Posts tagged ‘Paranormal/Supernatural’

After Dark

After DarkTitle: After Dark
Author: James Leck
ISBN: 9781771381109
Pages: 252 pages
Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press Ltd., c2015.

I lowered my hand toward the opening and eased the tweezers into the patient. When I was sure that I had a firm grip on the heart, I took a deep breath and began the extraction. A drop of sweat slipped down my left temple. A hush fell over the room. The patient’s heart was more than halfway out when the door flew open and the lights came on.
“What is going on in here?”

Fifteen-year-old Charlie Harker’s first day of summer vacation starts poorly when his mom announces that they, along with Charlie’s twin sister Lilith and older brother Johnny, are moving to Rolling Hills (population 1251) to renovate his great grandfather’s inn. It gets even worse the first night at the inn, when town crier Miles Van Helsing comes running up to them seeking sanctuary from the “humanoid creatures” supposedly chasing him. While the UFOs Miles has claimed to have seen never materialized, Charlie has to admit there are some weird things happening in town, including people with superhuman strength who avoid the sunlight and wear huge sunglasses even inside. Is Miles’ paranoia spreading to Charlie, or are the headaches and lethargy plaguing the town mysterious symptoms of something worse to come?
This is a page-turner by all standards! When I read The Undertakers by Drago way back in 2012, I mentioned the dearth of realistic zombie novels, wanting more Walking Dead then Warm Bodies. Some readers might be disappointed by the lack of a body count, but the tension and action is strong enough to warrant adding it to the short list. It encompasses sarcastic quips and thrilling chase scenes along with real danger of being changed into … well into whatever the residents are becoming.

Look Miles, it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy, on drugs, or if they’re vampires –“
“More like zombies,” he said, cutting me off.
“Vampires, zombies – call them zompires for all I care!”
“Zompires? That’s a ridiculous name.” (111)

The book reads like a script for a movie, with lots of action and tense scenes after the set-up of the very normal family (or at least, as normal as you can be with a superstar brother and martial arts trained sister) assuming the role of newcomers to an almost abandoned stretch of a small town. The crazy kid’s vigilance is vindicated and then he’s forced to confront what he was always imagining existed but never dreaming he’d have to face on his own. The characters are typecast but recognizably relatable, with Charlie’s mother becoming more exasperated at the antics of her son and this noisy, nosy neighbor kid. There’s a rational explanation for everything they claim to have seen, which prolongs the plot and anticipation. Readers and Charlie and Miles know better, but convincing everyone else is going to take time, quite possibly more time than they have until they too are assimilated. The technology is current without name dropping, with not a single Apple iPhone 6, only cell phones and surveillance videos, which get dropped, damaged, and discarded over the course of the plot. Is the ending convenient, yes, (thank you Kirkus review for reminding me of the term deus ex machina) but in the same way the movie Red Dawn ends conveniently, and that became a classic and an updated remake. Just when you think everything has been resolved, the twist ending sends new chills down your spine and has you looking over your shoulder. Read this as one last homage to the scary Halloween season, or put it on your list for next year.



SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–”
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

The Icarus Project

Icarus Project
Title: The Icarus Project
Author: Laura Quimby
ISBN: 9781419704024
Pages: 293 pages
 Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2012.

“I know it’s your big chance. That’s why I’m going with you. It’s our big chance.”
Dad shook his head. “You have school. And should stay home.”
I had to think fast. “The expedition will be educational. What kid gets to go to the Arctic to watch real fieldwork in action?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Plus, spring break is coming up.”
“No, Maya. It’s too dangerous,” he said.
The danger card was the last play of a parent on the edge of caving in. I knew I was close. “I can handle it,” I said. “I’m not afraid. And you’ll be there.” (33)

Thirteen-year-old Maya is thrilled when she talks her way onto her dad’s Arctic expedition to explore what could possibly be a wooly mammoth encased in ice. With an anthropologist mother and a paleontologist father, she’s spent her entire life hearing about all these adventures and exotic places. But the Arctic is cold and spooky with its endless white landscapes. Maya and the rest of the dig team soon realize that they might have been summoned to this vast and deadly wasteland under false pretenses. What is really caught beneath the ice? Who is really running the expedition, and what is their true goal. Maya is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it involves destroying what everyone is trying to protect.

