February 2020, Fiction

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. October 8, 2019. Flatiron Books, 458 p. ISBN: 9781250313072.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The mesmerizing adult debut from Leigh Bardugo, a tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Mild sexual themes, Sexual assault, Strong language, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Bestselling YA author (and Yale alum) Bardugo’s first adult novel follows Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a survivor who has won a place at Yale because of her ability to see ghosts. She’s the newest initiate of Lethe, the ninth of the university’s notorious secret societies, responsible for oversight whenever magical rituals are conducted by the other eight. As Lethe’s new Dante, Alex is supposed to learn how all the societies operate, make sure they’re not breaking the rules, keep ghosts from interrupting arcane rites, and take a full load of courses and keep up the appearance of being a normal first year student. Then Alex’s mentor disappears and a townie with connections to several societies is murdered. Alex’s violent past hasn’t necessarily prepared her for the academic and arcane rigors of Yale, but she finds she is admirably suited to the role of tenacious detective as she works to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. This atmospheric contemporary novel steeped in the spirit of a mystical New Haven is part mystery, part story of a young woman finding purpose in a dark world, and is the first in a potential series.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2019)
Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story. Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who’s a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt. With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

About the Author

Leigh Bardugo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of fantasy novels and the creator of the Grishaverse (coming soon to Netflix) which spans the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, the Six of Crows Duology, The Language of Thorns, and King of Scars—with more to come. Her short stories can be found in multiple anthologies, including the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. Her other works include Wonder Woman: Warbringer and Ninth House(Goodreads Choice Winner for Best Fantasy 2019) which is being developed for television by Amazon Studios.

Leigh was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Southern California, and graduated from Yale University. These days she lives and writes in Los Angeles.

Her website is leighbardugo.com.

Teacher Resources

Ninth House on Common Sense Media

Ninth House Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Ninth House on Amazon

Ninth House on Barnes and Noble

Ninth House on Goodreads

Ninth House on LibraryThing

Ninth House Publisher Page

December 2019, Fiction

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall. September 24, 2019. Viking, 402 p. ISBN: 9781984837011.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy’s game isn’t for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose….

Sara’s sister disappeared one year ago–and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road that leads to her. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy’s road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it’s real, and she’s going to find it.

When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid.

Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her.

And Lucy is waiting.

Potentially Sensitive Areas:Strong language, Violence, Mention of underage drinking, Mention of suicide, Domestic abuse

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2019)
What happened to Becca Donoghue? Sara Donoghue never believed the rumors that her sister, Becca, simply ran away from home with her boyfriend. Becca had been obsessed with Lucy Gallows, the ghost from the 1950s who allegedly haunts their town, and the mysterious road that Lucy traveled on before she disappeared. Before Becca vanished too, the last thing Sara overheard her say was “We know where the road is. We’ve got the keys. That’s all we need to find her. I’m not backing down now. Not after everything we’ve done to get this close.” As the one-year anniversary of Becca’s disappearance approaches, Sara becomes desperate to discover what happened and how it may be related to the real Lucy. The setup is slow and complicated, with many diverse characters, relationships, and supernatural rules. While normally something to be celebrated, this diverse cast feels forced and inauthentic, like moons orbiting the main white protagonist, Sara (Becca is Asian—her ethnicity is never specified—and adopted). When the plot eventually picks up its pace, the story becomes quite engrossing and cleverly moves between its many narrators, characters, and plot twists. If readers can move past the long-winded and complicated setup, they will enjoy this mashup of The X-Files and the The Blair Witch Project, but those seeking a handy conclusion will likely be disappointed. A mixed bag for patient older teens. (Mystery. 15-18)

Publishers Weekly (September 16, 2019)
Local legend holds that the nearby woods are home to the ghost of Lucy Gallows, who vanished decades ago outside Briar Glen, Mass. While searching for Lucy, Sara Donoghue’s sister, Becca, disappeared a year earlier. Now, mysterious texts point Sara and her friends on the same harrowing journey in hopes of finding Becca. Traveling a supernatural road through a deadly darkness, they enter a world filled with myriad terrors and dangers, where breaking the rules leads to a horrible fate. In this chilling tale, Marshall (I Am Still Alive) ties together regional folklore, urban legends, and ghost stories to craft an exquisitely unsettling dark fantasy. Framed as a series of post-incident interviews and supplemented with found camera footage, videos, and texts, this multilayered, unpredictable nail-biter reveals the truth one fragment at a time. The characters, including queer, racially diverse, and variously abled teens, are well-developed, amplifying readers’ engagement in the high stakes. The nightmarish setting, frequent surprises, and inherent ambiguity will appeal to fans of Seanan McGuire’s books. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Kate Alice Marshall started writing before she could hold a pen properly, and never stopped. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a chaotic menagerie of pets and family members, and ventures out in the summer to kayak and camp along Puget Sound. I Am Still Alive was her YA debut, followed by Rules for Vanishing.

