Tag Archives: thriller

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander. September 5, 2017. Knopf Publishing Group, 254 p. ISBN: 9781524732738.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 940.

A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel’s most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner’s existence.

From these vastly different lives Nathan Englander has woven a powerful, intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of its citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwined–a political thriller of the highest order that interrogates the anguished, violent division between Israelis and Palestinians, and dramatizes the immense moral ambiguities haunting both sides. Who is right, who is wrong–who is the guard, who is truly the prisoner?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Equal parts political thriller and tender lamentation, the latest from Englander (What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank, 2012) explores, in swirling, nonlinear fashion, Israeli-Palestinian tensions and moral conflicts. The General, who is never named but is clearly former prime minister Ariel Sharon, lies in a coma, his thoughts hovering over past glories and a horrifying gunshot. By his side is Ruthi, his devoted assistant, whose pot-smoking, TV-obsessed son has found a plum job guarding the disappeared Prisoner Z in a secret prison in the Negev. An American spy who in a moment of either moral courage or traitorous intent turned against his Israeli backers, Z was on the run in Europe but tripped up when he fell in love with a fearless waitress from an ultrawealthy Italian family. Discerning the connections between these narratives provides much of the drama, which turns on the logic of human weakness and intractable opposition. Ultimately, Englander suggests that shared humanity and fleeting moments of kindness between jailer and prisoner, spy and counterspy, hold the potential for hope, even peace.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
A prisoner is held for more than a decade in the Israeli desert while, elsewhere, a general in a coma hallucinates about his past life and a young man works to fund the Palestinian resistance.Englander’s (What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, 2012, etc.) latest novel is an odd amalgam: part political thriller, part romance, part absurdist farce, it never quite settles into the story it wants to tell. First, there’s Prisoner Z, who’s been held for 12 years in an undisclosed location in Israel’s Negev Desert. His only human contact has been with his guard. Then, there are flashbacks to Prisoner Z’s time hiding out in Paris. An American intelligence operative, he’s compromised Israeli secrets, and the authorities have it in for him. In the meantime, he starts up a romance with a waitress and they dash around Europe together. There’s also the General, an infamous Israeli leader who’s been in a coma for years; Ruthi, the General’s former assistant and current caretaker; Ruthi’s son, who happens to serve as Prisoner Z’s guard; and Farid, a young Palestinian in Berlin who’s working to fund his brother’s anti-settlement activities. Chapters alternate among these various threads. Unfortunately, Englander fails to fully weave them together. His tone is uneven—sometimes he strains toward humor, sometimes toward drama, without quite reaching either one. The humor sags, and the political intrigue doesn’t quite add up. If it’s a farce, it’s an uneasy one. Toward the end, Englander introduces a second romance, and this one feels rushed, tacked on like a donkey’s tail. Still, there are moments of fine writing throughout. An uneasy blend of political intrigue, absurdity, and romance struggles to establish a steady, never mind believable, tone.

About the Author

Nathan Englander is a Jewish-American author born in Long Island, NY in 1970. He wrote the short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1999. The volume won widespread critical acclaim, earning Englander the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize, and established him as an important writer of fiction.  His website is www.nathanenglander.com

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Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork. September 26, 2017. Arthur A. Levine Books, 329 p. ISBN: 9780545944472.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 710.

Four months ago: Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juàrez.

Four weeks ago: Her brother, Emiliano, fell in love with Perla Rubi, a girl whose family is as rich as her name.

Four hours ago: Sara received a death threat…and her first clue her friend’s location.

Four minutes ago: Emiliano was offered a way into Perla Rubi’s world—if he betrays his own.