I’ve had this book checked out for much longer than I originally intended. I feel like it was a great idea that came across kind of flat. The dialogue is somewhat stilted in places and the expository portions of the book are a little jarring, but author Laura Quimby presents a character that reminds me of a modern-day Nancy Drew. With a lot of coincidences, some supernatural elements, and a bit of sleuthing, Maya is able to solve the mystery that has stumped the scientist adults. It make an interesting read, and it corresponds surprisingly well to the Summer Reading Theme of both “Dig In” and “Beneath the Surface”. The plot does touch on a lot of discussion worthy topics, such as humanity vs. scientific experimentation/research, cloning and DNA, corporate greed, and also gets slightly religious/supernatural towards the end. The different points of view are represented, although I wish some of these topics had been examined more thoroughly or deeply, but I guess the range of topics hopefully means there is something for everyone. I wonder if the unanswered questions are left that way for discussion purposes, or if there are plans for a sequel.

I feel like Rebecca Stead’s First Light and Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass succeeded with presenting this concept of mysterious beings in a frozen landscape in a more cohesive manner. But if readers of either are looking for something similar, you could recommend these titles as read-a-likes for each other.

The Undertakers

Title: The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses
Author: Ty Drago
ISBN: 9781402247859
Pages: 465 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc., c2011.

Pratt was the neighborhood grouch. Somewhere in his seventies, he lived alone, kept to himself, and got pissed off more often and with less reason than anyone I’d ever met.
“I’m talking to you, Ritter!”
I tried to speak–I really did–but no sound came out. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar–not particularly pleasant but familiar–and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch up with your eyes. Some people might call it shock. I call it the holy crap factor.
Ernie Pratt was dead–very dead–which didn’t make much sense because as far as I knew, dead men didn’t get pissed.
He was wearing what he usually wore in the mornings: a white terry-cloth robe and slippers, except the skin inside the slippers had gone as dry as old paper. His face was gray and pulled tight around his skull. One of his eyes was hanging out of its socket, dangling by a short length of thick, corded tissue. The other one, looking milky and sightless, nevertheless stared at me. His lips were gone, receded, revealing a black-gummed mouth with only half the teeth it should have had, and even those were as yellow as old eggs.
Which is also how he smelled. (4-5)

Twelve year old Will Ritter wakes up one morning and realizes that his next-door neighbor has become a walking corpse. His day unfortunately goes from bad to worse when Will escapes on the school bus, only to realize when he gets to school that his assistant principal and math teacher are less than alive as well. After being rescued by classmate Helene (pronounced like it has three a’s) , Will becomes involved in a secret organization of kids called the Undertakers who are among the few people able to identify these Corpses. Will is less than pleased about being drafted into their organization, but soon realizes that there are few other options. As the organization is forced to consider switching their tactics from defensive to offensive, Will just might be the recruit they need to tip the scales in humanity’s favor.

My coworker and I were very intrigued when this book came in to see a zombie book for middle schoolers. How many other zombie books are out there for this age group? The cover is appropriately creepy and blood-red toned, which definitely adds to the appeal in my opinion.

The story itself rises to the occasion as well. The zombies–excuse me, Corpses–are described in gruesome detail. In the dedication, the author thanks his son “who read it and offered helpful (and often profound) insight into the realities of his age, his culture, and his mysterious language.” It definitely shows, with the text riddled with mild cussing (crap, hell, pissed, etc.) that is definitely warranted and rings true to the horrific, scary, and adventurous outings that the teens experience. Will’s pleas for his mom at one point is also unique, because so many times in children’s books the main character is just thrust in their world saving position and blindly accepts their new role. Will doesn’t, and is really reluctant to joining this group and getting involved, and his actions realistically reflect what some scared tweens would be feeling. I really appreciated that aspect of the story. Another realistic aspect of the book: people die. Books where no one dies in an end of the world preservation fight really annoy me, and the fact that the characters were affected and mourned the loss of their fellow fighters is even more authentic. The fighters solve their problems with ingenuity, technology, physical confrontations, and a little bit of luck. Okay, in some cases a LOT of luck, with people coming to the rescue just in the nick of time on more than one occasion. But Ty Drago (even the author’s name is cool!) does an admirable job explaining these last-minute saves, and it works without any trepidation crossing your mind as you’re reading.

It’s a fast paced, high energy novel that should get readers invested in the story. I could definitely see myself book talking this title to tweens and teens, especially around Halloween. There are twists and turns that readers don’t see coming, and although the ending is satisfying, it’s also open-ended enough to leave people excited about the sequel, Undertakers: Queen of the Dead which is coming out in October 1st (perfect again for Halloween!) AND there’s apparently a third one in the works too!

