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The Monster Librarian Presents

Reviews of Fiction with Human Monsters and Psychological Horror for Young Adults


In these books the cause for terror is the actions of a person.  What makes these books particularly scary is the killer might be your neighbor, your teacher, or even your best friend.



Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel*New Review

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1442403185

Available: New and e-book


        This is the second book in a trilogy about the youth of Victor Frankenstein, the title character of the classic novel by Mary Shelley.  In the first book, His Dark Endeavor, Victor, an only child in the original book, has a twin brother, Konrad.  Their cousin Elizabeth and friend Henry Clerval, also characters in the original book, also have major roles in the story. Victor has conflicted feelings for his twin, which are complicated by Victor’s passion for Elizabeth, as Elizabeth and Konrad fall in love with each other.  When Konrad falls ill, Victor’s discovery of a forbidden library leads him to seek an alchemical cure requiring ingredients that put Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry in mortal danger. Unfortunately, the cure fails, and Konrad dies, leading Victor to reject alchemy.  His Dark Endeavor was a terrifying book— my hands shook,  my heartbeat sped up, and I could barely breathe as the book reached its climax. The version I read was published in an ebook as a prelude to Shelley’s Frankenstein, and if any book could grip a teenager with enough force for them to make it through the epistolary beginnings of the original novel, it would be His Dark Endeavor.  It seemed to me that the sequel was obvious.


        Such Wicked Intent follows the events of His Dark Endeavor, beginning with the burning of the library that tempted Victor to experiment with alchemy.  Guilt and grief possess him. His hopes that Elizabeth will show interest in him are disappointed when she declares her intent to enter a convent. By chance, Victor discovers a volume on the occult in the ashes of the library, and determines to use it to communicate with Konrad and enter the spirit world in hopes of finding a way to bring him back to life.  Using spirit forces, Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry use instructions they have found in the spirit world to create a mud body for Konrad’s soul to enter into. Victor’s obsession with occult knowledge is disrupted by unsettling discoveries about the mud body both in newly discovered caves under Chateau Frankenstein, in the spirit world, and through observations of the creature he has created.


        While still compelling, Such Wicked Intent is not as convincing as His Dark Endeavor.  Elizabeth’s desire to become a nun and objections to traveling in the spirit world seem perfunctory, and her personality becomes less dynamic and more of a cipher.  Henry’s character becomes stronger, but his growth is all off screen, and we rarely see it emerge.  Victor’s offer to sacrifice himself to bring Konrad back is less believable, as well. Finally, the resolution of the book suggests that even though he has rejected alchemy he has sustained a belief in the occult, which is at odds with what we know about the adult Victor Frankenstein.  While this is still a very good read, it can’t stand alone, and feels to me like a sequel that didn’t need to be written. Still, readers of the first book will definitely enjoy the second, and I highly recommend it. It takes courage to enter into the dangerous obsessiveness of the mind of Victor Frankenstein, and Kenneth Oppel  does a fantastic job of drawing the reader in to the complexity of a character often  presented  in a one dimensional way.


Review by Kirsten Kowalewski





34 Pieces of You by Carmen Rodrigues*New Review

Simon Pulse, 2012
ISBN: 978-1442439061

Available:New and Kindle

The back cover of this book says it’s in the tradition of Thirteen Reasons Why. Except that both books are about damaged teens who die tragically, I don’t see much that they have in common.  Hannah, in Thirteen Reasons Why, kept it all inside; Ellie acts out. Hannah deliberately plans her suicide to let the people who played a part in her decision know they are to blame; Ellie’s destructive behavior is so random it’s hard to tell if her death is an accident or deliberate. Ellie’s friend Sarah’s part in Ellie’s death, and her grief, has echoes from Wintergirls, but 34 Pieces just doesn’t have the emotional power of either book.

Sarah becomes friends with Ellie and her older brother Jake as Sarah and Ellie enter middle school. Sarah is adopted, and even though that doesn’t make any difference to her family, it makes a difference to her. Sarah is caught up in Ellie’s destructive behaviors—especially cutting and drugs and doesn’t seem to understand where this behavior is taking her, or care much. Jessie, Sarah’s younger sister, falls in love with Ellie, and they become physically involved. Rodrigues writes this part with sensitivity, as it threads through the drama and trauma of Ellie’s life.  Jessie tries to slow Ellie down, but Ellie shuts her out. Eventually, Ellie and Sarah overdose on drugs. Sarah survives, but Ellie does not. All this is told as a flashback, while Jessie sorts though a shoebox of paper scraps Ellie had saved in a special place, hoping to uncover more of Ellie’s story and motivations. Sarah and Jake, each of whom are dealing with survivor guilt and grief alone in different places, tell their own stories as well.

Although Ellie is gone, the end of 34 Pieces is not nearly as bleak as that of Thirteen Reasons Why.  But the book is also not as successful, and I think much of that has to do with the fact that neither Ellie nor Sarah is a likable or sympathetic character. The thing that kept me reading was that I cared about Jessie, who is on the edge of things throughout almost the entire book. There are many good books out there already that deal with issues this book touches on, so I don’t see it as a necessary addition to library collections. But if all your books by Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins are checked out, 34 Pieces of You might be a decent alternate choice.

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski




Rebel Fire by Andrew Lane

Macmillan Young Listeners Audiobook, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4272-1360-0

Available at and


      One day my heart will be broken, and Andrew Lane will be the one who will do it. The author of the new Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series takes us back to the beginning of The Greatest Consulting Detective’s formative years and invites us to witness how the genuinely nice and sweet-natured young Sherlock Holmes develops into the hardened, lonely defender of justice and the innocent that we know and love. In Rebel Fire, the reader can already begin to pick out the threads that will one day be woven to create the man.


