The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

Note the use of the word "dark" in the title of Robin Wassterman's latest THE WAKING DARK. It's there for a reason.

This is a dark book. It begins on what seems to be an ordinary day, when five people in a small Kansas town inexplicably commit murder -- and then kill themselves.

Only one suicide is unsuccessful. The five murders seem to have no connection to each other. There are no apparent motives. And the surviving murderer doesn't remember a thing. Something dark is stirring in this town.

No one can explain what happened on "the killing day" but it haunts the entire populace, in particular, the five teenagers most closely involved with those who died. As the town sinks deeper into whatever sickness has taken hold, another tragedy strikes. The government steps in, sealing off the town from the outside world. But are they there to help or the cause of the mass hysteria infecting nearly everyone?

Told through alternating perspectives from the five teenagers, THE WAKING DARK demonstrates Wasserman's sharp talent for storytelling. This cover could easily have had the name Stephen King on the cover -- Wasserman channels him so perfectly here, in both her character development and horrific, edge-of-your-seat suspense. The intensity doesn't ease, page after page, and I flew through the story so quickly, I found myself wishing I'd taken more time. Then again, it means I'll enjoy a second read even more.


These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

You’re the richest girl in the galaxy. Like, the actual galaxy. Your daddy has built an empire prepping planets that can only be reached by star ship and light speed for habitation. Travel between these worlds on space ships big enough to hold a city (think Wall-E) is commonplace. Think you might be JUST a tad spoiled?

Lilac LaRoux isn’t the typical rich girl everyone thinks she is, but this privileged heiress is about to find out just how easy she’s always had things.

In THESE BROKEN STARS (Hyperion, hardback/Listening Library, audiobook, both 2013), co-authors Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner create a futuristic world that’s easy to picture. At first, they populate it with two-dimensional characters who would be right at home in 1985, 2014 or a thousand years in the future. Mean girls will be mean girls, after all. Then Lilac meets Tarver Merendsen, a war hero celebrity who approaches her in the Icarus’s dining room.

Lilac isn’t sure what to think about this guy who doesn’t seem to know who she is, but if her father gets wind of Tarver’s flirtations, Lilac knows exactly what it will mean for Tarver. She’s doing him a favor by refusing his advances. But when some kind of malfunction yanks the Icarus out of light speed too soon, she and Tarver are the only ones of the 50,000 aboard to survive the ensuing catastrophic disaster.

Both the Icarus and their escape pod crash-lands on the nearest planet — which seems to be completely uninhabited. (Or is it? Hmmmmm.)

Survival means working together. Putting aside their differences. And traveling across the expanse of planet in search of a way off. Not surprisingly, romance blossoms and soon, the two aren’t sure if they want to go home at all. Especially after they discover the secrets hidden away on this abandoned planet — secrets no one was ever supposed to find.

YA science fiction in the vein of THE LUNAR CHRONICLES, this first book in The Starbound Trilogy uses alternate first person POV, sprinkled with short inserts of Tarver’s post-story interrogation. The combination keeps the suspense taut. While the relationship tension gets annoying at times, and the ultimate acceptance of romance is obvious from the start, the story is intriguing and the twists are numerous.

Companion books are set to follow. The trilogy will definitely appeal to fans of Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, and Jodi Meadows.


WINGER by Andrew Smith

I have a problem with this book. It’s a good problem, at least, from the author’s point-of-view, because this problem had me thinking about his book for quite some time.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to post my thoughts about WINGER (Simon and Schuster for Young Readers, 2013) by Andrew Smith for a few weeks now. I don’t want to deal in spoilers, and to fully explain my problem with the book would involve a rather spoilery one.

So, I've decided to avoid as much as possible. Even though I'm aching to rant. But, this blog is about the joy I get from sharing books I’ve read (or listened to), ones I’ve connected with and think should be enjoyed by as many readers as possible. It’s the cyber equivalent of me gushing with a friend or co-worker (something I do quite frequently, just ask them). You might say I’m a book pusher, and I’ll gladly admit it.

So when I love a book all the way through the way I did WINGER and am then thrown a curveball at the end (which is as much as I’ll say about “my problem”), it sticks with me.

The AUDIBLE audiobook, brilliantly narrated by Mark Boyette, was my introduction to Andrew Smith, and a brief Twitter search reveals his books tend toward neck-wrenching twists so maybe this isn't so unusual. I'll be more prepared next time. 

A few chapters in, I was hooked. WINGER is the nickname of Ryan Dean West, dubbed so by his friends at Pine Mountain private school. It has to do with the position he plays on the rugby team. Ryan Dean is one of those kids who skipped a couple of grades, so he’s 14 going on 15, but in his junior year of high school. Last year, this was a problem. This year, he's determined not to let his age be an issue. 

His best friend Annie, an older girl he’s seriously nuts about, seems like she just might see him as more than a kid. He’s holding his own against the tough bullies he’s forced to room with in “O Hall”, where he ended up this year due to previous behavior problems. And his stardom on the rugby team has ratcheted up as well. We follow RDW through the autumn of his junior year, from his experiences with the O Hall crowd, his first experience getting drunk, choosing girls over his friends, all peppered with sarcasm and commentary from his one-track mind. Truth is, he's kind of a perv, and in his own words “a total loser,” something proclaims copiously. 

The thing is, RDW is not a loser, not at all. You can’t help but love him. His story reminded me of a PG-13 rated DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, while sometimes edging into R territory. He seriously is obsessed with sex, rating the hotness of every female he encounters, from his classmates to his elderly dorm-master, using imaginatively hilarious measurements. But RDW also understands life and those around him living it, including one of his good friends who happens to be gay. He understands it a lot more than he allows himself to admit. Sure, he’s a trainwreck of self doubt and bravado, with hormone-fueled emotions pegging the needle at every turn, but he cares about people and hates injustice and disloyalty.

Even during his dream weekend trip home with Annie to visit her parents on Seattle’s Bainbridge Island — a gloriously depicted passage that made me want to move there like RIGHT NOW — finds Ryan Dean fumbling with his emotional stability and the confusions every teenage boys faces at some point.

So here’s my spoiler-ish warning. Don’t be thinking this is just a typical high school book about a horny boy just trying to find his way along the path to manhood. It is that, but in the end, Smith brings it all down to a gut-punch that while I suspected was coming, nevertheless knocked the wind out of me. Just like real life, I guess.

Despite my protests and despair at the ending, there is no doubt Andrew Smith is an author I want permanently on my TBR list – and since his latest GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is now out, I’ll be heading over to my Kindle bookstore as soon as I hit publish on this post.