Archive for Suspense

Booktalk: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

Nethergrim cover

When I first picked up The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that it was a fantasy book, the cover looked ominous, and the tagline “when magic sleeps, evil awakens” sounded promising.

What I found was that this was an exciting story with three different teenage protagonists who were all empathetic and interesting for different reasons, and there were lots and lots of MONSTERS.  There were the typical physically scary monsters of the supernatural strength / pointy teeth variety but then there were also many aspects of the story that were psychologically scary, as well.  And of course, the closer our protagonists get to the Nethergrim’s lair, the scarier it gets!

This would be a great book to give to fans of the stories it echoes — The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Narnia series. But it would also be a great book to give to teens who don’t think they like fantasy but are willing to be swept up into an exciting and suspenseful story.  This is the first book of a planned series, so get in now on the ground floor!


Edmund, Katherine, and Tom are all fourteen years old, they all live in the small village of Moorvale, and they’re all teased for being different from the typical kids their age.  Each of them has dreams of having different lives, but little hope of ever achieving those dreams.

But then some strange things start happening in their village.  First, animals start disappearing.  Soon after that, children start disappearing.  The last time something like this happened was years and years ago, when an ancient and evil creature called the Nethergrim was still around.  It was killed by a knight and a wizard who joined forces and raised an army of men to defeat it.  Everyone has heard the songs and the stories, so it MUST be true.

Except … maybe the songs and the stories were wrong.  Maybe the Nethergrim isn’t dead after all.  Maybe it was only sleeping all this time, and now it’s waking up.

Edmund has a very personal reason for wanting to find and destroy the Nethergrim.  His younger brother is one of the children who disappeared.  Edmund is very interested in magic and has read lots of magic books, which is why he has a theory that those missing children aren’t dead after all.  Or at least they’re not dead … YET.  There might still be time to save them, IF Edmund and his friends can find the Nethergrim’s lair before it’s too late.

Booktalk: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness cover

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean has one of the most unusual premises of any young adult book I’ve ever read.  A girl, who is in love with a long-dead explorer, ends up going to the same part of the world where he died and risks following him to the same fate.  There’s danger, drama, and adventure on the outside while on the inside there’s an ongoing conversation between two people, one living and one dead.

There are times that I read books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I think, hmmm … I can see why they thought that was a great book, but I would find it hard to recommend to most teenagers I know and I definitely couldn’t booktalk it to an entire class!  But The White Darkness has enough appeal and enough unique layers that as soon as I finished reading it I knew that I wanted to share it with a larger audience.


Sym has always had trouble fitting in.  She doesn’t have many friends, and a lot of kids in school make fun of her.  Her father didn’t like her very much either, but he’s dead now, so that doesn’t really matter anymore.  Her mom is okay, but Sym actually gets along better with Uncle Victor, who isn’t really her uncle but more a friend of the family.  But Uncle Victor is the only one who really understands just how much she loves the Antarctic.  How much she dreams of following in the footsteps of the brave explorers who went on doomed expeditions to the South Pole, many of whom lost their lives surrounded by miles of ice and snow.

In fact, while Sym has never had a boyfriend, there is one man who she loves more than anything in the world, and that man is Titus Oates.  As in, the late Titus Oates.  You see, Titus is one of those explorers who never came back from the Antarctic alive.  But Sym has read so many books, seen so many videos, and learned so much about Titus’ life that she feels like she knows him.  She even has long conversations with him inside her head.  But that’s not a secret Sym tells anyone — not even Uncle Victor.

Now Sym’s life stays pretty much the same until the day that Uncle Victor offers to take her and her mother to Paris for the weekend.  Sym thinks this is a great plan, even though the plan keeps changing.  First her mother’s passport went missing, so she was unable to go with them.  Then the weekend trip to Paris turned into several weeks in Antarctica.  Since Sym has always wanted to go there, she’s delighted.  But it’s when they reach the end of the world that Sym’s dream turns into a nightmare.

Sym is going to learn some very painful truths … about Antarctica, about Uncle Victor, and about herself.  She will find herself in incredible danger while surrounded by miles of ice and snow in every direction.  And her only hope of survival will be to rely on everything she’s ever learned about the Antarctic, her intuition, and the voice of a long-dead explorer that only she can hear.

Booktalk: Breaking Point by Alex Flinn

Breaking Point Cover

Alex Flinn has become popular for her novels in different genres.  While many of her recent successes are fantasy books with ties to fairy tales like Beastly and Towering, today I decided to highlight Breaking Point, one of her realistic fiction books.  Like Breathing Underwater, this is a powerful novel featuring a boy who has to overcome some major obstacles as he struggles to find out what kind of person he is and what he really wants to become.


Paul Richmond is having problems at Gate, his new school where the students are rich and they don’t like outsiders.  Paul doesn’t fit in, but some days it’s worse than that.  Some days he hears whispers behind his back, he gets spitballs in his hair, he’s tripped in the hallways, and he even has garbage thrown in his locker.  Paul is tormented more and more every day, and soon he hates going to school.