      A few months after the conclusion of the first book, Death Cloud, fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes and his friend Matty Arnatt stumble onto the supposedly-dead John Wilkes Booth, who is hiding in a house in England. After Matty is captured by Booth’s handlers, Sherlock, Amyus Crow (his American tutor and mentor), and Crow’s daughter Virginia, travel to the United States to investigate why Booth is still alive and to rescue Matty. Sherlock and Virginia follow the conspirators to the home of Duke Balthassaar, a creepy individual who is dedicated to the South rising again. True to Conan Doyle’s stories, perceived supernatural elements are found to have logical, natural origins, and the reunited friends foil Balthassaar’s plans to resurrect the Confederacy.


      The story development might be a little slow for some modern young readers, but those who enjoy Nancy Drew, Kimmel’s “Suddenly Supernatural” series, and their ilk would enjoy this series, as well. The little nuggets of wisdom dispensed by Crow and the observations made by young Holmes (i.e. sailors’ tattoos could be catalogued by their region and artist of origin) will strike a chord with Conan Doyle’s fans. Lane is quite respectful with the canon, and the reader quickly gets the impression that every element of the story is intentionally placed, from the growing affection Holmes has for Virginia (the inevitable heartbreaking part) to the introduction of a mysterious violin player named Rufus Stone.  The narrator, stage actor Daniel Weyman is a wonderful complement to the story, effectively conveying all the emotions that the fourteen-year-old Holmes experiences, from the terror of a life-and-death chase to burgeoning romantic love. I recommend Rebel Fire for any young mystery lover (age 10 – 15) and to fans of the Holmes canon.  


Contains: mild violence, death, creepy animals


Reviewed by: W.E. Zazo-Phillips



This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth OppelSimon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2011

ISBN: 1442403152

Available: New

        Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are twin brothers and close companions, their life full of adventure.  One day, while exploring, they uncover The Dark Library, full of books on alchemy and “witchcraft.”  Their father forbids them from entering it again; years ago he was responsible for outlawing the practice of alchemy. When Konrad falls ill and the doctor’s efforts seem hopeless, Victor must do something to help. With the aid of his cousin Elizabeth and his best friend, Henry, Victor tracks down a man known to be able to produce the forbidden Elixir of Life. The trio must risk life and limb to obtain the ingredients necessary to create the elixir. This Dark Endeavor is a stunning glimpse behind the motivations of Victor Frankenstein, the man who matures to become the doctor responsible for creating the monster in the classic Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  While it took me a bit to get into the book, ultimately the portrayal of young Victor Frankenstein is what drew me in.  The reader gets a glimpse of his obsession with alchemy, his love/hate relationship with his brother Konrad, and his fondness of his cousin, Elizabeth. Characterization is strong in this book.  Victor, obviously, is an incredibly headstrong individual, but it was Elizabeth’s character that was truly impressive. She was an incredibly strong individual, a trait I believe young women will appreciate. This Dark Endeavor serves as quite the appealing, and terrifying, prequel to a long honored classic. Recommended.

 Reviewed by: Jennifer Lawrence



Subject Seven by James A. Moore

Razorbill {an imprint of Penguin Group} 2011

Available new paperback

ISBN 978-15951430041

Some years ago a private company established a secret facility in order to create the perfect weapon for the military.  Initially, the experiments proved a failure, but one of the test subjects, Subject Seven, escaped.  Over the years Subject Seven has used his unique abilities to survive and track down the people responsible for his existence.  He has also discovered that there are others like him living in total ignorance of what they really are.  Subject Seven has sent out a command and awoken the other teens from their long slumber.  As Joe Bronx, Subject Seven has gathered the other teens in Boston and told them what they really are.  However, he has decided to keep his true motives a secret for the time being.  Now Evelyn Hope, one of the few survivors from the night of Seven’s escape, is determined to stop them and bring them back alive.

Subject Seven is Moore’s first Young Adult novel but it is just as appealing for adults.  The story is compelling, and more violent than I would have expected from a YA title.  Character development is excellent and the teens’ personalities are diverse and relatable.  They are average kids from different backgrounds but once transformed become dangerous and almost indestructible monsters….for that is what they were created to be.  They are also sympathetic characters—they had no control or say in what was done to them by adults that were supposed to protect them.  Subject Seven is a frightening page-turner that ends with quite the cliffhanger, as it is the first in a series…and I am greatly anticipating the next novel.  It is a fantastic read for older teens and adults alike. Recommended (ages 12 and up).

Contains violence

Reviewed by: Colleen Wanglund

20 Years Later by E. J. Newman

2011, Dystopian Press

ISBN: 978-098449123

Available: New


Two parts fantasy, one part horror, one part post-apocalyptic universe, all parts dystopian: the making of a great young adult title, which E. J. Newman has delivered in her first novel. 20 Years Later spins the tale of London in the year 2012 when the world is struck down by “It”, forever changing the landscape and the way of life to mere dust and chaos. Fast forward to 2032, when the makings of order begin to reappear in the form of organized gangs ruthlessly battling over territory. It is in this “eat-or-be-eaten” world that four teenagers bond over their unusual powers and seek to understand what has happened to the world and what the future holds.


20 Years Later is chock full of world-building atmosphere, engaging characters, and unforeseen twists. The pace is quick, the dialogue easy to devour, and the dystopian universe Newman has created is unlike any other I have read. 20 Years Later lends itself as a great young adult title for readers who enjoy transplanting into other worlds where it’s up to teens to make things right (a la Hunger Games).

