Archive for category Young Adult

dancergirl, by Carol M. Tanzman (HarlequinTeen, 2011)

Alicia “Lia” Ruffino’s passion is dancing. She started with ballet, but now her talents run more to the modern style. She’s on the fast track to getting a solo at her dance studio’s next big show, but it’s random chance that really lands her in the spotlight, when a friend captures her dancing at a local concert. Next thing she knows, she’s part of an online film series, starring as the enigmatic, untouchable dancergirl, and she’s a viral phenomenon. Her fans can’t get enough of her… and neither can her stalker. Someone’s taking things way too seriously: filming her in the privacy of her own bedroom, sending her unwanted gifts, and demonstrating an uncomfortable level of knowledge about her.

As Lia desperately tries to find out who it could be, she’s drawn into a world of paranoia. Is it her mother’s ex-boyfriend? The biker hanging around the studio? The enthusiastic would-be filmmaker who helped her create the dancergirl persona? Or worst of all, is it her best friend Jacy, who’s been acting extremely weird and vanishing for significant periods of time? Who’s betrayed her trust and invaded her privacy, and how far are they willing to take things?

Playing with themes of paranoia, loneliness and obsession, dancergirl is a captivating thriller. Tanzman does an excellent job of ratcheting up Lia’s mental distress, with each new revelation and twist. As she slowly investigates and eliminates suspects, the stakes are raised, as is the general aura of creepiness and worry. Valid points are raised about the level of information we inadvertently release on the Internet, and how vulnerable we are to those willing to put forth the effort. Luckily, even though the atmosphere turns pretty grim, Lia never completely loses the inner spark which makes her an interesting character.

Oddly for something associated with the Harlequin brand, there’s almost no real sense of romance to be found her. Lia spends time with several different boys–one her best friend, the other the resident bad boy–but it’s obvious from the start that romance isn’t high on the list of priorities as the psychological elements take center stage.

Tanzman excels at describing the dance scenes with verisimilitude and complexity. You can almost see the way people move and flow across the scenery, which is important for a story focusing on the physical and visual arts.

This was a solid effort. Fast-paced, complex, and genuinely disturbing in places, dancergirl really nails the concept, blending reality and fiction successfully. I’m reminded of some of the other online web-series that have popped up now and again, where the lines between truth and narrative were blurred. I’d actually be interested to know if Tanzman had any of them in mind, like lonelygirl15.

Ultimately, I’d say this is a pretty strong offering, and worth checking out if you have a yearning for something with a psychological edge to it.


Drink, Slay, Love, by Sarah Beth Durst (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Teen vampire Pearl’s life is thrown into disarray when she’s staked by a unicorn. Instead of killing her, the experience changes her, granting her the ability to survive in sunlight. Her Family promptly sends her to infiltrate high school, to find victims for the impending visit of their king and his retinue, a traditionally bloody affair. Unfortunately, as Pearl learns to fit in among human teenagers, she develops an inconvenient conscience, and acquires some unexpected friends. With two different aspects of her life vying for dominance, Pearl has to decide who and what she is. Durst takes the superficially silly idea and injects it with humor, drama, and rich characterization, playing the “fish out of water” theme for all it’s worth. One of the most entertaining vampire books to come along in a while.


Variant, by Robison Wells (HarperTeen, 2011)

When Benson Fisher receives a scholarship to the exclusive Maxfield Academy, he dreams of finally escaping the never-ending string of foster homes. What he discovers, is far worse. Part prison, part Darwinist nightmare, there is no escape from the arbitrary rules and unpredictable schedule, save for death. There are no teachers; the students run everything from administration and security, to trash and cooking, all under the constant surveillance of their unseen, all-knowing captors. Benson’s desperate plans to break free destroy the fragile truce between the student-led groups, and reveal the horrifying truth behind the school’s purpose. Intense and suspenseful, this dystopian thriller is punctuated by genuine surprise twists, and capped by an ending sure to leave readers demanding more.


The Shattering, by Karen Healy (Little, Brown, 2011)

Keri, Janna and Sione have one thing in common: they’ve each lost an older brother under tragic circumstances. Convinced that it’s more than coincidence, they dig deep, discovering a rash of similar deaths over the years, all linked to their peaceful New Zealand town. Now they have to deal with a supernatural threat which stands ready to take another life in the near future. Can they unmask their enemy before anyone else gets hurt? With a multicultural cast, an intriguing setting, and a genuine sense of mystery and foreboding, this is an unforgettable read. The characters are rich and complex, the magic is subtle, and the story satisfying.