Her website is katemarshallbooks.com.

Around the Web

Rules for Vanishing on Amazon

Rules for Vanishing on Barnes and Noble

Rules for Vanishing on Goodreads

Rules for Vanishing on LibraryThing

Rules for Vanishing Publisher Page

December 2019, Fiction

The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King. September 10, 2019. Scribner, 561 p. ISBN: 9781982110567.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of ItThe Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

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

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Over a prolific 40-year writing career most authors only dream about, King has turned almost every one of his novels into a bestseller on the strength of his ability to create sympathetic protagonists facing life-threatening and often otherworldly challenges. Following the tender and mysterious fable, Elevation (2018), King’s latest supernatural yarn stays true to his signature focus by featuring a 12-year-old genius named Luke Ellis who’s kidnapped and transported to a secret facility known simply as the Institute. As the shock of capture wears off, Luke discovers his fellow inmates are all other adolescents like himself with latent psychic powers—powers that are exploited and enhanced by a team of abusive researchers. When Luke befriends a disenchanted housekeeper, he quickly seizes the opportunity to escape and reveal the Institute’s undertakings to the outside world. King devotees will, of course, devour this latest suspenseful page-turner, but any reader looking for a smart thriller about an unusual black ops organization will find this compelling and rewarding. With his usual blend of plot twists and vividly drawn characters, King remains at the top of his game. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Abducted psychic teens, a black ops mission, and narrative magnetism ensure the usual King fever. Be prepared.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie. Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was”). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps. King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than sixty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The InstituteElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (cowritten with his son Owen King), and the Bill Hodges trilogy: End of WatchFinders Keepers, and Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and an AT&T Audience Network original television series). His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures, with It now the highest grossing horror film of all time. He is the recipient of the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award, the 2014 National Medal of Arts, and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.  His website is www.stephenking.com.

Around the Web

The Institute on Amazon

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The Institute on Goodreads

The Institute on LibraryThing

The Institute Publisher Page

December 2019, Fiction

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdeih

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdeih. October 8, 2019. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 425 p. ISBN: 9781524738174.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans is a safe haven after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent in the middle of the carnival season, Celine is quickly enraptured by the vibrant city, from its music to its fancy soirées and even its danger. She becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s enigmatic leader, Sébastien Saint Germain.

When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in Sébastien’s own lair–the second dead girl to turn up in recent weeks–Celine battles her attraction to Sébastien and suspicions about his guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

After a third murder, New Orleans becomes gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose–one who has now set Celine in his sights. As the murderer stalks her, Celine finally takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself caught in the midst of an age-old feud between the darkest creatures of the night, where the price of forbidden love is her life.

Part of Series: The Beautiful (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Sexual assault, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist (August 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. When Celine arrives in New Orleans fresh from Paris, she’s looking for a new start. It’s 1872, and options for a woman alone are limited, but Celine, who has dark secrets in her past, is determined to find a way. Celine finds herself falling in love with New Orleans, which, in the middle of carnival season, has a wild, seductive beauty. But the city has its dangers: Celine meets Bastien, a man she is attracted to but resists, who is at the forefront of a mysterious group active in the city’s underworld. And a vicious serial killer begins stalking the city—one who drains the blood of his victims . . . one who may not be entirely human. Eventually Celine catches his eye, but he doesn’t know what’s in her past. Ahdieh (Flame in the Mist, 2017) kick-starts the vampire story with a series opener that, while it owes more to Interview with the Vampire than it does to Twilight, is all its own. An action-packed third act and a final reveal will have readers grasping for the sequel.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2019)
Forbidden love is tested by suspicion and murder in this latest addition to YA vampire lore. Celine Rousseau, a French and Asian (mother’s exact origins unknown) seamstress, sails from Europe to America in hopes of leaving her shadowy past behind. En route, she bonds with Pippa, a white English émigrée, and both girls find refuge in an Ursuline convent. Celine’s talent as a couturier leads to a commission from Odette, a beautiful member of the opulent-yet-mysterious Cour des Lions, where students of the occult practice their craft unmolested. Before long, Celine is swept up in a world of mystical forces centering around Sébastien Saint Germain, an enigmatic aristocrat to whom she is irresistibly attracted. When a fellow convent member is found murdered, Celine suspects all her acquaintances, including Sébastien. The novel, wading into the waters of forbidden romance between teenage girl and hunky immortal vampire previously navigated by Buffy Summers and Bella Swan, feels less magical than it should despite the lush Victorian-era New Orleans setting. At times the mounting attraction between Bastien and Celine is told rather than shown, which makes the central relationship feel forced rather than organic and passion filled. Ahdieh (Smoke in the Sun, 2018, etc.) brings New Orleans vibrantly to life, particularly when exploring the complicated racial and gender restrictions of high society through main and supporting characters of mixed-race origin. Sure to please fans of the author and of the vampire-romance genre. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

About the Author

Renée Ahdieh is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog. She is the author of Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun as well as the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger.

