The Diviners by Libba Bray

diviners“‘Let’s try another question.  Do you have any prophecy for us, Naughty John?  Any fortune-telling?’

The scryer remains still.

‘Do tell us something else, won’t you?’

Finally, there is movement on the board. ‘I…will…teach…you…fear…’ the hostess reads aloud.

‘Sounds like the headmaster at Choate,’ the boy in the fez teases. ‘How will you do that, old sport?’

I S-T-A-N-D-AT T-H-E D-O-O-R A-N-D K-N-O-C-K

I A-M T-H-E B-E-A-S-T.”

Things are not right in New York. The Ouija board spells out a terrifying message for the partygoers, and that is just the beginning. Something sinister is stirring; when dead bodies marked with strange symbols begin surfacing, Evie and her uncle are pulled into the investigation.  What could be killing New York inhabitants in such an frightful way?  Is there something darker at work than a simple murder?

Evie thought New York would be a breeze-she was sent away from her boring  hometown to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Evie was excited-the city lights were practically spelling out her name.  The speakeasies! The shows!  Jazz! However, it’s not all she hoped-Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, or the “Museum of Creepy-Crawlies”.  Because of his expertise in the subject, Will is needed to consult on the murder cases, and Evie finds herself in the middle of the investigation. Forget shows, short haircuts, and flapper style-now Evie’s life consists of curses, secrets, and racing against time.  Will Evie and Will be able to find and stop the killer before it is too late?

This is one of the rare 500 + page books that doesn’t feel like one at all.  Libba Bray’s Jazz Age New York is full of music, bright lights, and carefree hearts-until the murders begin, at least.  The supernatural elements to the plot are sure to delight fans of the paranormal, while the 1920’s setting adds interest and prevents this from being “just another scary magic book”.  Scary?  Yes, absolutely.  But it’s the very best kind of scary:  eerie, suspenseful, and fresh; you’ll be checking over your shoulder and wondering about old curses as you read.  Libba Bray not only brings us a great historical setting, she also gives us characters that feel like real people.  This winner of a book combines ancient prophecies, Broadway lights, jazz, and murder, all told by a master storyteller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://libbabray.com

Book’s website: http://www.thedivinersseries.com/

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 578 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably love Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

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Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Adaptation“She remembered the bird in the headlights, and she remembered waking up twenty-seven days later.  But the more she tried to focus in on that thing that had happened between those events, the more it slid away from her, slippery as an eel.”

Birds all over North America are mysteriously throwing themselves in the paths of planes, causing crashes and widespread mayhem.   No one knows why: some kind of bird plague?  Terrorism? Weather abnormalities?  No matter the cause, the results are scary: flights are grounded, people are hoarding supplies, and conspiracy theories flood the internet.

Does the government know more about the crashes than they will admit? When they crash in the Nevada desert in the middle of the night and wake up in a government facility nearly a month later, Reese and David realize there may be some truth to the conspiracy theories.  Both received medical attention, but even the doctor won’t tell what kind of treatment, and they are forbidden from telling even their parents.

Back home in San Francisco, the mysteries continue: Reese is plagued by recurrent dreams, and David is having strange symptoms.  The pair are also quite sure they are being followed, but by whom?  Who could possibly be interested in the boring lives of two SF teenagers?   In the midst of the confusion and anxiety, Reese must also sort out her feelings for a new friend, Amber.  Sure, they like each other, but does Amber know more about the bird crisis than she will admit?  Can she be trusted?

Meet Malinda Lo’s third book! Her first two, Ash and Huntress were companion fantasy novels, and were fantastic in themselves, but made even more so by Lo’s treatment of GLBT characters.  In Adaptation, she does what she does best: placing a realistic cast of characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds and sexualities in the midst of a great story. Here’s a cheer for having a super-rare bisexual character in a YA story! (And here’s what Lo herself has to say about bisexuality and young adult literature.) Lo subtly educates her readers about queerness: coming out, what terms could be hurtful, how to support a questioning friend-absolutely fantastic information that is hard to come by in the real world.  She gives us a rainbow of characters and then shows us how to treat them all with respect, all while avoiding preachiness.  Bisexual teens, gay and lesbian teens, questioning teens, all plopped in a world where it is safe to be queer.  I read her stories and am awash with gratitude.  I am so grateful for her writing stories that make queerness a non-issue, and books that help questioning teens find their way.  Seriously-it’s a desperately-needed public service, friends.   *Dusts hands, climbs off soapbox*

Aside from the diversity-awesomeness, this is a captivating thriller, full of plot twists and secrets and speculation.  She’s already working on the sequel, due this fall.  I can’t wait!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.malindalo.com

Lo, Malinda. Adaptation. Little, Brown: New York, 2012. 386 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

This is the part when I tell you what books you might like to read if you liked this one!  But friends, I’ve got to tell you-I’ve been hunting for at least an hour and you know what?  There aren’t too many!  Here are some that feature GLBTQ characters and fall into the speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) category.

