Review: Arcane Sunflower by Courtney Summerlin

arcanesunflowerTrying to find your place in life is a daunting task, and being a college freshman seems to exacerbate the journey. When supernatural occurrences begin happening on campus, Ansley is forced to question everything she knows about life, and about herself, all while trying to save her own skin.

Arcane Sunflower is a fast-paced dark fantasy novel that pits shape-shifting werewolves hungry for blood against college students, and well, a few vampires thrown in the mix. Interlaced among the excitement is a bit of romance between Ansley and the mysterious vampire, Morgan, and as Ansley begins to learn about life’s supernaturally dark secrets, she starts discovering some within her own muddied past.

Summerlin’s voice is fresh, on point, and straightforward. Her tone is light and engaging, and she has an amazing style of gripping the reader within the first few pages. While this novel is self-published and would benefit from a professional editor to pick up several homonym and grammatical errors, it is a great first novel for Summerlin, and I look forward to her next installment. Young adult dark fantasy fans will welcome Summerlin’s unique take on the idea of vampires, werewolves, and magic among us. She has embarked on a new direction for dark fantasy that will help keep the genre fresh, alive and kicking.

Reviewed by: Kelly Fann

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Review: Zom-B by Darren Shan

zombshanZom-B is the first title in a new series of the same name, by teen horror master Darren Shan. B is a teen in England, with a troubled life, with an abusive, racist father.  When a small town in Ireland is decimated by zombies, B’s father dismisses the reported attacks as a ploy by the media.   Soon B discovers that that zombie attack in Ireland was not an isolated incident, and that B’s world is about to change for the worse.  

It is fascinating to see the specter of racism brought forward in a zombie book.  Daniel Waters’ Generation Dead series approaches it with the racism of the living against the relatively innocent reanimated.  In Zom-B the zombies are ruthless killing machines looking to devour the living; it is the naked racism of B’s father against immigrants, the Irish, and anyone who has a different skin color that is made real, and that impacts B and how B reacts to people.  It should be noted that B is not presented as an angel, committing minor crimes here and there, struggling internally with racism that permeated B’s household.  

     Shan doesn’t hold anything back in describing the bloody and gory zombie attacks.  Zom-B is a testament to Shan’s remarkable skill as a writer, as he challenges the reader’s preconceptions of everything, including B.  While providing necessary back story, Shan keeps the pace up, and then the action explodes at the end.Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries and YA collections. Future books in the series is Zom-B Underground and Zom-B: City to be released in 2013.

Contains: Gore, violence, racism

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Review: Under My Skin by Judith Graves

 Eryn is new to Redgrave. She is also part wolven, but tries to hide this from her friends as well as herself.  Redgrave, however, is a town that has quite a bit of paranormal activity going on, and it gets harder for Eryn to control the bloodlust within.  Her closest friends are the Delacroix boys, who seem to have secrets of their own.  The police chief’s son, Wade, has warned her to stay away from the Delacroix boys, saying that they are bad news, but then again, they say the same thing about Wade.  Who is telling the truth? With both Alec Delacroix and Wade trying for her affections, who will she choose?

Upon receiving this book my initial thoughts were “lame cover art” and “REALLY lame interior art work”, but I’m glad I looked past those things. undermyskin Judith Graves’ first book in the Skinned series is a great read for both teens and adults.  I must admit that I did feel a touch of Twilight deja vu while reading about the love triangle between Wade, Alec, and Eryn, but this book is loads better than Twilight!  Beyond the blossoming romance in this novel, there is also the mystery of what is causing all of the paranormal activity in town.  Waiting to find out the cause of kids going missing, and the animal attacks, makes Under My Skin a page-turner from beginning to end.  The romantics out there will want to know who Eryn is going to end up with.  This is a great first novel from Graves and I am truly looking forward to see what happens in the next installment of this series.  This book would make a great addition to all libraries. Recommended.

 

Contains:  Kissing, Mild Violence

Reviewed by: Rhonda Wilson

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Review: Zombie Youth: Book 1: Playground Politics by H.D. Goodhue

zombieyouthAt this point, zombie literature has moved from cool reboot, to bona-fide horror category, to glutted genre. In fact, I’m pretty sure enough nagging doubt has been cleverly addressed by authors that we are convinced that some virus is, in fact, out there, and it’s only a question of when the dead will rise and eat us.          

