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Book Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher’s description

ra6Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

There’s Someone Inside Your House is a heart-pounding page-turner with an outstanding cast of characters, a deliciously creepy setting, and an absolutely merciless body count. Best read at night with big bowl of popcorn, this is a killer addition to the slasher genre written by one of the best contemporary YA writers around.” —Courtney Summers, author of All the Rage and Cracked Up to Be

It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.

Stephanie Perkins, bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss, returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

theres someoneI wouldn’t have picked this up if it weren’t written by Stephanie Perkins. Life is brutal and gruesome and horrific enough—I don’t gravitate toward fiction that is categorized as thriller/horror or stories that feature lots of blood and death. It’s just not my thing. BUT. I have adored every other book Perkins has written, so I gave this a whirl.

 

The little summary up there really does give you everything you need to know about the plot: there’s a killer on the loose, it seems likely it’s someone from their town/high school, and main character Makani is in the middle of everything. Is her potential love interest the killer? Is the killer coming for her? Can she figure out their motive and stop them? Does her past somehow mark her? It’s a race against time, though, really, the killer is given lots of time and opportunities to strike over and over because what good would the story be if they were found right away? The killer is savvy enough to get away with these actions and grotesque enough to do some very stylized killing (yuck) as well as patient enough to play some long games in setting up their victims. Set aside any logic you may want to bring to this story, because lots of choices and scenarios seem unbelievable and unlikely.

 

What I wanted were more twists and turns. More reveals. More uncertainty. I wanted to be scared/anxious more than just deeply (DEEPLY) grossed out. Or maybe I wanted Makani and Ollie to get inside of another Perkins book, one that can just be about their romance and their pasts and let us explore them as characters more. I like Perkins’s writing. I like her characters. I like the idea of this book. I think this book will appeal to readers who may want a romance (or… it’s not even really a romance—Makani and Ollie hook up a lot but their connection lacks any real substance or appeal) with some edge to it, but aren’t looking for a real scary horror story. If readers don’t mind gore and bits of story lines that end up going nowhere, but do want a undemanding story where the killer is revealed just over halfway through, then they may enjoy this. I had really high hopes for this book. Anna, Lola, and Isla are hands down three of my favorite YA titles of the past many years. I look forward to Perkins’s return, someday, to more books in the genre she excels in. I don’t think this book will have trouble finding an audience, and an audience who will enjoy it, but Perkins superfans may find this one a far cry from what they were expecting.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525426011
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/26/2017

Book Review: City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino

Publisher’s description

city of angelsNikki Black has been self-imposed lone wolf since her mother died, fleeing suburban Chicago to escape her painful past. But when her so-called boyfriend reveals why he really lured her to Southern California, she ends up on the streets of Los Angeles with only the clothes on her back and a destitute twelve-year-old named Rain following in her shadows. The girls seek refuge at a residential hotel above a punk rock bar in downtown L.A. a few months before the city erupts into chaos during the 1992 riots that nearly razed the city of angels to the ground.

At The American Hotel, Nikki makes friends and, for the first time in years, feels as if she has a real family again. But everything changes when Rain disappears. Everyone believes Rain succumbed to the seductive allure of addiction and life on the streets, another life lost that seemingly nobody will miss—except for Nikki. Determined to find Rain, Nikki burrows deeper into the underbelly of a city that hides darkness beneath the glamour. And when she unveils a sinister cover-up by a powerful group that secretly controls the city of angels, she could lose everything, including her life.

City of Angels is an edgy, gritty, and riveting Young Adult mystery about a young woman’s struggle to not only belong ― but survive.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Nikki thought escaping to L.A. with Chad, a decade-older guy she barely knew, would get her away from all of her problems. Unsurprisingly, it just lands her in a whole new set of problems.

 

Nikki’s family has fallen apart–her addict mother is dead and her father, unable to cope, blames Nikki and cuts all ties with her. Once in L.A., she meets Chad’s director friend, the one who will (of course) make her a star–except that’s not true at all. The sketchy (but powerful) director and Chad would like to put her in some films, yes, but they’re child porn flicks. She manages to get out of the director’s house with Rain, a 12-year-old she meets there, in tow. Now not only is she homeless in L.A., where she knows no one, but she’s got this young girl with her. Nikki finds a cheap room in the American Hotel, above a punk rock bar, where she hopes Rain will stay, too. But Rain’s hooked on heroin and Nikki, not only scarred by her mom’s drug use and death but totally out of her element here, has to help her detox. It’s just another thing that Nikki unexpectedly finds herself dealing with. Thankfully, the other residents of the hotel are friendly and help her with Rain. But when Rain takes off–and appears to be kidnapped–things become really interesting.

