Tag: murder

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand

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Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)

When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.

 

This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.

The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.

A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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Scythe by Neal Shusterman (InfoSoup)

Released November 22, 2016.

Set in a future where death no longer exists for humans, the only way to die is to be selected at random to be gleaned by a Scythe. Scythes live separately from other people and want for nothing though they usually live minimally. When Scythe Faraday appears in Citra’s home, her life changes even though he is only there for a meal and not to glean anyone in her family. Faraday also visits Rowan’s school where he gleans the school’s football star. Faraday then selects Citra and Rowan to serve as his apprentices and compete for the honor of becoming a scythe. However, there are forces at work in the scythe web of power that will set Citra and Rowan truly against one another and call into question everything that the scythes have been built upon. Citra and Rowan must figure out how to maneuver through the political and personal intrigue and survive.

Shusterman has created a future that many of us would say is a utopia, one where no one dies. Against that vivid and bright wonder he has created killing machines, people who glean or  murder with a personal touch that is horrifying, unsettling and all too real and logical. Shusterman has built a world that is striking and vivid. He has teens who kill themselves just to be restored to life again. He has elderly people who can reset their age back to their twenties again and again, so no one knows how old people actually are. It is a society both free from death and still obsessed with it.

Shusterman at the heart of the novel is also asking what makes us human. And could it be that mortality itself is a vital part of our lives? Is that what makes us musicians, artists and lifelong learners? It is against this dearth of art and knowledge that Citra and Rowan are growing up, looking forward to nothing in life other than its inevitability and endlessness. Then they are made scythe apprentices and the world shifts to something dark and dangerous. Suddenly though, they are alive.

Brilliant and complex, this novel asks real questions about life, death and the ability to murder for society. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.

 

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

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The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (InfoSoup)

Alex has never been the same since her older sister was murdered three years earlier. She finally started to feel something when her sister’s killer went free. Alex’s response to that was vengeance and murder and now Alex knows that she can’t ever leave the small town she has grown up in since it would not be safe for those around her. She just wants to go through the rest of her life with her head down and not be noticed. Inadvertently though, she starts to make a friend. Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, volunteers at the animal shelter with Alex and slowly they become friends. Peekay enjoys drinking and fooling around and brings Alex into a social group where she had never belonged before. Meanwhile, Jack is finding it impossible to keep Alex out of his head despite the attentions of another girl who uses him on the side of her own relationship. Still, Alex may have been better off isolated as her violence starts to emerge again.

Wowza. This book blew me away from the aspects of both content and writing. McGinnis writes with a beauty that is surprising and enticing. Her words capture emotions with an intensity that has the reader feeling them at a visceral level. Here is Alex in Chapter 11 describing losing her sister:

It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

McGinnis keeps her writing filled with tension, desire, understanding and amazement. She recognizes the incredible need for connection that we have even as we destroy as well. This is humanity on the page in all of its complexity.

It is also feminism, a feminism that burns and blazes, one that looks beyond makeup and clothing to the women and girls underneath. It is a feminism that speaks to the anger inside that wants to fight and battle the darkness in society, the brutality against women and the dangers that surround girls. And because it speaks clearly to that anger, it is breathtaking in its audaciousness, in the actions that Alex takes, and the bravery and violence she embodies.

Violent and beautiful, this novel is about the complexities of being female and alive. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from HarperCollins and Edelweiss.

 

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell

The first volume in a two volume graphic version of the award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman, this book celebrates the original story as well as several top graphic artists, who each take a chapter in the tale.  True to the written story, this graphic version has a wonderful creepy vibe and does not shy away from the horror elements.  The story is brought vividly to life by this new format and also brings it to new readers who may not have read the written work.

Thanks to the signature illustration style of each of the artists, the book takes different views of the graveyard, the characters and the story.  With each change in artist, there is a sense of refreshment and wonder anew.  At the same time, the illustrators adhere to certain elements, so that Bod looks like the same character throughout the book as do other main characters.  The various ghosts glow on the page, Silas is a gaunt dark figure who commands attention, and Bod himself is a luminous child that is the center of the story both visually and thematically.

Beautifully and powerfully illustrated, this new version of the book is a masterpiece.  Readers will wait eagerly for Volume Two.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

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The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

After her mother lost her job in Chicago, Maggie and her parents move to Door County, Wisconsin to a home they have inherited.  Just as they move to the peninsula, teen girls start to disappear and are found floating in the water.  Maggie misses her best friend and all of the activity of Chicago, but she is also taken in by the quiet and the beauty of Door County.  She quickly makes friends with the unusual girl next door, Pauline, who is beautiful, wealthy but also ignores both those facts and is downright childlike most of the time.  There is also Liam, a boy desperately in love with Pauline, though Pauline just wants to remain friends forever.  Maggie enters their world of canoe rides, building saunas in the woods, bonfires and marshmallows, that is interrupted as the winter comes with more deaths of teen girls.  Soon a curfew is imposed and no one is allowed to travel on their own.  Maggie can still hang out with Liam and Pauline, but the isolated peninsula begins to become even more separated from the rest of the world.  Add to this a voice in the novel that speaks of death, of being dead, and you have a haunting teen read.