The Death Catchers, by Jennifer Anne Kogler (Walker, 2011)

When she turns fourteen, Lizzy Mortimer discovers that she, like her grandmother, is a Hand of Fate. Gifted with the knowledge of when someone close to her is going to die, she’s able to alter that fate if she so chooses. However, this also makes her a pawn in an ancient prophecy stemming from the days of Camelot. Now she must try to prevent the death of her crush, Drake Westfall, and stop the ancient sorceress Vivienne le Mort from destroying the world. The narrative tone is on the light side (written as an essay to a teacher, with plenty of conversational tangents), and the mixture of themes is a little unwieldy, but this is still a fun, fast-paced story with real potential.


Wildefire, by Karsten Knight (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

In the wake of a tragic incident involving her rebellious older sister and a classmate, Ashline Wilde transfers to a private school in California, hoping to start over quietly. Instead, she learns that she, like several other students, is a reincarnated god. In her case: a Polynesian fire goddess. Each has some task to play in preventing Ragnarok, but details remain hazy. Now Ash must balance normal high school demands with her divine status, and things get worse when her sister turns up, with powers of her own and an alternative agenda, threatening to divide loyalties. This supernatural drama reads like a soap operatic Percy Jackson, only with much more cultural diversity and an edge. I wish we’d gotten some more details about the mythological aspects, and the ending was maddeningly abrupt, but this is still an excellent book, well worth checking out.


Texas Gothic, by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte, 2011)

Amy Goodnight is determined to be the face of normality among her family of witches. However, that can’t help her when she ends up house-sitting on her aunt’s Texas ranch. Corpses keep turning up, the handsome cowboy next door is a pain in her rear, there are ghosts lurking, and if Amy can’t learn the truth behind a centuries-old murder, she’ll never have any peace. Not to mention, someone wants the truth to remain hidden, at any cost. With her customary blend of humor and paranormal drama, Clement-Moore delivers an intriguingly strange ghost story/murder mystery. Come for the plot, stay for the characters, and leave satisfied.


Blood Feud, by Steven A. Roman (Starwarp Concepts, 2011)

After Goth teen Pandora Zwieback is sent to live with her father in New York City, she discovers that she’s not crazy, she really does see monsters. Teaming up with an immortal monster hunter and a cute guy, she gets dragged into a bizarre war between vampire clans, with a mysterious artifact as the MacGuffin and the fate of the world at stake. The overall concept is solid and entertaining, with Pan providing an appropriately snarky viewpoint. The action scenes are plentiful and cinematic, while the setting is ripe with potential. However, significant portions of the book are narrated by adult characters, making it feel like it’s not entirely Pan’s story. Pacing issues and a whiplash-inducing ending further drag down an otherwise strong beginning.


Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011)

Sam is a werewolf cured of his curse. His girlfriend Grace was turned into a wolf to save her life. Now, as winter comes to an end, they can be together again. Unfortunately, too many mysteries surround Grace’s disappearance to make their reunion a smooth one. Worse, a local politician is determined to exterminate the wolves of Mercy Falls, unaware that some of them used to be human. It’s a race against time for Grace and Sam, and their friends, to save the wolf pack, even as they fight for their happy ending. This conclusion to the trilogy is haunting and romantic, as well as emotionally raw and full of stark imagery. The only drawback is an ending steeped in vagueness and uncertainty, all but demanding a follow-up. It’s still a thought-provoking, creative take on werewolves, unlike anything else out there.


Always A Witch, by Carolyn McCullough (Harcourt, 2011)

After years of being the only mundane in a clan of witches, Tamsin Greene has discovered her own potent set of Talents, along with a prophecy that puts her at the heart of her family’s destiny. When her enemy, Alistair Knight, journeys back in time, Tamsin follows in order to thwart his plans to change the past. As she goes undercover in the stronghold of a rival family of witches, she tries to avoid their wicked ways while recruiting her own ancestors. Ultimately, Tamsin’s actions in the past will influence generations to come, and decide her own fate. While the tale spans centuries and affects entire families, it wraps up Tamsin’s personal story in a satisfying manner.