In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love. But when the criminals come after Sara, only one path remains for both the siblings: the way across the desert to the United States.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 10-12. As a reporter for El Sol newspaper in Juárez, Mexico, Sara tirelessly writes reports on las desaparecidas—girls who suddenly vanish from their homes. It’s more than just a job: her best friend, Linda, disappeared several months ago. Meanwhile, her younger brother, Emiliano, is hard at work earning what he can from small jobs to help support Sara and their mother. When an opportunity arises to increase his family’s finances, he jumps at the chance, only to find out that his dreams of a better life lay in the town’s most lucrative industry—the drug trade. Both siblings find out how much danger they are in when Sara receives threats on her life that may involve Emiliano’s potential business partners. Together, the siblings flee to safety toward the U.S. border. The plight of las desaparecidas is all too real for girls all over Mexico, and Stork does not shy away from the facts of human trafficking, the drug industry, and the senseless violence that accompanies them. Stork uses parallel story lines to flesh out the two protagonists and then slowly brings them together to a harrowing climax. Not only does this result in a riveting story, it also highlights the harsh complexity of young Mexicans’ lives. Readers will find this thrilling as well as eye-opening.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2017)
Sara Zapata’s best friend is missing. Kidnapped. Sara, a rising-star reporter at Juarez, Mexico’s El Sol newspaper, is determined to find her and shine a light on Juarez’s missing and murdered girls, the Desaparacidas. Sara tells her boss Felipe, “Someone has to keep the memory of these girls alive…If we don’t care about them, then who will?” But as she unearths the State Police’s deep connection to sex slavery, she receives a death threat that puts her family in danger. Her younger brother Emiliano is an entrepreneur on the cusp of success; he’s finally making connections to make a better life for their family and be considered worthy of his wealthy girlfriend. Unlike his father, he doesn’t plan to leave his family behind and move to the United States. But when the lines between right and wrong blur, who can you trust? How do you keep your soul while trying to survive? This emotional thriller–which takes place over the course of seven harrowing days and includes betrayal, desperate escapes, and a perilous trek across the desert to cross the border into the U.S.–tackles these questions and more. In chapters that alternate between Sara’s and Emiliano’s perspectives, Stork beautifully explores the strong ties to one’s home along with the darker pervasiveness of Juarez’s corruption (“this city is like a spiderweb. Every thread is connected directly or indirectly to every other thread”); the lure of power; and the strength necessary to dream, hope, and make positive change in such crushingly dangerous and difficult circumstances. alia jones

About the Author

Francisco X. Stork was born in Mexico. He moved to El Paso Texas with his adoptive father and mother when he was nine. He attended Spring Hill College, Harvard University and Columbia Law School. He worked as an attorney for thirty-three years before retiring in 2015. He is married and has two grown children and two beautiful granddaughters. He loves to discover new books and authors. His favorite books are those where the author’s soul touches his. He does not read reviews to his books so you should feel free to write whatever you want. Also, he is genuinely interested in learning about books and life from his friends on this site. He would love it if you find his books worthy to be read, but that’s not why he wants to be your friend.

His website is www.franciscostork.com

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13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. October 3, 2017. Flatiron Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781250123855.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Natasha’s sure that her friends love her. But does that mean they didn’t try to kill her?

Natasha doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water that night, but she does know this—it wasn’t an accident, and she wasn’t suicidal. Her two closest friends are acting strangely, and Natasha turns to Becca, the best friend she dumped years before when she got popular, to help her figure out what happened.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking, Slur against mentally disabled people

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Becca and Tasha were childhood best friends, but now, in sixth form, Tasha is the ringleader of a trio of popular mean girls Becca dismissively calls the Barbies. Yet when Becca hears that Tasha is in the hospital after being revived from near drowning, she goes to see her former friend. Oddly, Tasha now wants to reconnect with her, even confiding in Becca that she suspects the Barbies are complicit in Tasha’s brush with death. The intrigue unfolds through a third-person narrative that alternates with snippets from therapy sessions, text conversations, news reports, and Tasha’s diary entries. Although the tone and vocabulary of these narrative voices could be interchangeable, it’s a device that facilitates some dandy plot twists. Pinborough gets the overwrought drama of teen friendships right, capturing both Becca’s intense feelings and her keen intelligence as she struggles to make sense of a string of seemingly unrelated tragic events. Readers drawn to the kind of debauched chicanery made popular in novels such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012) will tear through this edgy thriller.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Tasha doesn’t remember the circumstances following her near drowning, so she enlists Becca’s help in investigating whether foul play was involved.Tasha’s the undisputed queen of the trio of sixth-form girls known around school as the Barbies for their focus on appearances and their general mean-girl behaviors. So it’s surprising that it’s Becca, Tasha’s former best friend, ostracized years ago for her weight, whom Tasha gathers to her side after the drowning. That a near-death experience might cause Tasha to re-examine her friendships seems plausible, especially considering the suspicious behaviors of the other two Barbies, Jenny and Hayley. Transcripts of the girls’ text messages even reveal—to readers—that Jenny and Hayley are far from real friends to Tasha. This initially detracts from the suspense as readers will quickly decide Jenny and Hayley are guilty. But soon Becca and Tasha’s investigation into the world of white, middle-class teen insecurities, betrayals, manipulations, sex, and drug use becomes darkly fascinating on its own. Characters’ desperation for attention lead them to accept treating others badly as the cost of winning Tasha’s affection (or at least avoiding her scorn). And when another student’s sudden death prompts Becca to take the investigation in a surprising new direction, the mystery’s tension ratchets up again. Red herrings lead to a satisfying conclusion in this British import. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

