Anita Lock

Kelley Armstrong’s latest YA novel is a gripping, plausible thriller influenced by real school tragedies, but with a twist.

A mass shooting at a high school leaves four dead and 10 injured. Three years later, 16-year-old Skye Gilchrist reluctantly returns to the school that has haunted her dreams ever since. Skye’s brother was one of the shooters, and she shudders when she sees her one-time best friend Jesse Mandal walking down the hall—his brother was one of the victims. Armstrong’s dual narratives highlight two intelligent teens, desperately attempting to pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

After reconciling due to a shared class, the pair begin to search for the truth about the dreaded day that changed their lives forever. Their efforts soon uncover cryptic texts and videos, leading to a mysterious fire and a break-in at Skye’s apartment. Armstrong’s crisp writing is replete with enough foreshadowing, cliffhangers and red herrings to keep readers hooked to the very end.

A fast-paced and unnerving novel, Aftermath is a top-of-the-line read with nothing less than silver-screen potential.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Kelley Armstrong’s latest YA novel is a gripping, plausible thriller influenced by real school tragedies, but with a twist.

Love stories inspired by classic lit take center stage in these two new comedic coming-of-age teen romances. 

THE WIDE WORLD OF WEB DATING
Sixteen-year-old Emma Nash wallows in self-pity when Leon Naylor dumps her for another girl. Attempting to move on with her life, Emma shifts her private blog titled “MissH” (where she channels Miss Havisham from Great Expectations) from a place for her self-deprecating chatter to a site where she documents her chain of awkward social-media dating experiences. Complications arise when Emma begins to stalk Leon, her ex-boyfriend who ghosted her, online at the same time. As her online and real-life situations get out of hand, Emma seeks the advice of her two trusted friends, Steph and Faith, since she can’t rely on her habitually on-the-prowl mother. Amid a string of convoluted (and often hilarious) circumstances, it remains to be seen whether or not Emma can win back Leon’s affection.

Hormones and emotions run amok in this laugh-out-loud debut. Dating Disasters of Emma Nash is told in blog entries and is laced with Briticisms, teen angst and all things sarcastic, ironic and lewd. Author Chloe Seager includes a small but cosmopolitan and relatable cast to surround her white protagonist, Emma. The plot focuses on sexuality, but self-esteem and healthy relationship-building play equally important roles. A sidesplitting YA read with crossover appeal, this novel is a blast from the past for any older readers who remember obsessing to the max.

BETTER IN BOOKS
Romantic bookworm and sophomore Merrilee “Merri” Campbell is convinced that “boys are so much better in books” until she switches from an all-girls school to Hero High, an elite co-ed prep school. Although Hero High is a bit out of her caliber, Merri acclimates well to her new surroundings and makes friends fast. What she doesn’t expect is an accidental kiss from bad-boy junior Monroe Stratford that quickly throws them into a tumultuous Romeo and Juliet-style romance, but it fizzles just as quickly as it begins. The last thing Merri wants to read after breaking up with Monroe is another romantic tale. Ironically, Merri’s English teacher, Ms. Gregorie, assigns her Pride and Prejudice. While reading, Merri discovers parallels to her own life between the covers, and like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth, finds herself falling head over heels for the least likely person.

Author Tiffany Schmidt’s Bookish Boyfriends has many of the same romantic inklings and relatable characters as readers can find in Dating Disasters of Emma Nash, minus Emma’s teen angst and lewdness, and with the addition of a great cast of multicultural characters.

Love stories inspired by classic lit take center stage in these two new comedic coming-of-age teen romances. 

Everything starts with a French horn and a wish for 11-year-old Augusta “Gusta” Neubronner once she moves to Gramma Hoopes’s Orphanage in 1941.

Her papa abruptly vanished during their bus trip from New York City to see her grandmother at her orphanage, leaving her to fend for herself until Gramma Hoope takes her in. Gusta can’t help but apply what she’s learned from her activist father and his connections with immigrant workers and union organizers when she learns of an uncle who’s out of work and can’t pay for a factory-related surgery. Her good intentions—including plans to sell her beloved French horn for cash as a last resort—are met with opposition, and soon Gusta has even more to contemplate when she learns of buried secrets that could threaten her grandmother’s orphanage.

