There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

15797848Stephanie Perkins’ YA horror/thriller novel, There’s Someone Inside Your House, will have adults and teens alike reeling until the very last page. Think Scream, but much more original and clever! Try to go right to sleep after finishing this book and let me know how that works out for you. It certainly didn’t work for me!

Makani left Hawaii and is now in her senior year at a small school in rural Nebraska, in the farming town of Osborne. She lives with her aging, and somewhat senile grandmother, sent to help her by her soon-to-be-divorced and non-present parents, who stayed behind in Hawaii. Her two best friends are Alex and Darby, and though she sometimes feels like the third-wheel of the group, she is going through the motions of surviving high school, all the while trying to keep a low profile so that no one finds out the true reason she left Hawaii and changed her last name to Young. Makani starts to take a renewed interest in Ollie Larssen, one of her classmates who is sexy and mysterious, but doesn’t care what others think about him, or his recent hot pink hair color. Ollie lives with his slightly older brother, Chris, a town police officer, because their parents were killed by a drunk driver a few years ago.

As Makani and Ollie get to know each other better (nothing like a good steamy romance!), random high school students are being brutally murdered one-by-one.  Makani fearfully begins to wonder who will be next. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how the students are being chosen at random, but Makani can’t help but wonder if her past and the incident in Hawaii is finally catching up with her in Nebraska. The murders start to increase at an alarming rate, but the killer manages to escape capture, leaving a gruesome setup at each murder scene.

The book is packed with both fear and romance, a killer combination that will keep readers fascinated. I couldn’t put the book down! It was a very fast read, but the scenes and grisly details stayed with me well after I had read the last page. The murder scenes were bizarre and original, causing Perkins’ first horror novel to be a stand-out from other books of this genre.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is that the killer is revealed about three-quarters of the way through the book, and readers don’t have to wait until the final page to know who it is. However, even after the killer is revealed (in a most unsettling & painful way for Makani and Ollie, by the way), he/she keeps on killing, right under everyone’s noses. It’s crazy! The plot is original, wildly entertaining, and filled with creepy moments. When you start a young adult novel and one of the characters is murdered savagely in the first chapter, you know it’s going to be a game-changer for young adult horror. Fans of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer will absolutely love this book!

To quote of my high school student readers, “It was a real slasher!” (She gave it a 10 of 10.)

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Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

After waiting 5medium years for John Green to publish another young adult book, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the long wait was totally worth it!

Turtles All the Way Down is the story of Aza Holmes, a 16 year old high school student, and her daily struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. The author also struggles daily with obsessive compulsive disorder, and in a sense Aza’s story has been and continues to be his story. Though the story is fictional, he also writes from a very personal perspective, as he has struggled with the same mental illness since his childhood. At first, I wondered and pondered where in the world the title and the fabulous stack of orange turtle shapes on the cover came from. But then I read a great interview/article about Green and the meaning of the book and it all made sense. About three-quarters of the way through the novel, Green reveals (through Aza) why turtles are used as a symbol for Aza’s OCD thought spirals. You can read the article here.

As with most John Green novels, there is a little bit of mystery and a little bit of romance to keep the story unique and oh so fun to read. Additionally, the novel takes place in Green’s hometown of Indianapolis, which I love. Born and raised a Hoosier, and having lived in Indianapolis for a number of years, I find it so cool to read about places I’ve been and roads that I’ve traveled on in a fictional story. Total fan girl moment!

Aza spends her days in class and many evenings hanging out at Applebees with her best friend Daisy. Daisy is a fun-loving character who writes Star Wars fan fiction, and certainly a friend I would like to have. Aza’s mom is a high school teacher, and her father passed away suddenly when Aza was younger. Aza dreads her required visits with her therapist, Dr. Singh, and doesn’t always take the prescribed medication, as she feels that a tiny white pill shouldn’t be in control of her decisions or her self. The story takes an interesting twist when Aza crosses paths with an old friend from “sad camp,” Davis Pickett.  Davis lost his mother at a young age, so he and Aza share a common loss – that of a parent. Davis’s father, Russell,  has mysteriously disappeared, and there is a $100,000 reward at stake for anyone who helps authorities locate him. Russell Pickett is extremely rich, but also a fugitive, who is wanted for a fraud and bribery. He disappears in order to avoid being arrested, a move which leaves Davis and his younger brother Noah to fend for themselves. Aza decides to investigate and drags Daisy into her plans. What else has she got to do? And it will give her a chance to get to know Davis a little better, now that he’s all grown up and stirs in Aza new feelings that she hasn’t felt before.

As Aza digs into Russell’s disappearance and tries to sort out what little clues there are, she also grows closer and closer to Davis. However, she is having more difficulty maintaining control of her thought spirals and OCD-induced behaviors. The story peaks and then ends on a bittersweet note, but not in an expected or predictable way, which is much appreciated.

