ALAN Picks October 2019

ALAN Picks October 2019

All These Monsters by Amy Tintera
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020, 447 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-0358012405
Science Fiction/Alternate Reality/Abusive Parents

All These Monsters is set in an alternate world where scrabs, dangerous monsters that live in the earth, are devastating cities, their rampage largely unchecked by the police and governmental agencies. Luckily, there are few scrabs in the United States, but that is not the case in Europe and Asia. Grayson St. John, an young American with money believes that he can train groups of vigilantes to overcome the scrabs in Europe. Thousands are trying out to join this elite force that will be armed before being sent to Europe to fight, despite the warning that they may die.

Living at home is dangerous for seventeen-year-old Clara. There are holes in the wall where her father had shoved her head through it. Her mother makes excuses for his behavior, never once defending Clara. Her older brother tries to defend her, but his father then takes it out on him.

Clara decides that fighting scrabs is not as dangerous as living with her family, so she joins a group of St. John’s recruits on a bus bound for Atlanta. The tryouts are brutal, and Clara is surprised but thankful to be selected. As she and her teammates begin their training, a romance blooms between Clara and Grayson’s right-hand man, Julian. Madison, a fellow recruit and Julian’s ex-girlfriend, warns Clara about Julian, to no avail.

Soon Clara is fighting scrabs, bandaging wounds, some of them her own, and simply trying to keep her team members alive. Eventually, she realizes that fighting scrabs is fairly straightforward. They appear in front of her, she battles them, and either they die, or she does. They are what they appear to be. But not everything or everyone else is.

Author Amy Tintera has created an engaging novel. Readers will be anxiously awaiting the second book in the duology.

Reviewed by Michele Mosco, Tempe, Arizona


Before I Disappear by Danielle Stinson
Feiwel & Friends, 2019, 373 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-1250303196
Survival/Space and Time/Thrillers/Science Fiction/Brothers and Sisters

Rose, her mother, and her little brother Charlie, travel the country to escape their past. Charlie is a sensitive kid who requires protecting, and Rose has always been his protector. When Charlie points to a map and tells his family that they need to go Fort Glory, Oregon, they move yet again, in search of a normal life. After arriving in Fort Glory, they discover a particle physics collider near the town that has put the residents on edge. When the town mysteriously disappears, only Charlie can hear the Darkness that may hold the key to survival.

Before I Disappear is an adventure story about a group of young people forging bonds with one another while attempting to survive the darkness and learning to accept their past mistakes. The novel offers insight into family relations, what it means to be friends, and how to forgive yourself. Fans who love survival stories and science fiction will appreciate the complexity of the plot.

Reviewed by Jennifer Ansbach, Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey


Cut Off by Adrianne Finlay
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020, 384 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-0358006459
Science Fiction/Virtual Reality/Survival Fiction/Psychology

Television’s newest reality show Cut Off, immerses its audience in the lives of teenage contestants attempting to survive in the wilderness. Through Skyms 3D virtual-reality technology, audiences experience the contestant’s challenges as they try to outlast their competitors and win a cash prize. But when the original rules of the show no longer apply, the remaining contestants must navigate one another’s secrets and elevated fears while answering the question: Are their experiences real or scripted by the show?

Cut Off is a fast-paced binge-read, full of plot twists. Finlay blends science fiction and character psychology in this spectacular novel. Readers will find themselves questioning reality as they cheer for their favorite contestants to survive.

Reviewed by Kristen Martinelli, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey


Golden Arm by Carl Deuker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020, 368 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-0358012429
Sports/Realistic Fiction/Family Relationships/Disability

High school senior and baseball pitcher Lazarus “Laz” Weathers wants what he cannot feasibly attain- to know his father, to play baseball for a winning team, to not be made fun of because of his stutter, and for his half-brother, Antonio, to not run with the wrong crowd.

On a walk home from school, Laz discovers that gentrification is beginning to change his life in every way. He realizes that his family soon will be forced to move from their trailer park, Jet City, in Seattle, and to make matters more complicated, his half-brother’s father just moved back in, further limiting his family’s options for a future apartment. This, in addition to a new principal who plans to disband his school’s baseball team, has Laz feeling like he has just lost everything.

