JILLIAN CADE by Jen Klein

October 4, 2015
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(Fake) Paranormal Investigator

Jillian doesn’t believe all the paranormal mumbo jumbo her father peddles but she does know that an all but orphaned teen has to earn money somehow. Umbra Investigations is Jillian’s somehow – a PI agency focused on cases of an unusual sort. In other words, taking advantage of the same folks her father does.

But then Jillian gets a case that definitely sounds more serious: a missing person, and she’s been hired to find him. Of course the person hiring her believes the missing guy has been cursed and the new boy in school who has suddenly latched himself onto Jillian also believes this to be the case. (He blackmailed his way into partner status.) Nevertheless, Jillian needs the paycheck more desperately than ever and is determined to solve the case even when the clues start to point in some pretty unbelievable directions.

A writer on Grey’s Anatomy with a slew of other show credits to her name, Jen Klein definitely has the chops for a clever and catchy novel and she absolutely delivers in her debut! Jillian Cade: (Fake) Paranormal Investigator is a fun blend of Veronica Mars sass and Buffy the Vampire Slayer supernatural and is perfect for fans of both.

But Jillian Cade is no Veronica or Buffy – she’s all Jillian. She puts up a bad-ass front all the while dealing with some heavy stuff, most prominently the recent weird death of her mother and her father’s abandonment. And things only get harder for the teen. Confronted by the fact that not one but two people are threatening to out her as a fraud, she knows she has to solve this case.

I expected the whole story to be “(Fake) Paranormal” and was quite surprised to find that wasn’t at all the case. There are some pretty big revelations both for our skeptical heroine and for the reader as well. Considering all of that, I assume that Jillian Cade is the first in a series and will most definitely be looking forward to more.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

JILLIAN CADE by Jen Klein. Soho Teen (September 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-1616954345. 288p.


SANCTUM by Madeleine Roux

September 23, 2015
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Asylum (Book 2)

After surviving the horrors of their summer at New Hampshire College, Dan and his friends are looking forward to a bit of normalcy. But someone has other plans for the trio. Dan agrees to visit their old classmate – the one locked up for killing a fellow student – and is given a message that forces him to return to New Hampshire College. His hope is that he can finally bring the whole nightmare to a close, but when he reveals his plan to Abby and Jordan he finds that they too have received messages.

Now all three have returned, under the guise of a student campus visit, to once again face the horrors of Brookline Asylum.

This follow up to Asylum picks up just a few months after Dan, Abby, and Jordan narrowly escaped the summer college prep program at New Hampshire College. All three have returned home to their own high schools, but Dan has a hard time letting go. Part of this is of course thanks to the revelations about his own shocking connection to Brookline Asylum.

This time around, Dan and his friends are sent on a bizarre scavenger hunt throughout the town of Brookline, all the while trying to evade their student hosts and a weird secret society while Dan also tries to muddle through the meaning of a series of visions he’s been having about Warden Crawford.

As with Asylum Roux again uses creepy and gritty imagery to ratchet up the chill factor of Sanctum. It was great to return to Brookline – a town I’d definitely NEVER want to live in – and get more of the Warden and the asylum’s story, though there were still a few loose ends left by the end. Overall it’s a great mix of horror and suspense, the perfect kind for a one-sitting read on a dark and stormy night.

9/15 Becky LeJeune

SANCTUM by Madeleine Roux. HarperCollins; Reprint edition (September 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-0062221001.  368p.

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ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux

September 22, 2015
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Dan Crawford couldn’t be more excited to have been accepted to the New Hampshire College College Prep Program. Not only does this mean his first taste of college and the real world, it means a summer away from his parents. Freedom.

Dan arrives on campus to find that his dorm is actually an old asylum, something that at first intrigues. But that’s before the strange things start to happen. A student is killed and Dan begins having bouts of missing time and that’s only the start. As the tension increases on campus, Dan and his friends explore more of the old Brookline Asylum in an attempt to unravel the mystery. What they find is truly terrifying and could mean certain danger for each and every student in the program.

