VACATIONS FROM HELL is a win-win. Popular authors with dark and twisting fantasy stories have produced a collection that benefits College Summit, a nonprofit organization that helps students, especially from low-income areas, go to college. This is the latest in a series of anthologies, which include PROM NIGHTS FROM HELL and LOVE IS HELL, to support that cause.
Sarah Mlynowski, author of the Magic in Manhattan series, opens the book with "Crusin,'" the story of Liz and Kristin on a cruise. Kristin is determined to lose her virginity and envies the ease with which her friend and roomie picks up dates so quickly. Liz is always disappearing with hot guys or off for meetings. They meet fun girl Hailey and enjoy food, sun and dancing on the ship while Kristin keeps choosing the wrong guys. Rumors abound about people who have recently gone missing on cruises and the supernatural creatures that may have caused those disappearances. By the end of the cruise, readers will find multiple layers in the quests of the girls in this mysterious and very surprising story.
EVERNIGHT author Claudia Gray takes readers to the Outer Banks for a gathering of witches. Cecily Harper's mother has been training her for her powers for years in a coven at home, but each summer their family gets together with her mother's college friends. The fathers and brothers are told nothing, and sent to sporting events and activities. All the men think it's just a vacation where the female friends gather. But Cecily is no friend of Kathleen Pruitt. Kathleen is about her age and each year finds some way to torture Cecily. This year Kathleen brings a boyfriend who is gorgeous, interested in being a chef like Cecily, and seems to be the only male she's ever met who really gets her. What does he see in a brat like Kathleen? Kathleen avoids the women's witch trainings, and spends her time hanging on the ever-doting Scott. Cecily begins to think it is all too good to be true. Humor and powers mix here to let both girls know that they need to be careful what they wish for. Clare taps into the dreaded family friend many parents of teens want them to like and the claustrophobic family vacation, and mixes it with powers and imagination. Fantasy readers will enjoy this tale and its justice.
Maureen Johnson, author of 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES and other well-known young adult dramatic novels, sends Charlotte and Marylou to rural France for their vacation gone wrong in "The Law of Suspects." Charlie, as Charlotte is known, is trying to stop her lifelong habit of telling whoppers. So what if she likes to exaggerate? Her sister is now driving her crazy with her intro Psychology book, trying to diagnose all of Charlie's supposed neuroses. Through a series of odd occurrences, the girls find themselves in a cabin with no neighbors in sight and only a man who comes occasionally with food for company. Charlie breaks her cabin fever with a walk, only to find a strange man in a cabin who tells her horrific tales of the Revolution. Then she meets handsome Gerard, who warns her about Henri, the man in the cabin, telling her that people who heard the story will be unable to stop performing violent acts. He even shows her a severed hand found in Henri's garden. Things happen very quickly after that as Marylou and Charlie try to sort out who is telling the truth here while running for their lives. This one combines history, horror and suspense for a chilling page turner.
Cassandra Clare, author of CITY OF BONES and other notable young adult fantasies, brings evil to Jamaica in "The Mirror House." Violet's mother just married Phillip, and Violet feels anything but brotherly about her new stepbrother Evan. It doesn't help that she has to watch her mother be mistreated by Phillip and hurt every day in increasingly bad injuries. Evan escapes his confusing feelings for Violet and his father's temper by helping neighbor Anne Palmer around her house. Some native people warn Violet that Anne is evil and does things to young men in her clutches, but Evan won't listen. So while her mother is beaten, Evan becomes ghostlike and weaker every day. Violet finds some magic to help both of the people she loves.
Finally, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY author Libba Bray reminds readers that "Nowhere is Safe" in this deliciously haunting story of four bored friends going through Europe after high school graduation. Poe Yamamoto doesn't know why in particular he and his friends decided to stop in the European town of Necuratul, but their rumored history of evil rituals and upcoming village festival on August 13th seemed too weird to ignore. They meet other young people there who grew up in the town, and they all have fun drinking and swapping stories. Poe does wonder about the children he observes peeking from the forest, and why other people don't seem to see them. Necuratul is going to be erased by a power plant soon, and Poe and his friends learn just how desperate some natives are to keep it.
While set with varied creatures and in different time periods, these fantastical stories will appeal to fans with their suspense and surprises.
--- Reviewed by Amy Alessio