         Can readers tolerate one more book on the subject? Yes, we can, if it’s a good one. Zombie Youth: Playground Politics is the first in a new Young Adult series that successfully strains the curd from the milk-toast avalanche of zombie lit and makes a nice, stinky cheese from it. Goodhue’s take on his subject twists it just enough to set the work apart. In a super-creepy way, he makes the end of days even more likely–almost logical. All we have to know to enjoy and agree with Goodhue’s view is the established Z-lore–a rampant, mutated virus begins the trouble, the infected will stop at nothing to tear the flesh from the bones of the living, and your group has to fortify and hunker-down. But in this case, additional scary mutations and a bit of biblical history expand the story and significantly change the game.        

          Goodhue’s courageous depiction of a hostile faction of live religious zealots adds a bold dimension that engages a whole new set of philosophical and tactical scenarios, and he’s on the right track to convince us. Chances are, we will be fighting each other in the end zone, since we are already fighting each other in the “real” world. Whichever group harnesses the undead will gain a huge advantage over those who merely hide out, brain-smash one monster at a time, and scavenge supplies.      

         Goodhue’s voice and style are flawlessly aimed at teen readers, so long as those readers can tolerate graphically described visceral gore. Fortunately, much of the gross stuff is tempered by wry humor that lifts the whole book onto a higher level, nearly to adult cross-over. There is just enough romance to make the story realistic without burdening readers with actual sexual tension or scenario, and thankfully, there are few or no drug references. Also a bonus is that adults are kept right where they should be in a Young Adult work: useful and supportive, but subordinate to the real heroes. The characters are interesting and, though typical, are written with depth and individuality. Zombie Youth promises a strong, likable, and varied group of believable players for horror fans to follow through the adventures of the inevitable post-apocalypse. Highly recommended for ages 14 and up.

Contains: Graphic zombie gore, profanity.

 

Reviewed by: Sheila Shedd

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Review: Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

jennyfanIf you haven’t heard of J.L. Bryan yet, you’ll definitely keep an eye out for his other works after you read Jenny Pox, the compelling story of a girl who can’t touch anyone because she passes plague and death onto them.

The novel begins interestingly enough with a seemingly ordinary girl, Jenny, who turns out to be not so ordinary-  her touch spreads plague and death. It’s particularly heart-wrenching when Jenny, who is a small child when the novel begins, learns from her father that snakes are poisonous and thus dangerous, and she identifies herself as poisonous, saying “poze-nuss,” which, although it’s cute, is ultimately heartbreaking.

Like Rogue of the X-Men, Jenny realizes that she can never have a normal relationship with a boy–any boy–because of her “ability,” for lack of a better word, and she especially can’t touch them, which means kids definitely aren’t in the future. Except Jenny is worse off than Rogue, because while Rogue’s touch can steal powers temporarily, or kill if she holds on long enough, Jenny’s just gives people the Plague. Then she meets Seth, a boy with the opposite power, a healing touch. Unfortunately, Seth has a girlfriend, Ashleigh, with a dangerous power of her own.

Jenny instantly wins the reader’s attention, sympathy, and heart, because despite her relative simplicity, she’s a very compelling character, even though she’s so young. Kudos to the author for getting children’s dialogue right, by the way.

I loved the author’s gift for descriptions–they reveal so much about Jenny’s character. The way that the narrative is structured is brilliant when it comes to characters–Bryan leads you down one path and makes you think one thing but then completely pulls a 180 on you and surprises you–genuinely. There’s so much more to each character than you think.

This is one of the best novels of the year I’ve read so far, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The ending has a satisfying resolution, and I think that Bryan is one of the most talented writers I’ve had the privilege to read. Take a chance and read the first two chapters–you’ll be absolutely compelled to know what happens next. It’s a great story, one that I think should receive a lot of attention. If you haven’t already, consider becoming Jeff’s Facebook friend by clicking here; please visit his website here. And please read Jenny’s own blog here.

Reviewed by: Darkeva

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Interview with Maria V. Snyder

Originally posted to MonsterLibrarian.com

Maria V. Snyder is an award winning author of books Poison Study,  Magic Study, and Fire Study,  latest release is the young adult dystopian novel Inside Out from Harlequin Teen.

ML: Let me start by saying I absolutely loved Inside Out. You were clearly channeling the dystopian masters with this novel, and yet you managed to keep it from feeling totally oppressive while I was reading it. Not at all what I expected from a Teen Harlequin book. What made you want to write such a stand out book like this?

MS: A dream! I dreamt the whole story, the world, the characters, the Pop Cops, and even the twists! When I woke up, I wrote it all down before I could forget it.  I haven’t ever done that before and haven’t since – I wish I could remember what I ate for dinner that night ;)

ML: You’re writing for a teen audience, and I’ll admit I had to wallow through several English teacher’s attempts to teach dystopian novels in high school. Do you think Inside Out and Trella can reach a teen audience better than Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley and why or why not?