Recommended for public library young adult collections.


Contains: n/a


Reviewed by: Kelly Fann


The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

HarperTeen; Reprint edition, 2008
ISBN-10: 0060890371

Available: New and Used


        The White Darkness focuses on Sym, a socially awkward, hearing impaired girl obsessed with Antarctica whose romantic interest is Titus Oates, an explorer who died ninety years ago, and speaks to her in her head. Sym’s few friendships are superficial and her father is dead after a bizarre illness, leaving her with only her mother and her Uncle Victor as a support system. It becomes clear pretty quickly to the reader that Victor is a very strange man with a private agenda that includes Sym, but Sym worships him and overlooks his oddities when she notices them at all.  I can understand how strange behaviors can seem “normal” if you haven’t had exposure to what the normal range of behavior is. However, Sym’s obliviousness to obvious red flags about his behavior (like stealing her mother’s passport and refusing to let Sym call or email home from abroad) made it difficult to see her character as real. Her relationship with Oates was more believable than this level of naivete. I’ve seen reviews that talked about what a strong character she is, and her strength becomes evident later in the book, but I almost gave up before I got to Antarctica.  I think many readers will, and will end up missing out on a fantastic adventure story.


        Geraldine McCaughrean writes with brilliance about Antarctica, and the disorientation of time and place along with the horror of being stuck in a freezing desert with a murderous madman make for a gripping and terrifying tale. I had trouble believing Sym could survive, though. She’s wounded, her eyes are burned, people want to kill her, and nobody knows where she is.


        McCaughrean does an outstanding job of portraying Antarctica, and for bringing Antarctic exploration and its dangers alive, and the book is memorable and unique enough to make me want to hang on to my copy. But, although The White Darkness is a Printz Award winner, and professional reviewers have had overwhelmingly positive reactions, ultimately I found it unsatisfying. It’s a hard sell, but for the right person, it is worth the time. Highly recommended for teen collections in public libraries and for middle and high school library media centers.

Contains: mild sexual situations, violence.

Reviewed by: Kirsten Kowalewski



Death Sentence: Escape from Furnace 3 by Alexander Gordon Smith

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-32494-0

Available: New hardback, softback, and Kindle


            A worthy addition to the Furnace series, Death Sentence is raw, gritty, and pulls no punches, but yet never becomes overly grotesque. Readers of the previous novels, Lockdown and Solitary, have been waiting impatiently for the next chapter in the life and times of Alex Sawyer, and Alexander Gordon Smith does not disappoint.


At the end of Solitary, Alex was recaptured by the guards of Furnace Penitentiary, and in Death Sentence, he soon becomes one of the enemies he fears and hates the most: a blacksuit. A good portion of the beginning of the novel describes in detail the trials and suffering that Alex endures as he undergoes his horrific transformation. Like the other two novels in the series, Alex fights to maintain his humanity in an inhuman place and grasps onto the thin strand of hope that he will one day be able to break out of Furnace. Twice he has tried, and twice he has failed: I will not say if the third time is the charm.


Alex is a broken protagonist: he does unspeakable things to survive and has a sometimes distorted code of honor. Even with his flaws (and, boy, do they get more pronounced in this installment) he is an engaging character, and his dedication to not only getting himself out of Furnace, but anyone else he can manage, is noble. Events in Death Sentence suggest a supernatural element to Furnace, which might resonate as cliché for some readers, and I’m not sure if anyone could endure what Alex does and not be reduced to an automatonic mess, but the writing ultimately pulls the reader through. Along with the rest of the series, I highly recommended Death Sentence for YA and adult readers.


Contains: YA-grade violence, gore, mutation, death, deprivation, hints of the supernatural. 


Review by Wendy Zazo-Phillips





Skulls by Tim Marquitz

Damnation Books, 2011

ISBN: 9781615723546 (print edition)

Available: New

Jacob is a teen who hates his life.  His father is an abusive drunk, his mother left him, and his stepmother practically ignores him (except when she leaves behind a mess for him to clean up).  The only good thing in Jacob’s life is his girlfriend Cass, a goth-chick whose parents would never approve of Jacob because he comes from the “wrong side of the tracks”.  One afternoon, Jacob accidentally discovers a bunker hidden in the earth on Old Man Jenks’ property.  The bunker is full of skulls—human skulls.  There have been rumors about Jenks for decades after the recluse moved to town.  When Jacob looks into the eye sockets of one of the skulls he sees something that freaks him out.

Jacob doesn’t tell anyone of his discovery, but can’t stop thinking about what he’s found.  As his life begins to spiral out of control, Jacob keeps returning to the bunker.  Cass is becoming more concerned about Jacob, but he can’t bring himself to talk to her about his secret.  Someone knows he’s going there, though, because one afternoon a box with a skull is left for Jacob at his trailer.  Does Old Man Jenks know that Jacob has been sneaking onto his property?  Is Jenks really a murderer?  And what does he want with Jacob? 

Skulls is a young adult title, but it has more than enough of a story to keep adults entertained.  The setting is perfect for this rather unique story, and character development is dead on.  I felt for Jacob and could also relate to him, as well as to Cass.  The pacing is excellent, and Marquitz easily holds the reader’s interest:  I didn’t want to stop reading the book.  Marquitz keeps the suspense alive throughout, and the climax is a huge surprise that I never saw coming.  Marquitz does that with every book he writes, and I have to say, that’s my favorite kind of ending.  There’s nothing predictable about Skulls, and I love that in a book. Highly recommended.