Using “vintage” images in the style of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Roux builds a chilling and intriguing tale filled with ominous locked rooms, hints of strange experiments and dark insane asylum history, and an uber creepy serial killer who may just have returned from the past to hunt down and murder teens.

In other words, Asylum is super fun.

9/15 Becky LeJeune

ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux. HarperCollins; Reprint edition (August 26, 2014).  ISBN 978-0062220974.  336p.

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ANA OF CALIFORNIA by Andi Teran

July 31, 2015
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One of my favorite books is Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I read it as a child, and then again when I was in library school taking “History of Children’s Literature.” It was an even better read as an adult, or at least it felt that way to me. So when I heard about this modern retelling, I must admit I was skeptical. But I braved it out and started Ana…and was immediately hooked. I loved how Teran brought this story into the 21st century and kept the charm and spunk of the original.

If you haven’t read the Montgomery book, I urge you to do so. I recently watched the movie and was startled to see that the actress playing Anne was named Anne Shirley, the same name as the character. That caused me to do some digging and apparently she was moved enough by the story (or the studio) to legally change her name to that of this most beloved character. The movie was okay but I would recommend the book over it any day.

Back to Ana…it is absolutely not necessary to have read Anne to enjoy this book. Ana is a 15 year old Mexican American, and a product of the foster care system. Eventually she gets thrown out of one too many homes and is offered a last chance; to work as an intern on a farm further up the California coast. If she can manage to hang on until she turns 16, she will be old enough to become emancipated.

Garber Farm is run by brother and sister Abbie and Emmett. Emmett is all in favor of an intern, but he’s expecting a boy and grudgingly decides to give Ana a one month trial period. Abbie is delighted to have a girl around the house, and Ana quickly finds that she enjoys life on the farm. Things get a little more difficult when school starts and there is boy trouble, friends and drug trouble, and other road blocks to happiness thrown in her path. But slowly she starts making a difference in the lives of those around her.

For fans of Anne, all I can say is some of the most memorable scenes are updated here. Ana has a run in with a neighbor, her best friend’s accidental drunkenness is now a psilocybin mushroom trip, there is a major hair mishap, and so forth. Every one of these scenes felt like finding a little nugget of happiness.

Ana is a charmer and this is a warm, wonderful coming of age story that should appeal to adults and young adults too. Great for book discussions – check out the Reading Group Guide

7/15 Stacy Alesi

ANA OF CALIFORNIA by Andi Teran. Penguin Books (June 30, 2015). ISBN 978-0143126492. 368p.

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THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT by Melissa Grey

June 19, 2015

GIRL AT MIDNIGHTWhen Echo stole the music box for the Ala, it was just meant to be a gift. But the box was so much more than a pretty trinket. Inside was a clue to something the Avicen thought was only a myth.

The Firebird is rumored to be the one thing that can stop the fight between the Avicen and the Drakharin, two races that have been warring for as long as they can remember. Both races share the mythology of the Firebird but neither is sure the stories are real, until now. Echo, a human child, holds the key to its hiding place and both the Avicen and the Drakharin will do whatever it takes to ensure that they are the ones who find it first.

Melissa Grey’s debut is a fun teen fantasy and quest story. It’s also the first in a new series, which means a somewhat incomplete tale.

Echo, a human and orphan who has lived among the Avicen – a birdlike race –, has always considered them family. Her willingness to being drawn into a search for the one thing that can help them in their seemingly never-ending battle against the dragon-like Drakharin is never in question. She’s a ready participant, especially if it means saving the ones she loves. But it does mean possibly betraying the people closest to her, especially when she realizes that she must work with the Drakharin.

Grey’s worldbuilding is ok, but maybe not quite as strong as I would have liked for such a unique concept. There’s not much in the way of history on the Avicen or the Drakharin including why they’re at odds. There is, however, great visual detail on both races, their homes, and Echo’s travels, so while I would have liked more of the backstory, there’s enough to make this first tale quite enjoyable. I don’t think that it can stand on its own – it’s obviously the beginning of a broader tale – and I hope the subsequent installment(s) cover more of the history and world. Either way, The Girl at Midnight is engaging enough to keep the reader interested and leave them looking forward to the next piece of the story.

