Review: Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan

6a00d8345169e469e200e54f2124898834-800wiMorgan Rowland’s life changes the day she met Cal Blair. When Cal comes to school that first day, his confidence in himself makes every girl want him and every guy want to be him. Cal’s interest, however, is in Morgan. He introduces her to Wiccan practices. Morgan finds her world dramatically altered by inexplicable events stemming from these practices, and begins to question who she really is.

Book of Shadows is a well-written, fast-paced, gripping story. It kept me breathless and on the edge of my seat with the suspense and plot twists. This book is a great choice for a rainy afternoon- because readers will be compelled to finish it in one sitting.

Contains: Some language, references to Wicca, witchcraft

Review by Kate-Lynn Williams

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Review: The Intruders by E.E. Richardson

downloadIn the Intruders Richardson whips up a great pure ghost story. Joel, his sister Cassie and their mother move into a house with his mother’s new fiancé Gerald and his two sons. In addtion to coping with the resentment of the children over the joining of their two families, they also have to deal with ghosts that are in the house. Joel begins having terrifying nightmares, sees a shadowy figure in the house, and feels strange sensations suggesting that he is not alone.

Soon all four children are drawn in, and must solve the mystery of who the ghosts are and why they are haunting the house. This is Richardson’s second offering, and it is stronger than his first, The Devil’s Footsteps. Richardson does a great job of telling a terrifying, page-turning tale of ghosts and hauntings.

The interplay between the two sets of siblings is believable and adds realism to the story. Teens looking for a good ghost story will find that The Intruders is exactly what the doctor ordered. Please note that the Those looking for a little romance with their horror, however, will need to look elsewhere. Recommended.

Contains: Supernatural scares, murder and mention of suicide.

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Review: Hexed by Michael Alan Nelson and Emma Rios

51ZkkWYTyzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The cover chatter boasts this is ″the new Buffy″ to which I say meh. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely loved this graphic novel, from ″Lucifer″ herself, to the bold colors and art. But this isn’t Buffy.

For one Lucifer is a thief, mainly she steals from demons, and often she steals things back for people. She’s got a bag of tricks, literally, a sassy ‘tude, sure, but she wouldn’t be at home in a California high school talking fashion and falling in love with vampires.

This is less Buffy and more…Constantine or Hell Boy Lite. Less smoking, less gore (There’s plenty of opportunity for it, but Hexed authors skew away from the grunge gore) and next to no romantic entanglements in this first issue at least. Luci is a witch/magician/dabbler who occasionally faces down demons in a literal sense. In this volume she’s trapped into stealing a relic with the power to kill anyone whose name it’s given. And the person forcing her to steal it wants to kill off and replace the kingpin of the magical world, putting Luci at risk from her forces of mostly-evil too.

Again, I really liked this book, page to page, and hope to find more. I’m also glad to see it’s being released in a new edition/volume in July 2015.

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Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire

250px-Ring_of_Fire_(Buffy_Comic)Set during the “Angel is Evil” saga in the series (mid-late second season) Ring of Fire explains the commented on, but never really explained plot point in Undays of our Lives where Dru leaves Spike! I had always wondered on rewatching the series what exactly happened between the murderous lovers.

Turns out Dru leaves Spike for a bigger bad, the demonic samurai that Dru, Spike and Angelus set out to summon in this story.

This book also includes a little butt kicking from the rarely seen Kendra, and also an awesome little side story of Giles trying to cope with Jenny Calender’s death. If you’re a fan this is definitely one to try to find  copy of.

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Review: Stolen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

downloadThe Heart of Dread series is very off beat to begin with because it’s a post apocalyptic fantasy series. That is there are two worlds linked by magic, Earth and Vallonis. Vallonis has magic and elves and dragon riders—er drakkonryders. Earth is in an ice age with humanity barely surviving under the military rule. While some people used to go back and forth they or their decedents have been trapped Earthside and have been hunted down for their mysterious powers.