MS: Wow that’s a loaded question – lol!  I can’t say I can reach a teen audience better than those three famous authors, but I do think a teen audience can relate to my novel.  The main protagonist is a loner who doesn’t want to hang out with her social group, and she only has one friend.  She thinks her life sucks and that the upper workers have it made. Trella believes she doesn’t fit in with the other scrubs. Her views of life have been spoon fed to her from an early age.  She’s supposed to think that way.

Which is similar to growing up today.  Your parents tell you what’s right and wrong and how you’re supposed to act.  When brought down to the basic bones of the story, it’s a classic coming-of-age.  But I added in adventure, suspense and action–which I hope entertains the readers as well as shows Trella’s growth.  And I think today’s teens will be able to relate to Trella verses some of those older characters who lived in an older time. Trella reflects today’s attitudes towards freedom, independence and cynicism.

ML: Inside Out is much different from your other work (to begin with it’s science fiction and your other books are fantasy). For readers and librarians who might not know, can you tell us some of the differences and more importantly, some of the similarities that could interest Inside Out and SF fans in your other titles?

MS: With Inside Out, one of the major difference was I had to keep close track of the setting details. Since the world is completely contained, I had to know where everything was and stay consistent throughout the story. I drew up maps and diagrams in the early stages of writing.  And this is the main science fictional element. I do have some advanced weapons and technology, but it remains in the background.  I don’t explain the scientific reasons why and how a kill-zapper works, just show one being used and the result.

FYI - The maps of Inside weren’t included with the book, but they are posted on my website at: http://www.mariavsnyder.com/maps.php

As for the similarities, I wrote the books in first person point of view with a strong female protagonist, and I kept my style–action packed, complex plot, cliff-hanging chapter ends, some twists, and a little romance :)   I didn’t try and change my word choice because this was a young adult book and I didn’t simplify the plot either.  Young adults are savvy readers and have been enthusiastic about my all my books.

ML: You’ve done a lot of interesting research for your books. Which experience was your favorite?

MS: I really enjoyed taking the glass classes.  I learned how to gather and work with molten glass as well as cut glass, fuse glass, make glass beads and a stained glass mirror.  Glass is a fascinating medium and you can reuse it and recycle it forever.  I do have to add, learning how to ride a horse (the real Kiki) was the most challenging and educational.  Kiki was the best teacher I’ve had so far :)

ML: If you were in a library and it was burning down (horrifying I know) which books would you save?

MS: The rare books that are irreplaceable.  A decade ago this would have been a harder question as once a book is out of print, a reader was out of luck.  But now, with eBooks, the Internet, and scanners etc…if you really wanted a certain book, it’s not hard to find a copy.
ML: What are some of the challenges in writing (and living it) a totally contained world like Inside?

MS: Finding a good hiding place – I had to be very creative with this one :)   Waste is an issue – what do you do with the trash?  There isn’t much as they have to reuse, repair and recycle everything.  Also there are limited resources.  I tried to anticipate all the needs of the people living Inside – food, air, water, clothing.  Paper was another challenge–paper uses a ton of natural resources and harsh chemicals even when it’s recycled.  I didn’t have the space or the resources to have paper in Inside.  Instead they use wipe boards and refillable markers.  Ink can be harvested from indigo plants grown in hydroponics.

ML: Is there an unknown book you love, but no one seems to know exists?

MS: I really enjoyed Libyrinth by Pearl North – it’s a YA by a new author and I don’t think it’s well known. It has books and a library that’s a maze and good characters.

ML: Likewise, is there a book you love that everyone else seems to hate?

MS: Not that I can think of :)   I pick up books based on recommendations from my friends and family and from blogs so usually someone really loved it so I’ll pick it up.

ML: You said on your blog that the idea from Inside Out came from a dream. Have any of your other dreams fueled stories?

MS: No.  It was the only one so far.  I don’t even get help with stories I’m working on!

ML: What are you working on now?

MS: I’m working on Outside In, the next book in the Inside series.  It starts about nine weeks after the end of Inside Out.  I really can’t tell you too much or else it will spoil the plot of Inside Out.  I’ll just say, Trella finds herself in more trouble.

 

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Review: Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

insideout In Trella’s world, things are black and white. She is Inside. Outside is a mythical place that doesn’t exist, a tool used to control her and her fellow Lowers, scrubs who are jam packed into large dorms, fed slop, and endlessly doing the most menial jobs. Above them are the Uppers, people the Lowers aren’t allowed to interact with, who live comfortable lives in families that serve as overseers of Inside. Trella is Queen of the Pipes, a pipe cleaner who finds more of a home in the maze of heating and air ducts than with her fellow scrubs. It’s this reputation that draws her into a plot by Broken Man, a paralyzed prophet from the Uppers. Trella doesn’t believe him, until she finds the discs he smuggled from the computer systems, discs that hold the location to the Gateway, the way Outside.

