I honestly didn’t know that Middle Grade science fiction thrillers were a thing until I started “Frozen Secrets”, which follows young Max in a futuristic setting where the nations of the world are colonizing space. Max has a knack for trouble as any burgeoning teenager would, especially as Max really loves adventure and really wants to be a super-spy. He’s often the ring-leader with his friends, getting them to go along with his exploits, because if Max smells something even vaguely like a conspiracy or a new place to explore, this young man is going to insert himself into it, consequences be damned! It’s a very endearing story, and I think MOST actual middle grade readers will enjoy it.
What do you get when your cross the concept of Jurassic Park with a B horror movie? You get the fast-paced “Monsterland”, that’s what. “Monsterland” is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a theme park full of real-life monsters, namely zombies, vampires, and werewolves. The premise being that vampires and werewolves have always lived amongst us, just hidden, until a plague that created zombies sweeps the planet and now a billionaire mogul, Vincent Konrad, decides to make a theme park housing all these monsters for “study”, and profit obviously because why make a theme park out of it if you didn’t want to make cash? Wyatt, one of our many MC’s (but the main, main one) idolizes Vincent and wants nothing more than to go to the park opening night. He gets his wish, but of course everything changes and this supposedly “safe” park is anything but. Things escalate FAST once Wyatt and his friends are in the park, perhaps too fast to really get a feel for, well, anything. Hence the B movie vibe…
“Head On” is set in a near future world where a new disease (Haden’s) leaves some of the population completely unable to move, and yet they remain fully conscious in their minds. The solution? Those suffering from Haden’s can access a “threep” a type of robotic body that they control in order to interact with the world when they want to, and when they don’t? They hang out in a virtual world just for them. While “Head On” is the sequel to “Lock In” both books are their own entities in that, outside of the main character, FBI agents Chris Shane (a very, very wealthy Haden) and his partner Agent Vann, nothing from the two books overlap. They focus on totally different cases and Scalzi still explains the threeps and how Haden’s Syndrome works along with the prejudice those in their threeps face on a daily basis—both as micro aggressions and overt distrust. And while “Head On” is thoroughly enjoyable on its own, you’ll want to read “Lock In” first, trust me.
“The Changeling” feels like two books in one. You have the contemporary fiction of a young black family navigating their new life changes when welcoming a baby in New York City, which includes dealing with the racism they face as very bookish people—Apollo is a book man, hunting down rare books, and Emma is a librarian. But it’s also a story that closely aligns with the traditional folklore around changelings (I won’t go into details just in case you aren’t familiar and want to be completely surprised by this novel). Marrying those two stories is tricky, at the best of times, but Lavelle does a fabulous job, for the most part, of weaving a chilling, slow burn contemporary thriller with a fantasy horror story. The effect is a literary fiction that I can totally see college or advanced High School students dissecting in their English classes. But the connections between these two worlds wasn’t always there, so the author had to take great leaps on occasion, plus there is just one thing I cannot forgive Emma for…
“The First Conception” is a very hard book to read for obvious and not so obvious reasons. The obvious: right in the synopsis we know that this is a revenge story told from the perspective of the female survivor—she was raped and abused sexually and physically her whole childhood and well into her adult years. This “inspired” her to take away the ability to conceive for the whole world. Now, I love a good revenge plot where the MC is less than “good”, especially when it’s over something as heinous as abusing a child so repeatedly. Also, there are your trigger warnings for rape, graphic violence against both women and men, sexual assault against children, spousal abuse, and if topics of infertility are sensitive for you, then this may not be a good fit. Granted, some of these warnings make sense for the genre—it’s billed as a thriller, after all—and while that’s fine, I think this book got to the point of being gratuitous.
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