Category Archives: YA

Audiobook Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Unabridged edition (April 10, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0061341045
  • Source: Personal copy

Twelve-year-old Stephanie is confused when, after her eccentric uncle passes away, she is on the list to attend the reading of the will. There, a stranger appears, a man bundled up in a scarf, coat, and hat.  He’s introduced as Skulduggery Pleasant, a close friend of her uncle. When it comes time for the reading of the will, Stephanie is shocked to learn she’s inherited her uncle’s home.

Stephanie is attacked her first night staying alone in her uncle’s home. It is Skulduggery Pleasant who comes to her rescue, but Stephanie sees him for what he truly is: a walking, talking skeleton detective. She quickly becomes immersed in a world of magic in which an evil creature by the name of Nefarian Serpine is attempting to get his hands on the Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon that will wield him limitlessness power.  Together, with Skulduggery, the unlikely duo must confront this ancient evil and prevent him from taking control over the world!

A few weeks ago, I put out a request on Twitter for audiobook recommendations. This series was one of the first recommendations I received.  I don’t listen to a lot of middle grade/young adult audio books so I was really looking forward to this adventure. And boy, was it an adventure! Skulduggery Pleasant encompasses so much that I feel is missing in middle grade books! A young, female protagonist who, despite her age, is quite strong and fearless. The addition of Skulduggery himself adds a sense of humor and wit that lightens a potentially dark plot line. A sci-fi/fantasy meets detective story! But what really stands out for me is the audio book production.  Not only is there an outstanding narrating performance by Rupert Degas, but each chapter leads with catchy (ok, and a little bit cheesy) music. It’s almost as if you are listening to a television series or a radio show.

Finally, while the cover looks a bit creepy, the tone of the book is actually not. I have both an eight and a fourteen year old and I think this would be appropriate for both!  I guarantee any fan of mystery or magic of any age will fall in love with this unlikely duo of evil fighting heroes!  I cannot wait to listen to the next book in this eight book series! Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

  • Age Range: 12 and up/Grade 7 and up
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (September 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0385743564
  • Source: Publisher

A decade ago Calamity came, a meteor that gave people extraordinary powers. Soon these individuals began to be referred to as Epics. Rather than using their power for good, they demanded more power and domination. No one dared to stand up to the Epics other than a rogue group of individuals known as the Reckoners. These individuals lacked any special powers but devoted all their time to studying the Epics so they can be eliminated.

David is an eighteen-year-old young man who is desperate to join the Reckoners. His young life has been spent studying the Epics, specifically Steelheart, the Epic that killed his father.  He has more knowledge of the Epics than any other individual, a knowledge that borders on obsession.  His desire to bring them down is personal; he’s willing to risk everything to bring down the Epic. With the Reckoners, David can finally execute the plan he’s been developing for the past ten years.

First reaction after reading this book? Wow! I read the synopsis and was immediately intrigued.  Sanderson has developed a post-apocalyptic world in Chicago (referred to as Newcago) that is dripping with intensity, never a dull moment.  What makes this novel stand out to me are the Epic’s super powers. They aren’t your typical, run-of-the mill powers.  With these powers come weaknesses that be used to the Reckoner’s advantage. Like Superman and his kryptonite, there is some flaw in their power that can bring them down.  David, through his diligent study of  the Epics, is the unlikely hero that will stop their ten-year reign.

The world Sanderson builds is unique and all together terrifying. He isn’t one of those authors that creates something without any explanation as to its cause; there is a reason and explanation for everything. Additionally, he pays homage to the super heroes/villains in comic books, a novelization of my favorite things about comic books!

While it is labeled as a young adult, don’t let that sway you from reading this novel. It had my attention from the beginning. Honestly, they only thing “young adult” about this book is that the main character is in his teens. There is a bit of violence so perhaps the age range of 12 and up is a bit low; My son is fourteen and I plan on allowing him to read this but do your due diligence and read a sample yourself before passing it on to your child to read.

Overall, I found this to be a incredibly well crafted novel guaranteed to thrill readers of all ages. I’m thrilled that this is the beginning of a three book series. I cannot wait for more! Highly recommended.