Cycler-A fantasy about a character who switches gender, featuring a bisexual boyfriend!

Vintage-a gay ghost story

The Beckoners-I have it on good report that this is a good non-coming out queer novel.

Sister Mischief-an all-girl hip hop band featuring a bisexual character! You’ll love this one!

The Water Wars-no queer content,, but plenty of excitement and conspiracy.

 

 

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

hunger“Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine. She had a love affair with food, and she’d never liked horses (never mind the time she asked for a pony when she was eight; that was just a girl thing).  If she’d been asked which Horseman of the Apocalypse she would most likely be, she would have probably replied, “War.”  And if you’d heard her and her boyfriend, James, fighting, you would have agreed.  Lisa wasn’t a Famine person, despite the eating disorder.”

This is the story of how an anorexic seventeen-year-old became one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, along with Death (bearing a strong resemblance to Kurt Cobain) and their companions Pestilence and War.  One day-actually, the same day of her attempted suicide- the delivery man shows up, bearing a set of scales.  She accepts the scales, and finds herself newly employed as Famine, complete with menacing horse waiting for her in the garden.  (Ok, well, he’s not so menacing-he prefers eating pralines to shedding blood, but Lisa’s not your typical Famine, either).

Lisa’s new job takes her far away from her troubles at home: a concerned boyfriend, a self-destructive friend, her constant struggle with food.  As Famine, she sees firsthand the devastation of hunger, and learns about her terrifying new powers.  Famine, it seems, not only has the power to kill and destroy, but also heal and nourish.  Is it possible that Lisa’s job as Famine will give her the strength to recover from her eating disorder?

Friends, I’ve read a lot of books about eating disorders.  Most of them follow the same girl gets sick-girl denies sickness-girl forced into treatment-girl gets better arc; it’s not necessarily a bad plot, but the focus on disordered eating behaviors and calorie counts and weights can be triggering and counterproductive.  This is absolutely not one of those books, though-it is definitely shortlisted for Shanna’s “Great Books about Eating Disorders that Won’t Make You Nuts with Incessant Calorie Counts” Prize.  Kessler infuses the novel with gallows humor, witty dialogue, and great twists.  What I loved most was the underlying message, delivered in the least preachy way possible: Lisa finds that she must care for herself so that she can care for others.  This short, clever novel is one that will appeal to reluctant readers, fans of fantasy, and anyone who’s struggled with similar issues.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.jackiemorsekessler.com/

Kessler, Jackie Morse.  Hunger. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2010. 177 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, she’s got two more in the Riders of the Apocalypse series:

Rage

Loss

and another one coming soon!

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacement“I hadn’t given away my secret because I didn’t even know how to say the secret out loud.  No one did.  Instead, they hung on to the lie that the kids who died were actually their kids and not just convincing replacements.  That way, they never had to ask what happened to the real ones.

That was the code of the town-you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t ask.  But Tate had asked anyway.  She’d had the guts to say what everyone else was thinking-that her true, real sister had been replaced by something eerie and wrong.  Even my own family had never been honest to come right out and say that.”

Mackie is a changeling, a replacement for a stolen baby.  His family, along with the entire town of Gentry, would like to continue acting as though this never happened, as though the town’s children did not sometimes disappear from their cribs, to be replaced with darker and more unnatural beings.  Of course, Mackie wishes he could ignore it, too, and that he could just be normal and play his guitar and never have to worry about how blood and metal make his head spin.  But when his friend (and love interest) loses her baby sister to Gentry’s underworld, he knows it’s time that someone acted.  He knows it’s time to stop keeping secrets.

