee searches for answers, she uncovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her sister, and even her own father. But how do these long-kept secrets have anything to do with what happened to Sophie…and what is continuing to happen in Vee’s community? Who is ultimately responsible for the terror in her town, and is there anything Vee can do to put a stop to it…before she’s the next victim? Unravel the mystery when you read Slide by Jill Hathaway.

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While Slide was an engaging, gripping book, it’s not one I would have picked up had it not been free. (Kudos to whoever decided to make it a free download last month. You reached at least one new reader.) Now, I kind of want to see how the story progresses in the next book, Impostor. Maybe it’ll be a free download soon.

Slide is not a particularly deep book, but it does explore family dynamics and how secrets and jealousy can tear relationships apart. It is a mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. (I’m pretty good at picking up on clues, but even I didn’t really expect things to end they way they did.)

If the premise of Slide intrigues you, I urge you to give Lisa McMann’s Wake series a try. These three books (Wake, Fade, and Gone) are very similar, in my opinion, to what occurs in Slide, but they’re a little more fleshed out.

For more information about Slide and author Jill Hathaway, visit http://www.jillhathaway.com/index2.php.

The Madness Underneath

Spoilers! Read Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, the first book in her Shades of London series, before continuing. I just finished the second book in the series, The Madness Underneath, and you really need to experience the first book before diving into the second. This sequel is definitely not a stand-alone novel. You’ve been warned!

A little over a year and a half ago, I read The Name of the Star (which is now on the nominee list for this year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award). I picked this book up for two reasons. 1. The author, Maureen Johnson, is one of the funniest people on the planet. (If you don’t already follow her on Twitter, you should.) 2. Jack the Ripper. I’ve always been kind of morbidly fascinated by stories of the Ripper, and I figured this one–with its new supernatural twist–would intrigue me. As usual, I was right.

I absolutely adored The Name of the Star (one of my top 10 books of 2011), so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick up the sequel. (It was released in October 2012.) At any rate, I made time for it this week, and it didn’t take long to get right back into the world created in this series.

Now, the Ripper-esque story in the first book was–more or less–wrapped up, but the aftermath opened up a whole new world to our main character, Rory Deveaux, a Louisiana native transplanted in London while her parents are on sabbatical. (Hmm…a southern girl in London. I wonder why that appeals to me…)

Following her near-death experience at Wexford, her boarding school, Rory is now staying in Bristol under the watchful eyes of her parents and her therapist. While Rory would normally be thrilled to talk about herself–especially to someone who is basically paid to listen–she just can’t tell her therapist (or her parents) what really happened. No, she must keep quiet about her encounter with the Ripper copycat who stabbed and nearly killed her. She can never reveal that she can see ghosts…and can now somehow kill them (or help them move on to the next spiritual plane) with a touch. Who would believer her anyway? Is there any way for Rory to get back to some semblance of a normal life and maybe–just maybe–not have to hide so much? Perhaps…

With the help of some high-ranking government officials, Rory is allowed to return to Wexford. She’s behind in all of her classes, and she has a bit of trouble adjusting to school after so much time away, but Rory is back with friends…including the Shades of London, a top secret “police force” capable of seeing and interacting with ghosts. And the Shades–Stephen, Callum, and Boo–need Rory. Now that their all-important termini (ghost-eliminators) are gone, Rory is the only being that can send ghosts on. (On to where, I have no idea.) A simple touch makes ghosts go bye-bye. So, in addition to worrying about grades, friends, boys, and the warped psyche that comes with nearly being murdered, Rory must also deal with being a human terminus, a weapon against ghosts with a grudge.

And boy, do some of the ghosts in London carry grudges. But they’re not the only beings up to no good. It seems that something–or someone–even more disturbing may be at work, and Rory finds herself right in the middle of yet another mess. Her longing to get away from her problems and find a place to belong may have landed her into a predicament that even her quick wit can’t get out of. What has Rory gotten herself into this time, and will she be able to find a way out…before she or someone she cares about pays the price? Learn what madness lurks underneath the streets of London–and in the hearts and minds of people–when you read The Madness Underneath, the second book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series.