#Mx3 Review: The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 10, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0375868771
  • Source: Publisher

The citizens of the small town of Oleander, Kansas call it the killing day: five people with seemingly no connection commit murders, killing 12 individuals, then attempt to kill themselves. In four out of five cases, they succeeded.  A year has passed but that terrifying date in history has awaken something in this small town.  Exacerbating the town’s pain and recovery, a devastating tornado hits the small town, destroying all but a small portion of the town.  The military is called in, setting up road blocks and barbed wire fences, shutting down any communication with the outside world.  Citizens who attempt to breach the quarantine are killed on the spot. Once peaceful citizens are rising up and committing horrific crimes, taking the law into their own hands.  It’s only a group of five teens – Daniel, West, Jule, Cass, and Ellie- that realize something is seriously wrong and band together to find answers.

Told from the point of view of these five teens, The Waking Dark tells each of their stories how it relates to the killing day and the aftermath.   They each harbor their own secrets, but opening up and banding together is the only way to avoid certain death. What they uncover is darker and more devastating than anyone ever could have imagined.

The characters Wasserman builds in this young adult horror novel are unique, flawed and, most of the time, not very likeable.  Personally, I found it a challenge to connect to any of them and I didn’t really care about their fate or survival.  What kept me invested in this novel was the storyline; I was desperate to uncover the source of the town’s evil.  I’m purposefully vague in the root of this evil for I feel that readers should uncover it on their own.  The execution of the reveal is one of this novel’s selling points.

While I didn’t connect with the characters, I did find the storyline compelling. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I though it would be, but I’d prefer a horror novel to have a strong plot than forced “terror.”  If you are looking for a unique piece of young adult horror fiction, The Waking Dark is the novel for you. Recommended.
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Mx3 Review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (August 20, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062220969
  • Source: Personal Copy

Sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford is looking forward to starting the summer program at New Hampshire College Prep.  He’s not really part of the “in-crowd” at his high school and he’s looking forward to making some friends before he starts college the following year.  Upon his arrival, Dan learns that his dorm used to be an asylum for the criminally insane.

Dan is quick to make friends, surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Two of his closest friends are Abby and Jordan.  One night, they decide to go investigating the closed off portion of the dorm, formerly the administrative offices of the asylum. There they uncover brutal pictures depicting patients and some of the procedures performed on them.  Dan uncovers files on some of the former patients, including a serial killer known as the Sculptor who went missing after the asylum closed. The Sculptor posed his victims, over 12 in number, like statues.

Soon after, strange things begin happening. Dan begins receiving strange and cryptic messages.  Students are found dead, their bodies posed like statues.  Dan and Abby do a bit of investigating on their own and uncover pretty horrifying news about their families’ past tying them to the former asylum. It seems, though, as they get closer to uncovering the truth, the more their lives are in danger. Have the ghosts of the asylum come back to haunt them, or is something more deadly amiss?

I picked up a copy of Asylum shortly after it was released early this fall, instantly drawn to the haunting cover. As I paged through the book, I knew this would be a perfect title to feature as part of Murders, Monsters & Mayhem.  While the plot itself is pretty predictable, the photographs and overall tone of the book gave me goosebumps. It’s been nearly a week since I read this and I cannot get over the photographs.  Knowing that these pictures are from actual asylums added a completely new chill factor!

PicMonkey CollageLooking for a book that will send chills down your spine? Pick up a copy of this book. I guarantee you will not regret (or forget) it! Highly recommended!

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Review: The Registry by Shannon Stoker

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (June 11, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0062271725
  • Source: Publisher

Years ago, The Registry saved the country from potential collapse. Girls are groomed to be perfect wives and are sold for the highest bid to their potential husbands. Mia Morrissey is about to turn eighteen years old and eligible to be registered. Her childhood was spent preparing for this very moment yet when she receives a warning from her sister who was recently married, her dreams of a fairytale future are destroyed.

Essentially, women are treated as property. They are not allowed to have their own opinions, speak unless spoken to, and must clear every action with their husbands. They are not formally educated, other than instruction on how to sew and cook for their husbands. Marriage is no longer based on love, instead focusing on what the young girl, a piece of property, can give to her husband.

When a husband is found for Mia, she suddenly decides that the life that has been arranged for her is less than ideal and she runs, taking her friend Whitney. Whitney has only a month left on the registry before she’s turned over to the government, living the life of a slave for its bidding. The two enlist (blackmail) Andrew, one of Mia’s father’s farmhands, to aid in their escape. Andrew just has a few weeks left before his mandatory four-year enlistment in the military and he intended to travel around the country, taking advantage of his last days of freedom.