Oh, I am so weak for paranormal stories, especially when they involve little children.  And young adult fiction is the perfect place for finding these stories, as the gore and shockingly sad endings are usually rare!  This particular book was a dark and interesting diversion, written by a Colorado author.  I’d been wanting to read it for months.  You’ll like the eerie premise:  as the story unfolds, you’ll learn that the town of Gentry is at the mercy of two feuding spirit sisters, and that townspeople have mutely accepted the child-switching as a price to pay for their relative good fortune.  It’s quite creepy, a bit gruesome (but blood makes me dizzy, anyway), and an original take on the changeling story.  Readers looking for romance will find it, readers looking to ignore it will find that possible, too.

I have a single small issue with the book.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bring it up, but I found it quite jarring.  At two points in the text, young women are referred to as “tart” and “hookers”, and you know what?  It is absolutely not ok. This is the kind of language that perpetuates violence against women, and it was a great disappointment to see it used unnecessarily in the story.

Aside from that, this is a ghoulish and creative tale of a cursed town and the dark forces at play beneath it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://brennayovanoff.com/

Yovanoff, Brenna. The Replacement. Razor Bill, New York, 2010.  343 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you should check out Chimeanother paranormal fiction book with a similar premise.  And then Half World, and then there’s Libba Bray’s new book (it looks so good!!) called  The Diviners, which totally looks like it has some good creepiness in it.  Or,  how about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children?  Or any book out there with a dark gray cover and crows, or girls in puffy dresses, or blood on the cover-this is a hugely popular genre right now (lucky for me!) Oh, and there’s Huntress by Malinda Lo; it’s a small part of the plot, but there’s a changeling there, too.

For the younger readers looking for creepy, try A Drowned Maiden’s Hairor (next up on my list) Picture the Dead.

Chime by Franny Billingsley

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.

Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story.  I can’t relive those memories-the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.

How could you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies.  A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.”

Briony conceals her second sight and forces herself to use her right hand because in Swampsea, witches are hanged, and Briony absolutely, positively, must not die.  Dying, you see, would break her promise: she must always live so she may take care of Rose.  Briony’s life is consumed with care for her identical twin, Rose, in an attempt at penance for a childhood accident that irreparably changed her. However,what is she to do when saving her sister’s life means that Briony must sacrifice her own?

Briony’s scrupulously honest, don’t-pity-me, prickly demeanor does nothing to conceal her vulnerability; she is a multi-dimensional artwork of a narrative persona, relating a chilling tale of secrets, bargains with spirits, and subterfuge. Furthermore, she’s unreliable: readers are unsure exactly what the truth is. Briony hates everything, including herself, and Billingsley’s masterful characterization prevents her from reading as selfish or irritating. You’ll love the distilled gems of bleaks humor like this:  “Skipping meals is terrifically convenient: It gives one lots of time to brood and hate oneself”.

The language itself is another reason to love this story.  In an interview, Franny Billingsley said that she drew inspiration from the wordplay in folk songs and ballads, and definitely adds another layer of appeal to the novel.  Words invert and rhyme, creating an interesting textual parallel for the reader’s changing perceptions of the characters and the story as layer after layer of deception is excoriated.  Adding to the literary complexity of the work is the story’s structure! It’s not difficult to follow, but hearing the tale backwards, from the moment we know Briony is to die, brings a sense of urgency to the story. Finally, even though we begin the story knowing the ending already, Billingsley manages to keep us wondering and worrying about it.

This creepy and enthralling novel was a finalist for the National Book Award last year, amid some controversy.  I found it a combination of delightful elements that are so often honored by the award, including high literary merit.  Furthermore, the romance (yes, there’s romance, but I promise it isn’t offensively saccharine!) is based on equality and mutual respect and tenderness, which is delightful to see in these paranormal books, as they often rely on tired stereotypes of straight relationships.  The one concern I have is one the author herself has also acknowledged, that of the “beauty barrier”.  Books about non-beautiful young women are disappointingly scarce, and this is no different.  Billingsley missed a perfect opportunity to give us a complex and appealing heroine while also affirming the importance of other values besides traditional beauty.

That said, if you love witches and swamps and the feeling you get when you read Jane Eyre, this one’s for you.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.frannybillingsley.com

Billingsley, Franny. Chime. New York, Speak, 2011. 361 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this one, you can rejoice: the author claims she has two related novels she is working on!  While you are waiting, you can check out books like Beauty and Ash and  Castle Waiting (for the feminist graphic-novel antidote to the stereotypical beautiful heroine) and Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyrefor the classic take on creepiness.