Nat is one of these people, the last drakkonryder single-handedly trying to protect the few portals from Earth to Vallonis and help the people with Vallonis blood escape back into the haven of their home world. In the first book, Frozen, ex-military man turned outlaw good guy Wes helped Nat get to Vallonis and learn who she really was. Despite some major romance between the two Wes left Nat to try to find his sister, a ″Marked″ girl who was stolen from her family by the military like so many others.

Much of this book is Wes trying to rescue his sister from the clutches of the military overlords. It’s been nine years though and even if she is alive (and he’s given reason to believe she is) she could be very different. But what if it’s not the military who kidnapped her?

This books drags a little, which serves to build more of the world setting, which doesn’t quite mesh well. After all this is an outright fantasy book (dragons and invisible powers, swordspeople and magic and castles in the air) mooshed into a post apoc story (cruel military rulers, citizen revolt, dying planet without enough food, poor people dying left and right, a cult that sacrifices citizens for the amusement of the upper class). The plot seems about as hesitant as the characters. Wes doesn’t want his love for Nat keep her from her destiny and Nat feels that being born on Earth instead of Vallonis puts her at a huge disadvantage. Not to mention she’s been putting her life on the line for a while now and still isn’t really a part of the Vallonis people, even if she is welcome to live there and provided for.

But what really sealed my meh feeling for it was the cliffhanger ending. This book almost came to a whole finish of its own, then it changes its mind and opts for a cliffhanger, completely negating the feeling of completion it finally reaches. Clearly this is a trilogy. And I enjoyed the ″different″ feel to the first book. But this one, just left me less interested.

 

 

Contains: Violence, implied torture

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Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Remaining Sunlight

by Andi Watson, Joe Bennett and Rick Ketcham

Remaining_Sunlight_(Buffy_Comic)The Remaining Sunlight is less a cohesive single story and more several comic Buffy shorts. In the first Xander takes martial arts lessons to try to keep up with Buffy and learns that being less powerful than the slayer isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

Despite Halloween being Evil’s night off Willow get kidnapped in the second story.

The third ties in with the second when an escaped vampire decides to come back for Buffy when she’s trying to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Finally is MacGuffins, a humorous aside about Slayer training. Wile it’s one of my favorites I could do without the top-busting chested, booty bumping Buffy. Especially since the stories have a real person, with a real figure (nothing like this cartoon Buffy’s) to reference.

Entertaining and fun, but not vital to the canon.

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Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz

by Dan Brereton, Hector Gomez and Sandu Florea

The_Dust_WatlzThe Dust Waltz is the first BtVS graphic novel, set very early in the series, in the early high school years. It sees Buffy and the gang, plus some, trying to save Sunnydale from a feud between two ancient sisters.

In their tradition the sisters have brought their champions to the Hellmouth to fight for their pleasure–oh, and to summon a Hell Beast.

I liked the art and the story line was enjoyable, if a little too easily ended. (I mean, come on, Lilith, mother of the vampires vanquished so easily?)

The only part I disliked was the presence of Giles’ niece, Jane. Or rather, she seemed to lack an intelligent caution that Giles excels in, particularly as the story moved on. She could have been a great pseudo-Scooby if she’d been a little less Scrappy Doo.

 

 

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Review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice_coverRobin McKinley is a favorite of mine, my go-to author for high fantasy. She has a lovely, dreamy, fairy tale style without a glut of Names with Apostrophes, characters who die off regularly or book stop size tomes.

Chalice is everything you’d want in a standard fairy tale. There’s a pretty girl with a magical connection to the land, a handsome, dangerous love interest and an evil overlord whose quest for power threatens the well-being of the town.

That said, I would have liked a little more on top of it. Mirasol is such an innocent soul that she has zero comprehension of political maneuvering. The evil overlord here is actually named “Overlord” and the slight that threatens tall handsome and dangerous’ life is so very minor that it almost seems much ado about nothing. While Mirasol is sweet and easy to connect with a lot could have been added with her actively trying to win over or compromise with her broken Circle members instead of just throwing spells at the tension and hoping that fixes it.