Running from The Registry is rare and deadly, to both the potential wife and any accomplices. Mia’s husband, Grant, will stop at nothing to get Mia back, even if it means killing anyone who stands in his way. While the trio attempts to escape to Mexico where the registry doesn’t exist, Grant uses his influence to track down Mia, leaving several dead in his wake.

While I was intrigued about the premise of The Registry, I couldn’t get over a number of issues that tainted my opinion of this book. No one seems to know much about the origin of The Registry, other than it has been in existence for nearly a century. What was once the United States is now broken up into regions. Young girls are led to believe there is nothing beyond the area in which they reside, not realizing there is an entire world free of The Registry.  Granted, the life that we lead presently is so far from this dystopian world, yet I found it hard to comprehend how and why a nation would continue to practice such archaic beliefs.

Additionally, I found the main character, Mia, uninteresting and frankly quite annoying. She quickly alternates between a strong and independent young woman and a whiney teen who seems to lack in common sense. I felt no connection with her and only found myself rooting for her because I strongly detested the future she was destined to fulfill.

And then there was a love-triangle. That, too, was cheesy, over the top, and immature.  This title definitely leans a little bit more toward the young adult than I thought it would and this could potentially be why I was able to connect or have any vested interest in the characters and storyline.

The Registry is the first in a planned series, the second book due out in Winter 2014. While I can’t say I won’t read it (for I am truly interested in learning more about the origins of The Registry) I won’t rush out to buy it on release day.

I received a copy of this book as part of my participation in a tour with TLC Book Tours.  Check out the other stops in the tour…perhaps others will have a better opinion of this title.

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (February 26, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1250012570
  • Source: Library copy

The year is 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Park is a sixteen-year-old part Asian boy living in a mostly white community. He’s not an outcast but due to his interest in alternative music and comics forces him to stand apart from the others. One morning, a new kid climbs on the school bus. Eleanor has bright red hair and a unique taste in clothing. It’s almost as if she is trying to draw attention to herself. Unaware of the politics of school bus seating, Eleanor instantly becomes the target of bullies riding the bus. Attempting to put an end to the confrontation, Park orders her to sit down next to him. For the longest time, they ignore one another. Park tunes out the world, headphones blaring on his head, flipping through pages of his favorite comics. One day he notices Eleanor reading along and their relationship begins to change.

Soon he begins to bring in comics for Eleanor to borrow and their joint interest sparks conversation. As Park begins to learn more about Eleanor, their friendship begins to evolve into something more. Eleanor is one of five children living with their mother and abusive step-father. She’s forced to wash her hair with flea shampoo and must hurry to take a bath right after work for fear of being accosted by her step-father. She was kicked out once before, forced to live with friends of her mother, and she fears the same will happen. Now that she has someone who understands her, appreciates her uniqueness, she doesn’t want to put an end to the life she has now, even if it means dealing with her step father’s verbal abuse.

Eleanor and Park quickly bond. Both ostracized for various reasons (Eleanor for her appearance and Park for his ethnicity) the two are drawn together. The unavoidable challenge is whether or not their relationship can stand up against all the elements driving them apart.

There are so many things that I loved about this book. Set in the late 80s, I was instantly taken back to my own youth with flashbacks to Esprit tote bags and the alternative music that was just starting to become popular. Eleanor and Park were the most adorable couple. They were genuine teens with real teen issues. I instantly felt a connection with Eleanor. Growing up, I didn’t always have what other kids my age had, I didn’t have the trendy clothes and had to be creative with what I did have. Fortunately, my home life was far more stable than hers but I still found aspects of her life to which I could relate.

I think it’s tremendously important for young adult novels to have characters like Eleanor and Park so teens growing up with issues have someone with which to connect. I don’t read a lot of young adult, mainly because I feel that some of the popular titles create unrealistic worlds for the teen readers with overinflated characters they are unable to connect with. Perhaps they have a better life or are economically privileged and can have whatever they want. But what makes this title brilliant is the fact that Eleanor and Park do not have this fairy-tale life. They are genuine. While their fate wasn’t necessarily a happy one, it was real, not artificially constructed to leave readers with a happy ending.

Additionally, while it was set nearly thirty years ago, it is my belief that young adults can still connect to the characters. Setting it in this time frame allows the author to avoid some of more modern issues teens are dealing with now, instead focusing on the wonderful relationship between Eleanor and Park.