Her website is www.reneeahdieh.com

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Fiction, Graphic Novel, November 2019

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist by David Almond. September 10, 2019. Candlewick, 80 p. ISBN: 9781536201604.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

There’s a poltergeist in Joe Quinn’s house, and Davie is determined to discover its source in this lively, hopeful graphic storybook from David Almond and Dave McKean.

Joe Quinn has been telling everyone about the poltergeist in his house, but no one believes him. No one, that is, except Davie. Davie’s felt the inexplicable presence in the Quinns’ house and seen random objects fly through the air. And there’s something else . . . a memory of Davie’s beloved sister and a feeling deep down that it might just be possible for ghosts to exist. Full of thoughts of hauntings and grief and God, Davie hovers on a precipice of uncertainty and possibility, a space that storyteller David Almond occupies comfortably and returns to again and again — here paired once more with the dynamic, dreamlike mixed-media art of Dave McKean.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Underage drinking, Underage smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. During a school holiday, Joe Quinn won’t stop talking about the poltergeist that’s haunting his house: breaking windows, smashing dishes—typical ghost mischief. His latest update to Geordie and unbelieving Davie (the story’s narrator) ends with an invitation to dinner, so they can see the poltergeist in action. To Davie’s dismay, Geordie accepts, and the friends convene at the Quinns’ table for an oppressively bizarre meal, where chips and slices of buttered bread periodically fly through the air and noises crash from upstairs. By the end of the visit, the pair’s positions have reversed, with Geordie convinced Joe is behind everything, and Davie feeling shaken and entertaining the possibility that the specter is real. This throws Joe into an existential funk, expertly rendered in McKean’s dark, mixed-media illustrations, where overlapping, scribbled sketches embody confusion and conflict, jarring collages evoke an unsettled atmosphere, and negative space echoes absence and haunting memories. Joe navigates his inner turmoil, including grief and religious confusion, forming earnest revelations about life’s poltergeists (i.e., disruptions) and finding peace.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2019)
A newly illustrated edition of Almond’s psychologically acute tale of ghosts and grief in a small British town. Originally published in the autobiographical Half a Creature From the Sea (2015), the atmospheric narrative is placed within equally shadowed, evocative scenes, sepia sketches alternating with painterly, often nightmarishly jumbled portraits or visions. Wounded souls battling tides of anger and loss abound: from inwardly focused narrator Davie, still hurting in the wake of his baby sister’s death, to the people around him, notably Joe Quinn, a mercurial youth with a dad in jail, a giddy mum, and, he claims, a household poltergeist. In the end the author leaves it to readers to decide whether the “ghost” is real or just Joe, but after a vicious fight with Joe followed by a bit of shared moon-gazing, Davie’s initial skepticism is transformed to a deeper feeling that has something of empathy to it: “I know the poltergeist is all of us, raging and wanting to scream and to fight and to start flinging stuff; to smash and to break.” The art amplifies the characteristically dark, rich tones of Almond’s prose all the way to a final Dylan Thomas–style promise that “the world and all that’s in it will continue to…hold us in its darkness and its light.” The cast is a presumed white one. A keen collaboration moving seamlessly between worlds inner and outer, natural and supernatural. (Graphic novella. 12-16)

About the Author

David Almond is a British children’s writer who has penned several novels, each one to critical acclaim. He was born and raised in Felling and Newcastle in post-industrial North East England and educated at the University of East Anglia. When he was young, he found his love of writing when some short stories of his were published in a local magazine. He started out as an author of adult fiction before finding his niche writing literature for young adults.

His works are highly philosophical and thus appeal to children and adults alike. Recurring themes throughout include the complex relationships between apparent opposites (such as life and death, reality and fiction, past and future); forms of education; growing up and adapting to change; the nature of ‘the self’. He has been greatly influenced by the works of the English Romantic poet William Blake.

Almond currently lives with his family in Northumberland, England. His website is www.davidalmond.com.

Around the Web

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on Amazon

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Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist on Goodreads

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