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While I enjoyed The Name of the Star a bit more than this book, I have to say that The Madness Underneath was a wonderful read. The character’s distinctive, often sarcastic, voice was perfect, and I felt her turmoil over trying to return to a somewhat normal life after going through so much horror. At several points in the story, I felt like screaming at Rory because I could kind of see that she was about to walk into bad situations. (What seventeen-year-old doesn’t?) I was thoroughly engaged and, at the end, kind of heartbroken. (When you read this book, you’ll know what I mean. If I didn’t treasure books so much, this one would have taken a lovely flight across the room and landed against my wall.) I’m hoping for some kind of happy resolution in the next book. (But I honestly don’t see how things can get happy after what happened at the end of this one. Hopefully, Maureen Johnson can find some way to “unbreak my heart,” to borrow a phrase from one of my all-time least favorite songs.)

Speaking of the next book, it’s supposedly titled The Shadow Cabinet and is due for release sometime in 2014 according to Goodreads. There is no information on the third book on Maureen Johnson’s website. With any luck, she’ll tweet about it in the near future. (This woman is all about some Twitter. So am I, so that’s cool.)

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll leave you with a book trailer for The Madness Underneath from Penguin Young Readers. It’s creepy, but it doesn’t give away much of anything about the book. It does a good job of setting the mood for a good supernatural mystery though. Enjoy!

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ripper

I’ll admit that I have a somewhat morbid fascination with the unsolved mystery that surrounds Jack the Ripper. (I’m no ripperologist, but my personal bucket list does include taking the Jack the Ripper tour in London.) In the past couple of years, there have been a number of YA fiction books published that revolve around the unknown serial killer. Last year, I was lucky enough to read Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, in which someone is recreating the crimes of the Ripper. (It’s an absolutely fantastic read, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Madness Underneath, which will be released on February 26th.) Several days ago, I started reading Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves. I first heard about this book from the author herself. She presented information about her book at the annual SCASL (South Carolina Association of School Librarians) conference earlier this year. I was enthralled by her research process and the little details that went into the making of Ripper. I meant to read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it, but one thing or another inevitably got in the way, and I didn’t make the time to really get into this book until a few days ago (when I got out of school for winter break). Now, I’ll go ahead and tell you (if you didn’t already know) that historical fiction is not exactly my cup of tea…unless it happens to take place in London. There’s just something about that city that totally captivates me, and Ripper only added to my obsession…

The year is 1888, and a young girl, recently orphaned, has moved to London to live with her strict, unyielding grandmother. Arabella Sharp is not exactly a typical Kensington lady…much to her grandmother’s chagrin. Abbie would much rather be doing something interesting rather that sitting around all day waiting for her grandmother to select a suitable husband for her. Unexpectedly, Abbie receives an invitation to work at Whitechapel Hospital, assisting a doctor and family friend with the care of poor women (mostly prostitutes) and their children. Even though the work is most unpleasant at times, Abbie feels drawn to the medical field and is considering doing something totally unheard of–applying to attend medical school.

While Abbie is learning much at Whitechapel Hospital–and dealing with rather puzzling feelings for not one but two young physicians–something more sinister is occurring nearby. Prostitutes, all of them former patients at the hospital, are being murdered. No one seems to know anything about the culprit, but his heinous crimes soon earn him the nickname Jack the Ripper. All of London, specifically the rundown area of Whitechapel, is in an uproar. Who is this killer? Why is he targeting prostitutes? And why can the police find no trace of him?

Abbie, much to her dismay, may be in possession of answers to these questions. Ever since she first entered the Whitechapel area, she’s been plagued by visions. Visions of the Ripper’s crimes as they are committed. She’s seen what he does to his victims. She’s felt his breath on her neck. She knows that he’s somehow got his eye on her. But why? And what is his connection to the hospital where she feels so needed?

As Abbie does all that she can to uncover the mystery of the Ripper, she uncovers something that she is totally unprepared for. Jack the Ripper is not the only being wreaking havoc on London. Something much bigger may be at work, and the Ripper might just be one small piece of the puzzle. Can Abbie unveil the truth before she’s lost to a power that spans centuries? Before she–or someone close to her–becomes the Ripper’s next victim? Read Ripper, Amy Carol Reeves’ gripping tale, to reveal the horrible, hidden truth about the world’s most infamous serial killer.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the supernatural twist at the end of this book. (I liked it, but it was a bit surprising.) Ripper isn’t simply a retelling of the crimes of Jack the Ripper. It does contain lots of information based on actual events, locations, and people, but this is most definitely a fictional account of what could have happened during that horrible time in 1888…if you believe in the strange and supernatural, that is. (I’m not saying that I do, but it is kind of fun to read about.) Amy Carol Reeves detailed what was and wasn’t factual in her book when she spoke at the SCASL conference, but I must confess that I can’t remember everything. (It was in March, after all.) I will, however, get the opportunity to go over this information with her again, as she is speaking at the conference again this year. (And I get to facilitate a panel with her and several other YA authors.  Hooray for me!) I also look forward to talking with her about the next book in this series, Renegade, which is due out in April of 2013.