The pitcher’s mound is the only place where Laz’s worries dissolve. He is an excellent pitcher, a fact that does not go unnoticed by a neighboring town’s baseball dad. Mr. Thurman, the father of hot-shot baseball player Ian Thurman, makes an offer Laz cannot refuse- move in with their family in the neighboring town and play for one of the best baseball teams in the state.

Laz chooses to leave his family and friends in Jet City to pursue his dream. He has a great season and assists the team to the state championships. However, just before Laz is set to pitch in the state championship title game, Antonio’s shenanigans compromise everything Laz has worked for. This gripping, fast-paced novel, has just the right amount of edge for the most resistant of readers. Golden Arm will intrigue anyone who has ever experienced what it is like to be the underdog.

Reviewed by Megan McCormick, Washington, DC


Grimoire Noire by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch
First Second Books, 2019, 288 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-1626725980
Mystery and Supernatural/Graphic Novel

Teenager Bucky Orson lives in Blackwell, a town where every girl is born with supernatural powers. It’s the law in Blackwell that those with magick are to be protected- there is even a special charm cast around the town to keep them all safe. Bucky has always felt excluded because he lacks the capacity for magick. When he loses his childhood friend Chamomile to “the crows,” a group of powerful witches, Bucky becomes even more bitter and fearful that he is doomed to a perfectly lackluster life, like most of the men in Blackwell.

When Bucky’s younger sister is kidnapped, he sets off on a journey of discovery. As he hunts down her kidnapper, Bucky must face his own preconceived notions, of not only Blackwell but the people who call Blackwell home. He learns that life isn’t quite so easy, even for those blessed to practice magick, and that there are shades of light and dark at work in everyone. Ultimately, magick comes at a price, one that he’s not willing to pay.

Grimoire Noire is a mystery that unfolds in a series of haunting realizations. Bogatch’s ethereal grayscale illustrations create an immersive experience for readers, who will be whisked away on a fast-paced quest for answers, only coming up for air as the mystery reaches an unexpected and chilling conclusion. Amidst a backdrop of supernatural and macabre elements, Grimoire Noire explores friendship, that which binds us–both to each other and to the places we call home–and the humanity present in us all.

Reviewed by Gina Schneck, Eagle Mountain, Utah


Tarnished Are The Stars by Rosiee Thor
Scholastic Press, 2019, 372 pp., $18.99
ISBN: 978-1338312270
Steampunk/Gay and Lesbian Fiction/Adventure

Anna Thatcher is holding many secrets close to her heart and they are ticking in a way that could be the death of her if anyone finds out. Hiding out under the nose of those who want to destroy her secret alter-ego known as Technician, she works to bring banned medical technology to those who would die without it. When she challenges the unbending laws of the Commissioner, she becomes a target of his soldiers.

Nathaniel Fremont is trying to prove himself to his father, the Commissioner, but only continues to disappoint him. He feels his last chance at redemption is to capture the Technician. However, the deeper he sets his plans into motion, the more he realizes that the laws of his father may not be all he has been raised to believe. He will need to find the answers to his questions before it is too late.

When the assassin, Eliza, arrives in town, both Anna and Nathaniel will be forced to rethink their individual goals. Even Eliza will need to re-examine her mission when she finds that her head and heart are not on the same page as the job she was sent to do.

In her debut young adult novel, Rosiee Thor’s storytelling brings together three different, yet similar, characters. They must all work together for the same end goal in order to be successful. Anna, Nathaniel, and Eliza will cross boundaries of family, friendship, and ally in their mission to right the wrongs brought about in this adventure in which they must defeat the injustices around them. Trusting themselves, as well as each other, is the only thing that will guarantee their futures.

Reviewed by Carri Randall, Greenwood, Indiana


The Undoing of Thistle Tate by Katelyn Detweiler
Margaret Ferguson Books, 2019, 272 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-0823442393
Family and Peer Relationships/Emotions and Feelings/Romance

What seventeen-year-old wouldn’t want Thistle Tate’s life? She’s a successful author of two YA novels, goes on book tours around the country, and is about to publish the final book of the successful series, Lemonade Skies. The only problem is that it is all a lie. Thistle isn’t the real author of the books, her dad is. Only one other person knows, her best friend and crush, Liam.

Thistle’s life isn’t as rosy as one would think. She’s been motherless since she was three, she’s been homeschooled by her lonely and depressed father, and she only hangs out with Liam.