6/15 Becky LeJeune

THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT by Melissa Grey.  Delacorte Press (April 28, 2015).  ISBN 978-0385744652. 368p.


DAUGHTER OF DEEP SILENCE by Carrie Ryan

May 30, 2015
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The official story behind the loss of the Persephone claims a rogue wave was responsible for the sinking of the ship; a natural, freak accident that claimed the lives of three hundred and twenty-three people. But Frances knows the official story is a lie, a cover up spun and spread by Senator Alastair Wells and his son after they were rescued.

Frances was on Persephone and managed to escape only after she witnessed the murders of her parents and her friend’s mother. She and Libby – Elizabeth O’Martin – fled the ship and lasted seven days on the open sea, but in the end only Frances lived long enough to be rescued.

Frances doesn’t know why the senator lied about Persephone. She can only assume that by telling the tale of the rogue wave he was somehow complicit in the attack and thereby responsible for the deaths of everyone she loved. And now, four years later, she’s decided it’s time to get revenge.

Ryan’s latest is a definite step away from the zombie apocalypse world of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series. Daughter of Deep Silence features a contemporary setting and a plot akin to the show Revenge.

While the story could have fallen prey to a serious lack of believability – convincing the reader that Frances could become Libby and trick even the person closest to her (aside from her father, he’s the inside man in the identity theft) was no small task. At first I thought Ryan wouldn’t pull it off at all, but she got me. She made me believe, for the most part, in Frances as Libby and in Frances’s plan.

Daughter of Deep Silence was great fun. My one and only real complaint was that it ended too soon.

5/15 Becky LeJeune

DAUGHTER OF DEEP SILENCE by Carrie Ryan.  Dutton Books for Young Readers (May 26, 2015).  ISBN 978-0525426509.  384p.


THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer

April 2, 2015
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Stephen and his father have moved to Spencer, Michigan as a last resort. See, about a year ago, Stephen’s mother started losing it. Now she’s in an institution. In that time, Stephen’s dad lost his job and, unable to find a new one, ran out of savings. So now, they’ve come to Spencer to stay with Stephen’s crotchety grandmother until his dad can get things back together.

Spencer is a weird town. The local factory closed shop and jobs are scarce; folks say they’re having “bad times.” And in Spencer, bad times are attributed to an urban legend that’s been part of the town’s history for over a century. The Winged Ones, giant beings that wreak havoc on Spencer, are at the heart of every bad thing that happens here. Or so they say. And when Stephen discovers that his new – and only – friends in Spencer have an odd fascination with The Winged Ones, he’ll have to decide not only whether to believe, but whether it’s worth the life of those most important to him.

Brewer’s latest could have been great. She touches on some really interesting things, a lot of which are truly scary: mental health, mythical beings, fear of being an outsider… Sadly she only really touches on them and as a result nothing goes into very much depth in this tale.

Stephen reads much younger than a seventeen-year-old for the most part and his family are little more than placeholders – his mom is a story (her psychosis would have been great if it had been further explained), his dad is wishy-washy and their interaction is minimal, and his grandmother – who must have SOME story – gets about three scenes total to be grumpy and cook meals.

The town’s history also suffers. The pieces the reader is presented with are limited to newspaper headlines at best – the town founder murdered his daughter?., – the stories are supposed to set context for, and support, the myth of The Winged Ones but there’s so very little there.

I wanted so much more out of The Cemetery Boys but ultimately it just didn’t live up to its own potential.

4/15 Becky LeJeune

THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer. HarperTeen (March 31, 2015). ISBN: 978-0062307880. 288p.