Sarah Pinborough is the award-winning, New York Times and internationally bestselling author of Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes was praised by Stephen King, Joe Hill, Harlan Coben, and The New York Times Book Review, among others. 13 Minutes has been optioned by Netflix.

Sarah lives in London. Her website is www.sarahpinborough.com

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13 Minutes on Amazon

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She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. June 6, 2017. Ecco, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062394408.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 610.

A propulsive, gritty novel about a girl marked for death who must fight and steal to stay alive, learning from the most frightening man she knows—her father.

Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Murder, Death of a parent

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
When short-timer Nate McClusky kills a member of the Aryan Steel prison gang in Susanville, California, the victim’s brother (who happens to be the gang’s president) sends a death warrant from Supermax—not only for Nate but also for his ex-wife, Avis, and his daughter, Polly. Nate survives his last week in prison but returns home to find Avis dead. Picking up 11-year-old Polly from middle school, he intends to drop her off with a relative until circumstances suggest the only way to keep her permanently safe is to take on Aryan Steel and hit them where it hurts. Polly is at first terrified (and contacts the police) but soon displays an aptitude for crime—she’s her father’s daughter, after all—and decides she wants to be more than just a passenger. Meanwhile, in chapters that read like mid-period James Ellroy, Detective Park searches the bleak and barren parts of California for the girl who now regrets her call for help. From its bravura prologue to its immensely satisfying ending, this first novel (Harper previously penned the short story collection Love and Other Wounds, 2015) comes out with guns blazing and shoots the chambers dry. It’s both a dark, original take on the chase novel and a strangely touching portrait of a father-daughter relationship framed in barbed wire.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In his first novel, Harper returns to the seamy criminal fringe he explored in his story collections (Love and Other Wounds, 2015, etc.) for a grim yet moving tale about an ex-con’s efforts to protect his young daughter.Meek, intellectually precocious 11-year-old Polly finds her tattooed, heavily muscled father, Nate, waiting outside her school in Fontana, California. Having been in prison for more than half of Polly’s life, Nate has now been granted an early release. Unfortunately, though, the head of the Aryan Steel gang has just put out a call from his prison cell for his gang members to kill Nate, his ex-wife, and their daughter. Polly’s mother is knifed before Nate can reach her, but he takes Polly on the run to evade hit men while planning how to stop the vendetta. His love for Polly overpowers and empowers him, but there is no sentimentality here—he recognizes with paternal pride that she shares his “buried rage.” He trains her to fight, then takes her along when he robs stores and attacks his Aryan Steel enemies. Although she remains attached to her teddy bear, Polly discovers she takes after her badass daddy more than she or he imagined. The novel combines striking images, like Nate’s “gunfighter eyes” and the “old man of a car” he shows up driving, with disturbingly raw violence—a drug mule gutted by a crooked sheriff to get out the merchandise, the same sheriff gouging out an eye. Even more disturbing are the characters’ raw emotions: after witnessing Nate hold an Aryan Steel member’s back against the coals from a barbecue-grill fire until he gives desired information, Polly finds herself smiling. Yet there is a moral core here. Acknowledging that his vengeful behavior is “dumb and selfish,” Nate knows he isn’t good for Polly. And despite her developing toughness, Polly retains her urge to save the innocent. For all the darkness and even ugliness displayed, the characters’ loyalty, love, and struggle for redemption grip the reader and don’t let go.