Contains:  some blood and gore, references to alcohol use

Reviewed by: Colleen Wanglund



Nickel Plated by Aric Davis

AmazonEncore, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935597322

Available: New

Nickel  is a twelve year old runaway who’s gone to ground. He disappeared from the foster care system two years earlier, after years of abuse, and now he’s on his own.  Now, if there’s a job you need done, whether it’s spreading counterfeit money or tracking down your son,  he’s your guy.  Carefully camouflaged as a typical kid, he’s rarely noticed and often underestimated.  A survivor, he’s observant, paranoid, well-armed, and prone to lucky hunches.  He’s also a risk taker, with no compunction about blowing up a telephone pole with a pipe bomb if he thinks it will get him the information he needs.  Nickel also sells pot and blackmails pedophiles to pay the bills. Since he has this money to support himself, he can take on the case when Arrow asks him to search for her missing sister.  For Nickel, rescuing other kids from bad situations, and especially sexual predators, is personal.

As an adult reader who’s read Robert Parker’s Spenser novels,  I felt echoes of Spenser throughout:  Nickel’s wiseguy dialogue, his willingness to take on what seems like lost cases for free, and his stance that you stand up for what’s right even at personal cost.  The hardboiled language is jarring, since I don’t expect any twelve year old to talk like that, and Nickel doesn’t seem to have reservations about doing things that are unethical  (like actively helping counterfeiters and selling pot) but if Spenser raised a kid, one with technological savvy, violent tendencies, and  a survivor’s mentality,  that kid might turn out something like Nickel.  Teens who read Nickel Plated probably won’t pick up on this- they’ll just be caught up in the gripping story, the environment he’s created (he has a serious weapons cache and knows how to use it), and the curious relationships he has with the adults in his life. They may also identify with the struggle to fit in and protect that hard shell, even when you’ve chosen to step outside the mainstream.

 Nickel Plated gets into dark territory.  Child pornography, chatting up pedophiles, kidnapping and selling children… these are really stomach-turning, and it’s difficult to read. Davis leaves quite a bit unsaid- we can guess, but don’t know for sure, exactly what happened with Nickel before he finally escaped foster care, because he’s never able to fully talk about it. And there is no real happy ending.  While it can be awfully hard to sympathize with Nickel, readers will feel their hearts break with him.  Unusual, thought-provoking, and horrifying at times, Nickel Plated is a sharp contrast to much of the fluff in the YA market today.  The author, Aric Davis, will be an attraction as well- he is a piercing artist and punk rocker.  That combination alone ought to pull in some recalcitrant readers. Highly recommended.

Contains: Violence, implied child pornography, references to pedophilia, references to masturbation, child selling

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski



Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith

Square Fish, 2009

ISBN: 978-0312611934

Available New, Used, and E-Book

               Alexander Gordon Smith is still relatively new to the states. He and his brother Jamie Webb have enjoyed moderate success in the U.K. with their Inventors series, and his current Young Adult series, Escape from Furnace, is slowly being released in the United States, starting with the novel Lockdown.

               Alex Sawyer, the protagonist, is not a good kid: he is a thief and a bully, and while he is not psychotic he seems destined for a life of crime. Then, inexplicably, he is framed for murder and sentenced to life without parole in Furnace Penitentiary, a subterranean nightmare that was created after a summer of youth violence some years before. On the bus ride to the prison other juveniles claim innocence, as well, and this realization exposes the tip of a great conspiratorial iceberg that slowly reveals itself—gruesome secrets that affect all of the prisoners of the institution. Once Alex is at Furnace for a period of time, an alliance is formed to escape from the penitentiary, though exposure or capture could be much worse than incarceration itself.

This is a violent book—there are gangs, fights, and demonic creatures that regularly maim and kill characters in the story. To my relief, however, this novel never crossed the line into “inappropriate;” specifically, there is not a hint of sexual impropriety (i.e. sodomy), swearing, or over-the-top gory scenes. (For example, after a character is killed by a monster, it is only said that the creature “went to work on the corpse.”) I think this demonstrates a respect Smith has for the young adult reader: he trusts adolescents can handle tough scenes, and yet he understands when a writer should refrain.

The characters are realistic and well-written. (Except maybe Donovan, Alex’s cellmate, only because I would expect a kid who has been in Furnace for five years to be a lot more damaged.) Though other reviewers on different sites complained that the pace was too slow, I found it to be acceptable. In fact, part of this novel’s appeal is the empathy that the reader gains for the main characters, which usually takes some rumination and careful story development. I think Lockdown’s finest quality, though, is that even as terrible as Furnace is, there is a tiny thread of hope throughout the story. I think this will appeal to young readers; they will press on to see if it all works out.

I highly recommend this book for any library that serves a youth population, especially teenage boys that swear that “books are lame;” this book is the response that will prove them wrong. Gritty in content but never unbecoming, Lockdown will have readers clamoring for more.

Contains: YA-grade violence, mutation, death, some gore

Reviewed by: W.E. Zazo-Phillips



Solitary: Escape from Furnace 2 by Alexander Gordon Smith

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

ISBN: 978-0374324926

Available New in Hardcover, Paperback by Square Fish in July, 2011

               The last time we see Alex Sawyer in Lockdown, which is the novel that precedes Solitary, he completes his daring escape from Furnace Penitentiary and hopes he is on his way to freedom on a beach with a sea breeze. Ah, Alex…if it were only that easy.

               As it happens, and it is refreshing how realistically this plays out, underground rivers do not necessarily lead anywhere one might want to go, and it is almost a blessing when Alex and his fellow escapees are recaptured and sent to solitary confinement for thirty days. (To put this in the proper perspective, Alex was told in Lockdown that no one had ever survived more than four days.) During his stay in the hole, we are introduced to other characters and creatures that dwell below Furnace, and we learn more about what goes on behind the prison’s locked doors. Soon a boy/creature, Simon, appeals to Alex and his friend, Zee, to attempt another escape. We also learn during their preparations what happened to Alex’s old cellmate, Donovan.