        Inside Out is a very well-spun science fiction tale, in the spirit of Bradbury, Huxley and Orwell. Snyder creates an uncomfortable, overcrowded, paranoid and repressed society with far too many questions than answers and plenty of conspiracy. This is no ordinary YA Harlequin novel, rather, it’s a new dystopian tale for a new generation of readers. Inside Out walks a razor’s edge between stifling readers with its dystopian elements and offering hope of change, and answers to all the questions it raises. There is a love story, but it is by far not the focus of the story. The weight of Inside Out is on the people themselves, the crew of rebels and faceless scrubs, with their surprising depth and drive.

        Inside Out is absolutely a must read for speculative fiction fans, a valuable addition to public and private collections and easily has wide spread appeal for capturing adult and teen audiences. Easy to digest, modern and designed to appeal to teens, Inside Out would also be an excellent tool in classrooms to teach the concepts traditionally learned through books like Brave New WorldFahrenheit 451, and 1984.

Contains: Mild cursing

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Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein

12138494There’s a definite trend in YA of post apoc tales that fall in various spots on the SF spectrum. Arclight is another of those, hitting all the recognizable bells and whistles along the way.

Main character Marina is the sole survivor of the Dark, a nefarious disease? Condition? Affliction? That has taken over most of the world as we know it. Found in the Grey, the lifeless borderlands between the Dark and Arclight she was dragged back to civilization. Civilization in this case is a series of underground tunnels protected by walls of never ending light, run with a near-military precision by people with a whole lot of secrets. A handful of the people think she’s some sort of hero, the last hope, and immune to whatever disease mutated normal people into the monstrous Fade. The rest think she is a monster, already infected or somehow calling the Fade to attack them.

Marina goes back and forth on whether she wants to know the truth. She does, but it’s overwhelming. It’s too hard. (And pretty easy for readers to guess where she really comes from.) Sometimes she’s a sympathetic heroine to be cheered on in her quest. Sometimes you want to reach into the book and slap some whine out of her.

The writing itself is strong and emotional, but spins its own wheels in the mud, getting nowhere. It’s not at all a bad read, it’s just very recognizable, a cross between Ann Aguirre’s Enclave trilogy and any number of closed-colony SF books out there (ie Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder).

The biggest disconnect for me was the characters’ complete lack of interest in exploring the disaster that created the world, which I found really interesting. Not a waste of time, but I’d wait for the paperback.

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Review: Dead Girl’s Blog by Donna Burgess

deadgirlsblogWith a plethora of both zombie fiction and self-published author samplers popping up, it’s often hard to cut through the chaff to get to the good stuff. Dead Girl’s Blog is the good stuff; two emotionally satisfying zombie tales that don’t have to resort to the weary format of plucky survivors getting picked off one at a time. Burgess’ characters stand off the page, reaching out and giving an often-missing soul to zombie stories.

There are only two short stories here, “Dead Girl’s Blog” and “Under a Blanket of Blue”. But it’s a perfect short read for those looking for a distraction in a waiting room, before bed, or on a car or plane trip. Highly recommended for quality and tasty pricing.

 

Contains: Language, sex, violence

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Review: Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

witchfinderThe Demontide is an event that threatens the world once every generation, and all that stands between us and the oncoming flood of demons is the Hobarron Institute and its elders. The Hobarron Institute is a covert organization created to find a permanent solution to the Demontide. For generations they have had to sacrifice children to prevent the demonic flood. Now they plan to use technology. The problem is that the Demontide is imminent, but their technological solution isn’t ready, and the Crowden Coven of witches is desperately trying to make sure that it never gets finished. This is the whirlwind that Jake Harker is caught up in. He is scheduled to be the next sacrifice if the machine isn’t ready when the Demontide occurs. Only Jake can find the solution to the Demontide that will save his own life as well as the lives around him.

     Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide is a fast paced story that sucks the reader in and doesn’t let them go until the end, leaving them ready to start the next book in this trilogy. It’s a story that takes several surprising turns, and the good guys and bad guys are often hard to tell from one another – showing that even the most noble of causes can be twisted when the means comes to justify the ends. The story is also full of magic and history that any fantasy reader will thoroughly enjoy. Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide would make a fine addition to any fantasy/dark fantasy collection.

Contains: Violence, Human Sacrifice

Review by Bret Jordan

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