Horror in the Hollywood Hills

41qdvcova2l Famous Last Words, by Katie Alender (2014)

Opening line: “Nothing glittered.”

Hollywood isn’t quite like Willa was expecting. She and her mom have recently moved across the country to live with her new movie-producer stepfather, Jonathan, deep in the Hollywood Hills. In fact, Jonathan’s mansion was once home to another Hollywood hit, late actress Diana Del Mar, whose death may or may not have happened at home. Shortly after arriving in Tinseltown, Jonathan warns Willa about a recent murder, the fourth in a line of serial killings of young actresses. But since Willa isn’t an actress, no problem, right?

In the meantime, Willa’s been dabbling in some paranormal activity. Two years ago her father died after a sudden heart attack, one Willa is pretty sure she brought on. Since then, she’s been trying to contact her father to apologize. So far, she hasn’t been able to reach him, but when strange things start happening at the Del Mar Mansion, she begins to think she may have made contact with someone else. Someone who is trying to tell her something. Someone who knows something about the Hollywood Killer.

This is not something I would usually pick up. But it’s another SC Junior Book Award nominee, and one that I’ve had three students recently tell me was “SO GOOD, MRS. PATAKY.” While I probably wouldn’t use all caps in my description, I can understand why they would. Let’s just say I only read this one at night one time, because it LITERALLY KEPT ME AWAKE THE ENTIRE NIGHT even when I put it down after about 100 pages. (School was rough the next day, ya’ll.) Although there’s nothing particularly gruesome or “too-scary-for-middle-school,” I was so creeped out by this almost the entire time. Let’s be honest, my scare threshold is pretty low (the last horror movie I watched was a good 6 years ago), but I feel like what Alender does, she does well. In very cinematic scenes, the reader is there with Willa in her terror. I seem to be in to paranormal mysteries lately (see: The Screaming Staircase, The Diviners, The Name of the Star, all of which I loved), which seems strange to me. If someone asks me what genre I like to read, I usually say historical fiction, or dystopias, or fantasy. But never paranormal mystery. Here’s to branching out, exploring and getting hooked on new genres. May your reading life never get stale!

Creepy, engrossing, although without much depth. Great to hand to that constant barrage of students who want “something scary.” 1.5 stars

An elephant-sized mystery

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult (2014)

Opening Line: “When it comes to memory, I’m kind of a pro. I may be only thirteen, but I’ve studied it the way other kids my age devour fashion magazines.”

It’s probably not a surprise that anytime I’m in an airport, I’m bound to spend at LEAST a half hour in the cramped book store, perusing all the new books. Ever since becoming a junior high librarian, my perusing shelves of books (particularly adult books) has significantly declined. All through the school year, my TBR stack is like the Mount Everest of tween and teen lit, so the only time I really peruse is in the airport! And that’s where I first read the dust jacket for Leaving Time.

Combine reliable Jodi Picoult and elephants, and you’ve got a book I will probably enjoy.

This one focuses on Jenna Metcalf, 8th grader whose mom disappeared 10 years ago after a horrible accident at the elephant sanctuary owned by her family. One woman wound up trampled and one woman (Alice, Jenna’s mom), disappeared without a trace. Since then, Jenna has been struggling to put the pieces together and find out what happened to her mom. She seeks out the help of two people: Serenity Jones, a used-to-be-famous psychic, and Virgil Stanhope, one of the former detectives on the case who has changed his name and his career path. These three misfits have a lot of questions about that night a decade ago, but the answers are not what they expected.

I was totally surprised by the twists in this book, although I had the distinct feeling that I shouldn’t have been after they happened. Summer is a great time for mysteries, I’ve decided, because you can stay up late reading/listening, and keep listening as you are doing all the mindless things you have to do in the summer, like mow the lawn (which I did for the first time tonight!), or, as I tend to do in the summer, pack up your entire life and move. I also loved learning all about the elephants, obviously. Elephants are my favorite, partly because, as she shows in this book, their personalities and emotions are so similar to humans. Jodi Picoult did a lot of research for this novel, including spending time at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. And guys, they have live Ele-Cams! Bookmark it! (Pro Tip: don’t try to watch at night, because it will be dark.)

As I said, I can always count on Jodi to pull out an emotional and heart-felt story, and this one was no exception. 2 stars

My kind of ghost story

The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star (2011)

The Madness Underneath (2013)

The Shadow Cabinet (2015)

The first book in this series, The Name of the Star, was a selection last year for our wonderful YA Bibiliobitches Book Club with my grad school besties, and after the first one, I was hooked. I just finished the third book in the series, and it was every bit as exciting as the first. In The Name of the Star, Rory Deveaux is a New Orleans-born fish out of water, brand new girl at Wexford Academy in London, after her parents move them across the pond for work. The day she arrives in the U.K. happens to coincide with a bunch of mysterious murders breaking out across the city, and they are suspiciously similar to those of the terrible Jack the Ripper of London’s past, making the media delve deep into Rippermania. Turns out though, that the main suspect is a guy that no video camera’s can pick up. A guy that only Rory can see.

There are a ton of twists and turns in this series that make it a thrilling page-turner. Add to that a likeable main character in Rory, sassy and clever, flawed and goofy. I was happily surprised to realize this wasn’t a trilogy, but an ongoing series. I will be anxiously anticipating the next installment.

2 stars