               The story flow is not as clean or as organized as Lockdown, but the setting of Solitary would preclude that type of plot: while the life of a prisoner of Furnace is very organized and rigid, no concepts like these exist in solitary confinement. The whole point is to lose track of time and identity, and Smith conveys this well through authentic-sounding hallucinations and contemplations by the protagonist. Furthermore, Alex just does not have the support of friends or the sustenance that he had in  Lockdown—he does make more mistakes, and his actions tend to be sloppier and on-the-fly. However, the writing itself stays tight, and the teenage reader will have no problem following along.

I did get upset when Alex and Zee discovered a way to communicate with each other while in solitary confinement. (Really? What prison guard in any universe, especially this one, would allow morale like that?)  But, I should have trusted Mr. Smith and the madness of Furnace: the outcome is heartbreaking.

As the sequel to the highly-recommended Lockdown, I also highly recommend Solitary for any library with a YA population, especially with a hard-to-please crowd. There are a lot of scenes that are difficult to experience, but they are always handled tactfully and are respectful of the juvenile population. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Death Sentence, and I am sure YA readers will, as well.

Contains: YA-grade violence, mutation, death, deprivation

Reviewed by: W.E. Zazo-Phillips






Invasion by J.S. Lewis

Thomas Nelson, 2011

Available: New

ISBN: 1595547533

Sixteen year-old Colt McAllister is orphaned after his parents are killed in a car "accident."  He moves to Arizona to live with his grandfather and start over.  Shortly thereafter, he receives a call stating his parents’ death wasn't an accident; his mother was killed because she was about to reveal that a top corporation known for creating chips to aid in curing serious diseases is actually using these chips for mind control.  His father was "collateral damage." 

Colt soon realizes his world isn't as it seems, but strangely mirrors a series of comic books his parents encouraged him to read as a child.  The flying motorcycles and beings from other worlds are real, and humankind is protected from these invaders by an agency referred to as C.H.A.O.S.  This isn't anything new; C.H.A.O.S involvement can be tied back to World War II. It is up to Colt & his friends Danielle and Oz, along with the C.H.A.O.S. agency, to stop an alien race from crossing over into their world for the purpose of dominating the human race.

Invasion serves its role as the first book in a series. It introduces the characters, provides backstory and lays out the main storyline.  The storyline is exciting and engaging.  As a lover of graphic novels myself, it was exciting to read about one quite literally coming to life.  My only complaint is the lack of character development.  I hope Lewis plans on expanding upon this in much more detail in the subsequent books. Because I couldn't "mesh" with any of the characters, this book didn't grab my attention as much as I would have liked. While published by a Christian fiction publisher, Invasion really didn't have the feel of Christian fiction, as there was only a brief mention of faith, but perhaps this is something the author will delve into more in subsequent books. Recommended for fans of YA science fiction.  The plot is unique and this series has a lot of potential. 


Reviewed by: Jennifer Lawrence




The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0545310581

Available: New and Used

In the not so far-off future, the United States has been decimated by disaster and war. It is now a country called Panem, and is broken into twelve districts. There were at one time thirteen districts, but one of them tried to rise up against the government, referred to as the Capitol, and was annihilated. Katniss, our main character, is from District 12, the poorest district. The reader may infer that this district is located in an area corresponding to Appalachia. Capitol citizens may enjoy fine food and drink, but those who live in District 12 subsist on dog, wild game, and grains.

Each year, two delegates (one boy, one girl, aged 8-18) are chosen by lottery from each district to compete in The Hunger Games. The Games are held in a different environment each year and are televised to the masses across the country. It is a battle to the death among the delegates. Think Lord of the Flies meets The Running Game.

During the current lottery, Katniss’ young sister, Prim, is chosen. As allowed by the rules, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. Katniss knows sending Prim to The Hunger Games is nothing but a death sentence. Her intention in volunteering has nothing to do with wanting to compete. Rather, she is trying to save her sister.

Katniss is a hunter who has spent years learning the ways of the woods– tracking, fishing, trapping, woodcraft. Her mother is an herbalist who has taught her what plants heal and how to use them. To feed her family, Katniss has taken down all manner of wild game… but can she kill another human being?

The characterization is phenomenal. You feel the emotional conflict within Katniss every step of the way. The other characters have distinct personalities that are realistically portrayed. Some are sympathetic, others not so much. Readers find themselves rooting for certain characters and hoping others are taken down quickly.

The action sequences are well planned and executed. They are both exciting and brutal. These might be kids, but they are kids who want to win at any cost.

This is one of my favorite reads this year. It is written for the young adult crowd (grade 7 and up). The book is the first in a trilogy, with the third book set to hit bookstores in a few weeks.

Highly, highly recommended.

Review by Jim Cobb more of Jim's reviews can be found at



Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2)by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press; 1 edition, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0439023498

Available: New and Used

Catching Fire is book two in the Hunger Games trilogy. It begins a short time after the end of the first book. Katniss and Peeta, our star-crossed lovers, have returned to District 12 victorious. They are given new homes for their families as well as wealth and status. For a brief period, all is well. Katniss also learns of a rumor about District 13. All her life, she has been told District 13 was uninhabitable, due to being destroyed by the Capitol in a war whose end result was the creation of the Hunger Games. She is now told there are indeed people living in District 13, people who are working to overthrow the Capitol.