 

In addition to waitressing and trying to survive on her own in L.A., Nikki now is wrapped up in figuring out who took Rain and still worrying about being found by Chad and the director she escaped from. Before long, people she interacted with are ending up dead. Nikki and her hotelmates work to put all the pieces of this mystery together, finally focusing their investigation on people associated with The Church of the Evermore Enlightened and the Star Center, a Scientology-like group full of celebrities and secrets. They begin to amass evidence that points to who took Rain, but have learned that the LAPD has many members in cahoots with the Star Center people, so they’re unsure what to do with their information when it seems like they can’t trust anyone. Things come to a head as the city explodes in the aftermath of the verdict in the Rodney King case. Nikki and friends make their way through the more-dangerous-than-usual city in hopes of saving Rain, but learn that nothing is as it has seemed.

 

Belcamino usually writes for adults, and her foray here into YA is good for older readers looking for a little more edge and slightly older characters in their YA books (Rain–who is absent most of the book– and Nikki are younger than the rest of the residents of the hotel). Though at times the plot requires a suspension of disbelief, and Nikki makes some choices that will leave readers shaking their heads, this is a well-paced story full of plenty of action and distinct, diverse characters. Nikki is tough, resourceful, determined, and just the right amounts of naive, sheltered, and foolish. This gritty look at the life of a runaway girl trying to keep off the streets in early 90s L.A. will easily appeal to fans of mysteries and thrillers. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781943818433

Publisher: Polis Books

Publication date: 05/09/2017

Review from this month’s School Library Journal: The Girl with the Wrong Name by Barnabas Miller

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

 
the girl with the wrong nameGr 9 Up—A search for answers only leads to more questions in this suspenseful mind-bending thriller. Theo Lane does not remember what happened to her on the night of June 17; she just knows she woke up bruised and with a giant facial gash. She’s repressed any memories of the trauma and, according to her friends, is not acting like her usual self. She avoids her friends and instead focuses on making secret documentaries. Her new subject, unbeknownst to him, is a young man named Andy, who is looking for a girl with whom he spent an amazing night. Theo throws herself into helping him solve his mystery. Before long, both are wondering what they might be forgetting as they run around New York City on a dizzying journey through clues that lead them to night clubs, weddings, a women’s shelter, and, most unexpectedly, Theo and Andy’s shared past. A major discovery near the end reveals truth far more twisted than Theo—or readers—could have predicted. Miller takes readers further and further down the rabbit hole, making it hard to guess if anything—or anyone—is ever as it seems. Some of the plot points push the boundaries of believability, but they all serve to keep readers guessing and racing along with Theo toward the shocking truth. Captivating characters and solid writing help maintain the frantic pace and the bewildering mystery.

VERDICT A riveting thriller for fans of unreliable narrators.Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

 

ISBN-13 :9781616951948

Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 11/03/2015

Book review: Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson

One of these days, I’m going to post the list of “things in YA books that are pet peeves/we’re so over/we flat-out hate” that I started with my YA book club. I referenced it in my review of The Prey (things from our list that that book hits: dystopia-fatigue and love triangles). I bring it up here because one of my reading pet peeves is when the entire plot of a book could be resolved or diverted by a character having one conversation or taking one step.

 

In J. R. Johansson’s Cut Me Free, Piper, the main character, has a ton of really compelling reasons to go to the police. Now, ostensibly she doesn’t do this because (as you’ll learn when you read the book), she doesn’t trust them. She’s worried about the consequences because of past incidents. But the reasons to go to the police multiply and at a certain point I shoved this book aside and shouted, WHY?! Let’s see: Piper has been kept captive and tortured for YEARS by the Parents (her Mother and Father, whom she always capitalizes and never refers to as “my,” always “the”). They killed her little brother. Piper managed to escape. She then, while living under the radar, stumbles across a little girl whom she thinks is being abused. She saves her, but they’re now being hunted and played with by some sicko who knows her real name (she now goes by Charlotte), repeatedly breaks into her apartment, and threatens her life. GO TO THE POLICE. Or get someone to go to the police on your behalf. But who could she ask? Probably not Cam, the boy who sets her up with new forged documents and has connections to the mob. Probably not Janice, her neighbor who is also apparently living under an assumed name/on the run from something/one. I know it’s not that simple—something bad is happening, just go to the police. In books or real life. But because of how the plot unfolds and how much is at stake, I was desperately irritated that she was not trying to ensure her safety or the safety of Sanda (the young girl she rescues). Sure, go take on this complete psychopath on your own, Piper. Sounds great. If it’s the Father come looking, you know he’s VICIOUS and crazy. If it’s Sanda’s captor, you know he’s VICIOUS and crazy. (Yes, that sound was me screaming at my computer.)

