Category Archives: Thriller

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

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Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson ISBN: 9780399256615

**Note: This is a review of the Netgalley prepublished edition, which I was very pleased to get approved for.**

Plot Summary: The second installation in the Shades of London series finds Rory healing from the near fatal wounds she experienced after fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat on the streets of London. She struggles with not only her physical wounds but her emotional state, at least according to her therapist. She’s rather bored of being cooped up and longs to go back to school to see her boyfriend Stephen, and friends on the secret ghost police squad. But when she returns, she finds that things are different; she is behind in all of her classes and can’t seem to bring herself to do homework, and the spark that used to be there with Stephen seems to be flickering. Then she gets wind of murders happening near the grounds of her boarding school and decides to investigate further. And a classmate suggests a new therapist for Rory, who seems to make Rory feel at ease, but there’s something not quite right about her.

Critical Evaluation: The book seems to divide literary elements to character development in the first half and plot in the second. However, since this is the second book in the series, character development is somewhat limited to exploring Rory’s somewhat fragile mental state. She indicates that she feels fine, but upon her return to school, it becomes more clear through her disinterest in schoolwork and flashbacks in particular places of great significance that she is still struggling with what happened.

The plot development of the second half is truthfully more interesting to me, though some parts seem too slow, and others too rushed. The first murder takes place at the beginning of the book, but isn’t discussed much until the second half rolls around. And I think the idea of unhinged mental patient ghosts, but it isn’t much explored beyond the first murder that I can recall. Perhaps they will return to this in the third installment. I think that investigation is cut short by Rory’s involvement with the new therapist, and without revealing too much of the ending, even this conflict is wrapped up rather neatly, though there is a suggestion that it will return in the third book as well. I did find this book an enjoyable read, and will read the third installment, though I hope it can more fully explore some of the avenues presented in this middle book.

Reader’s Annotation: Not much time has passed since Rory nearly died fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat killer who turned out to be a ghost. Is she ready to tackle another case as people near her London boarding school start dying mysteriously as well?

Information about the author: Maureen Johnson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Delaware for a degree in writing, as well as the Colombia University for the Arts to study theatrical dramaturgy and writing. As a graduate student she held many jobs, like working in a haunted house themed restaurant, working on a show in Las Vegas, and being a fake employee for a company so it would look like they had more employees.

She now lives in New York City. The Name of the Star, the first book in this series, came out in 2011 and was nominated for an Edgar award. Many of the adventures that characters in her books face are based on real-life stories.

Genre: Thriller, Horror

Curriculum ties, if any: None.

Booktalking Ideas: By this point in the series, that ghosts exist and can kill people has been established, so I would build on the angry ghosts and secret squad of police officers that Rory works with.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Rory is a high school senior in this book, but it is generally a rather tame read, besides the murder. Still, I think there is enough appeal for an older reader as well. School Library Journal suggests this book for readers in 7th grade and higher, and Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for readers 12 years old and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For the most part, the best reason to have this book is to meet the recreational needs of patrons. However, the first part of the book that details Rory’s therapy and struggling with a near death experience could be helpful for those who have experienced something similar.

Why did you include this book? : I loved the first book in the series, and don’t normally read books in the thriller genre, so it helps to round out my collection.

Reference Page:

Johnson, M. (2013). About page on Maureen Johnson website. Retrieved from www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/about/

Maureen Johnson Author page. Goodreads. Retrieved from www.goodreads.com/author/show/10317.Maureen_Johnson

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Au Revoir Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

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Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber ISBN: 9780547577388

Plot Summary: Perry is not really looking forward to his senior prom. His mom is making him take Gobi, the awkward foreign exchange student who’s been living in his house the whole year. But it’s clear pretty early on into the night that Gobi is not interested in dancing the night away. She’s actually a trained assassin, and remarkably cute! She’s chosen Perry as her getaway driver throughout the city as she hits her many targets. Will Perry find out why she’s doing this? More importantly, can he keep himself and his family safe as the night goes on and he gets deeper into Gobi’s world?

Critical Evaluation: The plot of this story is the main concentration. There is some time spent developing Perry and Gobi’s characters especially, and slightly less time developing Perry’s family, but this seems to be done to give reasoning to move the action along. We learn what Gobi’s motivation, which allows us to better understand why she is killing all these people, and to a certain extent, why she has involved Perry. There are ways in which this part of the story strains credulity, but in terms of action and adventure stories, this is in line with most others in that sense.

The language was also an element I noticed. Perry is American, while Gobi is Lithuanian and originally introduced to be dumpy and somewhat struggling in English. Both are revealed to be false as she demonstrates throughout the night an impressive command of the language, while her more formal English does differentiate her from Perry. There are quite a few predictable turns in the story; Perry’s family is roped into the drama and he must save them, Perry’s band missing their “big break” and instead getting to play for a record exec, as well as Gobi’s commandeering of Perry and his father’s car turns into a romance that promises a second book. But I don’t want to sound like I didn’t enjoy the book. It was very enjoyable, for me, in an action movie sort of way.