But everything changes when Charlie Good offers his friendship.  Paul doesn’t understand why Charlie, one of the most popular boys in school, is so friendly to him.  Charlie offers Paul a chance for something he wants very badly; a chance to fit in and be part of group.  So it doesn’t even matter what kind of a group it is, or what they do, as long as Paul can fit in.  It doesn’t matter, even if the group is called the Mailbox Club, and the whole purpose of the club is to drive around late at night drinking and destroying mailboxes with baseball bats.  At least Paul fits in.

But soon he realizes that the Mailbox Club is only the beginning, and that Charlie Good has even more plans in store.  Dangerous plans which, if he carries them out, will leave behind a lot more than just broken mailboxes.

Booktalk: Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

Seraph of the End cover

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami is one of the best mangas I’ve read in a long time.  It has a great combination of external and internal conflicts.  We spend a lot of time inside a 12-year-old boy’s head, learning why it’s so hard for him to trust other people and why he reacts so badly to the idea of a family.  But we also get lots of action in the form of vampires, and there are plenty of exciting scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats!


In the future, a mysterious virus kills most of the Earth’s population.  It kills the adults but leaves the children alive. With all of the adults gone, human society starts falling apart.

And that’s when the vampires take over.

The vampires capture the human children and bring them underground.  They let the children live, but only to be used as a permanent blood supply.  Yuichiro is a 12-year-old boy who hates vampires.  He dreams of having enough power to fight and defeat them, which is almost impossible because vampires are so much stronger than humans.  But before Yuichiro can defeat the vampires first he must escape the underground city and find his way back to the human world.  He doesn’t know it yet, but the human world is a lot different than he remembered, and a lot different than he expected.

Booktalk: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods cover

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is kind of difficult to categorize.  It’s definitely a collection of short stories that are all dark and haunting in different ways.  The stories feel like fairy tales and are sometimes loosely connected to fairy tales, but they also stand alone on their own.  And the collection could be categorized as a cross between a graphic novel and a picture book for older readers.  But no matter how you categorize it, this is a great book to share with readers who are ready to try some deeply chilling stories!


There was a girl, and there was a man.  The girl’s father told her that she had to marry that man, and so she did.  And then she traveled by horse and carriage to the man’s enormous home, where there were servants, and silk dresses, and beautiful jewelry, and more food than she could eat.

During the day the house seems perfectly fine, but every night, she hears the sound of someone singing.  Sometimes it’s coming from the walls, sometimes from the floor, or the stairs, or the ceiling.  But each night the song is the same. Each night the voice sings that she married her love in the springtime, but by summer he’d locked her away.  Each night the voice sings about what her husband did to her, and each night the girl lies awake in bed, listening to the song, filled with terror and dread.  But even though she’s afraid, the girl is determined to find out what happened to this woman and to understand why her voice is haunting this house.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold” is just one of the dark and chilling stories in
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Booktalk: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Uninvited cover

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan starts with a dystopian premise — imagine if the government could punish you for a crime you COULD commit in the future — and then sets that story in the present rather than the future.  Both the modern-day setting and the plausibility of the premise will make this story hard for readers to forget.  This would also make a good subject for a book discussion, as readers can explore the shades of gray in the idea of guilt and innocence of various characters.

[NOTE: My first episode of the month is usually an “in depth” episode, but this month I had to switch the order around.  So stay tuned for a longer episode next week!]


Davina Hamilton’s life was just about perfect.  She was a great student, a talented musician, and her boyfriend Zac was so handsome that all the girls in school envied her.  She was a senior at an exclusive private school, and she’d already been accepted to go to Juilliard next year.

But then one day she gets a test result that changes everything.  She tests positive for HTS, Homicidal Tendency Syndrome, also known as the “kill gene.”  Even though she hasn’t killed anyone yet, she could in the future.  And for that reason, the government has decided that she is dangerous.

One by one, she starts to lose all of those things that made her life perfect.   She’s thrown out of her private school.  Her friends turn against her.  Her relationship with her boyfriend ends badly … and publicly.  Juilliard decides that she’s NOT the right kind of student after all and rejects her application.  Now everything’s changed — not just for the next few weeks or months, but for the rest of her life.

Davina will have to go to a different school, where she and the other students who tested positive will spend all day in a locked room that’s far away from all the other students.  A room called the Cage.  She doesn’t think that her life could get worse than having to spend all day locked in a room with other potential killers.  She has no idea that being singled out for a crime she hasn’t even committed is only the beginning.

Booktalk: Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret represents a couple of firsts for me.  It’s the first time I’m booktalking a title that hasn’t come out yet (but it’s going to be published in April!)  It’s also the first time I’m booktalking a title by an author who’s also an inventor (check out Tim Kehoe’s website to learn more about him, his books, and his inventions).

But let me tell you about why I picked this book out of a pile of advanced reader copies.  It’s because it had a boy protagonist, a cool cover, and an exciting story.  This would be a good choice to share with any older children and younger teens who are looking for a page-turning thriller.