If you’d like more information about Ripper and author Amy Carol Reeves, I encourage you to visit the author’s website. For those of you searching for information on Jack the Ripper, there are thousands of websites that contain loads of information, many of them saying different things. Theories abound on the true identity of this killer, so it’s no surprise that this enigma has found its way to YA fiction. If you can recommend any other YA Ripper books, let me know, and I’ll add them to my towering to-read pile!

Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Hunt Killers

One of my favorite TV shows is Criminal Minds.  I think it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into the mind of a killer.  (Yes, that makes me a bit morbid, but society as a whole, in my opinion, has a morbid fascination with killers, especially serial killers.  Just look at the hoopla that still surrounds Jack the Ripper.)  Anyway, I finished a book a couple of days ago that offers an even more interesting perspective than we often see in our favorite crime dramas.  I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga shows readers what life might be like for the son of one of the world’s most renowned (fictional) serial killers.

 

I Hunt Killers explores what life is like for our main character, Jasper “Jazz” Dent, who grew up with a vicious sociopath who cared nothing for human life.  Now that Jasper’s dad, who goes by so many monikers, is in prison, Jasper must face his own demons…and this becomes harder than ever when a new serial killer comes to town, one that is mimicking The Artist (otherwise known as Jazz’s dad).

Jazz is convinced that the recent murders in the town of Lobo’s Nod are the work of a serial killer, but no one seems to believe him.  But will that stop him from trying to prove his point?  Not even a little bit.  Jazz is putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and he’s sure that this new killer is copying his father’s work.  But how can he convince the police of this, especially when he knows he’ll end up being their prime suspect.  After all, Jazz was raised by pure evil.  How could he help but be infected by it?

As Jazz struggles to stop a killer, he is also examining his own mind and the disturbing images and urges that seem to be such a big part of him.  Jazz’s father, the great and terrible Billy Dent, never kept secrets from his son.  Jazz knows everything about Billy’s kills.  He was there for many of them.  Billy instructed Jazz on how to track victims (or prospects), how to clean up a crime scene, and how to kill.  That knowledge doesn’t just go away, and now Jazz is faced with the possibility that he’s more like his father than he’d ever want to admit.

As the body count rises, it’s up to Jazz (and a couple of loyal friends) to stop this new killer in his tracks, save the next victim(s) on his list, and prove to everyone–including Jazz himself–that it’s possible to rise above his horrible upbringing and do something that really matters.  Something that will save lives instead of destroying them.

I Hunt Killers is not a book for the faint of heart.  This book takes an all-too-realistic look at the life and mind of a sociopath…and the horror such a person could inflict on not only his victims but even his own family.  What would something like that do to an impressionable child?  You’ll get a glimpse of that in this book. 

While I related I Hunt Killers a bit to Criminal Minds, a friend of mine thought it was more like Dexter.  In a sense, it is.  (And if you’ve never seen Dexter, you really should…if you don’t mind copious amounts of blood, that is.)  While Jazz is trying to figure out who is committing these horrible crimes, he’s also dealing with his own violent urges–and how he could use those urges and his own past to stop this killer before he goes any further.  So, I guess this book is kind of the perfect combination of Criminal Minds and Dexter…and I can hardly wait to see where this winning combo takes us in the future.

I Hunt Killers is the first book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series.  The next book, Game, is set for an April 2013 release, and this book will further explore Jazz’s psyche and his efforts to stop history from repeating itself.

For more information on I Hunt Killers and other books by author Barry Lyga, visit http://barrylyga.com or follow the author on Twitter @barrylyga.  You may also want to check out this absolutely creeptastic book trailer from Little, Brown.  It made me want to go back and read the book all over again.

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