Reader’s Annotation: Perry’s awkward foreign exchange student date to the prom turns out to be a trained assassin. Can he live this down at school, and more importantly, will he make it through the night alive?

Information about the author: Joe Schreiber was born in 1969 in Michigan. Before the age of 10, he lived in Alaska, Wyoming, and California. He graduated from University of Michigan and continued to move; since then he has lived in LA, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, and Martha’s Vineyard.

He has held a variety of jobs, from being a pet sitter, an office boy, working at several different Borders, to his current position as an MRI tech at Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA. Joe has been writing seriously since he was 13 years old. Since then, he has written many books, including several Star Wars and horror books.

Genre: Adventure

Curriculum ties, if any: Though this is a rather light read, it could be used to promote intercultural exchange.

Booktalking Ideas: I’d ask teens to think about what normally happens at a prom. Then I would bring up what happens on Perry’s prom night: running across the city, helping an assassin, knowing that your family is in danger, thinking that this assassin is kinda cute…

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is a senior in high school. School Library Journal recommends the book for grades 8-11, and Publisher’s Weekly for teens ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • violence
  • language

Defense strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For this title, I would argue that it meets the recreational needs of patrons.

Why did you include this book?: I’d heard that this was an enjoyable read, and the concept of a funny thriller intrigued me.

Reference Page:

Supernatural Fridays: Interview: Joe Schreiber (2010). Innsmouth Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/blog/?p=7301

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

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I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, 2012, ISBN: 9780316125840

Plot Summary: Jazz has never lived the life of an ordinary teen. His father was a prolific serial killer who raised Jazz to follow in his footsteps, until four years ago when he was finally caught and put behind bars. But Jazz’s problems don’t end there. Now he fends off nosy reporters, takes care of his senile and sometimes dangerous grandmother, tries to stay out of a foster home, and deals with his own complicated relationship with violence. Then someone starts replicating his father’s crimes and Jazz feels compelled to find the killer, even if it puts himself, his hemophiliac best friend, and his girlfriend in harm’s way.

Critical Evaluation: This book was engrossing and difficult to put down. Characters are well thought out, complex, and sympathetic (with the exception of the nosy reporter perhaps). Jazz seems totally believable, as someone struggling with not only being a teenager, but also what he has been taught by his father and his own dangerous urges. The book focuses more on Jazz struggling with his internal drama at the beginning, but there is plenty of plot development to keep the story moving. There is one element of character that left me confused: at one point, Jazz talks about how he could never hurt his girlfriend, Connie, for some specific reason that was not necessarily romantic, though I never felt like that reason was fully developed. Perhaps the sequel would shed more light on that.

As the reader is drawn into Jazz’s inner turmoil they are also drawn into the drama unfolding in his town. For me, I’d say character development played a primary role, but was closely followed by plot and the rising action that takes place as Jazz works to solve the mystery. It becomes more and more difficult to put the book down the further into the story gets, as murders keep happening and Jazz continues to unearth clues to find the killer.

As far as expert reviews go, Kirkus says, “Readers of Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver novels (I Am Not a Serial Killer, 2010, etc.) will find echoes of them here, though the writing is not as tight and the creep factor is lower. Also, the certain-sequel open ending is a bit of a letdown.” I will say that I wished for a more conclusive ending to the story, but will be happy to continue on the journey for at least one more book.

Reader’s Annotation: Jazz’s serial killer father is behind bars, but someone is recreating his crimes. The whole town suspects Jazz, so he must expose the killer himself, but what if some of his own violent tendencies surface in the process?

Information about the author: Barry Lyga is the author of many young adult novels, such as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Mangaman. He was born in 1971 in Southbridge, Massachusetts. As a child and teen, he was obsessed with comic books, even though the adults around him discouraged that interest.

He majored in English at Yale, where he looked at comic books from an academic standpoint. He then went on to work for Diamond Comic Distributors. He now lives in New York. His first book was published in 2006 and his writing is highly regarded by critics and teens alike.

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Curriculum ties, if any: None.

Booktalking Ideas: I think this book would fit well with other creepy ones, especially the Shades of London series (the first book is also about a copycat killer) and could be construed as mystery as well. I would also highlight the friendship between Jazz and Howie, as well as their quirky humor.

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 17, and there are somewhat detailed descriptions of murder victims, so I would recommend this for more mature readers. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus recommend this title for 15 year olds and up. School Library Journal and Booklist list it as appropriate for grades 9-12.

Challenge Issues:

  • violence
  • some sexual situations

Defense strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For “I Hunt Killers”, I would argue that this is an important title to have in the collection because it presents insight into how people struggle with doing the right thing and giving in to urges. I also gained insight into the way a serial killer thinks, so I think it might give the reader a heightened awareness of potential warning signs and maybe keep them safer. It’s also an empowering story, that demonstrates what a teen is capable of accomplishing, but it doesn’t glorify disobeying adults; Jazz faces a lot of danger and gets in trouble quite a few times for his involvement.

Why did you include this book? : This title is a thriller and mystery, so it represents the broad spectrum of genres in YA fiction. I also appreciate that it deals with a teen struggling with emotional issues and the scars left behind by a very troubling childhood.