Turtles All the Way Down is now my favorite John Green novel. Green’s personal experience with mental illness shines through in Aza’s character, causing the story to take a life of its own in such a beautiful direction. I would highly recommend this novel to teens and adults. The language is more of the adult nature, but there aren’t any explicit scenes as in some young adult books. As with all John Green novels, there are some memorable passages and quotes that will always stick with me.

Here are a few of my favorites:

When Aza sees Davis in the restaurant on date night, she notices his sleeves are exposing his forearms and notes, “I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been pretty keen on the male forearm.” I think this is perfectly quirky and lovable, just like Aza.

And my ultimate favorite is on the final page during a good-bye moment, “no one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.” Ending the book in that way leaves a hopeful outlook for Aza.

Read this book. You will love every page. Trust me. I read and I know things! (That’s on a t-shirt I saw, and I think I must have it.)

Operation Clean Up Day by Jason Tucker

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Operation Clean Up Day, a picture book by Jason Tucker and illustrated by Nick Roberts will be released on September 28, 2017 by Clink Street Publishing.

Operation Clean Up Day offers a simple story line with a clear message for little ones. It is split into different sections, called “Missions,” for different areas of the house that the two young boys need to clean up for their Mummy (ex: The Kitchen, The Bathroom, The Bedroom). With rhyming text and whimsical illustrations, readers see many different types of imaginative worlds dreamed up by the two young boys who would rather be playing make-believe than doing housework. From knights and ogres in the Kitchen to aliens and spaceships in the Bedroom, this little story have some amazing illustrations. The illustrations brilliantly portray the very active imaginations of two little boys. Dinosaurs, dragons, aliens, spaceships, castles, ogres…what more could a kid want in a picture book?

The ending is playful with the boy winking at readers. This story would be great for children age 5-10, who will relate to both the characters and the situation. A lesson to be learned for readers is that if you want to play, or go to the pool (as the two little boys are hoping to do), you must clean and tidy up first. Adults will have fun reading the book to youngsters as well.

Thank you to Authoright Marketing for allowing me to review a copy of this book.

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Operation-Clean-Day-Jason-Tucker/dp/1912262320/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1503072973&sr=8-2

Barnes & Noble – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/operation-clean-up-day-jason-tucker/1126986275?ean=9781912262328

About the author:

Born and raised in London, Jason Tucker is married and is a father of three young boys. He is enjoying an international working life basing himself between London and Dubai. This is his first published work with a number of other titles in the pipeline as well as working on a number of other ventures including TV, Film & graphic novels.

 

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

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Originally reviewed in School Library Journal, March 2017.

Gr. 9 & Up – Yu’s debut, realistic fiction young adult novel is set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly-paced story is told in alternating points-of-view between five unique campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four week long camp. Clarissa, suffering from OCD, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused the band to break-up, is guilt-ridden and longs to get better. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before, and doesn’t want to be back. Mason, narcissistic and full of himself, feels he has no problem, but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together with no social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with each other, despite initial trepidation. Perhaps one thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-age, hippie Josh and overbearing, prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes midway through camp, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally-charged, yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy to even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal, as characters think back to the situations which brought them to camp. The characters are diverse, balanced well between male and female, and appealing to readers of both genders. The story includes mature language and content (i.e. underage drinking and smoking). At times raw and heartbreaking, the language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT – Recommended as a first purchase for teens. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.

 

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

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Without Merit is due for publication on October 3, 2017.

Merit, a 17 year old senior in high school, has quite the interesting life. Merit’s family of seven is quite possibly the most oddly dysfunctional family I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about in a book. Merit and her twin sister, Honor, do not share any special twin connections or abilities to read each other closely. In fact, they barely have anything to do with one another and are like polar opposites. Their brother, Utah, only a year older than the twins, appears as perfect and wholesome as they come, which drives Merit crazy. Their rarely-present, laid back father lives with his second wife, Victoria, who was his younger mistress and the reason his first marriage failed. Their son, Moby, provides some rare moments of happiness to those around him, despite his mother monitoring his every move rather than allowing him to just be a curious four year old. The only family member that Merit feels a connection with and wants to spend any time with is Moby, who is easy to love. Here’s the real kicker: Merit’s mother, who is also a Victoria, lives in the basement and refuses to leave due to her social anxiety and general sickness following a struggle with cancer a few years prior. Merit, Honor, and Utah take turns bringing her meals and checking on her. Talk about a strange living arrangement!