About the Author

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He’s worked as an ad man, a rock critic and a teevee writer. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

His website is www.jordanharper.com

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She Rides Shotgun on Amazon

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Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart. September 5, 2017. Delacorte Press, 288 p. ISBN: 9780375991844.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

From the author of the unforgettable New York Times bestseller We Were Liars comes a masterful new psychological suspense novel–the story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Rape

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 19))
Grades 9-12. It’s difficult to describe Lockhart’s latest psychological thriller without dipping into spoilers, but here are the pertinent details: Jule, a peripatetic, athletic, superhero-obsessed teen girl is best friends with rich, restless Imogen, who recently committed suicide. When readers meet Jule, she’s lounging at a tony resort in Mexico, eating junk food, and enjoying the sun. It’s clear she’s on the run, though from whom or why isn’t clear, and Lockhart strings readers along with a clever narrative gambit. In a clipped, detached tone, Lockhart tells Jule’s story in reverse, and with each step backward, she peels away juicy layers of intrigue. As the relationship between Jule and Imogen comes into focus, Lockhart explores themes of jealousy, loyalty, privilege, and origins. Imogen, who was adopted, is fixated on the idea of feeling a strong sense of identity, while Jule constantly relies on an unlikely story to explain her childhood. But can they really know each other at all? It’s a captivating, suspenseful story made all the more bewitching by Lockhart’s twisty narrative, and she constantly keeps readers guessing with unpredictable turns and eye-opening reveals. This quietly unsettling, cinematic novel is deliciously suspenseful, and while it’s slim, it packs a real punch. Teens who love to hate antiheroes will be enraptured.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Can Jule recognize her own true self within the tangled story of the past year? Jule West Williams is 18, white, and an orphan, all of which she has in common with her best friend, heiress Imogen Sokoloff—or does she? Jule, an impulsive, complicated protagonist like no other, tells her story as though she were living in an adventure movie. She imagines herself a heroine in contrast to the “great white hetero hero on his fucking epic journey.” She’s proud of her strength and fighting ability, her talents for disguises and imitating accents. Outside of her fantasy life, she feels inferior to practically everyone—Immie and her boyfriend, Forrest, as well as Immie’s parents and friends from college. Starting the book with Chapter 18 and the instruction “Begin here,” Jule traces a year backward, revealing startling secrets along the way. The fast-paced plot moves among New York, London, California, and Mexico as Jule stays one step ahead of those who’ve underestimated her skills. Jule’s intense narrative frequently includes clipped snatches of dialogue with herself: “No, she had. / No, she hadn’t. / She wished she had not. / She wished it could be undone.” Her unsettling storytelling, filled with energy and a fair amount of violence, comes from deep inside her own mysterious background. This thriller from the author of We Were Liars (2014) will challenge preconceptions about identity and keep readers guessing. (Suspense. 12-adult)

About the Author

E. Lockhart wrote the New York Times bestseller We Were Liars, which is also available in a deluxe edition. Her other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet, which includes The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends.

Her website is www.emilylockhart.com

Teacher Resources

Genuine Fraud Teacher’s Guide

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Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski. May 9, 2017. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9780399175817.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 690.

An upper-middle grade thriller by the New York Timesbestselling Nightfall authors perfect for fans of James Dashner’s Maze Runner books.

Thousands of miles south of the island of Bliss, day and night last for 72 hours. Here is one of the natural wonders of this world: a whirlpool thirty miles wide and a hundred miles around. This is the Drain. Anything sucked into its frothing, turbulent waters is never seen again.

Wren has spent most of her life on Edgeland, a nearby island where people bring their dead to be blessed and prepared for the afterlife. There the dead are loaded into boats with treasure and sent over the cliff, and into the Drain. Orphaned and alone, Wren dreams of escaping Edgeland, and her chance finally comes when furriers from the Polar north arrive with their dead, and treasure for their dead.