Also, it would have been nice if tall, dark and dangerous love interest had not been deus ex machinaed out of his dangerousness but instead learned to work for his people despite it.

Not a terrible book because the lyrical nature of McKinley’s writing makes the act of reading beautiful. But not my favorite of her books.

 

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Women in Horror Month: David Simms Interviews Lauren Oliver

And now, for Women in Horror Month,  reviewer David Simms interviews Lauren Oliver.   

Lauren  is the author of many YA novels, including theDelirium trilogy, Before I Fall,  and Panic (soon to be a movie). She has also written for adults (Rooms) and children( The Spindlers and Liesl & Po). Her newest book, the YA thriller Vanishing Girls, will be released in March of 2015.

Lauren enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, dancing, running, and making up weird songs. She divides her time between Brooklyn, upstate New York, and various hotel rooms.

 

Dave: In Vanishing Girls,  mental health is a major issue.  Thank you for delving into this. As a special education teacher/therapist for teens, I don’t see enough writers tackling it. Do you think it’s something teens (both sexes) need to be aware of?

Lauren: Well, yes, sure–I think everyone of almost every age should be educated about various kinds of mental illnesses and, more generally speaking, about the diversity of human experience. It’s funny, I never set out to write about mental health issues or about “difficult” topics; I simply write what I know. And I know people with mental health issues, and addiction disorders, etc. It’s part of the human condition.

 

Dave: Following this, most writers I’ve met, from the biggest in the world down to the scribblers and wishers, have demons they have battled. You really hit on some tough points for teens. Do you feel that embracing your past helps you as a writer and subsequently helps your readers?

Lauren: Yes, absolutely–writers are always on some level writing about their own experiences, things they’ve known, perceived, thought about, dreamed of. The same is true of me. I don’t consciously choose to broach difficult topics or to show teens struggling with difficult scenarios; that’s a reflection of my memories and also my understanding of the emotional content of adolescence, how tough and alienating it can be.

 

Dave: At a major conference recently, I listened to a panel of “adult” writers who are jumping into the YA fray. They were saying that they can knock out a YA novel in full within 6 weeks.  As a published YA author myself, I was frustrated to see YA treated dismissively. Your take?

Lauren: Well, I mean, I don’t know the context of that comment; YA books can be shorter than adult books, which obviously influences how long they take to write. But I would venture to wonder whether the books that authors brag about spending less time and attention on become successful efforts, whether they attract critical praise or the devotion and care of readers? I mean, anyone can write a kind of so-so book, for any audience, in any amount of time. Good books require attention and editing and long term care, for the most part. Then again, some writers are simply fast.

 

Dave: The sisters in Vanishing Girls display the fragility of sibling relationships and rivalry as well as family dynamics. Do you receive a lot of communication from readers who are seeking guidance?
Lauren: I’ve always received a lot of messages from people who empathize with my books and their main characters, yes. Some of them are seeking guidance and direction but most of them just want to reach out–they find the guidance, I think, in the books themselves.

 

Dave: The amusement park setting of Vanishing Girls is just great. Is this something straight out of your past?

Lauren: Ha, no. I wish! I was a lifeguard in high school. But I like amusement parks as much as the next girl.

 

Dave: What are your plans for your next book? Any issues you’d love to tackle or think need to be that haven’t been brought to the spotlight? Is there anything off limits to you?

Lauren: I don’t approach books by identifying issues I want to tackle, although all of my books do end up tackling some heavy issues because that has been my experience of the world and one of the purposes, I think, of writing books in the first place. My next standalone YA, Broken Things, will therefore deal with guilt and criminalization and also with the unhealthy dynamics that can sometimes develop between female friends–but the idea came to me not through its themes but because I became inspired by a real-life criminal case.