As part of their duties as Hunger Games victors, Katniss and Peeta are to tour the entire country of Panem, visiting each district in turn. On the day they are to depart, Katniss is confronted by President Snow. He is not at all happy with how the Hunger Games ended, and believes there is a resistance movement sweeping through the districts that has chosen Katniss as their symbol of rebellion. President Snow explains to Katniss she must prove to the entire country her defiance in the Hunger Games was not an act of rebellion but instead driven by her love of Peeta.

During their victory tour, Katniss witnesses firsthand both acts of defiance among the populace and the Capitol’s iron-fisted way of dealing with those acts.

The next Hunger Games is a Quarter Quell. This occurs every twenty-five years and allows the Capitol to introduce some sort of twist to the event. This time around, it is determined that the participants will be chosen from all living previous Hunger Games victors. Katniss and Peeta are headed right back into the arena, with every opponent being someone who has survived previous Hunger Games.

Twists and turns abound in this book, but it does suffer from what I call “middle book syndrome.” In almost every trilogy, the middle book is the weakest of the three. The first book is usually exciting in that there is a goodly amount of world-building. The reader learns who to root for and who to despise. The second book often is not much more than a lead up to a dazzling conclusion in the third volume.

In this particular case, Catching Fire does contribute to the overall story. It is well-written and the characters are fleshed out well. But the reader, knowing there is another book coming, might feel this book goes a bit slower than necessary. Certainly by the time the actual Hunger Games begin, the reader is almost out of patience.

Overall, the book is a good follow up to the first volume, but it does move slowly. Recommended for all those who loved the first Hunger Games book.

Review by Jim Cobb more of Jim's reviews can be found at





Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

Margaret K. McElderry, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1416950097

Available: New and Used

In Fallout, the third book in the series that started with Crank, centered on meth addict Kristina Snow, Hopkins moves on to show the effect Kristina's selfish ways still have on her children, and covers a wide spectrum of emotional and psychological problems. Fallout is told through three narrators: Hunter, Kristina's first child, born of rape and trying to deal with rage; Autumn, who struggles with OCD and turns to alcohol to get her through a major life change; and Summer, who is unaware that she has siblings, and has been raised by a series of abusive foster homes and her own addict father.


Fallout is raw, as can be expected from Hopkins, sharp and yet beautiful as well. Hopkins manages to bring new sympathy to the subject, even to characters readers are already familiar with and have started to hate. While the full scope of the story would be missed if readers started the series here, this is the book that will most call to the loved one or friend struggling to support (or justify not supporting) an addict. Highly recommended.

Contains: drug use, sex, language

Review by Michele Lee


Glass by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; Reprint edition, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1416940913

Available: New and Used

Glass is the direct follow up to Crank. Glass continues the story of Kristina Snow after she's had her baby, and kicked meth and nicotine, shortly before her eighteenth birthday. It follows her relapse in her struggle with the meth monster and goes farther than Crank imagined. Sharp and painful,  Glass is hard to read. For one, Kristina seems to not even care that she's making such horrible mistakes. Almost on autopilot in her quest to fill simple needs, this reader more than once wanted to reach into the lines and try to shake some sense into her.


While Crank goes very far to combat drug use as an introductory tale, Glass is Anti-Drug 201, a hardcore look at more of the nasty side effects of addiction, as good as an uncut marathon of Intervention with viewers thrust, uncomfortably, inside Kristina's head. There's no doubt it will be too much for many readers, either too brutal, or too close to home. Hopkins savagely slices through any illusions of “normal life” with beautiful poems and style that makes the story she's telling all the more horrific. Highly recommended.

Contains: sex, drug use, language, domestic violence

Review by Michele Lee



Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; 1st Simon Pulse edition, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1416903574

Available: New and Used

Floored, that's how readers will feel even when they are only part of the way into this breathtaking tale of three teens admitted to a mental care center after each has attempted suicide. While the book is large, 666 pages, it's written in poetry form, so it’s a fast read. The terrible story of how these three kids, who should be enjoying the last years of high school, ended up where they are, is boiled down to terse, powerful, images that will leave readers feeling scarred.


I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It puts adults into the head space of serious teen suffering and offers teens a real, honest look at how addiction, parasitic relationships and mental disorders (like depression and bipolar disorder) work, washing it all with a message of sympathy and solidarity. There are an increasing number of books out there designed to help parents and teens understand and cope with the big, very real, problems that they face. But none that I've read have been as real as Impulse. It skips the clinical approach altogether and puts the reader directly into the characters’ heads, slowly revealing their lives, even as they themselves face up to the significance of things. Few books are must-reads in the large scope of fiction, but for teens and even parents suffering from or seeking to support someone who struggles with these issues, Impulse is a must-read. Nothing else crosses the barrier between “normal” and not with such strength and odd beauty. Impulse simply should be available in all public collections.

Contains: references to sex, addiction, self mutilation, suicide, language

Review by Michele Lee


Crank by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; Original edition, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0689865190

Available: New and  Used

Crank is Ellen Hopkins' controversial, and sorely needed, verse novel. Kristina Snow’s life changes forever when her father and the boy she's crushing introduce her to meth. Unlike Impulse, which is raw and shredding in its emotion, Crank is almost cold at times, brutally showing a girl on the edge of being a woman, who should have the kind of life that discourages drug use, choosing to ride with the monster time after time. Likewise, the people in her life who should be able to step in, fail, leaving Kristina alone to fight a beast that defeats most adults.


Crank is a difficult book to handle, but it's far closer to reality than any drug awareness program I went through in school. Hopkins’ books are strongly positioned to be of great value as fiction, as poetry, and for their educational value, as they boldly strip away pretenses and sensitivities to show addiction as the cruel master it is. Highly recommended for public collections as well as recommended reading material for those whose lives have been scarred by the real life monsters on our streets.

