Some of the story covers familiar terrain, but bonus dramatic and paranormal elements give this winsome tale flavor.

The Ghost Chronicles

From the The Ghost Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In this YA supernatural debut, a teen’s death renders him a ghost, who finds romance, confronts demons, and wonders why his soul, unlike so many others, hasn’t moved on.

Eighteen-year-old Michael Andrews has a lot going for him. Co-captain of his high school basketball team, he’s set to play at the University of Pittsburgh, where his girlfriend, Melissa, will join him. He certainly couldn’t have anticipated his highway car accident, but is truly shocked when his spirit separates from his now-lifeless body. Invisible to family, he wanders to recognizable places until finally meeting Tom, another ghost. Tom teaches Michael about his spectral capabilities, like telepathic links with both the living and dead, and tells of the Elders, who essentially govern ghosts. The afterlife doesn’t seem so bad once Michael befriends and ultimately falls for Sarah McConnell, who’s been haunting a historical bed-and-breakfast for decades. But despite all of Tom’s help, Michael feels sure that his phantom pal is hiding something. Soon Michael has a run-in with a bona-fide demon who marks him, which, according to Tom, means the devil finds the teen a particularly important soul. Michael’s tormented by guilt over Melissa, especially with his newfound love for Sarah. But while he struggles to keep Sarah safe from demons’ relentless pursuit, he’s determined to know why he’s “stuck” in his phantasmal state. Much of the book doesn’t stray far from convention: Michael, transparent, can be sensed by babies and animals, and gradually learns how to catch the living’s attention (for example, moving objects). But Berliner’s touches give her novel innovation, including real-world connections, from events (Tom died during 9/11) to myriad late celebrities and historical figures whom Michael spots. There are likewise ghosts of creatures that aren’t necessarily human, as well as vampires, whose depravity, perhaps not surprisingly, is comparable to demons. Michael’s journey even entails a moral dilemma: he realizes too late that he should abide by the Elders’ rule of not interfering with the living when he believes Melissa’s in danger. Nevertheless, readers may be as frustrated as Michael when the ever-evasive Tom answers few questions, saving most explanations for the sequel.

Some of the story covers familiar terrain, but bonus dramatic and paranormal elements give this winsome tale flavor.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9969724-1-3

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Teddy Blue Books

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2016

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A clever series starter sure to leave readers wanting more Peas and Hambone adventures.

Peas And Hambone Versus Flesh-Eating Zombie Gorillas

A boy and his dog face off against a horde of zombie gorillas in this action-packed adventure by debut author Nichols.

Peter, whose nickname is “Peas,” is an ordinary 10-year-old kid with an extraordinary dog named Hambone. The dog walks and talks like a human but only when he’s alone with Peas, and he gives Hobbes (of Bill Watterson’s famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) a run for his money. Snarky troublemaker Hambone is determined to get even with a gorilla who threw “dirt” at him, so he and Peter break into the zoo early one morning. As they try to determine which gorilla is Hambone’s nemesis, they stumble upon an evil plot: One of the gorillas (whom Peas nicknames “Evil Doctor Crazy Gorilla”) gives the other gorillas a smoky green potion that turns them into zombies. Peas and Hambone are the only ones who stand between humanity and the zombie gorilla incursion, aside from crazy Mr. Oswalt, who’s so obsessed with World War I that he pilots a Sopwith Camel biplane around the neighborhood, and the Mama’s Boys biker gang, which fights with foam swords and squirt guns. Peas, who’s seen a lot of scary movies, knows that where there’s a potion, there must be an antidote. Hambone, who suffered a “childhood trauma involving the movie King Kong,” has a serious hatred of gorillas and zombies, and he comes up with the plan that eventually leads them to the mad scientist’s lair. Peas and Hambone’s first outing, full of chase scenes, absurd combat, cross-dressing and gross-out humor, is a madcap adventure sure to appeal to fans of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The vocabulary and pacing are well-suited to reluctant readers, and Nichols’ silly, coined phrases (such as “whup-butt” and “Oh-my-shnippies!”) are catchy enough that kids might adopt them.

A clever series starter sure to leave readers wanting more Peas and Hambone adventures.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-87100-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: SecretSquirrel Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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An unevenly executed high school drama, but one that addresses important social issues.

A HIGH SCHOOL NOTHING

In Cliett’s (More Than Friends, 2016, etc.) YA novel, a high school “nothing” becomes something that she never expected.

The initially unnamed protagonist is a high school loner who feels uninspired. She recently lost her father to suicide, which left her and her mother broke and living in a trailer park, referred to by one character as “The Land of Broken Dreams.” At school, she notes, “Kids and teachers act like I don’t exist,” which she begins to believe herself—until she meets an older high school boy on her bus nicknamed “Nietzsche.” He wears all black, reads philosophy books, and the seat beside him is always empty. Intrigued by their shared marginalization, the girl makes it her mission to learn more about him. She follows him around and spends hours poring over philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s works—an exercise that she enjoys, much to her surprise. Eventually, she finds enough courage to speak to the boy, who invites her to join his underground philosophy club. This club stokes her newfound academic passion and gives her a sense of belonging and identity; the members even give her a new nickname: “Socrates.” Not long after Socrates joins, however, the club takes a dark, serious turn: the members, a gaggle of students “outside the school’s social order,” decide to pursue an aggressive anti-bullying campaign involving a fake bomb scare. Cliett’s novel does do some important work in humanizing its young outcasts as they’re moved to extremes over the course of the story, and it effectively highlights how vulnerable teenagers can be to social structures that threaten their senses of self. However, the novel’s overall craftsmanship feels substandard; the characters, though conceptually interesting, are blandly written, and a sudden assault of plot twists at the end of the story has a slapdash feel. The swiftness with which Socrates finds a sense of resolve following a gruesome tragedy is also unrealistic.

An unevenly executed high school drama, but one that addresses important social issues.

Pub Date: June 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5464-2630-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2018

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