With the help of her friend Alec, Wren plans to loot one of the boats before it enters the Drain. But the boat–with Alec and Wren onboard–is sucked into the whirlpool. What they discover beyond the abyss is beyond what anyone could have imagined.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Disturbing imagery, Suicide, Cannibalism

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 5-8. Life on Edgeland is devoted to funerary arts, due to its nearness to the Drain—the waterfall-like ocean drop-off believed to lead to purgatory. Dodging through the somber island’s streets, 12-year-old Wren snatches what valuables she can in order to buy passage off Edgeland and find her missing father. It’s a cutthroat existence that ultimately lands her at the scene of a murder, rendering Wren its prime suspect. Before making her escape, she agrees to help her friend Alec retrieve a considerable payment to his bone house (a cross between a funeral parlor and church) that was accidentally loaded onto a funeral raft. Their daring plan goes spectacularly wrong, sending Wren and Alec over the Drain’s edge along with the dead, who are reviving for their journey to the afterlife. Purgatory is a dangerous place for the living, and as Wren and Alec endeavor to escape, their core beliefs are challenged in unexpected ways. Halpern and Kujawinski have constructed a refreshing, original fantasy that thoughtfully probes the subjects of class, religion, and morality. Wren’s and Alec’s responses to the astonishing sights in the Drain are believable and reflective of their individual personalities, maintaining the importance of their inner lives. Compellingly written, this otherworldly adventure is a unique offering that deserves attention. Happily, an open ending suggests Wren and Alec’s adventures have only begun.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
After being banished from House Aron for stealing, orphan Wren must endure the bleak life of a grayling on the island of Edgeland, living underground and supporting herself through thievery. Her banishment has separated her from her best friend, Alec, who by the age of 12, has risen from an apprentice to a high-ranking position within House Aron, conducting complex funeral ceremonies. Dead bodies are kept in ice blocks, then sent sailing into the Drain, a large circular waterfall down which the frozen dead disappear into a seemingly bottomless mist that is the entryway to the afterlife, either the Sunlit Glade or the Moonlit Beach. The two friends are brought together when the chest with the payment for a funeral mistakenly tumbles, along with the dead, into the Drain. Desperate to recover it, Alec and Wren find themselves descending with it. Alec and Wren are now “breathers” in the world of the dead—where they learn the afterlife isn’t quite what the ancient songs profess it to be. Unfortunately, this compelling premise, bolstered by complex worldbuilding, loses its steam about halfway through, as the protagonists make their way from one realm of the dead to the next, with more running and hiding than actual story. The occasional mention of pale skin but no other racial markers implies a white default. As the living help to liberate the dead, intriguing characters roam the pages of a lifeless story. (Fantasy. 10-14)

About the Authors

Jake Halpern is an acclaimed journalist, author, and radio producer who has written for several publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.  As a contributor at NPR, Jake produced one of the most listened-to episodes of This American Life. He co-wrote the Dormia series with Peter Kujawinski and is the author of Bad Paper, a nonfiction book for adults.

His website is worldofdormia.com

Peter Kujawinski is an author and diplomat, currently serving as US Consul General for Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. His next book, Nightfall, will be released this September by Penguin Books for Young Readers. He co-wrote the Dormia series with Jake Halpern and has written for The New York Times.

His website is peterkujawinski.com

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Edgeland on Amazon

Edgeland on Goodreads

Edgeland on JLG

Edgeland Publisher Page

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas. July 25, 2017. Delacorte Press, 336 p. ISBN: 9780553521498.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (June 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 19))
Grades 9-12. Ever since Kacey’s social worker brought her to Broken Falls to live with her estranged father and his family, she’s developed a tight-knit friendship with Bailey and Jade, two misfit girls desperate to escape their small Midwestern town. Kacey is finally feeling comfortable with her dad, stepmom, stepbrother, and half sister, so when Bailey goes missing and Kacey becomes a suspect, she’s worried that, among other things, this new family she’s come to love will abandon her, too. But swirling around Kacey’s anxieties are truly insidious secrets, and Thomas unspools the truth at a tantalizing pace, turning suspicion for Bailey’s ever-lengthening disappearance from character to character. Occasional entries from Bailey’s diary reveal her disturbing motivations, which Kacey gradually uncovers as she starts her own investigation. Thomas keeps the atmosphere taut and suspenseful by incorporating a menacing urban legend and plenty of red herrings to throw readers off the scent, while Kacey’s compelling character and narrative keep the story firmly grounded in her complicated emotional reality. This gritty page-turner will easily hook a broad range of readers.