AS RED AS BLOOD by Salla Simukka

January 18, 2015

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The Snow White Trilogy
Translated by Owen Witesman

Lumikki’s day gets off to an odd start when she discovers a mass of bloodied money in her school’s darkroom. While she isn’t tempted to take any, she is curious about the story behind the stained bills and soon returns to the darkroom for further investigation. But Lumikki’s curiosity sets a deadly plot in motion and catches the attention of some dangerous men. Men intent on sending a message. Men who will soon discover that Lumikki is standing in their way.

This Finnish teen debut is the first in a projected trilogy. The translation is smooth and the story is overall quite intriguing but Lumikki herself isn’t as fully developed as I would have liked. It’s hard to say at this stage whether this is intentional; my hope is that her story will be fleshed out further in the next two books. That aside, As Red as Blood stands fairly well on its own. There are no real cliffhangers or terribly open plotlines, which is nice considering the translations of books two and three aren’t available just yet.

1/15 Becky LeJeune

AS RED AS BLOOD by Salla Simukka. Skyscape; Reprint edition (August 1, 2014). ISBN: 978-1477847718. 272p.


GAME by Barry Lyga

January 5, 2015

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The Sequel to I Hunt Killers

Things haven’t gotten any easier for Jazz Dent in the wake of his participation in the hunt for the Impressionist. While that killer is safely behind bars, Billy Dent has managed to escape and Jazz is almost certain he holds some responsibility.

But Jazz doesn’t have time to worry about Billy at this point. A new killer is on the move in New York City and the police there have approached Jazz for help. It seems his work in solving Lobo’s Nod’s recent case has gained some attention and has finally made the authorities admit that Jazz’s particular upbringing could be useful in hunting down serial killers.

This second in the Jasper Dent series is an excellent follow up to I Hunt Killers. It picks up just months after the end of its predecessor, immediately addressing all of the questions that one left in its wake. Of course by the end there’s a whole slew of new questions. (And it’s a cliffhanger of an ending if ever there was one.)

This time around Jazz is even more concerned about his potential in following in his dad’s footsteps – in spite of all of his efforts – and that’s thanks mostly to the fact that Billy is once again out on the streets. Jazz is plagued by his father’s voice both figuratively and ultimately literally.

This second installment also brings Jazz’s friends, Howie and Connie, even further into the mix. Howie is stuck in Lobo’s Nod helping with Jazz’s crazy grandmother and meeting his friend’s long lost aunt for the first time. Connie, on the other hand, tries to follow Jazz to NYC and lands in hot water with her parents. Their involvement with Jazz not only leads to their discovering some big news about their friend but also places them both in potentially big danger.

1/15 Becky LeJeune

GAME by Barry Lyga. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (June 17, 2014). ISBN: 978-0316125857. 544p.


I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga

January 4, 2015

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Jasper “Jazz” Dent wants nothing more than to be an ordinary teen. But that’s kind of impossible when you’re the son of William Cornelius Dent, probably THE most notorious serial killer. From the very start, Billy raised Jazz to think and plan like a killer.

Fortunately for Jazz, Billy was finally caught and has since been serving so many consecutive life sentences that he’ll never see the light of day.

But that doesn’t mean Jazz is free of him. The teen spends much of his time terrified that he might actually be just like his father. So when a killer strikes in Jazz’s tiny hometown of Lobo’s Nod, he makes it his mission to help solve the crime by putting his particular skills and knowledge to work.

Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series is like a teen mashup of Dexter and Criminal Minds. Of course unlike Dexter, Jazz isn’t actually a sociopath. At least he hopes not.

It might seem strange to have a teen detective with so much direct access to the police and the crime scene (which is the case with this series) but I think Lyga does a great job setting the story up in a way that is almost believable. Anything that stretches the imagination too far is forgivable in my opinion because I Hunt Killers is just that much of a fun read.

I Hunt Killers should most definitely come with a warning. Anyone who thinks a book about serial killers might be less dark or graphic simply because it’s meant for a teen audience would be very mistaken in this case; I Hunt Killers is quite dark indeed.

1/15 Becky LeJeune

I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013). ISBN: 978-0316125833. 384p.