In the midst of the freezing Arctic winter, seventeen-year-old Lumikki Andersson walks into her school’s dark room and finds a stash of wet, crimson-colored money. Thousands of Euros left to dry—splattered with someone’s blood.

Lumikki lives alone in a studio apartment far from her parents and the past she left behind. She transferred into a prestigious art school, and she’s singularly focused on studying and graduating. Lumikki ignores the cliques, the gossip, and the parties held by the school’s most popular and beautiful boys and girls.

But finding the blood-stained money changes everything. Suddenly, Lumikki is swept into a whirlpool of events as she finds herself helping to trace the origins of the money. Events turn even more deadly when evidence points to dirty cops and a notorious drug kingpin best known for the brutality with which he runs his business.

As Lumikki loses control of her carefully constructed world, she discovers that she’s been blind to the forces swirling around her—and she’s running out of time to set them right. When she sees the stark red of blood on snow, it may be too late to save her friends or herself.

as red as blood by sala simukkaOlivia: Salla, welcome! We’re here today discussing your novel, the Snow White-inspired thriller AS RED AS BLOOD.  You have a long career, but this is the first chance for English readers to get to know you, yes?

Salla Simukka: As Red As Blood is my first novel to be translated in English. I have written altogether 13 novels and my debut novel came out in Finland in 2002.

OH: Let’s talk about Lumikki Andersson.  How did you two first meet?  What makes Lumikki the perfect character to tell this story?

SS: We met first already in 2011. I was in a book store in Frankfurt when I got the first idea for the whole trilogy. I had never written a thriller before but I thought it would be interesting to write one for young adults. And in that book store I thought to myself: As Red as Blood would be a great title for a thriller. Instantly I knew that if I was going to write a book called As Red as Blood, I would also have to have a book called As White as Snow and a book called As Black as Ebony. So I had titles for three books and I just knew that I would have to write them.

Lumikki Andersson came to me soon after the titles. I wanted to have a Snow White in the story, so that is how she got her name: Lumikki means Snow White in Finnish. Lumikki came to me as a whole person: I somehow knew everything about her even though she is not based on a real person. It was as if I had met her on the street and she would have said to me: Hi, I’m Lumikki Andersson, would you like to write three books with me?

Lumikki is in many ways not your average girl. She can run very fast, she can hide, she can stay really quiet. She is strong, she likes her solitude, she is a lone wolf. And she also kicks ass. All of these are qualities that make her a great main character for a thriller.

But as a writer I’m never interested in characters that are just strong. I want to know, what has made them strong and what are their weaknesses. Lumikki has suffered severe bullying in school and there is also a dark secret in her family. That is why she is so independent but that also means that she doesn’t usually trust people that much.

OH: Your novel has been compared to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO!  What sets Lumikki’s story apart from other YA thrillers?  What will readers find that is unique to this tale?

SS: I think the combination of a thriller plot set in a real world and fairy tale elements in language and as references is quite unique. And even if the novels are thrillers, they have much more in them and for me as a writer the whole trilogy is about Lumikki, her personality and secrets and fears and desires and sorrows and choices. I also believe that it  is interesting for readers all over the world to learn something about Finland which can be quite an exotic country for many.

The Snow White trilogy is said to be thrilling, lyrical and witty at the same time.

OH:  What non-book influences (films, television shows, music, plays, etc) helped spark this story?

SS: I was actually nearly shocked when I was writing the first book, because I just then learned that there would be not one but TWO big Hollywood movies based on Snow White (Snow White and the Huntsman & Mirror, Mirror)! There was definitely something in the air… I didn’t go to see the movies because I wanted to keep my story pure. But because of the first film I got to know the band Florence and the Machine which has really influenced my writing of the trilogy. Florence and the Machine and Massive Attack are the soundtrack of these books.

OH: When you were a teen, what was your favorite book (YA or otherwise)?  Now that you’re an author for teens, what is your favorite contemporary YA?