So who is the real Thistle Tate? A liar and fraud, a devoted daughter, or an innocent victim? With a deadline for the third book looming, an accident has the potential to derail everything- the truth about her authorship, her relationship with Liam, and her budding friendship with a new friend, Oliver.

Author Katelyn Detweiler uses excerpts from Thistle’s popular series to introduce each chapter.  These excerpts provide insight into Thistle’s alter ego, Marigold, while also adding to the events of the main plot. A fast-paced read, The Undoing of Thistle Tate will keep readers guessing.

Reviewed by Kirstie Knighton, Gray, Georgia


Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco
Sourcebooks Fire, 2020, 432 pp.
Fantasy/Journey/Quest/Future/Fairy Tale tropes/Friendship/War
ISBN: 978-1492672661

In this first installment of the A Hundred Names for Magic series, teen Tala Warnock lives in an American future where magic, called “spelltech,” has been controlled and commodified after a world war between kingdoms that left the last heir of Avalon, prince Alexei, on the run and loyal subjects with ties to Avalon scattered across the globe. Tala’s famed Filipina mother, Maria, her Scottish father, and her stalwart and battle-ready aunts and uncles are chosen to protect Alexei (now called Alex) after he is smuggled to her town in the “Royal States of America”- what we call the West. From the beginning of the novel, Chupeco imbues her teen protagonists with complementary abilities: Tala can counteract magic, and Alex’s is the strongest of anyone she has ever met, making them perfect friends, and potential partners.

When the ancient Firebird, the greatest weapon ever known, and a motley group of young fighters from Florida arrive at Tala’s high school on the eve of the great bonfire, she realizes that all she knows will change instantly, especially since Alex, her constant companion and family’s charge, has disappeared. So begins a multi-text journey of maturation in which Tala learns truths about her family, heritage, her role in the conflicts to come, and, of course, her friendship with Alex.

Readers of fantasy will enjoy the quest motif and humorous age-appropriate interactions in the diverse group of “Bandersnatches” as they cohere into a team, all in service of protecting Prince Alex and preparing for an eventual clash with the evil Snow Queen, who has emerged once again. Readers whose interest lies in fairy tale tropes will be pleasantly surprised by several references that blend futuristic technology with older tales. Further, Chupeco frequently infuses her text with descriptions of diverse ethnicity and race in a multilayered fashion, and her adolescent heroine’s growth, while set in an amplified setting, reflects common moral and development patterns for girls.

Reviewed by Angela Insenga, Carrollton, Georgia


The Grey Sisters by Jo Treggiari
Penguin Teen, 2019, 288 pp., $17.99
ISBN 978-0735262980

The Grey Sisters is an intense climb into the gritty, unforgiving wilderness of a mountain range called the Grey Sisters where readers will experience the story of young members of a cult-like survivalist colony and the colorless lives of two friends who are grieving the loss of their siblings in a plane crash on that same mountain.

The book title is an apt metaphor for the two friends, D and Spider, high school girls whose lives have been forever changed after D’s sister and Spider’s brother were lost in a plane crash two years earlier. Since the crash, D and Spider have been shadows of their former selves, with little interest in pursuing “normal lives.” When D decides it is time to move on, her therapist encourages her to find closure by making the long trek to the Grey Sisters mountains to visit the plane crash site. With their best friend Min along as navigator and peacemaker, D and Spider travel through rain, fog, and rough terrain to get to the crash site.

As the reader traverses the mountain roads with D, Spider, and Min, another story unfolds. Ariel is a teenaged girl who belongs to a survivalist colony in the Grey Sisters mountains. At the mercy of the grown men in the colony who can demand sex from the young women at any time, Ariel is determined to rise above this slavish existence and become a true leader in hunting, tracking, and surviving in the wilderness. When a terrifying incident with a bear endangers her secret beau Aaron, Ariel must defy all she knows of obedience to the colony in order to save him. In the attempt to save Aaron, Ariel meets D, Spider, and Min, and the story takes a marked turn into an unexpected alliance. The two worlds collide in a brilliant story twist that will leave the reader breathless.

Equal parts spine-tingling and heart-wrenching, The Grey Sisters is an amazing tale of uncommon strength, friendship, and the tenacious bonds of love.

Reviewed by Patty Rieman, Kenosha, Wisconsin