REVIEW: Spirits of Ash & Foam by Greg Weisman

Spirits of Ash and Foam by Greg Weisman
“Spirits of Ash & Foam” by Greg Weisman
THE LOWDOWN:

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.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

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

SNAPSHOT:

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.

 

GET IT ON YOUR SHELF

If you…

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

 

THE ESSENTIALS:

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 YoungAdultMag.com

http://www.youngadultmag.com/the-killing-woods.html

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REVIEW: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

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

THE LOWDOWN:

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.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

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


SNAPSHOT:

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.


GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:
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

 

THE ESSENTIALS:

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

THE LOWDOWN:

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?”

FIRST IMPRESSION:

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

SNAPSHOT:

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.

GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:

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

THE ESSENTIALS:

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 YoungAdultMag.com

http://www.youngadultmag.com/the-in-between.html

REVIEW: The Wicked Within by Kelly Keaton

"The Wicked Within" by Kelly Keaton
“The Wicked Within” by Kelly Keaton

THE LOWDOWN:

Her fate is not set in stone.

Having temporarily defeated Athena, Ari races to break the gorgon curse that has plagued the women in her family for centuries. Her one lead sends her on a quest for the Hands of Zeus, an ancient relic last seen in the charge of New 2’s ruling elite, the Novem. But if there is one thing that Athena desires as much as revenge, it’s the Hands of Zeus—and Athena always gets what she wants.

Before either can locate the Hands, the statue goes missing, and a trail of blood follows those who once protected the relic’s secrets. Ari knows that her city, her friends, Sebastian—her life—depend upon her finding the statue before Athena. And with rumors an ancient power is on the rise, that may not be her only concern…”

FIRST IMPRESSION:

The crunch of our shoes on asphalt, leaves, and debris was loud in the quiet of Coliseum Street. Violet, Henri, and I had little less than two hours before nightfall, two hours before the February chill would invade the sun-warmed bricks and pavements, when blurry halos would appear around the few working streetlamps, when the predators, both natural and supernatural, would wake and begin to hunt. We had to hurry.

—Hardcover edition

SNAPSHOT:

In this third installment of the GODS & MONSTERS series, almost-gorgon gal Ari Selkirk returns. This time, Ari has to make a choice between resurrecting Athena’s child and making sure that the prophecy about him does not come true. One decision means that she is free of her family curse; the other means she will die. All of this, and she has to think about the rest of the city, too!

Ari’s story is interesting and different, as she Ari grows closer to her father—and realize that that brings her closer than she ever thought possible to her mother. Meanwhile, Ari also steps into a mother figure role for the younger children.

The large cast of supernatural characters might be daunting for some readers to keep straight, but they are all well-developed. Readers will find themselves hating a character on one page and empathizing with them on the very next, grabbing for their emotions. In particular, Sebastian Arnaud and Violet are standouts. Sebastian has to deal with a change in his lifestyle; the harder he pushes against it and denies it, the worse it becomes. Violet fans will also finally learn what she is.

While it is interesting to have so many supernatural creatures in one world, often a magical ability would up at the most convenient of times, making it easy for characters to escape some situations. While sometimes the more classic descriptions of such beings might have made for a less cluttered world, the additions to the characters’ abilities will certainly appeal to today’s readers.

Appropriate for ages 14+. Includes some strong language and intense situations.

Deals with death, loss, mythology, spirituality, family, and supernatural beings.

GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:

If you…

  • Enjoy Greek mythology with a modern twist
  • Are a fan of Percy Jackson or Jennifer Armentrout’s Half-Blood
  • Need a good deity/supernatural mash-up

THE ESSENTIALS:

YA Paranormal Fiction
Hardcover & Ebook, 320 pages
Published September 17th, 2013 by Simon Pulse (ISBN1442493151)

(Review copy provided by Simon Pulse.)


Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/18/2014 on YoungAdultMag.com

http://www.youngadultmag.com/the-wicked-within.html

REVIEW: The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

“The Shade of the Moon” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

THE LOWDOWN:

It’s been more than two years since Jon Evans and his family left Pennsylvania, hoping to find a safe place to live, yet Jon remains haunted by the deaths of those he loved.  His prowess on a soccer field has guaranteed him a home in a well-protected enclave.  But Jon is painfully aware that a missed goal, a careless word, even falling in love, can put his life and the lives of his mother, his sister Miranda, and her husband, Alex, in jeopardy.  Can Jon risk doing what is right in a world gone so terribly wrong?

FIRST IMPRESSION:

“No.  Jon.  No.”

Jon Evans sat upright in his bed.  It was Gabe, he told himself.  Gabe must have  had a bad dream.  He listened for Carrie, Gabe’s nanny, to calm the little boy.  He waited to hear Lisa run down the hallway to soothe her own son.

But Carrie was quiet.  Lisa was quiet.  The house was quiet.

It wasn’t Gabe he’d heard.  It was Julie.

How long had he known her?  A month, six weeks.  But he’d been haunted by her for two and a half years.

—ARC paperback edition

SNAPSHOT:

In the fourth installment of this bleak, harrowing series—written in a strangely distant third person this outing—little brother Jon Evans assumes the role of narrator.  The first half of the book crawls as Jon—now sixteen— alternates between courting new girl Sarah and wallowing in self-pity over first love Julie’s distant death.  His spoiled, selfish attitude does little to ingratiate him as he discusses the belief that the clavers deserve better treatment than the worker grubs.  But with his mother, his sister Miranda, and brother-in-law Alex living in the nearby grubtown, Jon slowly opens to Sarah’s starry-eyed humanitarian rants—though he keeps in mind that even she still enjoys the luxuries that a life in the enclave affords her.

The action heats up once the tension between the clavers and grubs boils over.  Several deaths rock Jon’s world, culminating in a strange mix of weary hardness and sympathetic growth in small ways: Jon can no longer wave away the obvious problems within the system that protects him.

The Evans family suffers many losses this time around, though Miranda plays the obvious author favorite.  She experiences a few tragedies, but only briefly and always gets what she wants, leaving the men folk in her life to take the brunt of it.

Despite melodramatic and stilted dialogue worthy of an old timey soap opera (readers may grow weary of all the sighing “Oh, Jon/Sarah”s as the teens’ relationship moves at lightning speed) and a rushed ending, the action is believable enough for the What If scenario in which the series plays.  The hints of revolution and uprising from the mistreated lower class workers could have enjoyed a stronger spotlight and further exploration; today’s audience doesn’t need a meteor to crash into our moon to reflect on the unfortunate classism, dehumanization, and sense of entitlement that surrounds us.

Strangely timely, readers may benefit from discussions on how Sexton idolizes their high school soccer players—including their almost expected use and abuse of alcohol and lower class girls—and how this fictional future mirrors the bad behavior of such young athletes today.

Appropriate for ages 13+.  Strong language, intense situations, alcohol use by minors, graphic violence, casual misogyny, and sexual situations and discussions.

GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:

If you…

  • Enjoy the action and drama of dystopian fiction
  • Are comfortable with a main character you hate
  • Ever wondered what happened next
  • Have been following the Evans family for years
  • Know that there is good in humanity even in the darkest hours

THE ESSENTIALS:

YA contemporary suspense

Hardcover & Ebook, 304 pages

Publishing October 1st, 2013 by Harcourt (ISBN 0547813370)

http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/The-Shade-of-the-Moon/9780547813370

(Review copy provided by and cover illustration courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.)


Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published on YoungAdultMag.com in October 2013.

http://www.youngadultmag.com/the-shade-of-the-moon-(life-as-we-knew-it–4).html