Meet Gabe Johnson, more commonly known by his classmates as Chunk. He is an overweight trombone player in the marching band, a member of a dysfunctional household, a donut shop employee, a rebel and a criminal. He is also the hero of a wonderful new book titled Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach. What begins with a study for health class, cataloging the use of the school soda machine, escalates into what becomes known as the Spunk River War. In a completely covert money grab, the proceeds from the machine originally used to fund the marching band are directed toward the creation of a new dance squad. The band finds out on the last day of school that there will be no summer band camp. With the help of social media, Chunk rallies the geeks to protest this injustice. The jocks become involved and stand up for their girlfriends, the burners join the geeks. The stage is set for an epic clash which is planned to take place during the town’s premier summer tourist event.
Though rife with group classifications and sweeping generalizations, this story is about so much more than the geeks challenging the popular crowd. It is about self-perception, personal pride and seeing beyond stereotypes. Gabe grows to become more than what people expect of him and is an inspirational character as a result.
This entertaining novel is told in the unique manner of a one-sided conversation. After Gabe is arrested for robbing the soda machine, he meets with his lawyer at the police station, and the novel is a transcript of this encounter. It’s a clever device which asks the reader to fill in the question as our protagonist provides the answer. Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders is an endearing coming of age novel. The value of friendship and the importance of self-worth combine to make this teen novel a real winner.
Hesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.
I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.
Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.
What do a group of computer-savvy youths, a television psychic, a devoted grandfather and a murder spree have in common? Ripper. This is the name of the online computer game that six teenagers use to puzzle out historic murder mysteries, such as the case of Jack the Ripper. Each player has an assumed identity and his or her own particular area of criminal expertise. Ripper is also the title of Isabel Allende’s newest novel, an ingenious whodunit that will baffle readers as thoroughly as it does the police department investigating the series of murders tormenting its city.
After a psychic predicts a bloodbath in the city of San Francisco, the Gamemaster proposes the Ripper players attempt to crack these most peculiar murder cases. Their theoretical game takes a tragic turn when Indiana, the mother of the Gamemaster, goes missing. It will take all of their resourcefulness to try to find her before she is added to the list of victims. Readers will enjoy this plot-driven storyline that progresses steadily even as the body count rises. The story intensifies toward a dramatic conclusion that will have people revisiting early chapters of the book in astonishment.
In a departure from her previous novels featuring magical realism, bestselling author Allende brings her character-rich writing style to this modern day suspense story. According to Booklist, “Allende creates a compassionate and gripping mystery stoked by the paradoxes of family and community and the consequences of abuse.”
Are some people just born evil? In Sophie Jordan’s Uninvited, the answer is yes. In the not too distant future, advancements in genetic research will enable scientists to preemptively identify violent offenders with a simple blood test for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome. People identified with what gets nicknamed “the kill gene” are then segregated from the rest of the population for everyone’s safety. The public is warned to treat these carriers with extreme caution due to their vicious, unpredictable nature.
Davy Hamilton is the girl everyone envies. She is pretty, popular, has an amazing boyfriend and her gift of music has secured a place for her at Juilliard once she completes her senior year at her exclusive prep school. However, her life and dreams are shattered when she tests positive for HTS. Labeled with the genetic predisposition to kill, Davy watches as all vestiges of her near-perfect life disintegrate. Davy is uninvited to attend her current high school, abandoned by her friends and feared even by her own family. Uninvited chronicles the tragic transformation the HTS label inflicts upon her life and Davy’s fight to survive her new reality.
Treated as the cruel killer society knows she will become, Davy is assigned a new school that has a special class just for HTS carriers. Secured in a room in the basement of the school, with a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence separating the teacher from the students, she first encounters her new peers. Whereas Davy could never imagine inflicting pain on another, this is not the case for her new classmates. An intimidating and fierce boy advises her of the need to make allies for protection in her new violent world. Conversely, she is shocked when another carrier, a boy branded with an H for violent behavior, intervenes on her behalf when she is cornered by a lecherous teacher.
The question of how the killer gene label alters the environment for the carriers is thought-provoking and profound. While some characters are clearly sociopathic, how society treats the apparently nonaggressive carriers pushes them in the violent direction just to survive. This is an exceptionally well-written story, and accompanying Davy on this journey of self-discovery is as fascinating as it is frightening.
Weather forecasters predict snow. A storm is coming and it's going to be fierce. Residents in the town of Coventry, Massachusetts are accustomed to tough winters and make plans to stay indoors, watching movies and playing games, drinking hot chocolate and making cookies. However, this storm promises to bring more than snow and ice and, once it passes, life will never again be the same in Coventry. Christopher Golden’s novel Snowblind will have readers terrified of what could be lurking outside their windows on a blustery, snowy night.
An elderly lady answers the doorbell never to be seen again alive, a woman follows her yapping dog outside only to freeze to death steps from her door and a father in search of his son disappears into the swirling snow. In total, 18 people are dead following the blizzard and, as the town mourns, no one listens to the young boy who insists there were ice monsters on the prowl that night. His description of blue-white creatures with long, sharp icicle fingers, hollow eyes and mouths filled with razor-sharp pointed teeth fall on deaf ears.
Now, 12 years later, another storm is predicted with features that strongly mirror “The Big One.” Not only are residents on edge, some have started seeing the ghosts of victims from the previous killer storm. The author paints a scenario that is easily relatable and then slams the reader with a horror story so frightening it will leave you chilled to the bone. Golden can easily take a seat beside Stephen King and Dean Koontz when it comes to keeping the suspense and terror building to the story’s astounding conclusion. This is horror at its best, and I have never enjoyed being scared so much.