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2017)
The new girl in town teases apart a web of lies in the wake of her friend’s disappearance.White teen Kacey Young ran away from a volatile relationship with her mother to a new home in Broken Falls, Wisconsin, with the father she never met, a kind stepmother, and two new siblings. But it’s best friends Bailey and Jade, both also white, who become Kacey’s close-knit circle. The girls text constantly, and Bailey shows up at Kacey’s house even if she declines to hang out. One night, the girls attempt a séance in a haunted barn, and something spooks Kacey’s little sister, Lauren, who tags along. That night sets off a domino effect: Lauren is traumatized, Bailey and Jade give Kacey the cold shoulder, and then Bailey disappears. Kacey begins to investigate, and the more clues she stumbles upon, the more the police suspect her involvement. Rumors swirl, and Kacey learns that Bailey left a foundation of lies in her wake—lies that put their entire friendship into question. Thomas seems to be aiming at a chilling exploration of how far a teenage girl will go for revenge, but she doesn’t succeed. Red herrings make for a frustrating mystery that comes together in a rush, with too little buildup to make the shocking reveal believable. Too bent on keeping readers in the dark to allow for true mystery. (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Kara is the author of THE DARKEST CORNERS, coming April 2016 from Random House/Delacorte. She is also the author of the Prep School Confidential series from St. Martin’s Griffin under the pen name Kara Taylor. Kara has written for Warner Brothers Television and currently writes full-time on Long Island, where she lives with her husband and rescue cat.

Her website is www.kara-thomas.com

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Little Monsters on Amazon

Little Monsters on Goodreads

Little Monsters on JLG

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The List by Patricia Forde

The List by Patricia Forde. August 8, 2017. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 336 p. ISBN: 9781492647966.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.3; Lexile: 600.

Fahrenheit 451 meets The Giver for middle grade readers!

You are The Wordsmith now. Are you ready for the challenge?

The city of Ark is the last safe place on Earth. To make sure humans are able to survive, everyone in Ark must speak List, a language of only 500 words.
Everyone that is, except Letta.

As apprentice to the Wordsmith, Letta can read all the words that have ever existed. Forbidden words like freedom, music, and even pineapple tell her about a world she’s never known.

One day her master disappears and the leaders of Ark tell Letta she is the new Wordsmith and must shorten List to fewer and fewer words. Then Letta meets a teenage boy who somehow knows all the words that have been banned. Letta’s faced with a dangerous choice: sit idly by and watch language slowly slip away or follow a stranger on a path to freedom . . . or banishment.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 6-9. Letta, Ark’s apprentice Wordsmith, may be too young to remember the “Melting,” but John Noa, the town’s ruler, is not. How could he forget the floods, the famine, or their insidious origin: “dangerous, destructive words”? Thanks to Noa, Ark now relies on List, a fiercely regulated collection of permissible phrases. But there’s no hope in Ark, and there’s certainly no love. What’s worse: List is quickly diminishing. Yet, with the help of a ragtag crew of outsiders, Letta might be the one to save it. While debut author Forde’s premise is intriguing, its execution vacillates in effectiveness; List’s 500-word vocabulary is employed arbitrarily, and the conversations it generates, while illuminating the absurdity of limited language (“Criminal. Steal food. Bad boy”), often cripple plot development and hamstring secondary characters. List’s inception, too, is foggy. Still, Forde’s exploration of language as both weapon and savior is a noble one, and environmental undertones bolster its power.

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2017)
Young Letta becomes wordsmith to her community in a future that follows a climate apocalypse. A likable protagonist, Letta (white with green eyes and red hair) is the one positive female character in this narrative of resistance and revelation. She is at the mercy of John Noa, the controlling savior of a number of people who joined his Ark just before a warming planet Earth produced massive, devastating floods in an event remembered as the Melting. Noa is obsessed with the potential of the spoken word to influence human conflict and confusion. When Letta chooses to shelter a wounded boy, Marlo, shot as a Desecrator by Noa’s security force, the corruption at the heart of things begins to reveal itself to Letta. Her disillusion deepens when her master goes missing and when a young boy, son of her neighbor, is banished for misusing language. Marlo (sallow-skinned, with blue-gray eyes and black hair) turns out to be part of a largely self-sufficient community living outside the Ark and opposed to Noa’s strictures. Forde’s pacing and characterization are compelling, especially after initial chapters focused on Noa’s truncated List-based language of acceptable words (all English ones) and people’s awkward struggle to speak it. Brief expository passages interspersed with Letta’s story reveal Noa’s thinking and his ugly desire to eliminate the weakness of language. An intriguing speculation about authoritarian futures with a terrific cover. (Science fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Patricia Forde lives in the Galway, Ireland. She has published three picture books, lots of easy readers, two plays, and her first novel, The List. She has also written for several television series, including dramas for children and teenagers and English- and Irish-language soap operas. In another life, she was a primary school teacher and the artistic director of the Galway Arts Festival. She now lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a dog called Ben.