 

Here’s the thing: based on the blurb, I wanted to read this. I thought it might be a really interesting look at abuse. When she rescues Sanda and learns she lived in an orphanage in Myanmar, was taken, worked cleaning for a rich family, and then was sold to her captor, I thought, ugh, but also, tell me more. Too bad, me! You don’t get more! I thought maybe there would be more about child trafficking, some greater plot or information or something, but no. Here’s what we do get a lot of: really horrific scenes of brutality. REALLY HORRIFIC. Like, to the point that I eventually almost couldn’t read them because they felt less necessary to the story and more gratuitous. I felt like a voyeur. There are some flashbacks to the nightmarish 10 years Piper spent living in an attic and being abused (though, again, I wanted more of her story filled in). There’s what Piper sees when she begins to observe Sanda’s situation and what she discovers when she eventually rescues her. But it’s everything that happens once Piper comes face to face with her stalker that is just shocking. I know some people like books that are like this—graphic, violent, bloody, disturbing—and I’m usually okay with them. But this one was rough.

 

Fans of thrillers who like mind games will tear through this. I found it overwritten, sensational, lacking in meaningful world-building, and outside the bounds of believability. Much like The Prey, it features a completely unnecessary romance storyline. Cam could still have been a large part of the story and a significant person in Piper’s life without having to be the forced-feeling love interest that shows Piper she can trust and love someone (and really, a lot of their relationship made me uncomfortable, from his savior complex to their physical interactions in Krav Maga). Honestly, a more compelling story (to me) would have been more of a focus on the 10 LONG YEARS Piper spent locked up and tortured, more about what she did to escape the Parents, and how exactly she managed to travel from Wyoming to Philadelphia (especially after having spent nearly all of her life completely removed from all society and having, in theory, only a very rudimentary understanding of how real life works. I mean, we’re supposed to believe that she can’t figure out how to remember how much coins are worth, but she can escape, flee, and take on a crazed lunatic all on her own? Oooookay). At the end, an author’s note says she is “passionate about advocating for victims of human trafficking.” I believe that, and of course admire that and any attempt to bring more attention to this issue. Human trafficking is but one small piece of this psychological thriller. Read this one if you like suspense and don’t mind suspending your disbelief long enough to go along with what most of this story asks of you.   

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF NETGALLEY
ISBN-13: 9780374300234
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 1/27/2015

Book review: Twisted Fate

In Norah Olson’s Twisted Fate, sisters Sydney and Ally couldn’t be more different. Ally is naïve, picks blueberries, bakes muffins, and doesn’t mind dressing like her mother to go sailing. Syd skateboards, like punk music, and is on track to be class valedictorian, despite her main interests in life including skipping class and getting high. When new boy Graham moves in next door, he’s an enigma—in a fairly clichéd and uninteresting way. He’s got a troubled past, feels he’s a genius filmmaker, and comes between the sisters. He’s self-adjusted his various anxiety and ADD medications so that he’s pretty much just one big dilated pupil of intensity. Even Syd, who likes drugs and pushing boundaries, think he’s pretty freaky. He films the sisters, their friends, and random children around town, often using a tiny and hidden camera. As the content of his art films are revealed, they prove to be incredibly disturbing. Like, profoundly messed-up and gruesome.

 

Both sisters take turns telling the story, often recounting the same episode but from completely different perspectives—in fact, it took me a while to realize they were even talking about the same time/thing, their stories were so different. Graham also narrates, as do two police chiefs and his stepmother. The whole story boils down to this: Graham is disturbed and something bad happened in the past; Ally is sweetness and light and everything good; Syd is a rebel who sees Graham for the threat he is, yet is still drawn to him. This psychological thriller manages to build but not entirely sustain suspense as it moves toward an ending that close readers will be able to predict.

 

Pieces of the story stand out, like a fantastic conversation between Sydney and (I think) a guidance counselor at school about the roles and expectations for girls. There’s commentary on class privilege, drug use and abuse, and our current culture of documenting and sharing our lives. There are a lot of interesting things going on in this novel, but they often get buried under too many unnecessary other things.

 

Something about the writing occasionally feels clunky—maybe the many heavy-handed hints, maybe the flat characters who definitely feel like what an adult’s version of what this kind of teen is, maybe the unbelievable excuses and exemptions that allow the story to unfold as it does. The premise is interesting, but the execution leaves something to be desired. This might be a good pick, maybe, for reluctant readers, because of the high level of interest, but that interest is hard to sustain as perspectives shift and the same cliffhangers are dangled over and over again. Tighter writing and less foreshadowing would have helped the eventual big reveal to pack the punch that it should. Fans of thrillers and suspense stories may enjoy this one, despite its flaws, especially if they like bad things happening and disturbing (and disturbed) main characters.

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062272041
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date
: 1/20/2015