UPDATE: I did book talk this to fifth and sixth graders during my summer reading visits, and they wanted to get their hands on it immediately, especially the boys.

A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Narrator: Jason Isaacs
ISBN: 9780763655594
Pages: 205 pages
CD/Discs: 4 CDs, 4 hours 1 minute plus a bonus disc of illustrations from the book.
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2011.

I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley, the monster said, pushing against the house, shaking the pictures off Conor’s wall, sending books and electronic gadgets and an old stuffed toy rhino tumbling to the floor. […]
“So come and get me then,” he said. […]
The monster paused for a moment, and then with a roar it pounded two fists against the house. Conor’s ceiling buckled under the blows, and huge cracks appeared in the walls. Wind filled the room, the air thundering with the monster’s angry bellows.
“Shout all you want,” Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. “I’ve seen worse.” […]
You really aren’t afraid, are you?
“No,” Conor said. “Not of you, anyway.”
The monster narrowed its eyes.
You will be, it said. Before the end.
And the last thing Conor remembered was the monster’s mouth roaring open to eat him alive. (8-9)

Conor O’Malley has been struggling with a nightmare ever since his mother started cancer treatments. So when a real and ancient monster appears demanding the truth from Conor, Conor is still more terrified of the monsters in his dreams. Telling this monster his darkest fears isn’t high on his priority list, especially since everyone except the bully is avoiding him at school, his father has finally escaped his new family in America to visit, and Conor has been forced to live with his grandmother while his mom is in the hospital again. But maybe Conor is right. Maybe the monster outside his room isn’t the thing he’s supposed to fear the most.

There are those books that come into your life at a time when you need them the most, and because of that fact they affect you more than they normally would. This is one of those books. A week after finishing the audiobook, my grandmother passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Just like Conor is watching his mother struggle, I’d been trying to come to grips with my grandmother’s own struggle, and this book in a strange way brought me comfort at the thought that she knew how much we all cared about her.

Jason Isaacs is someone who could give Jim Dale a run for his money. In the interview following the audiobook version, Isaacs reveals that Ness asked him to be unsentimental, with Ness stressing that there is a difference behind sentiment and emotion and he wanted the emotion to work without added sentiment. (You can hear the interview and a portion of the audiobook here.) Isaacs didn’t have to add emotion. He lets the text speak for itself and instead focuses on the inflection and tone and the power of the words that he’s given. It’s an amazing experience to listen to this man bring Conor’s story to life. The gravely monster roars and expresses outrage, and Conor’s every emotion is palatable, from disdain towards the monster’s stories to rage against the bully and fear of the nightmare disturbing his sleep. It’s the fear that Isaacs conveys the best in my opinion, through cracking voice and tenuous gasps of breath which stay with you even after the last disc has come to an end.

The artwork is equally impressive, with Jim Kay providing striking black, gray and white illustrations to accompany the text. They look to be made with those black etching boards that they hand out in middle school art classes, where students scratch off the black to reveal the white underneath. It’s appropriately dark and stark and the noticeably hashes present throughout the drawings lends a stormy, almost ghostly quality. Some of the drawings are so minimalist that you wonder how he could leave them that way, when compared to the imposing double page spreads. But then you realize that the drawings in the margins bracket those double page spreads, leaving the impression that they (and the accompanying subject matter, which is Conor’s nightmare and the monster) were just too big for two pages and had to bleed over to the accompanying areas.

The irony of the plot of the story is not lost on me. The novel was written by Patrick Ness because Siobhan Dowd succumbed to an early death from cancer and could not finish the work herself. Connor’s mother is also fighting a loosing battle with cancer. Maybe meant as a parting gift to those she left behind, Ness and Dowd are well paired, even though Ness says in the author’s note that they never met each other. I don’t envy his task of bringing someone else’s world to life, but I think Dowd would be pleased.

Although it didn’t win the Printz or Odyssey award, I think it must have been a strong contender for both and deserves a place in all libraries. I’ll definitely be adding both Dowd’s and Ness’s other works to my to-be-read list.


Title: Clarity
Author: Kim Harrington
ISBN: 9780545230506
Pages: 246 pages
Publisher/Date: Point, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2011.