Her website is www.patriciaforde.com

Teacher Resources

The List Discussion Questions

The List Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

The List on Amazon

The List on Goodreads

The List on JLG

The List Publisher Page

The Possible by Tara Altebrando

The Possible by Tara Altebrando. June 6, 2017. Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 304 p. ISBN: 9781619638051.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Some storms rage from within.

What if…a teenage girl could move objects with her mind?

What if…someone turns up at her door asking questions she doesn’t want to answer?

Kaylee lives a normal life with her adoptive parents, and almost never thinks of her birth mother, Crystal, who is serving a life sentence in prison. But the woman at the front door is producing a podcast about Crystal that is about to blow Kaylee’s forgotten past wide open.

What if strange things have been happening Kaylee’s entire life, things she could not explain? What if she’s more like her mother than she ever imagined?

What if the podcast is about to put her on a collision course with Crystal—and her darkest self?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. Is it possible? Kaylee has been asking herself that her whole life. Her birth mother, Crystal, first gained fame for her alleged telekinetic ability, and then infamy when she was convicted of murdering her infant son—Kaylee’s younger brother. With Crystal serving a life sentence, Kaylee was adopted into a loving home to live a more normal life. That is, until The Possible, a hit investigative podcast, chooses to focus on Crystal’s case more than a decade after the conviction. All of a sudden, people begin questioning Kaylee about what she remembers from the trial, or if she has powers, too. Altebrando has penned a fast-paced thriller that is less a Dan Brown–style adventure and more of a psychological examination. At play is how Kaylee’s seemingly mundane world is ripped apart by gossip, secrets, and her own curiosity about a birth mother she barely knows. Altebrando manages Kaylee’s relationships with her parents, friends, and the gossiping public masterfully, tossing in unique twists to keep readers on their toes. Fans of true-crime podcasts especially will feel right at home.

Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
Kaylee’s birth mother, Crystal, claimed telekinetic powers before she was convicted of murdering Kaylee’s little brother, Jack; 13 years later, Liana, a journalist revisiting the story for her podcast, wants to know if Kaylee’s inherited Crystal’s ability. Kaylee’s suppressed her memories of her early years with Crystal, serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, but still dreams of Jack and suspects Crystal’s claims were valid and that she may have inherited them. Against her parents’ wishes, Kaylee agrees to be interviewed for the podcast if Liana will take her to see Crystal. As episodes go live, Kaylee becomes a celebrity at school and the swim club where she’s a lifeguard. She leverages her fame to attract a boy but takes friends (including Aiden, who wants to be more) for granted. Unsure of her powers, Kaylee still enjoys the attention—even when it’s more fear than popularity. Plot twists entertain, but the story’s weakened by its superficial, insensitive portrayal of adoption. The juxtaposition of Kaylee’s world of white suburban affluence, where everyone belongs to the swim club, and Crystal’s foreshortened world, from impoverished childhood to prison, is stark. Well-heeled characters seem indifferent to the less-privileged; Crystal, brutal and brutalized, is treated with contempt. Kaylee’s occasional reflections on her birth mother’s privations, seemingly intended to convey her empathy, are belied by her cruelty to Crystal. A narrative deaf to adoption’s difficult complexities: the ties that may no longer bind but never disappear. (Fiction. 14-17)

About the Author

Tara Altebrando is the author of several middle grade and teen novels, including The Leaving and Roomies, an ALA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, co-written with Sara Zarr. She lives in New York City with her family.