Fans of mystery writer Maggie Barbieri and her Murder 101 series, rejoice! Her newest mystery, Once Upon a Lie, introduces us to her new series featuring protagonist and baker extraordinaire, Maeve Conlon. Readers will empathize with the family challenges that comprise her waking hours. She has two teenage daughters, one completely wild and the other fixated on achieving in school as her ticket out of their small town, an ex-husband who left her for one of her close “friends” and a cancer surviving best friend/employee with love-life issues. Add to this her dear father, a retired cop with Alzheimer’s who resides locally in a nursing home – except for when he manages to escape confinement to take walks along the river. She finds solace in the Comfort Zone, the bakery she owns and loves but which barely provides enough income to pay the bills. Maeve is a kind and compassionate person who tries her best to care for her family but constantly fears that she isn’t doing enough.
The story begins with the murder of Maeve’s cousin Sean, who is found in his car with his pants unzipped and a bullet in his head. Despite being raised in a close-knit Irish family where everyone lives within a block from each other, she feels very little sorrow at his death. She remembers him as a bully who tormented her as a child and only attends his funeral services out of family duty. She doesn’t give his death a second thought until investigating officers start to focus on her father as their main suspect. Unable to understand how the police could seriously believe an old man with dementia could be responsible she is determined to help prove his innocence. Unfortunately, circumstances are such that he could have had the opportunity, and Maeve begins to wonder if her father could be exaggerating the degree of his confusion.
The mystery of the killer’s identity will have readers guessing until the very last page. This novel explores family dynamics and how far a person would go to protect the people they care about. Maeve is a complex character that readers will find captivating, and will make them wish they could stop by her shop for a cup of coffee and a pastry.
Emma Burke has survived a terrible accident and, since waking in the hospital, is unable to remember anything about her life. It is through the constant loving support of her husband, Declan, an incredibly handsome and successful businessman, that she gradually starts to reclaim her life. Her steady progress is marred only by nightmares of murder and war, which wrench her from sleep screaming. Her doctor is concerned about this element of her recovery, but Emma hears a voice in her head, remarkably like her own, which advises her not to share any details. Intrigued? You should be! Archetype, a novel by the debut author M. D. Waters, will captivate readers as they join Emma in her covert search for answers.
With the medical advancement allowing parents to predetermine the sex of their baby, the world has become overpopulated with men. Wives are a rare and valuable commodity that only the wealthy can afford to acquire. Once married, they are branded on their hand with a Luckenbooth, the Celtic symbol of two intertwined hearts. This ceremony indicates to all that the woman is taken. Emma counts herself fortunate that she has such an attentive and wonderful man who has proven exceptionally devoted to her as a husband. Unfortunately, her nightly dreams include a man with whom she is passionately in love and whom, though she hasn’t seen his face, she understands is not Declan. Are these merely dreams or possibly memories?
This novel has a very high level of suspense, as our strong-willed heroine decides not to take everything that she has been told at face value. Ever fearful of having to return to the hospital for any perceived setbacks to her recovery, she is determined to find out what information is being kept from her. It is this perilous quest for the truth that will keep the reader on edge and guessing until the final page. Archetype is a futuristic thriller, mystery and romance all rolled into one totally enthralling book.
Nora de Jong is a successful brain surgeon and single mother of a beautiful 6-month-old girl. She lives a quiet and happy life in Texas where she shares a home with her widowed mother. Upon returning from work one afternoon she is horrified to discover that her mother has been murdered and her daughter stolen. Frantic to discover a clue to explain this tragedy and locate her baby, she unearths a small box which has been hidden in the attic. The contents are unfathomable, indicating that her mother was a member of the Nazi party in Holland during World War II and that her father had been wanted for murder. Nora is convinced that the answers to who took her daughter are tied to her parents’ past. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten is an intense, fast-paced novel combined with an intriguing work of historical fiction. Through journal entries and recounted memories, the reader is transported to Nazi-occupied Holland. The insidious isolation of the Jews and the heroic actions taken by the members of the Dutch resistance come to life through the author’s insightful writing.
Ms. Van Heugten’s fascination with this time period started close to home. Both of her parents grew up in Holland during the occupation and were members of the resistance. Typical of that generation, they were hesitant to describe their experiences; however, their activities inspired the author to learn more. She spent time in Amsterdam researching at the Dutch War Institute where she was immersed in the daily life and hardships of the war, as told through letters and diaries. The end result is The Tulip Eaters, a thoroughly investigated, action-packed adventure.
How do you vanquish a demon? One day, Kennedy Waters is mourning the death of her mother and packing up her life before heading to boarding school, the next she finds herself on the run from vengeful spirits. Unbeknownst to her, Kennedy’s mom was a descendant of The Legion, a secret group of five individuals who unwittingly released the demon Andras into our world two centuries ago. Since that time, one blood relative from each family has been tasked with trying to protect the world from the demon’s army of poltergeists and ghosts. Unbreakable, a new novel by bestselling author Kami Garcia, takes the reader on the fast-paced and exciting quest of five teens determined to complete this job. Ancient journals reveal a device they believe can be used to destroy the demon, however it needs to be assembled and the parts are hidden in different locations around Maryland. Together they must decipher the clues to some of the creepiest settings collected within the pages of one story and exorcize the evil spirits determined to protect their treasure.
Kami Garcia, a coauthor of Beautiful Creatures, has created another thrilling and captivating story. Unbreakable, which was only released in October, has already been optioned to be a feature film. The novel is complex and frightening, yet has moments of tenderness and romance. Throughout the story the reader will empathize with Kennedy’s desire to belong to this makeshift family, and fear that she may not really be one of them. The sequel is due to be released in 2014, and I haven’t been this excited for a follow-up book since I finished reading The Hunger Games.