Anderson’s prose is incredible.  She has written a book where it is all about isolation, winter, and death.  Yet at the same time it is rather desperately and fragilely about life too.  There is warmth, first love, beautiful friendships, and the wonder of nature.  It is a novel of contrasts, one that hints at a ghost story but is not overtaken by it.  It is a book about love, but it moves beyond that as well, turning to life and death eventually.

As I said, Anderson’s writing is beautiful.  She captures moments with a delicacy and poignancy that makes even the smallest moments of life spectacular.  Here is one example from Page 61 in the digital version of the ARC:

If I could show you the lives of the people below me – the colors of what they all feel heading into this chilling, late fall – they’d be green and purple and red, leaking out through the roofs, making invisible tracks down the roads.

She plays with perspectives in the novel.  Maggie’s story is told in third person, while the voice of the ghost, as seen in the quote above, is told in first person.  Anderson is not afraid to create a book filled with tiny pieces that come together into one full work by the end.  She writes without the need for action to carry the book forward, instead capturing a place and a time with an eye for detail and discovery.

Haunting and wildly beautiful, this quiet book is not for everyone but those who love it will love it desperately.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Zoe stays up late at night and writes to her pen pal, a Texas death row prisoner who murdered his wife.  He is the only one with whom she can share her dark secret:  she too killed someone.  Zoe slowly reveals her story, including her own role in a boy’s death and living with the aftermath of having done it.  Zoe’s story is one of being drawn to two boys, using one against the other, and the startling result of her betrayal.  It is a story of love that is beyond the expected, first romance that is tortured but desperately real, and the wounds left behind that are impossible to heal.

Pitcher, author of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, has returned with a beautifully written second novel.  She lays bare Zoe as a character, giving her the space to reveal herself in all of her remorse and conflict.  Here is one of my favorite passages in the book:

I’d do anything to forget.  Anything.  Eat the spider or stand naked on top of the shed or do math homework every day for the rest of my life.  Whatever it took to wipe my brain clean like you can with computers, pressing a button to delete the images and the words and the lies.

But perhaps what Pitches does best in this novel is to build tension and doubt.  Throughout the book until the final reveal, readers do not know which of the boys died.  Pitcher writes in a way that lets readers fall for both of them for different reasons, so that either one’s death is a grand tragedy and something to destroy lives. 

This is a book that is burning and compelling.  It is a book that is beautifully honest, vibrantly written.  This is Zoe’s heart on a page in all of its wounds and glory.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

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Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Nikki loves Dee but her friends warn her about him.  Her best friend Bird is particularly worried that Dee is dragging Nikki into dangerous situations.  Since Nikki lives with Bird, because her mother is too drug addled to take care of her or make a home for her, Bird’s opinion usually carries a lot of weight.  But not where Dee is concerned.  It’s not until Nikki finds herself in a very dangerous situation where someone is killed by Dee and Nikki drives the getaway car that Nikki discovers a lot of the truths the Dee has been hiding from her.  Now Nikki is in serious trouble and Bird may be drawn into the situation as well.  Nikki has to make some good decisions quickly before her bad decision changes her entire life.  Love is supposed to be what life is all about, so what happens when you can’t count on love after all?

McVoy pulls no punches in this gripping teen novel.  Nikki is a troubled protagonist whose perspective on what is happening is clearly skewed by the sexual attention that Dee pours on her and the warped way in which he treats her otherwise.  While that relationship is at the heart of Nikki’s troubles, McVoy does not shy away from making sure that Nikki and the reader understand that while it may be a factor, Nikki must still take responsibility for her own actions.  Nikki’s legal situation and the criminal process make for a taut read, as Nikki learns about herself and the TV version of jail is shattered into one that is transformational for those willing to change.

This book can be painful to read at times, since Nikki starts so deeply into Dee’s control and lies that she is starting to disappear herself.  By the time the crime is committed, readers will be almost screaming at Nikki for her poor choices.  It becomes almost too much when she continues to defend him, not recognizing the situation he has placed her in.  Throughout Nikki is not a character to be admired, but by the end, she has become strong, honest and has learned a lot.  This is a teen novel filled with character growth that is done gradually and realistically.

Brutally honest and filled with moments of dark and light, this book speaks to false love disguised as real love and the desperate lengths one might go to for it.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon Pulse.