Perhaps the oddest thing about the Voss family is that they all live together in an old converted church, which they have named Dollar Voss, because it is split into four living quarters. And the reason they are living in an old church all boils down to the fact that their atheist father, Barnaby, didn’t like the old Pastor’s Labrador retriever, Wolfgang, barking at all hours of the night. Therefore, he bought the church out from under Pastor Brian, forcing he and his dog to move out and leave Barnaby with peace and quiet – or so he thought. The Voss household, readers will find out, is anything but quiet.

Merit is out finding used trophies for her collection one day, when she meets Sagan. The initial meeting leaves her feeling something she hasn’t ever felt before – happiness and excitement. Any hope she has fizzles, however, when she finds out that Sagan is Honor’s boyfriend. Of all the luck! Merit, who has never been in love before, has to fall hard for her twin sister’s boyfriend. What’s worse is when she realizes that Sagan is living in the room right across the hall. Though she tries to avoid him and ignore her feelings of attraction, its impossible.

Meanwhile, Merit stops attending high school unbeknownst to her own father. She goes for days without speaking to anyone in her household, and they hardly notice. She doesn’t think there is anything out of the ordinary about her behavior; she’s just doing what feels right for her situation. After a serious suicide attempt, Merit’s family and Sagan encourage her to seek help. Near the end of the story, Merit realizes that she has depression, which makes sense to readers who have been seeing the signs in Merit’s behavior since the beginning. This story is a unique look at how the affects depression can change an entire family. Hoover does a wonderful job of bringing light to mental illness without focusing completely on the issue. She brings it into the story to add another layer to an already heartbreaking, yet moving story of a family sticking together no matter the obstacles.

Despite all of their faults and mistakes, Merit’s family members are lovable in their own way, as readers learn more about why they are what they have become. When Merit takes the time to look at them with a new perspective, thanks to some help from heartthrob, Sagan, who lives across the hall, and energetic, Luck, her stepmother’s younger brother, she realizes that maybe she is part of the problem. And things she thought were true about Utah, her father, her mother, her stepmother, Honor, and even Sagan weren’t exactly the way she pictured. Sagan and Luck help her to have the courage to seek help, and her relationships with them are stronger for it.

 

 

Hoover’s young adult, stand-alone novel is best for a mature audience due to language and references to drug usage. Though it alludes to sexual scenes, the romance is not explicit in any way. Fans of Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes will enjoy Colleen Hoover’s novels. Without Merit, in particular, would be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. This was my first experience with a Colleen Hoover novel, and I look forward to reading many of her other books.

Thank you to Atria Books for the advanced review copy.

Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore

imagesThank you to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a review copy of Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore. The first installment in The Line of Duty series, Crisis Shot, will be released on September 5, 2017 in paperback form. Having served as a Long Beach police officer herself, author Janice Cantore’s writing is authentic based upon her own past experiences in the same locale where the story is based. The characters and the plot line are unique, capturing the reader’s attention in the beginning and keeping their interest until the final pages.

The story takes place in Long Beach, California to start and then later in Oregon, where the main character, Tess O’Rourke, moves to escape the negative backlash and media portrayal of a police shooting in which she was the officer involved. Even though she did exactly as her training stipulated, a 14 year old was shot and killed, causing her to take the blame of society and suffer the consequences of the media’s one-sided view of the shooting. She wants nothing more than to stay in Long Beach and become the Chief someday, knowing her father would be proud. However, when her job is on the line, she knows she can’t afford to stay in Long Beach.

Tess is the definition of a strong female lead character. She was the commanding officer in Long Beach, and now she has just taken the job as police chief in Rogue’s Hollow. She is brave, determined, and loyal. Remembering her late father (a police officer killed in the line of duty) and his rules for her life, she is able to keep moving forward despite her grief of losing him so suddenly.

The book eludes to a possible romantic interest between Tess and handsome sheriff’s deputy Steve Logan, wish whom she teams up to solve a murder and disappearance in Rogue’s Hollow, Oregon. However, there aren’t any romantic scenes, leaving the novel very clean and suitable for younger readers who enjoy police procedural or small-town mysteries. I do hope some actual sparks will fly between Tess and Steve in future novels in the series, however, because they seem like they would make a great pair. Additionally, being in the Christian fiction genre, the language is also very clean, without the profanity that riddles most mass-market mystery/suspense/thrillers these days. Here’s proof that its very possible to write a captivating suspense novel without all the trashy language and four letter words.

My favorite part of the story was the way the residents in Rogue Hollow, especially Pastor Mac and his wife Anna, embraced Tess into their town and welcomed her, even in the midst of the first murder and disappearance in their town in a very long time. The second chance Tess was given allowed her to prove that she could handle the pressure of her new job as police chief in Rogue’s Hollow. Tess’s perseverance is an example to never give up hope, and to keep pushing forward, no matter how high the odds are stacked against you.

I would recommend this novel for fans of fiction, mystery, suspense, thrillers, and Christian fiction.