SS: There was a time when I read mainly fantasy and scifi. So I was a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien and David Eddings and Douglas Adams and Isaac Asimov and Philip Pullman.

Nowadays I really like John Greens The Fault in Our Stars, the Swedish Circle by Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. As for Finnish authors, I’m a huge fan of Siri Kolu. Her YA novels have not yet been translated to English but I’m really hoping they will be some day.

Author Salla Simukka. Photo: Lars Kastilan

OH: This is the first in The Snow White trilogy.  Tell us a little more about this next story in the series?

SS: AS WHITE AS SNOW takes place in Prague, in very hot summer heat. Lumikki is backpacking there and hopes to have some days just to herself. But then a young woman comes to her saying: Hello, I think I am your sister. Lumikki has never had a sister and she has to try to find out, if the woman is telling the truth or not. Lumikki also comes in contact with a dangerous religious sect – and has to run for her life once again.

OH: This novel has been translated from its original Finnish language.  What have been the best parts and the most challenging parts of working with a translator to see your work reach international audiences?

SS:  I think the best part is that both the translator and my publishers in US and UK have wanted to preserve as much of the original feeling of the novel as possible. The names are the same etc. I believe that the translation is good and I trust the choices he and my editors have made.

OH:  Are there pieces of Lumikki’s culture and world which might interest English readers to know are inside jokes or pop culture references in your country?

SS: There are quite a lot of references to Finnish music and literature in novels that are hard to spot, if you don’t know the culture. In the first book there is for example a reference to Väinö Linnas Unknown Soldier but also direct quotes of a poem by Edith Södergran. I hope that the books can wake an interest towards Finland and Finnish culture.

OH: If you could cast the Dream Film of AS RED AS BLOOD, who would be in the lead roles?

SS: Actually I think that because all of the most important characters are young people, it would be best if this would be an opportunity for young, rising actors to show their talent!

OH: What’s up next for you in YA land?  Any pet projects you can tease us about?

SS: Of course I have some projects all the time because I have the mind of a writer. But at this point nothing with a deadline yet, which is great! But I can say that the next thing I’m going to do is going to be in some ways very different and in some ways same…

OH: All right, last one!  If you could spend one day with Lumikki, what would you do together? What would advice would you give to Lumikki about her past or future?

SS: I think we would go for a long walk and then have some strong coffee. I would tell her that everything is not going to go as planned but it will still be good. Life isn’t a path. It is a mixture of different paths and roads and rails and rivers.

OH: Thank you very much, Salla!  And again, congratulations on AS RED AS BLOOD!  We look forward to hearing a lot more from you in years to come!


Readers, be sure to check out Salla Simukka at her website. Or follow her on Twitter @SallaSimukka.

AS RED AS BLOOD, published by Skyscape, is now available at your favorite retailers, local independent bookstores, and!

Interview by Olivia Hennis, originally published 11/10/2014 on

Follow me on Twitter @OliviaHennis!

REVIEW: Spirits of Ash & Foam by Greg Weisman

Spirits of Ash and Foam by Greg Weisman
“Spirits of Ash & Foam” by Greg Weisman

Welcome to the Prospero Keys (or as the locals call them: the Ghost Keys), the beautiful chain of tropical islands on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle where Rain Cacique lives. When Rain’s maternal grandfather passed away, he left her his special armband: two gold snakes intertwined, clasping each other’s tails in their mouths. Rain soon discovers that the armband is actually a zemi – a very powerful talisman created by the island’s native Arawak Taino Indians – and that it allows Rain to see ghosts, including her own grandfather who is determined to help her uncover the Ghost Keys’ hidden world of mystery and mysticism, intrigue and adventure.

Now, Rain Cacique’s looking for a few answers — and the second zemi, a Taino relic that allows her to see dead people. But it’s the first week of school, so she’s pretty busy juggling teachers, homework, baby-sitting duties, new friends, missing tourist kids… and a vampire with a tribal twist.