Contains: sex, drug use, rape, language

Review by Michele Lee


Once by Morris Gleitzman

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0805090260

Available: New and Used

Once there was a boy who told stories, whose parents left him in an orphanage in the mountains and didn’t say why.  He lived there for nearly four years, until one day he saw professional librarians arrive and burn all the books in the library. Except they weren’t librarians, and they were burning all the Jewish books they could find, not just in the library there, but everywhere. The boy decided to find his parents, Jewish booksellers, and help them save their books.


What he didn’t know, and readers will know almost immediately, is that the book burners didn’t just destroy Jewish books... they were Nazis, bent on killing off the Jews. The narrator’s innocence on his journey to join his parents creates a sense of dread long before he encounters the first obvious results of violence, and his description of events that he doesn’t understand is wrenching to the reader. While he makes sense of the world for himself and for others with imaginative storytelling, what’s most terrifying is when he finally recognizes the situation and is unable to tell stories anymore, when other people need to believe them most.


What is astonishing about this book is that for nearly a third of the story, the main character’s most terrible imaginings are of the destruction of books and persecution of bookstore owners and customers. He is unable to conceive that there’s anything that could be worse, in spite of the trucks packed with unhappy prisoners, soldiers, guns, and burning houses he encounters. Even when he finally recognizes the reality of what’s happening, he clings to his own notebook of stories. His notebook, and his ability to tell stories changes lives and makes tragedy a little more bearable. In the end, the fate of the characters is unknown, although for most it appears to be inevitable. Stories can’t save everyone. But there’s always the possibility that a book, a story, the power of imagination, will save someone, and destroying them also leads to the destruction of hope.


Contains: violence, murder, brutality, book burning, death camps, killing of children, Holocaust setting.

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski






Slumber Party by Christopher Pike

Scholastic Paperbacks, Reissue edition, 2004
ISBN: 0590430149

Available: New and Used

    Years after a slumber party that left one of their group or friends dead and one disfigured, Lara, Nell, Rachael, Mindy, Dana, and a new friend Celeste come together for a fun ski trip to get together and catch up.   Disturbing events make Lara think something is not right-  the friends are getting strange phone calls, a snowman is mysteriously scorched, and a girl goes missing. It is up to Lara to uncover the truth.  The characters are a little weak, but the overall story is still intriguing and will keep the reader's attention. Although Slumber Party has many elements present in mystery novels,  it is more of a thriller and horror story. Lara never seems to come across any clues, and the ending is revealed as a surprise. A note: Slumber Party  initially looks like a quick and easy read, but Pike manages to fit a considerable chunk of story in a deceptively small package.  Contains: kidnapping, violence.




The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, October, 2006
ISBN: 0385733712

Available: New and used

    Ashley Reeves is a reporter for "Missing Link", a magazine devoted to natural oddities.  One day Ashley receives a letter from  Reginald  Mather, requesting him to come to his house on Aries Island in the middle of  Lake Languor to see a specimen of "Ganges Red," a giant deadly red mosquito also known as "The Devil's Hand."  Ashley's arrival on the island is marred when his boat hits some rocks, destroying the vessel and stranding him there.  It turns out that there is more to the mosquito and the residents of Aries Island than meets the eye and soon Ashley is fighting for his life  as he finds out that the mosquito isn't the only deadly killer on the island.     The Hand of the Devil is a very engrossing tale that sucks the reader in.  The exposition is considerable and does interrupt the pacing of the story, but also provides needed backstory and fleshes out the plot, allowing Carter to introduce additional plot twists. The Hand of the Devil will appeal to readers in a variety of subgenres. Readers of killer animal books will appreciate The giant mosquito that kills in a particularly gory manner. A serial killer who does away visitors on the island in a gruesome manner will be of interest to readers of human horror.  There is also a supernatural aspect to the story. Although the extensive exposition initially makes for a slow and awkward start,  once the action gets going it is strong throughout the rest of the book.  Note:  This is an unusually gory book for a teenage audience.  Recommended for high school libraries. Contains: gore, violence.

Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2002(reprint)

 ISBN: 0689836023

Available: New and Used

    Branwell Zamborska hasn’t spoken since his baby sister Nikki stopped breathing. Accused of shaking the baby into a coma, he is struck completely mute, unable to speak even in his own defense. Only one person knows him well enough to find a way to communicate, and to discover what really happened that day- his best friend, Connor. Guided down a twisty and indirect path, Connor finds himself actually following in Branwell’s footsteps, as, with the help of his resourceful older sister, he begins to understand and empathize with the horrifying situation that has caused Branwell’s refusal to speak. Readers won’t be able to put down this gripping, suspenseful, and heartbreaking story. Silent to the Bone is a winner of the 2001 Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Novel award and also made the list of YALSA Best Books for Teens for that year. Highly recommended for readers 12 and older: an unbeatable choice for middle school and high school libraries and public library collections. Contains: implied sexual situations, child neglect and abuse.


The Twisted Window by Lois Duncan

Publisher: Laurel Leaf; Reissue edition (September 1, 1988)
ISBN: 0440201845

Available: New and Used
    Appearances are deceiving in The Twisted Window. Brad has been following Tracy- he needs her to help rescue his sister, who was kidnapped by his stepfather. Tracy is grieving and angry, looking for someone to save. Offering her services as a babysitter to the family his sister is living with, Tracy conspires with Brad to take his sister back. But nothing is as simple as it seems. It becomes clear that the girl is not Brad’s sister, and that Brad’s grip on reality is tenuous at best. As his paranoid fantasies escalate, it’s obvious that both girls are in a seriously dangerous situation. A gripping and disturbing tale with surprising twists and turns, The Twisted Window accurately, and frighteningly, portrays the monster that can arise from a teenager’s grief, anger, denial, and defiance. Grades 9-up. Contains: violence, guns, kidnapping. Entry by Francesca the Librarian.

Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett

Candlewick,  May, 2006
ISBN: 0763629944 . 

Available: New

    “What manner of ungodly baby kills its creator?” Even at sixteen, Mary Shelley’s nightmares force her to face  this question. Angelmonster takes us into the mind and heart of the author of Frankenstein, in the entwined stories of her tragic love affair and marriage to the tormented poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the terrible events that she must come to terms with to write this classic tale of horror. Veronica Bennett has taken some liberties with the order of events, but the story does follow along the lines of Mary’s life with the poet, and her fictional take draws us in to this unconventional, passionate, and independent woman’s thoughts and feelings. Angelmonster is gripping and gorgeously written historical fiction woven with strong elements of romance and horror, but don’t expect lots of gore and sex. This would be a great book to bridge readers of paranormal romances to historical fiction, or to connect readers of historical fiction to gothic novels and classic horror fiction. Since the Frankenstein story is so pervasive, there are a lot of great literary and media connections as well. Although it’s not strictly horror, Angelmonster deserves a place in the well-rounded YA horror fiction collection. Highly recommended- suggested for grades 10-up, due to mature content. Contains: extramarital affairs, suicide, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and the death of small children. 


A Fate Totally Worse Than Death by Paul Fleischman

Candlewick; (Reprint edition) April, 2004
ISBN: 0763621897

Available: New and Used

    A combination of teen horror spoof, mystery, and a little legit horror mixes it up in this offering from Newbery award winning author Paul Fleischman.  When blond Norwegian Helga comes to town, the boys of Cliffside High are automatically drawn to her, causing three of the girls who belong to the elite Hun click, Danielle, Tiffany, and Brooke, to try to find a way to eliminate this new source of competition for good.   Fleischman uses a number of conventions of teen horror, but the spoofing of those conventions seems to fall a little flat.  I suspect that the book was supposed to be more humorous than it actually was, and what Fleischman does end up give us is a mystery with some horrifying elements with a degree of unpredictability in its telling.   It is a quick and easy read, and teens who have read young adult horror will enjoy this.     Recommended: Contains: mild violence.




The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April, 2006
ISBN: 0374336903

Available: New and Used
    Ivy Spirico, age seven, is fascinated by the Rumbaugh twins, an elderly pair who run the town pharmacy, believe in eugenics, and enjoy taxidermy. She stumbles onto the family secret: the Rumbaughs are cursed with a warped and obsessive love of their mother and have committed bizarre acts to preserve her memory. Ivy, infected with the curse of the Rumbaughs, must come to terms with it. Is she genetically predestined to fulfill the curse, or can she choose to reject it? Reading The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is like watching a car crash: you know what will happen, see it in slow motion, and watch it all with appalled fascination. Jack Gantos, widely known for his entertaining children’s books, has reinvented himself here and created an extraordinarily creepy, morbid, and disturbing atmosphere in this homage to the gothic novel. Contains: frank discussions of sex, references to rape and incest, grave-robbing, and corpse mutilation. Entry by Francesca the Librarian.

Are You In The House Alone? by Richard Peck

Puffin, April , 2000
ISBN: 0141306939  

Available: New and Used

    This is probably the first young adult novel to deal frankly with rape and its aftermath. Gail, a high school junior living in a charming New England town, is getting obscene notes and phone calls. She doesn’t want to think about it, her best friend pretends nothing is happening, and when she finally tells a guidance counselor she isn’t taken seriously. Isolated and terrified, she opens the door one night to let her boyfriend in and is surprised by her stalker, who happens to be her best friend’s boyfriend and the son of the wealthiest family in her small town.

    The chief of police tells Gail he will not arrest the boy, and a sympathetic lawyer explains that pressing charges would mean an attack on her personal life. Gail decides not to press charges, and returns to school. Another girl with an identical raincoat is then attacked on her way home and is left in critical condition.

     This story shows that the rapist is not the only monster. Every person who turns a blind eye to Gail’s situation, from her best friend to the chief of police, shows an ugly side that should horrify anyone who has ever needed to tell a terrible secret.  Richard Peck, a brilliant young adult author, is effective at creating Gail's world and is able to express the horror of her situation without getting graphic.

Review by Francesca the Librarian


Underworld by Catherine Macphail

Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, July, 2005
ISBN: 1582349975

Pages: 250

    Underworld  looks on its cover that this some sort of underground monster horror book, however the true terror is more about what happens when a group of students trapped in a series of caves with no adults.  Before going into the caves the students are told about the legend of a  great monster worm that inhabit the cave.   Once in the cave there is  an earthquake, and the student are  trapped       and their teacher is knocked unconscious.    The group of students consists of Axel, the school bully, Liam his sidekick, Zesh the hero, Fiona the rebel, and Angie the friendly overweight girl.   The real story is about the group dynamic with in the cave once the teacher is unconscious that had a touch of Lord of the Flies feel to it.    If you are looking for a giant monster book you need to look elsewhere. However if you want a good read about what happens to a group of students trapped inside a labyrinth of cave with the haunted by the story about a giant worm that makes every sound seem like impending doom  and every dark place suspect then this is the book for you.   Contains minimal non lethal school violence.  Note: This book has nothing to do with the popular vampire/werewolf movie with the same name.


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