 

Dave:  In terms of research, planning, etc., what’s your favorite part of the writing process before sitting down to immerse yourself? What helps you write?
Lauren: Oh, the writing always comes first, the planning and research later, even though I know that sounds weird. I always “write my way in,” meaning that I just sit down for 15-20K words and feel my way through the language into the characters and the world. Then I sit down and think critically about an outline, about the central conflicts and antagonists, etc.

 

Dave: As a psychologist and therapist/teacher, I often ask other professionals how their childhood impacted career choices and how they go about helping the next generation. Teens today face many new issues and new slants on the ones we grappled with. What role do you believe teachers/guidance counselors have today?
Lauren: That’s a tremendously difficult question for me to answer. I can’t imagine the kind of pressures kids are facing today, but I can venture to guess that they would need the influence of guidance, care, and attention now more than ever, and in particular that they would find great value in face-to-face communication and conversation.

 

Dave:  Do you meet your readers mostly via social media, school/library/bookstore visits, or at conventions?

Lauren: All of the above!

 

Dave: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and who gave it?

Lauren: My dad–he taught me to write every day.

 

Dave: What/who are your influences, past and present? When did you know you had to write for a living?

Lauren: I’ve always known I had to write, but I never at any point thought it had to be “for a living” (either then or now!). At a certain point I started writing novels, and at a certain point after that I decided to try and get them published, and at a certain point after that they did get published. But the publishing is only incidentally related to my great love of writing, in a way, which is an intrinsic part of who I am. As for influences, there are simply too many to list.

 

Dave: Monster Librarian is spotlighting women authors next month (and should EVERY month). I see more females reading in my schools than males, yet while when I was growing up, the trend appeared to be reversed. Why do you think this might be happening?

Lauren: That’s very surprising, actually–when I was a kid, I felt the girls read more than the boys, but then again, that is likely because my sample was quite skewed. In any case, I’m thrilled to hear that girls as well as boys are reading and hope that the continued efflorescence of fabulous literature for teens and children will just encourage more and more kids to read.

 

Thank you, Lauren, for answering our questions!

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Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

41YXLUVOGlL._SL250_Young adult fiction has been getting darker and more realistic with each year.  Lauren Oliver has been at the helm for much of it, beginning with Before I Fall and followed by the immensely successful Delirium series.  While dystopian YA has been the main thrust of the genre for years, culminating with The Hunger Games and Divergent, teens also have been clamoring for something more personal.

Oliver has delivered both over the past the few years and with Vanishing Girls, has hit it out of the park with an unsettling, dark tale that will resonate with the reader long after the book is closed.  She knows teens well, how they speak, act, and think.  It shows on the page in a brisk read that will fly by.

The book begins with notes from a therapist which immediately suggests things will not be as they appear. Sisters Dara and Nick have always been close, sharing their worlds. Nick is the quieter, reserved sibling, while Dara’s wild side tends to be well explored  They are competing for a common love interest: Parker, the boy next door, who lends a natural tension to the story.  A car accident shreds their relationship and much more when Dara is left facially disfigured, and shuns her sister.  What ensues is a jump down the rabbit hole, in which the reader is twisted and turned through phases of reality. The characters are more complex than those typically found in YA fiction, and face issues that teens do face, ignoring any sugarcoating.

Nick takes a job at a local amusement park, which brings her into another world,  showing what happens behind the bright lights, and after the midway and rides shut down. Just as the reader might think the story is becoming a romance, the dark sets in, as a young girl goes missing.  As Nick delves into the mystery of the missing girl, Dara disappears.

Oliver builds suspense steadily, and keeps the plot unpredictable, drawing on the complexity of the characters. The ending is satisfying and completely worth the wait. Oliver has crafted a near perfect thriller, and her writing improves with each subsequent book.

Recommended for middle school and high school libraries, for mature teens and older,Vanishing Girls, in addition to being a great thriller, can be an excellent learning experience about mental illness for many and show others that they’re not dealing with the issues alone.

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