Inspired by Nesbet’s mother’s childhood, The Orphan Band of Springdale is a story filled with thought-provoking metaphors and a host of colorful characters. Nesbet’s narrative has a lilting quality that makes her storytelling both unique and attractive, and young readers will appreciate her well-rounded characters as well as a small but highly engaging group of antagonists. Nesbet also incorporates factual information of the era to highlight relevant themes of injustice, immigration and the labor movement. The Orphan Band of Springdale is a heartwarming and educational read.

Everything starts with a French horn and a wish for 11-year-old Augusta “Gusta” Neubronner once she moves to Gramma Hoopes’s Orphanage in 1941.

Tensions—sexual and otherwise—run high between two stubborn people with shadowy pasts in the final installment of Lori Foster’s Body Armor series.

Sahara Silver took over Body Armor, a boutique protection agency, after her brother Scott’s death. While building up her roster of bodyguards, Sahara recruits Brand Berry, a professional MMA fighter with a cocky attitude. Even though their physical chemistry is magnetic from the start, he turns down her attempt to take things from the professional to the personal. But when Sahara is kidnapped, Brand immediately leaps into action to rescue her, and the pair must finally confront the connection between them.

Foster’s fourth and last installment of the Body Armor series is a sensual and action-packed romance. As much as Sahara and Brand are attracted to one another, their unresolved issues with family and grief provide realistic obstacles to a possible relationship. But although her narrative is riddled with danger and mystery, the undeniable connection between Foster’s antagonists is the beating heart of her latest novel. Fast Burn offers a satisfying close to this riveting and steamy series.

Tensions—sexual and otherwise—run high between two stubborn people with shadowy pasts in the final installment of Lori Foster’s Body Armor series.

It’s a battle between corporate avarice and Wild Magic in The Boggart Fights Back, the third installment of Susan Cooper’s Boggart series.

It’s been five years since Allie and Jay Cameron visited their Granda in Scotland. The twin siblings are in for an adventure of mythic proportions soon after their arrival. William Trout and his monstrous corporation intend to convert the Loch Linnhe area—including Castle Keep, Granda’s store and his family home—into a luxury resort. Wasting no time, Trout’s crew sets to work by clearcutting ancient trees. Even though the whole Cameron family and the magical Boggart of Castle Keep, along with his cousin, the Loch Ness monster, get involved to put a stop to the disastrous demolition, all of their efforts are in vain—until Allie and Jay discover the truth about Trout’s plans. That’s when the real magic begins.

We then meet the Old Things: the Caointeach, Each Uisge, the Blue Men of the Minch, and the dreaded Nuckelavee. Newbery Medal winner Cooper has created another shape-shifting adventure with these mythical creatures, right in the heart of Loch Linnhe’s breathtaking landscape. Punctuated with all things Scottish, Cooper draws her middle grade audience into a fast-paced plot replete with lilting dialogue, Gaelic phrases, traditional songs, and “the defiant regular beat of a drum.” The Boggart Fights Back is an appealing read that provides readers with an appreciation for the environment and a chance to learn a bit about Scotland’s mythology in the process.

It’s a battle between corporate avarice and Wild Magic in The Boggart Fights Back, the third installment of Susan Cooper’s Boggart series.

Sibling rivalry looms over an unexpected romance in Want You, Stacy Finz’s next installment in the Garner Brothers series.

Deb Bennett is in a fiscal dilemma and seeks the savvy expertise of TJ Garner, the CEO of his family-run touring company, Garner Adventure (GA). TJ’s solution is to hire Deb as GA’s retail store executive. TJ has harbored a longtime crush on Deb, even though she’s had a long-running on-and-off relationship with TJ’s youngest brother, Win. But Deb and Win aren’t currently an item, and suddenly Deb finds the idea of getting to know TJ more attractive. It doesn’t take long before romance enters the scene, providing a ray of hope for Deb’s romantic future until unresolved sibling issues interfere. The situation escalates when the company becomes embroiled in a lawsuit, and Deb finds out that she may be out of a job.

Engaging banter and realistic relational tension help Want You stand out from the host of small-town romances. Finz has created four confident, intriguing brothers whose friendly jabbing and straight talk reflect the deep respect they have for one another. They are not without their issues, though, as Finz eventually reveals both TJ and Win have lingering scars from competing against each other as professional skiers. Amid a handful of sudden injuries and business backlashes, Finz balances tense moments with charming family scenes and the sweet, mature relationship between Deb and TJ. Want You is another satisfying story in Finz’s warm-and-fuzzy romance series.

Sibling rivalry looms over an unexpected romance in Want You, Stacy Finz’s next installment in the Garner Brothers series.

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