Furious Jones is about to become an orphan.

His mother is already dead; she was shot three times while standing on the sidewalk in a little town called Galena.  Nobody knows who did it or why.  That was seven months ago.

Tonight his father is going to be killed.  Shot three times, just like his mother.  And just like that, Furious Jones will be an orphan.

Furious Jones is a 12-year-old boy.  He doesn’t have a lot of money, or friends, or power.  But he is determined to find out who killed his parents and why.  His first step will be finding some people he can trust, and his second step will be going to the town of Galena to find out why his mother went there, and what really happened to her.  But he needs to do this very carefully, because his parents’ killers are still out there … and he’s just one of the people whose life is in danger.

Booktalk: Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly

Missing Abby cover

First things first — isn’t the cover of this book simply awesome???  Okay, now on to the rest of the story …

I’m a fan of Missing Abby because it’s a mystery, and mysteries always draw in readers.  But it’s also a story about friendship, and leaving friends behind, and trying to reinvent yourself into someone cooler than you used to be.  And those are the kinds of issues that speak deeply to readers in general, but especially to teenagers who feel the push-and-pull of friendships more passionately than older or younger audiences.

To learn more about the wide array of books by Lee Weatherly (aka L.A. Weatherly), check out her website!


Emma and Abby used to be best friends.  They’d been inseparable since they were three years old.  They used to spend all their time together, sharing ideas and inventing fantastic stories.  But their friendship ended two years ago, when Emma made some important changes.  She changed her school, she changed her life, and she changed her friends.  She hoped that by getting away from Abby, she wouldn’t be called a freak anymore.  She wouldn’t be humiliated and tormented by bullies anymore.  It was hard at first, ignoring Abby and always pretending to be busy when she called, but eventually Abby took the hint.  Now Emma has new friends, and none of them know what a loser she used to be.

But everything changes when Abby disappears, and by coincidence, Emma is the last person to see her.  Now Emma’s new friends are going to see Abby on the news.  They’ll learn that she was a Goth, with black clothes, black eyeliner, and black fingernails.  They’ll learn that Abby was into playing Dungeons and Dragons.  And what will they think about Emma then?

And more importantly – where is Abby?  Was she kidnapped or did she run away?  Is she alive or dead?  And will Emma be able to work with Abby’s new friends to find her before it’s too late?

Booktalk: Panic by Lauren Oliver


YA novels about teenagers competing against each other are all the rage right now.  Many of them are set in dystopian worlds, like The Hunger Games, The Selection, or The Testing.  But Panic brings the spirit of competition closer to home, as the teens in this story live in the same world that we do.  Visit Lauren Oliver’s website to learn more about her books for teens, kids, and adults.


It’s the end of the school year, and there’s only one chance of escaping this dead-end town in the middle of nowhere and creating a new future for yourself.  And that’s only if you play, and WIN the game called Panic.

Every summer, the graduating seniors in the town of Carp have been competing in this game where the winner takes all the money that students have put into the Panic fund.  Whoever wins this year will get sixty-seven thousand dollars … and that’s MORE than enough money to move out of this town forever.  It’s enough to start a new life, make new friends, and forget all about what you had to do to get that money.

Panic is a competition.  The organizers come up with new challenges every year, and the players compete in these challenges in secret all around the town.  Some of these challenges are illegal, and ALL of them are dangerous.  Over the years, people have been injured or even killed because of this game.  And this year will be no exception.

Booktalk: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered cover

I’ve been a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for years.  I’ve read the original edition, I own The Annotated Alice, and I’ve enjoyed several modern-day spinoffs including the alarmingly stupendous American McGee’s Alice videogame.  And while I was reading Splintered, it quickly became one of my favorite variations on this story.  If you’re a fan of this book, you can visit A.G. Howard’s website to learn more about it, as well as the sequel Unhinged that just came out in January!


The women in Alyssa’s family had two things in common.  The first thing was that their names were all alike.  There was Alyssa, her mother Alison, her grandmother Alicia … all going back to her great-great-great grandmother Alice.  Who, when she was a little girl, told Lewis Carroll a story that he turned into a book called Alice in Wonderland.  The other thing all of these women had in common was that all of them had a history of mental illness.  In fact, Alyssa’s mother is locked up in an asylum where Alyssa and her father visit her every week.

Well, it’s one thing to have crazy people in your family.  But it’s another thing to think that you’re going crazy, too.  Ever since she was in fifth grade, Alyssa has been hearing voices.  She’s also been having nightmares about fighting for her life and losing her head in Wonderland.  But she’s afraid to tell anyone about the voices or the nightmares.  Because then they might lock her up in an asylum, just like her mother.

And then, during one of their weekly visits, Alyssa’s mother tells her that the women in their family are cursed.  She also tells Alyssa that the only way to break the curse is to go to England, find the rabbit hole that Alice used so many years ago, and return to Wonderland.

Alyssa is going to discover that not only is Wonderland real, but that it’s a dark and dangerous place.  She’s also going to learn that the women in her family weren’t so crazy after all.