I was devastated when I finished reading this book. I didn’t want to cut the ties to Eleanor and Park and the life they had together. Eleanor and Park reminded me what it was like to be a teen again, a time when I thought not having the right clothes or the right friends meant the end of the world. It allowed me to see just how lucky in life I am, this book is a true gift. It has been quite some time since a book has left me feeling this way, a testament to Rowell’s writing.  I recommend this book highly to all readers, even if you do not typically read young adult. Eleanor and Park will have a resounding effect on your soul. I know they did with mine.




Frightful Friday: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. The featured title this week is The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey:

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (May 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0399162410

When the first wave hit, it wiped out electricity.  The second wiped out entire coastlines. The third spread a deadly plague. During the fourth wave aliens known as The Others sought to destroy all surviving humans. The fifth wave is far more deadly and destructive.

Cassiopeia (Cassie) Sullivan has survived the first four waves. Quickly adapting to her new survivalist life, toting a M-16 her only goal is to rescue her younger brother, Sammie, from The Others. Along the way she is rescued by Evan Walker, a quiet and mysterious loner. His involvement in the fifth wave seems completely innocent at first but the more Cassie learns of The Others plans, the more she begins to question everything and everyone she has ever known. She must do anything she can to survive the alien attack and reunite with her only remaining family.

I’m purposefully being quiet vague in my synopsis of this novel. The beauty, and intensity, of this story is discovering the chain of events as it occurs. A long time fan of Yancey myself, I was once again rewarded with a truly remarkable and engrossing tale of horror and the unknown. Cassie is an incredibly strong protagonist; it is refreshing to see a young girl cast in this role. Secondary characters are so well-crafted that you will forget they are just that, secondary pieces or pawns in a larger scale story. Yancey varies the point of view allowing each of the key players to give readers a truly unique and unaltered portrayal of what could be the end of human life as we know it.

At nearly 500 pages, one would think that this book would take forever to get through. Completely untrue, for I couldn’t tear myself away from this book for a moment, eventually reading it in one afternoon. In addition to the incredibly compelling and terrifying storyline, Yancey writes a truly intelligent and thought-provoking read. While readers are asked to dispel belief in some cases, a large portion of this novel is completely plausible.

Plot twists scattered throughout the novel add intensity to the already fast-moving storyline. You will want to stop, shocked about what was just revealed yet you won’t be able to tear yourself away for one moment, a hunger for more that won’t be satisfied until you turn the last pages.  While this is geared toward young adults/older middle-grade, this is the sort of novel that adults would find to be compelling and enjoyable as well.

Bottom line: The 5th Wave is an intense, tremendously chilling and terrifying read. Highly, highly recommended.

Be sure to check out The 5th Wave website for additional information and content!

Review: I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: New Dawn Publishers Ltd (May 27, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1908462043
  • Source: BookSparks PR

Twelve-year-old Lucky Bird’s young life comes to a screeching halt when her mother, AnnMarie, disappears. Now forced to live alone with her abusive grandmother, Marian, her world becomes a living nightmare. Unexplained physical attacks by Marian were just the least of Lucky’s worries; Marian’s boyfriend, Tom, stalks Lucky, adding a completely different level of terror to her life. When she is attacked and can no longer suffer the abuse, Lucky escapes. Rather than finding a better life, circumstances force her to embark on a downward spiral of self-destruction involving drugs and the use of sex to obtain what she wanted.

It isn’t until her life is literally saved by young man and his family that Lucky is able to seek recovery and begin to deal with the inner demons that have taunted her all her life. She is forced to come to terms with indescribably terrifying secrets kept hidden from her, secrets that answer a great deal about her mother and the “motive” behind her twisted and abusive grandmother.

To say that this novel is a simple coming-of-age story of a young girl greatly depreciates the value and impact of this story. Often compared to White Oleander, I Am Lucky Bird doesn’t sugar coat or gloss over the pain and tragedy bestowed upon the main character. Philips portrays a completely genuine character living a life that, unfortunately, is completely plausible and realistic. While the ending strays a bit from the believability spectrum I think it is paramount that the author added a bit of hope to what started out to be a pretty dark and devastating story. A truly lasting and emotional story, I Am Lucky Bird is a novel that has carved a home in my heart. Highly recommended.

Mx3 Review: Ten by Gretchen McNeil

  • Reading level: Ages 13 and up
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray (September 18, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0062118781
  • Source: Publisher

Best friends Meg and Minnie have been invited to an exclusive house party on Henry Island. The two friends are looking forward to the weekend’s activities and the time spent together before Meg heads off to college in the fall. The group invited is small, only five boys and five girls. Meg and Minnie know some of the other members of the group, but many attend another school. While waiting for the host to arrive, the group sits back and enjoys their freedom. Alone on an island until the ferry picks them up the following Monday. A teenager’s dream, right?