Her website is www.taraaltebrando.com

Around the Web

The Possible on Amazon

The Possible on Goodreads

The Possible on JLG

The Possible Publisher Page

Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman

Mystery of the Ghost Ship: The Adventures of John Blake by Philip Pullman. September 30, 2017. Graphix, 160 p. ISBN: 9781338149128.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Trapped in the mists of time by a terrible research experiment gone wrong, John Blake and his mysterious ship are doomed to sail between the centuries, searching for a way home. In the ocean of the modern day, John rescues a shipwrecked young girl his own age, Serena, and promises to help.

But returning Serena to her own time means traveling to the one place where the ship is in most danger of destruction. The all-powerful Dahlberg Corporation has an ambitious leader with plans far greater and more terrible than anyone has realized, and he is hot on their trail. For only John, Serena, and the crew know Dahlberg’s true intentions, and only they have the power to stop him from bending the world to his will …

Part of Series: The Adventures of John Blake (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence

 

Reviews

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
Pullman’s first original graphic novel is a smorgasbord thriller containing a little bit of everything–including espionage, time travel, bloodthirsty pirates, high-tech gadgets, and substantial explosions. Several intersecting story lines and a large cast of characters swirl around the mysterious teenager John Blake and his time-hopping ship the Mary Alice. Multiple tangential players–a determined maritime agent, a formidable British spy, and an evil billionaire inventor–all with their own agendas, work with and against one another as they pursue John and the Mary Alice. A narrative of corporate greed, murder, and collusion quickly develops after John and his crew rescue the shipwrecked Serena, a modern-day teenager traveling the seas with her family, and attempt to get her back to the present day. Cinematic illustrations, along with a strong sense of atmosphere and liberal deployment of panels per page, carry much of the storytelling. A few exceptional visual moments–a jarringly vertical panel of Serena sinking into the depths of the ocean and a nearly all-white double-page spread depicting John’s first time-travel experience–are a relief from the persistent mannequin-esque appearance of the characters. While many pieces of the story have a tendency to fall into place too easily, readers searching for a rollicking adventure comic will be thoroughly satisfied.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
Purloined technology, time travelers, ghost ships, and deception converge in this graphic page-turner. In a world not too unlike our own, most everyone is connected by Apparators, smartphonelike devices that can also project images, created by technology mogul Carlos Dahlberg. A member of the crew on the ghost ship Mary Alice, white time traveler John Blake is doomed to ride in and out of different time periods after an accident suffered during an experiment conducted by his scientist father. Young Blake knows Dahlberg’s darkest secret and has the evidence and desire to expose him. Serena Anderson, a white Australian teenager lost at sea, Danielle Quayle Reid, a black Harvard Law graduate, and Roger Blake, a white commander in the Royal Navy, all become caught up in Dahlberg and Blake’s tangled web. High-adrenaline chases, blazing explosions, and gunfights abound as they come to discover their shocking connections. Will they be able to stop Dahlberg before his nefarious plans come to fruition? Pullman has created an intricate blend of science fiction and adventure, skillfully weaving together many disparate elements into a cohesive and exciting tale. Fordham’s art, although realistic and spare, is cinematic in scope, imbuing this with all the momentum of a Hollywood blockbuster. Some of the finer plot details have a tendency to be quickly glossed over, but expect readers to be too caught up in this whirlwind ride to care. A richly imagined high-octane thriller. (Science fiction/adventure. 13-adult)

About the Author

In 1946, acclaimed author Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England, into a Protestant family. Although his beloved grandfather was an Anglican priest, Pullman became an atheist in his teenage years. He graduated from Exeter College in Oxford with a degree in English, and spent 23 years as a teacher while working on publishing 13 books and numerous short stories. Pullman has received many awards for his literature, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for exceptional children’s literature in 1996, and the Carnegie of Carnegies in 2006. He is most famous for his “His Dark Materials” trilogy, a series of young adult fantasy novels which feature freethought themes. The novels cast organized religion as the series’ villain. [He wants] to emphasize the simple physical truth of things, the absolute primacy of the material life, rather than the spiritual or the afterlife.” He argues for a “republic of heaven” here on Earth.

His website is www.philip-pullman.com

Around the Web

The Mystery of the Ghost Ship on Amazon

The Mystery of the Ghost Ship on Goodreads

The Mystery of the Ghost Ship on JLG

The Mystery of the Ghost Ship Publisher Page