Monday, September 8

I must have dozed off. With a start, I woke up beneath a mahogany tree to find the clearing deserted.  Only minutes before, or so it seemed, the N.T.Z. had been packed with local teens celebrating the end of summer.Or celebrating despite the end of summer, I suppose.  But now there wasn’t a soul in view.  Or a ghost, for that matter.

—Paperback edition


Filtered through the eyes of Opie the dog–yes, that’s right, a dog–this one is a mixed bag.

The author has a lot of famous friends who gave strong reviews of the first novel (folks like Danica McKellar, Stan Lee, Jonathan Maberry, and Jonathan Frakes). Weisman also mostly writes and produces comic books and animated children’s television (Gargoyles, Young Justice).  For all the positive of having more cultures represented in young adult literature, this one might have been better served up as a comic or tv show.  The narrative shtick of omniscient dog narrator removes a lot of the agency and urgency of the teens’ plots.  Too often we’re cut back to some adult or other, particularly villains–where that might work well in comics and animation, here it serves to pull readers away from the characters they are supposed to identify with.

For characters that are 13-years-old, they often feel much younger than that.  Equally, there are times where the adult behind the curtain is apparent by what comes across as out-dated dialogue and shoehorning in bland romantic tension (a lot of telling how hot someone is or how attracted people are to each other; and every teen sees each other as potential romantic partners to an almost sickening degree in the beginning–but it’s never actively important).  The general plot has the stars taking actions that, again, seem better suited to television.  Definitely a good transition novel in that sense for readers stepping up from Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

Appropriate for ages 12+.  Some mild language and bullying, intense situations, moderate violence.

Deals with family, responsibility, loss, friendship, and culture.



If you…

  • Enjoy Magical Girl ensembles
  • Are a a fan of shows like Jackie Chan Adventures
  • Need a little harmless fun for a while



YA Paranormal

Paperback & Ebook, 368 pages
Published July 8th 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin (ISBN 1250029821)

(Review copy provided by Bridget Hartzler at St. Martin’s Griffin.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 9/24/2014 on

REVIEW: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

"The Killing Woods" by Lucy Christopher
“The Killing Woods” by Lucy Christopher


Emily’s dad is accused of murdering a teenage girl. Emily is sure he is innocent, but what happened that night in the woods behind their house where she used to play as a child? Determined to find out, she seeks out Damon Hillary the enigmatic boyfriend of the murdered girl. He also knows these woods. Maybe they could help each other. But he’s got secrets of his own about games that are played in the dark.


Something was draped across Dad’s outstretched arms. A deer? A fawn that was injured? It was sprawled and long-legged, something that had been caught in a poacher’s trap maybe. A mistake.

—ARC paperback edition


Emily and Damon, one the daughter of an accused murderer and the other the boyfriend of the murder victim, share their first-person accounts of the months following Ashlee’s death. It is Emily, and the exploration of the emotional roller coaster she’s riding, that is the strongest point of this novel.  While her story may revolve around proving her father’s innocence without any subplots to give the girl her own agency, Emily still is a sympathetic young woman.  She makes mistakes and is allowed to learn from them; her few remaining friends also support her emotionally.  The second narrator, Damon, is fairly unlikable.  He spends so much of his search for information hell-bent on figuring out if he finally had sex with Ashlee.  His ego seemed bruised when memories indicate to him that she may have spurned him for being too high.

While the novel has a connection to mental health issues, Emily’s father and his war-induced PTSD is not treated in a kind or understanding manner by any of the other townsfolk–which would make sense, as a girl has been murdered, but in a military town any trace of empathy would have been expected.

The reveal of how the murder occurred and how that information was obtained may seem sudden, convenient, or implausible.  A basic understanding of personal technology, investigations, and autopsies may leave some readers scratching their head at the absurdity, and how everything is neatly wrapped up through logic hand-waves.  A simple comparison of the implied murder weapon with the bruising on Ashlee’s body would cast enough doubt on the guilt of Emily’s father.