“You don’t want to kill me,” I said.
“Of course I don’t, Clare. But I have to.”
If I wasn’t already bleeding, with the room tilting and swaying, I would have slapped myself. I never saw this coming. I had let my personal feelings cloud my judgment. And now I was looking down the barrel of a gun. (1)

Clarity “Clare” Fern is a psychic who receives visions from touching objects. She, her mother, and her brother are all involved in the family business of giving psychic readings, with her brother Perry able to talk to ghosts and her mother able to read people’s minds (to Clare and Perry’s constant annoyance). Clare hopes that her powers can come in handy when she’s called upon to assist in the murder of a tourist in their small town. She has more than one reason to say no, especially when the mayor’s son is her cheating ex-boyfriend (“It was a mistake” — HA not likely) and the new detective in town’s son is a non-believer. But that’s before her brother becomes the prime suspect for the crime. Now, not knowing who she can trust or turn to, Clare is forced to question who people she’s known her whole life really are.

I LIKED this book, and it was a joy to finish off 2011 with this book. It was the perfect combination of mystery and romance and action. You have an escalating body count as people connected to the initial murder go missing and/or turn up dead. There are multiple suspects and multiple motives examined, all with (pardon the pun) clarity and realism. And you have the ever popular love triangle that is much more believable than some of the other ones I’ve seen recently. And it all comes to a riveting climax that keeps you on the edge of your seat and reading until the very end. It’s an enjoyable roller coaster ride.

Clarity was a clearly developed, multifaceted character, and so were the rest of the people in her life. Perry is scared out of his wits, and Clarity’s loyalty to her brother, although understandably called into question, never falters completely. Her confused and torn feelings toward both her ex-boyfriend Justin and the new detective’s hot son Gabriel are relatable. At the same time she’s trying to forgive Justin’s one drunken mistake, she’s also trying to decide if she can forgive Gabriel’s skepticism about her gift. It’s the known vs the unknown, and I for one have a good feeling about where her heart is heading at the end of the book.

There’s never a good way to say this without making me sound like a prude, but although the book references sexual acts and drinking, Clarity doesn’t partake in it and only hears about it second-hand. But there’s still enough suspense and action that you don’t miss the more controversial elements that teen fiction has become famous in having. Bravo!

This debut novel is a great first book, and while the ending comes to a satisfying conclusion, I’m hoping for a sequel. Clare is only sixteen in this summer mystery, and I’m hoping for at least one more book where we can see her in school and interact with more classmates that might or might not care for her special powers. Plus, maybe I’ll showcase my own psychic abilities and predict correctly whether Clare choses Justin or Gabe.


Title: Wings
Author: Aprilynne Pike
ISBN: 9780061668050
Pages: 294
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins, c2009.

Her fingers walked over her shoulder and her eyes flew open wide. She bit off a shriek as her other hand joined the first, trying to confirm what she was feeling.
The bump was gone. But something else had replaced it. Something long and cool.
And much bigger than the bump had been. (44-45)

Laurel has just moved to a new house and started at a public high school after years of homeschooling by her adoptive parents. She’s trying to fit in, but her homeschooling history, vegetarian eating habits and unusual dress and looks are making it difficult. Laurel realizes that she had it easy though when what she thought was a zit on her back turns into wings in the shape of flower petals. Enlisting the help of biology classmate David, Laurel realizes that there is a reason for her differences, and not only her family but also an entire race might be relying on her to keep them safe.

Laurel’s character is I think what brought the story to life for me. She’s catapulted into this live triangle with David and Tamani. She has different reasons for being with each guy. David becomes her first friend and the guy who doesn’t freak out when the plot starts to take a turn for the worst. Tamani knows her past, and is able to educate her in things that she can’t learn from anyone else. With both guys, she struggles to determine whether or not her feelings are more than just gratitude for their different forms of assistance and support. Personally, I’m cheering for David.

Aside from her relationships, Laurel also acts realistically when encountered with new situations, whether it’s public school or the wings on her back. I was thrilled that she gets the chance to “flaunt them if you’ve got them” at the Halloween Dance, because if you had wings you’d want to show off too. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t. It’s also refreshing to find loving parents in teen fiction, as Laurel’s mother and father, however briefly they appear in the book, seem like pretty supportive. Her mother even offers to resume homeschooling Laurel if she still hates it after trying it for a few months.

There is a sequel, called Spells and a third book titled Illusions (apparently called Wild on UK Amazon) if readers want to continue the story. If you’d like more information about the author, the series, or the upcoming fourth and final book, check out her website:

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