All dreams quickly turn to nightmares when they discover a terrifying DVD with the message “Vengeance is mine.” The home loses power due to a storm, the remote location preventing a cell signal, and one by one members of the group are killed in the most unique manners possible.

Told from Meg’s point of view, readers will become immersed in the terrifying world McNeil has built. As people start dying, surviving members of the group start placing blame on one another and the intensity builds. Meg is the only individual who seems interested in figuring out who/why they have been targeted. The majority of the other members are initially reluctant to believe that a killer is among them but the rising death count soon persuades them.

One of the many things I loved about this book was the strong lead character McNeil created with Meg. At first glance, she appears pretty meek, almost a pushover. As time passes, however, she is the one person in the motley group of teens who seems to grow a backbone.  From early on, I was suspicious of most everyone in the group, not really feeling a connection with any of them, other than Meg. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked when the culprit was revealed. A truly addictive read, the intense pacing never waning. This novel is based on Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None; I think Christie herself would have been proud of this adaptation!

Ten is destined to become a movie; I’d be largely disappointed if it didn’t. Until then, it makes a perfect book to read this Halloween season. Highly recommended.

 

 

Frightful Friday: Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough:

  • Reading level: Ages 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (July 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 076365808
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Cora and her younger sister Mimi are reluctant to stay with their eccentric Aunt Ida, but their situation at home demands it. Ida doesn’t exactly welcome them with open arms, treating the girls as if they are a burden. She forbids the children from opening any windows or doors; these are to remained locked at all times. Cora believes her aunt to be a little batty. Little do the girls know about the history of the village of Byers Guerdon…

Cora and Mimi soon befriend Roger and Peter, two village boys, neighbors of Aunt Ida. They are granted a bit of freedom outside Ida’s home but they have been warned to stay away from the parish church building.  Roger and Peter have heard this warning most of their lives, so what do they do? They head to the church. After multiple visits to the church, Cora uncovers old letters detailing the history of the church, of Byers Guerdon, and the village legend of Long Lankin. She soon realizes she is in over her head, their very presence has awaken an evil that has remained buried for decades, an evil that has tormented her family for generations. Her anxiety is validated when she begins to hear voices, to see images of children in the cemetery. But it’s not she that Long Lankin is after…he is more interested in young Mimi.

Barraclough creates a delightfully chilling story of folklore and family curses in Long Lankin. I knew I was in for a treat after reading the chilling poem in the opening pages:

Said my lord to my lady, as he mounted his horse,
Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.
Said my lord to my lady, as he rode away
Beware of Long Lankin, that lives in the hay.
Let the doors be all bolted and the windows all pinned,
Except one little window,
where Long Lankin crept in…”

The poem of Long Lankin is a traditional poem based on an actual local legend, adding to the chill factor. Also contributing to this overwhelming feeling of dread is the setting. Ida lives in a village between a small stream that connects to the sea. At times, it is impossible to differentiate between the stream and the sea as they appear to be one. Additionally, Long Lankin is set in the 1950s, when there are no such things as cell phones and limited modes of transportation. The girls are secluded, miles away from any large pocket of civilization. Add a quirky aunt and a desolate landscape and you have the perfect recipe for a delightfully creepy horror story.

The author uses alternating points of view in this novel, allowing the reader to get the perspective of many of the main characters. The story starts from Cora’s perspective, then alternates between her, Roger, and Aunt Ida. This shifting point of view added to the overall dynamics of the novel allowing the reader to see all sides of the story, giving access to motivations and thoughts of each of the characters. I truly appreciated Cora’s perspective. At first, she starts out somewhat naive and a little annoying but is quick to act on her toes when that is demanded of her. Aunt Ida’s character is probably the one that develops the most, starting out with a mean, wicked old woman who slowly transitions into a caring, loving aunt.

I must say, the times when the characters recited the eerie little poem were the most chilling to me. Those of you readers who remember the Nightmare on Elm Street can remember the song children used to sing to warn of that terrifying monster. I felt the same level of fear reading about Long Lankin.

Ultimately, Long Lankin is a novel I believe would be appreciated by teens as well as adults. I only wish they had this sort of book when I was growing up! I think it serves as the perfect crossover from young adult horror to adult. Highly recommended!

More reviews:

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