The action of the story could easily have taken place over a week without much damage to the suspense, and likely would tighten the plot by removing several inaccuracies.  The only strong police presence comes at the very end, to deliver the moral and warning to the characters for the sake of the audience.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Strong language, strong drug and alcohol use, violence that includes dangerous games, strong sexual elements including sexualization of a minor and slut-shaming. Contains moments of distinct misogyny and violent thoughts aimed at young women.

Deals with mental health, family, drug use and abuse, grief, guilt and innocence, bullying, sexuality, identity, and death.

Readers should feel encouraged to discuss how Ashlee’s sexuality and activity made them feel, if her death felt more or less tragic because of this information.  In general, readers would benefit from discussions on victim-blaming and slut-shaming and how such behaviors relate to Ashlee, her murder, and particularly how the men in her life hide behind those feelings to reduce empathy for the murder victim.

If you…

  • Enjoy seeing both sides of a story
  • Are a fan of The Impossible Knife of Memory
  • Need a killer mystery
  • Have ever gone to extreme lengths to learn the truth



Contemporary YA thriller
Hardcover & Ebook, 384 pages
Published January 7th, 2014 by Chicken House (ISBN0545461006)

(Review copy provided by Chicken House Scholastic Inc.)

REVIEW: The In-Between by Barbara Stewart

"The In-Between" by Barbara Stewart
“The In-Between” by Barbara Stewart


Fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss has always been an outcast who fails at everything she tries—she’s even got the fine, white scars to prove it. Moving was supposed to be a chance at a fresh start, a way to leave behind all the pain and ugliness of her old life. But, when a terrible car accident changes her life forever, her near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by Madeline Torus.

Madeline is everything Elanor isn’t: beautiful, bold, brave. She is exactly what Elanor has always wanted in a best friend and more—their connection runs deeper than friendship. But Madeline is not like other girls, and Elanor has to keep her new friend a secret or risk being labeled “crazy.”

Soon, though, even Elanor starts to doubt her own sanity. Madeline is her entire life, and that life is drastically spinning out of control. Elanor knows what happens when your best friend becomes your worst enemy. But what happens when your worst enemy is yourself?”


I was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. My lifeless body slumps over the cat carrier in the backseat of the twisted wreck. Bloodstains bloom through my T-shirt and jeans, and my hair sparkles with bits of broken glass.

—paperback edition


In her distinct first-person narration, fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss reveals the secret life of a disturbed outcast. Though Elanor is believable and relatable most of the time, she could often be self-destructive and judgmental—especially of Autumn, girl who lives down the street from her new home.  Her self-destructive tendencies only get worse with the appearance of Madeline.

The highlight is in the cast of characters: all are lovable and realistic, evoking genuine concern for their well-being throughout the book.  In particular, Autumn and Madeline stand out.

Autumn is an outcast like Elanor was at her old school, but social standing doesn’t seem to bother her. The changing relationship between the two girls, as Elanor goes from comparing herself to and dreading that she is like Autumn to actually growing closer with the girl.

Meanwhile, the very creepy Madeline manages to be the most addictive—there could never be enough revealed about her.

A particular shift in the plot may have readers questioning Elanor’s reality—and sanity.  A refreshingly engaging story, the ending lingers, leaving leave readers with much to think about.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Contains drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and intense situations; no strong language.  Deals with death and loss, suicide, family, spirituality, bullying, mental health, self-harm, and the nature of healthy or toxic friendships.


If you…

  • Enjoy books filled with emotional trauma
  • Need a steadily-paced psychological thriller you can’t put down
  • Have ever had a friendship that went bad, hard
  • Want to spend time with a strong female cast


YA Paranormal Thriller

Paperback, 256 pages

Published November 5th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin (ISBN 1250030161)

(Review copy provided by Jessica Preeg at St. Martin’s Press.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on